Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A wild goose chase in Milan

Recently we visited Milan -our first trip to Italy- for a long weekend. Hopefully to get some sun and experience of some of that world renowned culture, food and spirit of Italy for the first time. (Will it be the last? The jury's still out at this stage! Of course I was warned by various Italian Australians over the years. Be prepared to be patient if you go there. It might have helped if we had read something about where we were going.)


Milan is the second largest city in Italy (pop. 1,347,298) and is the capital of the Lombardy region. The urban area is the fifth largest in the EU. You notice this straight away in the hour on the bus from the Bergamo airport to the centre of town which is mainly industrial buildings. (Amazingly when we arrived in Bergamo we just walked out of the plane onto the tarmac and out of the airport without anyone checking anything. A nice change. Though on the way home I received a body search because the beeper went off. How kind. Though I laughed cos it tickled and they really weren't amused. Scary people.)


On a wild goose chase in Milan

Milan isn't the easiest place to vacation for one main reason- it's hard to get a straight answer from the Milanese. (Perhaps it's their lack of english? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.) They give you information in dribs and drabs, neglecting to tell you the most important things you need to know. (You find that out later after you've been sent on a wild goose chase.) Amusing to them I suppose, not so for you. Of course some people were the opposite and were very helpful. This young man straight out of Italian Vogue helped us with directions without being asked. Lovely. And other, mainly young people now that I think of it, showed us their good sides as well.

Our journey to try to access the internet perfectly illustrates the story.  After discovering that our hotel charged 16 euros to use the internet (on your phone too!) I thought lets go to an internet cafe to check email. The central tourist bureau behind the Duomo Cathedral should be able to tell us where one is.

So off we go to the tourist bureau and once there, even though there was only a handful of people in the shop, the assistant seemingly exhausted tries to help us. 'No internet cafes in the city except for McDonalds', she says. So off we go to McDonalds, amazed, with our netbook.

We get to McDonald's and lo and behold we find out from staff that you can't use the internet as you have to get a special code. Really. You have to go to some office to get the code. Really. It's somewhere in the underground railway. And where was that? He didn't know. Well we had to accost a few other people including someone in the station who gave us vague directions. Eventually we found it after three quarters of an hour and took a number and stood in a queue behind two perplexed looking swedes. Eventually an office worker reluctantly called us up and requested a passport and phone number, and glacially typed in the details and posted the code through to Hiie's phone. Gosh how generous of them. We then went back to a packed, very noisy McDonalds (much better in Stockholm) and ordered  two coffees and sat down to check mail for half an hour. I mean what do they think you're going to do? No wonder there's not many tourists here. If  you decide to visit Milan make sure you stay somewhere with free or cheap wifi.



Looking through the 16 Roman columns to the San Lorenzo Maggiore Church (built 4th century). You can see in the centre the bronze statue of Emperor Constantine who issued the edict that granted freedom of worship to the Christians in 313 in Milan. I really wanted to go to this church to see the early christian mosaics but alas we got there when a church service was on so they were off limits. And then after that all the churches (and lots of other places too) close for 2 hours for lunch so you've got to plan your day well. The interior of this basilica is quite beautiful, compact and fairly light and unlike most churches the parishioners are seated in a circular fashion around the priest. There was a good vibe in there.


It's pretty easy to get around Milan as there's trams, trains and buses. We got a 48 hour public transport ticket which was quite good value. You can get the 48 hour Hop On Hop Off bus which we got on the last day and it's good actually. You can take 1 of 2 tours on each day. We didn't take the Santa Maria Della Grazia one which houses Leonardo's Last Supper which I regret not seeing. Though it forces me to go back to Milan at some stage. 


Rain. Che sera sera!


But it can be kind of romantic. Outside the Sforza Castle with the Arco Della Pace (Arch of the Peace) in the distance.



This is a view from the Piazza Duomo of the famous Milan Cathedral. The largest Gothic church in Italy and the second largest cathedral after St Peters in Rome. It is really stunning the sculptural detail and delicacy of structures outside. Though it's quite dark and heavy inside like a tomb.  I felt a bit suffocated in there. There wasn't much evidence that it was actually used for any spiritual purpose. No literature on Jesus or God. Only rosary beads and postcards and heaps of tourists taking photos.




The cathedral was started in 1386 and building continued until the early 19th century. There are over 3000 statues (which include 96 gigantic gargoyles) and hundreds of figures carved in high relief. The gargoyles kind of reflect how I felt as around the duomo there are young men constantly harrassing you day and night to buy something. And they're quite aggressive and manipulative about it. Telling them to go away politely does nothing. I was quite fed up with them all after 3 days. They are at the stations, at all the tourist areas. At the stations older men come up to you to under the guise of trying to help you. They just want your money so give them the flick. That's not counting the everyday beggars sitting on the streets who hold out their hands as you walk by. It's pretty sad.



 A group of mandolins from the Museum of Musical Instruments, one of the museums in the Sforza Castle. It has a huge selection of art and artifacts in it, including the Museum of Ancient Art, Picture Gallery, Egyptian Museum, Furniture Museum, 14 in total. You certainly can't see everything in a few hours you just have to pick what interests you most.


It was nice to sit down after traipsing all over the the castle looking for Michelangelo's 'Rondanini Pieta' and listen for free to these superb early music singers, (singing english renaissance songs), who were rehearsing in the hall next to the Museum of Musical Instruments in the Sforza Castle.


I just liked the stone cat on the terrace in a street near the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana which was why we were walking past this house. (It's also right near the assembly hall of the Alleanza Industriale where the Fascist movement was founded on 23 March 1919 at a gathering with about 300 participants led by Benito Mussolini I was interested to discover.)

The Ambrosiana is an absolute must see in Milan. It houses the original drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus and a lot of other masterpieces of European art. The Leonardo drawings are displayed in the Sacrestia Bramante which you really need to have a magnifying glass to look at properly. It was like visiting a religious relic as it's on the lowest floor in very dim lighting. Outside of it is his beautiful 'Portrait of a Musician' (1490). I was surprised by the technique as what I imagine is meant to be fur or suede looks like he didn't bother finishing close up. You can read more about this gallery on my art blog here.


Leonardo or not? Some people suggest it's not painted by him because he normally painted women. But it has the intensity similar to his other paintings. And the hair is typical Leonardo. In real life it's a precious jewel emanating peace.



Right near the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore you can see the Porta Ticinese a medieval city gate. This is the only surviving element from the 11th century walls (along with the Porta Nuova). We went to a pretty groovy cafe right behind the arch which was a good escape from the weather and to satisfy our stomachs. The closer you are to the Duomo the more expensive it is to eat. The prices are pretty reasonable a few kilometres out to have lunch or dinner. It's a rip off basically in the centre of town in the tourist places. To be honest I didn't find the Italian food here any better than in Melbourne. In fact it's better in Melbourne. In Stockholm the italian food has a swedish twist I've found so far.


A wall painting from San Maurizio church. We had no real intention of going there but just happened to walk by and go in. It's worth it. It's attached to a old nunnery. Interior of the church below.



Interior of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Now that's my idea of a mall. It's adjacent to the Duomo.

The Duomo Piazza at night. It's pretty safe it seemed to us. There were buskers and groups of young people partying and strolling. There wasn't a lot of tourists around in general in Milan.

A colourful fruit markets we came across on a tram ride out into the suburbs.

Botticelli's gorgeous 'Madonna of the Pavillion' (1493) in the Ambrosiana though the colour's more rich than my overexposed blurry photo. You're not meant to take photos in there but I snuck a couple in.

One of the altars inside the Duomo Cathedral. The power and splendour of the church of Milan is what it's all about.

Milan is quite monotone especially when it's overcast so it was a relief to see this beautiful flower shop full of colour.

The Duomo by full moon, showing the main spire with the gilded statue of the Madonnina, which is undergoing restoration.


If you like shopping then Milan's a dream if you happen to have some money. You can buy anything here. Like the above, for the dog who has everything why not a diamond encrusted collar perhaps.
The shops all have beautiful window and interior design. It's a pleasure to stroll. (And look at the Milanese themselves who were all impeccably dressed and groomed, mainly in black or dark clothes.) The clothes, shoes and what not are gorgeous and the prices were unexpectantly reasonable. Depending where you go of course. Hiie bought some clothes in Benetton in Central Square and they were much, much cheaper than in Stockholm or Australia for that matter. We were surprised. You can pick up some good clothes bargains it seems in Milan. And there is a bus tour of the discount warehouses you can jump on if you're into that, which leaves from the Duomo Piazza.

The feeling I got after 3 days was that Milan was basically a business oriented city from high to low. As well, once they find out you're not Italian the shutters come down mostly. No interest. Though they're interested in looking at you. The Milanese really check you out from top to toe. And not always flatteringly.

Though really how much can you know a place after 3 days? Very little. Though like meeting someone for the first time, first impressions can have a big influence, however short. But there is the superb art and architecture in Milano to see so maybe we'll be back.


CitySightSeeing Milano (48 hour on off ticket)


4 comments:

  1. Thanks for letting me come along on the trip :)

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  2. That's ok Anna glad you could come along:)

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  3. So many beautiful pics, I also say thank you for everything you show me:-)

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