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Milan, Italy

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Brief thoughts on Milan: Milan (map) is beautiful, wealthy, the people were more polite and friendly than I expected, the art and culture of the city can barely be touched - let alone covered - in two days, most Milanese dress impeccably well, don't expect to be able to find the best restaurants easily, the centre of the city feels relatively safe, the architecture is outstanding, also don't expect the post office staff to know anything about foreign stamps, Italian is a beautiful language and after this trip I have even more desire to learn it.


We flew Ryanair from Luton airport, passed over France, Switzerland, and Germany, small Italian villages on plateaus and tucked in valleys throughout The Alps, the lakes of Lombardia, and 1 1/2 hours later arrived at Orio Al Serio airport in Bergamo, 30 miles Northeast of Milan. We caught a bus for the one hour journey to Milan's Statzione Centrale (the train station is near the Piazzale Loreto where Mussolini and his mistress were hung upsidedown and shot in 1945). While driving through Milan I noticed many houses and apartment buildings had rainbow colored "pace" (peace) flags hanging out of their windows and balconies throughout the city. The travelling was both easy and pleasant, we didn't feel we were inconvenienced in any way by not flying directly into Milan. The temperature was a balmy 32°C (89°F), a sharp contrast to London where I was still wearing my winter coat. We walked 10 minutes from the train station down Via Vittorio Pisani to our hotel and relaxed before heading out to explore.

The centre of the city was only a 15 minute walk down Via Manzoni and through the Piazza della Scala where we came upon the impressive 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which took my breath away with it's high glass ceilings and iron work (it was mostly destroyed during WWII and rebuilt afterwards). The galleria is filled with expensive fashion boutiques like Prada, cafès, and restaurants. Including, almost surreally, a McDonald's (we found McDonald's to be extremely prevalent all throughout Milan, unfortunately). We strolled through the galleria and emerged into the Piazza del Duomo and the front of the immense gothic cathedral, The Duomo. We weren't aware that it was recently undergoing restorations for its 600th anniversary so the entire front was covered in scaffolding (this is how The Duomo should look.) The Duomo was built in 1386 and has no less than 135 spires and 3,200 statues, new statues are still added each year by masons. There is an external elevator that allows people to go to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of Milan and to walk amongst the spire forest, but that was also off-limits (even more of an excuse to return in the future).

galleria vittorio emanuele II galleria vittorio emanuele II

galleria vittorio emanuele II the duomo

We decided to stop to dine in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Despite it being an obvious tourist trap the food was excellent and we enjoyed the people watching, we also drank the best bianco martinis I've ever had. To start I ordered Pesce spada affumicato (thinly sliced smoked swordfish with olive oil) and Max ordered the Carpaccio con rucola e parmigiano (thinly sliced raw beef with rocket and parmesan). For our main dish we ordered a combination of two of Milan's local specialities, the Osso Bucco Alla Milanese (veal shanks with saffron risotto). I don't usually eat veal, but when in Milan do as the Milanese do. I'm glad I tried it, but it was slightly too rich and salty for me. We finished with a shot of espresso each. There was a 9€ surcharge for eating at an outdoor table, but we expected it as its pretty much the same in all of Europe when dining al fresco. Most of the people we encountered at restaurants etc. spoke at least some English, but since Max speaks fluent French he had no trouble speaking Italian. I, on the other hand, probably butchered more than one word during our trip. We then took a slow stroll through the galleria and stopped for gelati at a stand (pistachio flavor for me). We headed back to the hotel at around 11pm in order to get up early the next morning to explore further.

pesce spada affumicato dining in the galleria

dining in the galleria galleria vittorio emanuele II

We left the hotel early on Saturday morning and walked slowly through the Giardini Pubblici, a large tree filled park, and strolled the streets. We went down Via della Spiga, the prestigious shopping street lined with all the boutiques of Italy's most famous designers such as Armani, Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Fendi, Max Mara, Bottega Veneta, Missoni, etc. You name it and it was on Via della Spiga. One thing I noticed about Milanese women is how well they dress, they are elegantly turned out and there's not a sign of the fashion victims you get in London. But with Milan being the wealthiest city in Italy and a fashion capital of the world, this isn't at all surprising.

via manzoni

deli on via della spiga deli on via della spiga

deli on via della spiga bakery on via della spiga

We stopped at a small cafè and I had a cappucino (I miss good coffee!) and we split a focaccia filled with rocket and ricotta for breakfast, then we wandered more along side streets with shops and residences with rooftop gardens until we came upon La Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, one of Milan's art galleries. We spent 2 hours going through its rooms. Some of the more famous paintings we viewed there were Caravaggio's Fruit Basket (the first still life painted in Italy), Leonardo da Vinci's The Musician, Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis's Portrait of a Lady (which used to be wrongly attributed to da Vinci), Botticelli's Madonna of the Pavilion, Raphael's cartoon for The School of Athens, and several paintings by one of my favorite Flemish artists, Brueghel, including Bouquet, Vase of Flowers with a Fly and Mouse with Roses, Emilio Longoni's Outside School, and Francesco Hayez's realistic portraits. One of the more unusual objects in the gallery was a profane reliquary containing a lock of Lucrezia Borgia's blonde hair. I fell in love with a particular painting of a raven-haired woman by the 19th century Milanese miniaturist, Pietro Bagatti Valsecchi. I hoped that I would be able to find it online, but it turns out there's hardly any information about Valsecchi on the net, nor any pictures of his work. I guess I won't be able to see her again until I go back to Milan. The Ambrosiana itself is a beautiful building of winding hallways and courtyards, including a large biblioteca which holds a collection of Leonardi da Vinci's mechanical drawings and is the home of Titian's Adoration of the Magi. I had to inconspicuously take photos inside the Ambrosiana whenever the museum guards weren't looking. There was a Modigliani exhibition going on at the Palazzo Reale which I would have loved to see, but wasn't able to due to a lack of time.

la pinacoteca ambrosiana la pinacoteca ambrosiana

By the time we emerged from the Ambrosiana it was past lunch time so we stopped off at an outdoor restaurant on Via Dante where we had a beer and I ordered the Caprese (fresh buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, and olive oil) and Max the Cotoletta Alla Milanese (breaded and fried veal). After this we explored more districts up to the Castello Sforzesco. This was originally a military fortress and then remodeled in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, the new defenses were designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

castello sforzesco corso venezia

We walked back to The Duomo where two policemen were security checking everyone's bags at the doors and we wandered around inside for about an hour. The Duomo is one of the largest cathedrals I've been inside with relatively few stained glass windows. Because of this it is darker inside than most cathedrals so photographs were difficult to take with my camera, also there were certain areas where photography was not allowed so as to not disturb people praying. Max lit a candle for his French catholic grandmother who passed away a few years ago. When we stepped outside the sunlight was blinding.

inside the duomo inside the duomo

the duomo the duomo

It was nearing evening by this time so we stopped by a bar/cafè for two martinis and watched the world go by when we noticed a sudden commotion in the Piazza del Duomo. It turned out the torch for the Special Olympics was just arriving from Monaco at that moment. After watching the torch arrive we walked to Peck, which is a gastronimic paradise. It rivals, perhaps even exceeds, London's Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, and Harrods for quality and selection. Peck is three stories high, the ground floor is filled with the best cheeses, meats, freshly made pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, jarred vegetables and fruits, sweets, etc. The basement is an extensive wine cellar where no wine is below 10€ and most are above 50€ each. The first floor is the Peck tea room and restaurant. We bought two different kinds of fresh ravioli, one filled with asparagus and the other with parma, three different cheeses: extremely ripe gorgonzola dolce (rich and creamy, it oozes!), chevrotin di capra, and robiolina di grotta (which is made locally for Peck), and a 12€ bottle of Peck's extra-virgin Castel del Monte olive oil, which was one of the cheapest as they had bottles for over 20€. They wrapped everything and we put it in our mini bar fridge at the hotel. Sadly no photography is allowed inside Peck and the employees were so attentive I couldn't even sneak any, but I snapped a few of the window displays.

peck peck

We chilled in our hotel room for a few hours, took a shower, and headed out for a walk and dinner. We explored behind The Duomo and found a restaurant that seemed to be filled with mostly Italians instead of tourists, for a change. The food was cheap and good. We ordered a chianti and starters, Max had the Bresaola (thinly sliced cured beef served with lemon olive oil) and I the fried stuffed olives and courgettes, which turned out to be one of the worst things I've ever eaten, but I think it just wasn't to my taste. For his main course Max had the Spaghetti Tarentini (spaghetti with clams and mussels) and I the Carpaccio con rucola e parmigiano because I liked the taste I had of it the day before. For dessert I tucked into the delicious freshly made tiramisu and Max had the pana cotta creme caramel. I had wanted to go clubbing after dinner, or see some live music possibly somewhere in the Navigli District, but it was getting very late by this time and it seemed like too long of a walk. Instead we had a couple drinks (martinis again for me) at a bar and then walked back to our hotel.

macsen naomi

corso vittorio emanuele II sawaya & moroni

Sunday morning we intended to head out early for breakfast, but I wasn't feeling well so we had a big breakfast in the hotel dining room and caught a taxi to the train station and the bus back the Bergamo airport, flew back to Luton, stank up the tube and train with the smell of gorgonzola, and arrived in a 15°C (59°F. brr!) and rainy London late that afternoon.

We didn't have the time to do everything we wanted in Milan, but this was mostly a fact-finding mission for both of us. We had the opportunity to take advantage of ludicriously cheap plane tickets to a city we were only mildly interested in before and now that we know we love Milan we plan to take an extended trip there again in the future. We know our way around the city now and next time we will have some restaurant and club research and recommendations so we won't be going in blindly (though going in blindly can be half the fun).

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On June 11th, 2003 03:45 pm (UTC), ziemkowski commented:
Wonderful! What a truly beautiful place.
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On June 11th, 2003 06:57 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
It is, to be honest I didn't expect it to be as lovely as it was.. you never know what to expect when visiting a new city.
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On June 11th, 2003 04:01 pm (UTC), ambient1 commented:
Thanks for sharing! I always look forward to reading your travel posts.
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On June 11th, 2003 07:01 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Re: Grazie!
my pleasure & thank you for reading! :)
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On June 11th, 2003 04:02 pm (UTC), jehosephat commented:
Your posts are a delight in many ways. You fire my yearnings to explore the world.
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On June 11th, 2003 07:07 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Thank you. :) Excellent, those are good yearnings to fire! I'm just back from a trip and I already wish to explore more.
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On June 11th, 2003 04:04 pm (UTC), camisole commented:
you shoud write travel books!!!!
naomi planet! :o)
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On June 11th, 2003 06:42 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
That would be a dream job. :)
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On June 11th, 2003 04:16 pm (UTC), heuteistmeintag commented:
i was going to comment on how lovely the pictures are and how tasty the foods look, but i decide that since that is all i ever say to you, i'm not going to leave a comment this time.
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On June 11th, 2003 06:43 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
.. and all I ever post about any more is food and photos of food.
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On June 11th, 2003 05:56 pm (UTC), hobbitblue commented:
Wow, I've never known much about Milan before but am now yuearning to go, lovely photos and a great travelogue as ever - you need to go away more often as I always love the results! :)
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On June 11th, 2003 06:55 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
thank you. I knew next to nothing about Milan before we went there, I didn't even know about the galleria or the duomo or seen photos of them - I was essentially oblivious. The entire experience was a complete surprise for me and we probably wouldn't have visited Milan until years in the future if these free tickets hadn't come along. Now I think I'm slightly Milan and Italy obsessed. :)
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On June 12th, 2003 02:53 am (UTC), keith_london commented:
A lovely post - which is making me "home sick" - it's been a while since I was there, which means it is time to plan another trip! I salute you for covering so much in 2 days! [Here is an account of my 1999 trip]

Re: McDonalds - they are perfect for the toilet breaks, since there aren't really any public ametities for that.

Also, Bergamo (a stone's throw from Orio Al Serio) is a true gem!

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On June 12th, 2003 04:15 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
I had no idea you went to Milan (I guess weren't on each other's friends lists yet when you posted that, or I somehow missed it!) If I had known I would have asked for advice as to what restaurants to go to.

This quote in your journal, "one of the great gastronomic pleasures of life is sucking the marrow out of an Osso Bucco bone." reminds me of Max's French grandfather who was a Cordon Bleu chef, Osso Bucco was his favorite dish and he would apparently always suck out the marrow, relishing it completely.

I guess McDonald's does have a use, to crap in. ;) I just despise McDonald's though, I think they're such a blight on any cityscape. But if they have to exist I'm not sure if I would prefer they leave the old buildings and pubs in tact and build their own ugly new buildings, or blend in more with the surroundings. I think both options are kind of evil.

I saw a little bit of Bergamo, but only from a distance. I was curious about it, I find those little towns tucked into the mountains intriguing. Especially the one we flew over that was perched on top of a plateau!

Beautiful photo of Bergamo. :)
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On June 12th, 2003 05:09 am (UTC), vizzygoth commented:
i had the pleasure of spending three weeks in italy back in 2000 and am officially italy obsessed! alas, i never made it to milan. however, i can definitely recommend some places (i know you guys probably have lots of folks wanting to get their $.02 in as far as where to go, where to stay, etc.;)) for when you go back. for now, let it suffice to say: tuscany. i can only *imagine* what kind of food pictures you would come back with after a trip to tuscany...
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On June 12th, 2003 04:27 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
I'd love to spend three weeks. I hope that next time we'll be able to spend at least 3-4 days in Milan and perhaps travel down the country. My father was living in Torino earlier this year and plans to return so I may visit him there when he does. I'd really appreciate any recommendations you have. :)

Florence and Venice are a huge draw for me as well, but I would probably spend most of my time there in the galleries and museums.

I've always wanted to go to Tuscany.. someday, someday. :)

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On June 12th, 2003 07:54 am (UTC), foxbase commented:
personally milan was my least favorite italian city, but we were only there for one night, before we flew home, so we didn't get a chance to look around, and we had just come from the lake como area. i bought some great cds right before i left in milan (like artie shaw 2 cd set!) and driving in milan was madness. i miss italy so much ;)
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On June 12th, 2003 04:50 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
What didn't you like about Milan? I found it to have its downsides like any city, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. I don't believe I could live there full time, but visiting for a week to a few months would be enjoyable. ;)

I would like to explore the lakes sometime, have you written any kind of travelogue about your trip there?
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On June 12th, 2003 12:27 pm (UTC), pry commented:
I'm not sure if either of you two have been to anywhere else in Italy before, but I really recommend going over for a week or two, and hiring a car. It's a fantastic country to drive around, and when you get into the country side, Italy is an amazing place. By far the most beutiful country I have ever been in. I stayed in a town called Castellina in Chianti, and we would eat out at this same small resturant each night, drink red wine, then walk back to the hotel, and at 1am we would walk past old people sat out in their chairs chatting and laughing. No wonder they live to be so old in that country. It must be the most relaxing place in the world. And of course the food is amazing.
Glad you enjoyed the trip :)
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On June 12th, 2003 05:01 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
I think Max has been skiing in Torino before (which is also where my dad was living earlier this year - he loves it there), but this was my first visit to Italy. I have to admit I never had a huge draw to go to Milan before and neither did Max, but we had a unique opportunity to go and now I'm so glad we took it. It's opened up a part of the country that we may have never gone to otherwise.

Your trip sounds lovely. :) We're buying a car soon and we've talked about taking road trips across Europe and perhaps down Italy. I think it would be a lot of fun and it offers more freedom than a train if we want to stop because something looks interesting.

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On June 12th, 2003 01:15 pm (UTC), strrretch commented:
I found my way here via your post in futurecity. I was in Milan last year, traveling alone, and I think I had a similar experience as you. My hotel was a block (!) from Peck and the Duomo. I did get a chance to see the Duomo "unveiled" and to climb my way to the top of the "spire forest", and I'm saddened you were unable to. It's very beautiful. I took lots of pictures on film of the spires and gargoyles, and one of these days I'll have to scan them in. Like you, I only had a couple days in Milan, and I ended up not seeing nearly as much as I wanted to. I'm thinking of going back this fall, but this depends on a number of factors. Hopefully I'll be able to!

Thanks for letting me read your beautiful travel log.
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On June 12th, 2003 05:09 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Now I'm finding out about so many people who have been to Milan, I wish I had known about all of you before we went so we could have some recommendations. :) Wow, a block away from Peck & the Duomo? Great location! I'm envious that you were able to see the Duomo and the roof, it was such a huge disappointment when we walked out of the galleria and saw it covered. But like I said, even more of a reason to return again in the future.

I hope you are able to return too. I'd love to see your photos when you scan them, please let me know when you post them!
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On June 13th, 2003 01:27 am (UTC), opalfruit commented:
I'm so unbelivably jealous. It sounds like you had a great time. Me & my beau have been looking up ryanair flights for a week's break this summer... which is all well and good... but it's cheap accommodation we're struggling to find. Joys of student life!
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On June 13th, 2003 03:35 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Any thoughts on where you might go yet?

Ryanair is the way to go for domestic or European flights, I don't need or want to pay for extra frills when I'll only be in the air for a couple hours. The only thing I found slightly stressful was that you can't pre-book your seats so it always turns into a mad scramble at the doors, so make sure you get up front if possible!

Our accommodation was relatively cheap, it was a hotel that had probably once been one of the nicest in Milan but the decor has since become dated. Other than that it was clean and comfortable, we don't need more than that really.
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On June 13th, 2003 07:14 am (UTC), localcharacter commented:
Beautiful, as always! I don't know when I'll get to Milan... I've got an unused ticket for Italy so I'm hoping to go in September, but I think I have to go places where I can stay with friends. Maybe just a day or two in the big city?....
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On June 16th, 2003 03:01 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Thank you. I think Milan is worth visiting, but as there's so much to experience in all of Italy I wouldn't say it's a "must do immediately!" kind of place. The main thing that will draw me back there eventually is to further explore the museums and I've heard the night life is excellent.

Your descriptions of living in Italy have piqued my interest, although I think I just told someone you were in Umbria region, was it actually in Marche?
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On June 15th, 2003 02:04 pm (UTC), kontessa commented:
wow. i went to milan for a day a couple of years ago. our visit was limited to the vittorio emmanuele and the duomo and i enjoyed it very much (after all, it is italy) - but reading your entries and seeing your pictures made milan an even more beautiful memory.

i'd like to add you as a friend. hope thats ok! :P
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On June 16th, 2003 03:09 am (UTC), nomi replied:
thank you, I'm surprised by how many people have come out of the livejournal woodwork who have been visited or lived in Milan. It feels like a shared experience now and it's interesting to get everyone's take and impressions of the city.

sure, and I'll add you back. Your photos of Vancouver make me "homesick". :)
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On June 15th, 2003 06:18 pm (UTC), t_pot commented:
perhaps next time i can be of help, although i'm a weird guide and prefer to wander about the city, without being able to plan a real "must-see" tour. a city like milan has a lot of hidden treasures, especially out of the centre area. but of course they can be best enjoyed if one has more time to wander throughout the city.

(by the way, i couldn't have afforded to eat in all the places you dined. it's nice to discover from your entry that they're not just expensive for expensiveness's sake...)

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On June 16th, 2003 03:20 am (UTC), nomi replied:
thank you for your offer, it's really appreciated!

I prefer to wander cities aimlessly if I have more time, unfortunately 1 1/2 days in a completely new city is limiting. If I had come to London for the first time as a tourist and only spent 2 days I would have never seen the wonderful hidden gems this city has tucked away. I would see the tourist attractions and then might have never returned. Fortunately in my first visit I had Londoner friends that took me to the "out of the way" places which made me fall in love with the city.

I know I barely scratched all that Milan has to offer, I hope that next time I visit I will either have more time to explore or will be let in on a few of these hidden treasures by locals or people who have visited it often.

We might not have tried those restaurants if we hadn't had the £ / € exchange rate working in our favor.. but if we had known of any cheap and really good restaurants we would have tried them. I'm sure the ones we tried were a bit pricier just because stupid tourists like us don't know any better. ;)
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