We woke up before the sun to walk to the Rome metro and make it out to the Tiburtina train station where our Italo train was departing Rome headed towards Milan at 6:45am. By high speed train the trip to Milan still takes a bit longer than 3 and a half hours. I tried sleeping on the train but the constant jolting of the train as it took bends in the tracks at 350 kilometers per hour kept me from going to sleep. Finally, I resorted to reading on my Nook until we reached the station in Milan. From the station in Milan we took the metro to reach our airbnb apartment in order to drop off our backpack so we wouldn’t have to lug it around all day. In a coffee shop near the metro, we drank cappuccinos in order to wake up and get ready for a full day of exploring Milan.
After dropping our bags in the apartment, we took the metro out to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna and the Giardini Pubblici. Our plan was to check out the modern art museum then have a picnic lunch in the park. Unfortunately, the museum was closed (my book on Italy must have been outdated, as it listed the museum as being open!) so instead we took a nice leisurely stroll around the park and ate the salads I had packed. The Giardini Pubblici, or public gardens, were established in 1784 and as such are the oldest public gardens in Milan. Some areas of the garden are quite formal with grottoes, ponds, and flowers, while others are dedicated spaces for children and sports. Overall, the gardens are a lovely way to escape the city and relax for a picnic.
After our refreshing lunch, we were ready to tackle the hustle and bustle of the center of Milan. We got back on the metro and headed to the Duomo stop in order to see one of Milan’s most famous attractions, il Duomo de Milano, or simply the cathedral of Milan. Actually, this cathedral is the 5th largest church in the whole world, and the largest in Italy IF you don’t count Saint Peter’s basilica which is technically in the Vatican City State. The area around the Duomo was not nearly as crowded as I expected given that Milan is currently hosting Expo, the Universal Exposition, on the topic of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. More on that later, but for now, the Duomo was certainly the least crowded that I have ever seen it. This was my third visit to Milan, but my first visit which did not fall on a weekend. Milan is the least touristy of my favorite Italian cities and during the week it is only more magical since Italians in well cut business suits line the streets instead of tourists with selfie sticks.
You must buy tickets for every aspect of the Duomo, so after emerging from the metro we purchased our tickets to visit the interior of the church and to climb the stairs to the roof of the cathedral. Since I had visited before, I let Joey decide which to do first and he opted to get the long climb out of the way and then cool down in the cathedral afterwards. So up we went! 10 to 15 minutes to the top is one of the most rewarding stair climbs in all of Europe. The top of Milan’s Duomo is not all about the view, although the view is definitely gorgeous. Instead, the real treasure at the top of these steps is the up close and personal view of the details and spires of the Duomo. Anyone who visits Milan and doesn’t hike to the top of the Duomo (you can even take a lift if you are willing to pay more) is seriously missing out on one of my favorite views in the world.
The construction of the present day Cathedral is estimated to have begun around 1386 and been completed in the mid 1500’s. No expense was spared in the decoration of the church, including the roof which hardly anyone would ever see in those days. These days, it is possible for everyone to admire the intricate gargoyles and small statues of saints. And I think everyone should take a trip to the Duomo once in their lives. This was my second trip to the roof and it was just as impressive as my first trip two years ago!
After visiting the roof of the Duomo we descended the stairs and entered the main cathedral. The quality of art in the cathedral resembles a small museum with many beautiful chapels, sculptures, and paintings. Still, after visiting the roof, it is hard to be impressed by the interior of the church. If it is your first time to visit the Duomo it is perhaps a better idea to visit the interior first and then visit the roof in order to not have a bit of a let down after descending the stairs from above.
After our visit to the Duomo, we split a small panini and got some gelato from Grom, just around the corner. To get there, we walked through the famous Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. We stopped to take photos spinning on the Bull’s Balls (a tradition which the Milanese say brings good luck and many tourists look on in wonder). We were in on the secret and eager for good luck, so we both made a twirl.
Next, we continued walking to Milan’s designer district surrounding Montenapoleone street. I would never have the kind of money it takes to walk into Prada or Dolce and Gabbana and make a purchase but I have no problem walking into such stores just to browse. Also, I think I have a bit of an obsession for the bookstore at the Armani Megastore on Montenapoleone. They have an excellent selection of books about fashion, style, food, travel, and business. I could buy 10 book every time I visit if my suitcase would allow. Last time I visited I indulged in two books but this time I did not allow myself to leave with a book since I have a pile of 10 books waiting to be read in my Rome apartment as well as so many more on my Nook.
After our brief tour of the high style in Milan (Joey was not too amused), we walked back to the main Duomo square to visit the Museo del Novecento. I honestly have no idea why this museum does not get better reviews on Trip Advisor and other popular travel sites. First off, the admission is only 3 Euros (for me it was free since visitors under 25 visit for free!), and second the museum changes constantly, offering a carefully curated experience which combines art from some of the most famous museums in all of Italy. During my last visit, the temporary collection houses an interesting collection of Andy Warhol, while this time the museum presented “Un Museo Ideale”, which was basically a carefully curated exhibition of contemporary works from all over Italy showcasing the major artistic trends and talents of the past century in the form of an “ideal museum” with all of the best works. My absolute favorite part of the exhibit was the “interactive” art portion which included a moving mirror house, a maze, and a flashing black light walkthrough, these were all a lot of fun! But in general, the museum is worth a visit for the extensive information provided about each time period in the development of Italian contemporary art.
After visiting the Museo del Novecento, we decided to do a bit of shopping and head towards the Castello Sforza and the Sempione park. I need to provide you with a detailed description of this area (because I love it!) as well as out aperitivo crawl, so more on where to purchase a drink plus a buffet of delicious food in my next post on Milan!