The city of Milano needs no introduction. Many tourists/travelers go to Italy for its past, however, Milan is a beautiful combination of the past and the present, hustling and bustling with energy. If you are from India, like me, it may remind you of Mumbai (sans the population) or New Delhi. The city offers a lot to see and explore, historically and culturally. It has a rich historical heritage and present day charm for every type of traveler. Milan or as the Italians call it, “Milano”, is the capital of the Lombardy region in Italy. It is a hardworking city of more than a million people. From the third largest cathedral in the world to shopping avenues, from canal side cafes to plush restaurants, the city will keep you on your toes.
I recount my day trip to Milano in this post.
For a first timer exploring the realms of travel, the universe was kind. Not only was I stationed in beautiful Switzerland, but also at a place which was a stone’s throw away from historical Italy! It was a Friday and we were debating on which place to explore next. Adrian, our mentor, heard us and offered to drive us to Milan and show us around. Someone, who knew the lay of the land as our guide was more than what we had bargained for. There were no two thoughts about it…it was a unanimous and exhilarating YAY!
Early the next morning, we rendezvoused at our workplace to meet Adrian. He was already there waiting for us as we arrived. As soon as we hit the road, the vistas captivated my senses. Switzerland is a beautiful country to put it modestly, and its beauty cascades everywhere in the neighborhood. And so was the case with our drive to Milan from good old Chiasso! A series of waterbodies on the left and gracious mountains on the right, with the highway sketched out in the landscape, was worth just staring into.
We were set for the journey, bubbling with anticipation and raring to meet the “600+ years in the making – still not finished” Duomo, visit the canals and explore another castle in Milan. With so many historical and monumental places in Milan, the city being one of the fashion capitals of the world and a shopper’s paradise completely skipped my mind…till we were on the streets of Milan, that is 😉
An hour or so later, we reached Milan, and parked in a lot near the Metro station. Population was scanty near the lot and the place looked almost deserted, barring for a few other drivers around. A quick walk took us to the Metro station, where there was a pavement bazaar of sorts, of branded handbags for women and other trivial things. Not to mention these were copies, something you shouldn’t waste time on. An automated machine printed out our tickets and off we were to the city center. The Metro in Italy cannot be compared to the ones in Switzerland and even the airport express metro in Delhi, India scores above it. However, it gets the job done and soon I found myself climbing upstairs to the streets of Milan.
Milan was hosting some sort of an Expo and the city was decorated with flags from all the countries. It started drizzling, soaking the city, however couldn’t dampen our spirits. Armed with umbrellas – thanks to Adrian who had checked the weather forecast before setting out and had promptly arranged for a pair of umbrellas for us. Our first stop was the Sforza Castle or “Castello Sforzesco”
Up in the distance we could now see the entrance of the castle, with its big tower rising up & high, and beautified in the front by a water fountain. As we drew closer, the formidable structure of the castle started taking shape and form. We waited outside for a couple of minutes to let its grandeur sink in. Also, the rain soaked city streets presented a good photo op, and the shutterbugs in all of us came out.
The iron gate was drawn up to allow visitors, presenting the outer castle grounds. Once you enter, you will find signage and statues with inscriptions and details, giving one a peek into history and facts & figures. The writing is tiny and if you have time on your side, allow yourself to indulge into how it all came along. There were lots of tourists at the Castle that day, huddling together under umbrellas. I decided to ditch my umbrella and enjoy the drizzle, as we walked along the castle grounds. The castle stands strong to this day. With its red brick walls standing in stoic silence, witnesses of times gone by.
As you walk past the many sections of the castle, the road eventually leads you towards the rear palace grounds, which are now one big recreational park. This is where you will find families and friends enjoying their day off with a picnic basket, fitness enthusiasts doing their gig, and book lovers curled up under some very large trees. We walked through, spotting a few ducks here and there, browsing through souvenir shops for postcards and key rings. The rear entrance is a draw bridge, which I found fascinating, having seen it only on the television or movies before.
We eventually found ourselves back at the front entrance with Adrian leading the way to the center of the old city. Excited, we followed him, like kids following the Pied Piper. As this is where Duomo di Milano awaited us…
The DUOMO – “an embodiment of vigorous effort!” – Henry James
The rain soaked streets were glistening in the sunlight now, as the clouds decided to take a break for a while. We walked through a shopping street dotted with brands a plenty. Whilst window shopping and appreciating the beautiful visual merchandising, it appeared out of nowhere. Round the curb, towering high and mighty, drizzle soaked, the right side of the gargantuan marble monolith stared at us in the face. Quickening our pace, we made it up and close to the Duomo.
Up front, this wonder, carved out in marble for over 600 years stood majestically. The sheer size of the structure and the amount of detailing it carries is breathtaking. I stood alongside the entrance square gazing at the cathedral for a couple of minutes before finally approaching it to observe minutely. I was here. At Duomo di Milano. A monument I had read so much about. A structure which was on postcards. Now it stood right in front of me. All I had to do was stretch my hand and touch it! I heard my peers call out to me snapping me out of my daze. Dodging the most common aviary found in cities (read pigeons) I joined them on the steps in front of the main door. The rest of the time spent there literally flew away.
The Duomo is dedicated to St. Mary of Nativity and is the seat of the archbishop. It is the largest in Italy. During the Roman era this was probably the center of the city. The shining bronze statue of Virgin Mary is placed higher than the rest of the saint statues on the spires. A look at the way the roads, alongside the Duomo, curve left and right, it suggests that they run around this Gothic wonder before venturing out in the city. The Duomo is beautifully crafted with intricate artwork across the length and breadth of the structure. You will find statues popping out every now and then, as you walk across the Duomo.
The entrance of the cathedral has one of the largest doors I have ever set my eyes upon. Filled with artwork from head to toe. The main square in front of the cathedral is filled with frenzied pigeons who have no limit of their hunger as they are constantly fed by the many tourists. So much so, the feathered beings have shun their inhibitions and literally climb onto their feeders, be it hand or head – doesn’t matter. Personally, I have a chronic fear of pigeons and hence all my pictures of the Duomo are slightly tilted as I wasn’t able to get a clear straight shot.
Given that I was in Europe in the peak of the tourist season, I encountered enormous lines for most monuments, I would have otherwise liked to explore from within. The Duomo di Milano was no exception. Long snake queues lined up for the tour inside the gothic wonder. However, with time being of the essence we skipped it. Although, if you’re on a holiday or if you have time on your hands, make sure you enter the cathedral to experience the architectural brilliance of the monument.
Given that it took over 600 years to gain its present shape and form, you will find that there are differences in style. Well, that’s because it was built over time by different architects. The rooftop plays host to concerts and presents a spectacular view of Milano’s cityscape. A must visit to the top – I highly recommend it. If you are able to get there, do drop in your experience here.
The Duomo has a total of 3400 statues, an approximate of about 130 gargoyles and around 700 figures that decorate it. No, I did not count them all. You will find brochures in souvenir kiosks that will give you this information, and if you book a tour, your guide will be more than happy to cover the 600 years of its making while you tour the cathedral. After clicking several pictures and dodging crazy pigeons, it was time to shop, at the Galleria Vittorio Emanule II.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – The world’s oldest shopping mall.
Four story tall and engulfed in a double arcade, the structure looks as historical as it can get. Inside though, it is a different story altogether. It is quite modernized and impressively as well. It’s octagonal, with glass on top, creating a nice ambience. If it weren’t for all the people, a nice cuppa of coffee will work wonders for the soul! It is a common meeting place, if you please, for people over cups of espresso, however, for me the number of people that day was a little too much to sit down and savor Italian espresso. As far as shopping goes, the place has, I think, almost all retailers selling luxury haute couture.
The Galleria also has the world’s only certified 7 Star hotel – Town House Galleria. Someday, with more time. The walks inside the octagonal galleria are a fun thing to do. You have street hawkers inside the galleria as well, guess these guys are omnipresent throughout Italy and the tourist season helps, no questions asked. The galleria has great visual merchandising done, which makes window shopping such joy! We headed for lunch after ambling through the Galleria for half an hour. Shopping was reserved for later.
A traditional woodfired pizza with French fries and sausages as topping with a glass of chilled beer, followed by the espresso shot, was lunch for the day.
Milan offers plenty of shopping opportunities for everyone, from the impulsive shopper to the compulsive shopper to someone who has everything planned out. We headed to amble along the canal walkways the city has to offer, explore the canal side cafes for more espresso and shop if possible.
The canal walkways are beautiful. These canals in Milan were artificially created for connectivity. Over time, we were told they grew dirty and were then resurrected. A fine job at that I must say. On these canals you will find waterbuses (Vaporettos) to cruise along. Some of them have been converted into restaurants – floating restaurants. This neighbourhood that has the canals is quite historic as well, dating back to 1179 when these waterways were constructed to connect the city to nearby lakes. This in turn helped in the construction of The Duomo. Venice, hence, is not your only option for canal getaways. People built houses alongside the canals which stand even today and present a fabulous view, reminiscent of the palatial houses on the Grand Canal in Venice. A paradise for art lovers, head out to the canals in Milan to get a feel of the countryside.
Time flies when you are having fun. We still had some shopping on our mind and headed back to the city center to grab the metro after some shopping. The city streets are filled with brands as well apart from the Haute Couture you find inside the Galleria.
A quick stop in a couple of stores, and we were back riding the metro to the car park. The drive back to Chiasso, was an eventful one for Adrian. We plugged in our phones and introduced him to Bollywood songs 😊 What fun! It was a pleasant surprise for Adrian who hadn’t heard contemporary Bollywood music before. It was dusk, and the sketched highway was as gloriously beautiful as in the morning. As stars decorated the evening sky, we bid farewell to Adrian before retiring for the day. A day well spent, exploring, eating, and ambling in one of the most historical cities of Italy.
Have you been to Milano? Drop by and share your experience!