MILAN IN FOUR DAYS
Milan has everything I would want in a city. Art, fashion, architecture, history, good food, bustling economy, contemporary social outlook, luxury shopping, and inspiring people. It's the New York of Italy and was an ideal place to begin our summer in Europe.
We landed in Malpensa airport quite late and took a taxi into the city, otherwise the train would have been simpler and not over 100 Euros. We weren't in the old town, but in the central business district at one of Milan's best five star hotels, the Excelsior Hotel Gallia. Flying to Milan involved eight and half hours to London from Calgary, a five-hour layover at Heathrow, then a two-hour flight to Milan. Perhaps they felt sorry for us, because at the hotel check-in we were granted a complimentary upgrade to a large two-room suite. The bathroom alone was as big as our family room back home.
The long trip was easily forgotten when we sat down to our all inclusive breakfast the next morning. Everything was laid out with such care, but the impressive part were two extras I've never seen before on a breakfast buffet. A MYO fresh vegetable and juice bar and frozen yoghurt machines. Italians typically only eat a brioche bun and drink a coffee standing up, but this breakfast buffet clearly caters for those who want a slow start to the morning and relax in luxury with healthy options.
Our days were spent touring, shopping, and eating. Ahead of the trip, I arranged a tour to ensure we could view The Last Supper because they don't allow individual visits. The tour was Viator's Milan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour. We were a large bus group, mostly retired Australians interestingly. The bus was air conditioned and the tour guide spoke English fluently. We were each given headphones to hear the guide comfortably. The tour stopped at all the highlights around Milan: inside the Cathedral; shopping at Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele; La Scala opera house and museum, and finally Santa Maria della Grazia where the Last Supper is housed. We didn't wait in any lines; our group had pre-arranged times at the sights. The Cathedral and the Last Supper viewing were spectacular, but in retrospect I would have preferred a more tailored visit and not a large group, but it was fine for US$85 per person.
The Castello was built in the 15th century and the Lord of Milan resided there. Word War II in 1943 saw it bombed extensively, but it was restored again. Inside the fortress walls is a garden, outdoor cafe, and museums with ancient artifacts. It's definitely a great way to spend a few hours.
The Fondazione Prada Milan venue is a recent addition (May 2015) to Milan's vibrant art scene. With a focus on contemporary installations, it was founded by Miuccia Prada. Its bold, interactive, and thought provoking installations remind me of past visits to the Chelsea art district in New York and also the 789 District in Beijing. Be cautioned on the location, Fondazione Prada is about 20-30 minutes out of the centre of the city in an industrial zone. We only spent a couple of hours, as it's a collection of about six different spaces when we visited. On our way out, we stopped in at the Wes Anderson designed cafe, Bar Luce, which is truly like a set from one of his movies.
After our visit to Fondazione Prada, we took a long walk (1hr) all the way to the Navigli canals district.
The area has restaurants and cafes that line the canals. We had a light lunch of piadini. Don't expect Venice though, it's not baroque, chic, or hip. For us it was a pleasant diversion and an enjoyable way to spend a sunny afternoon away from the typical tourist attractions.
A trip to Milan must also include shopping, or at least window shopping. The shops at La Galleria near the Cathedral are mostly for tourists, but a walk through is mandatory, and you can even have lunch at the Gucci Caffe. My favourite streets to shop in Milan are Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga. Every well-known luxury brand has a storefront on Via Montenapoleone. I almost fainted in front of Gucci, it was that beautiful. The absolute latest pieces, some often straight from the runway, are in these shops. Via della Spiga is closed off to car traffic and houses more boutique shopping, but still quite high-end. With our stay in July, we were around for the annual summer sales. Unfortunately only with carry-on, space did not allow for a a major shop this trip. A word of caution...Italians take a long holiday in August and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period.
With living in seven countries and jobs that have taken us all around the world, we get to meet up with friends when we travel. In Milan I caught up with an old friend from what feels like a lifetime ago. Back in 1995 I was an exchange student at the University of Firenze, and although pre-Facebook, we keep in touch. We met at La Galleria next to the Cathedral, and did the standing up coffee thing. I wish we had more time together, but he had a train to catch back to his family in Florence. Every week he commutes from Florence to Milan and back for his work. We also met up with an Instagram friend and his girlfriend for cocktails at DRY and dinner at Pisacco. We talked politics, grappa, and food. And for the record, he confirmed that most Italians think Trump is a buffoon and would not make a good President. Superb meals everywhere.
Many people often ask me of all the places in the world, where would be your favourite to live. My answer is Milan. In New York, I feel at home, but in Milan, I feel alive.
Please feel free to drop me a note and share your favourite spots in Milan.