So, I’m currently assigned to work in Milan, Italy for the next few months. It was never on my list of must-visit cities always favouring the more obvious Rome. The past few weeks have given me a great appreciation for Milan though, the world’s fashion capital.
Firstly, Milan is in northern Italy not far from Switzerland. Depending on the region of Milan you’re visiting, you can catch views of The Alps in the distance. In the past when I thought about Italy, I foolishly never imagined it being cold. This last week of November crushed the images I had of women in chic thin jackets and sunglasses. Reality was Moncler jackets abound, numb fingers and condensed clouds of breath escaping mouths. That cold air hit me like the wolf’s breath blew down the first piggy’s house.
Milan in comparison to Rome is a smaller city. I found travelling on public transportation and walking very easy and not time-consuming. I stayed in central Milano with access to the Metro Red Line. The Metro is the underground train system run by ATM. Along the Red Line I was able to access the Santa Maria delle Grazie, the monastery where Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper is painted, the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral, Via Monte Napoleone, the road where all your fashion dreams come true. The Red Line also allowed me access to my office. I purchased a 7 day pass for the Lomardia region which cost €43.50. The pass was curious, printed on heavy paper stock with an area to manually enter your first and last name. It looked more like a raffle ticket to me?
Shop Til’ You Drop
I am a recovering shopaholic (as of yesterday). Since moving back home to the UK, I do most of my shopping online. When I arrived in Milan I had an immediate high from the retail potential, the smell of consumerism…”ahhh all the money I don’t have but can’t wait to spend” There were so many shops on Via Monte Napoleone and the surrounding area.
Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland, Roberto Cavalli, Armani, Moncler, Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Missoni, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Zara, H&M
I could go on but my fingers are tiring and there are more important Milano details to share.
I couldn’t take advantage of the tax free shopping coming from another EU country but the window shopping was great, nonetheless. What made the area magical for me was the quaintness of it. Small and unassuming roads that an outsider would never have guessed were packed with retail royalty. The Christmas lights and families shopping made it a perfect picture.
Getting Some Religion…. and Culture
A couple of days ago I wanted to see The Last Supper. Now I’ve seen renderings of this fateful meal hung in West Indian dining rooms all over the United States. Usually these versions were highly lacquered and featured next to maps and flags of Trinidad or Barbados. It was finally time to see the real thing, the one Dan Brown based an entire novel on.
Santa Maria delle Grazie can be reached by Metro at the stop Cadorna. This station serves the red and green lines. If you’re flying out of Milano via Malpensa airport, you can get a train from this station as well.
Please pre-book a tour to see the painting at least a week in advance or don’t expect to get a look in. Yes, I know I hate tours but this one is worth it. I learned a great deal in that 45 minutes.
Leonardo da Vinci was considered lazy and fired from several jobs prior to making his way to the outskirts of Milan and positioning himself as the employee extraordinaire. Painting was something he considered a secondary or tierciery skill. Well look at us 500 years later celebrating his works.
Because of the fragility of the piece, painted on a wall in what was the monks’ dining hall, entrants are only allowed 15 minutes viewing time. No videography is allowed nor flash photography. These are also efforts to preserve the fresco-secco as long as possible.
It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you finally experience something for yourself. Something renown. It’s surreal. I lost awareness of those around me and became transfixed imagining Leonardo lazily painting his masterpiece. Photos will never do it justice but here they are.
My Favourite Place
My hotel was a five-minute walk away from Duomo. Duomo is the Milan Cathedral. Typically you will find a duomo (cathedral) in most cities across Italy. Duomo (capital D) is an anchor for tourists and locals alike. The building was mesmerising, the level of intricacy was unimaginable and something that needs to be seen in person. If it was a piece of paper, there would be no blank space. Every step I took, revealed something else for me to uncover. The downside of travelling solo is not having anyone to share your special moments with so I had to FaceTime my great friend Dinelle to experience it with me.
I toured the outside of the Duomo until my fingers would no longer allow me to press the button of camera and my nose matched the colour of my red coat. It really drew me in and I didn’t want to leave. If it were summertime, I could easily have stayed until dawn taking photos and studying the magical canvas.
I am looking forward to discovering more of Milan in the coming months but until then, here are some helpful rambling tips:
- English is prevalent, not as much as Rome – a key phrase to help you navigate situations is “Parli inglese?” or “Do you speak English?”
- Like Rome, please carry cash. My suspicion is that drivers have the facility to accept card payments but don’t want the hassle or fees associated with them.
- This is important for you shopaholics (like my ahem, old self)…..ensure you definitely want to purchase whatever you take to the cashier and make sure you are charged the correct amount. I had three incidents this week that left me a bit flummoxed:
- I purchased something from Moncler. The item was 120 Euros. I noticed I was charged 165 Euros when I got back to my hotel room – argggghhh. When I went back to the store the next day, it took about 20 minutes for a refund to be processed. Which involved charging me for the product again, the cashier calling the credit card machine company and having a 10 minute conversation and then a refund being processed. I would have paid 45 Euros just to get my 20 minutes back to be honest.
- I purchased some panettone in the airport. The shop didn’t have a bag big enough to hold the panettone box (and I was not walking around like a camel carrying parcels) so I politely asked for a refund. The shop assistant told me that I could not receive a credit on my card but gave me cash. So now, I am without the damn bread, I have wasted ten minutes looking like “THAT” tourist holding up the line, and I am going to lose money because I have to exchange the euros for pounds. And there was not a conciliatory look in the place.
- If you are visiting the fashion capital from mid-November onwards, bundle up! Its “Molto freddo” or “Very cold”
- The train is an effective way to travel. Go to www.atm.it/en for more information and a journey planner in English.
- If you don’t fancy underground travel or walking, you can hire a bike via various bike sharing programmes like BikeMi where bicycles are anchored to stations throughout Milan. Mobike is a bit more flexible allowing you to collect and leave bikes anywhere not physically tethered to anything. Each of these programmes requires an app download.
- Pack your nice clothes. Even the grannies in central Milan made me feel under-dressed and unkempt.
- When in popular areas, be prepared to talk to the popo. I saw the police randomly stopping to talk to tourists and locals about what they were doing and what their intentions were.
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