"Why Milan?" Milan by leics
Milan Travel Guide: 2,855 reviews and 7,183 photos
A good question. I have no interest in shopping, and even less in fashion, so why go to Milan?
Several answers: it's easy to get to by budget airline from the UK, it's got excellent access by train to many other places....including the Italian lakes......and it seemed a good idea to use it as a base for my first exploration of northern Italy. I returned for an overnight stay in 2014, just because my flights were to Malpensa, but this page is about my 2011 visit.
It was indeed a good idea, as it turned out, and Milan itself had more to offer me in historical and archaeological terms than I had expected. Consequently, I spent longer exploring the city than I had planned and thus cut out a trip to Bergamo (I've since visited that lovely city several times).
Milan is a busy industrial city and the bombings of the Second World War did a great deal of damage. But far more of its older buildings survived than I had thought, and a little of the ancient Roman town too.
I chose a hotel near to Milan Centrale station for ease of access by train to my other planned destinations. From internet reading one would think that this area, like that around Termini in Rome, is the height of depravity and 'danger' for the traveller. Absolute rubbish! It is no more unpleasant or 'dangerous' than similar areas around large railway stations anywhere in Europe. It's simply a matter of using common sense; of course one does not wander round alone in the early hours of the morning, of course one keeps an eye on one's belongings, of course one is wary (even curt at times) to those who offer to 'help'you with ticket machines or your bags. But 'dangerous'? No, not in the least. As a solo middle-aged female I felt perfectly safe wandering around after dark...and there was a carabinieri station on the corner of my hotel's street anyway!
So: what of Milan? Well, it seemed to me a very 'ordinary' city, with people focusing on getting to and from their work, taking swift espressos, meeting friends in cafes, doing a bit of shopping....nothing unusual at all. There were no swan-like supermodels wandering around, no ultra-fashionable women to make one feel uncomfortably under-dressed; just ordinary people wearing ordinary clothes for chilly February days, mostly black or dark colours, warmly padded jackets and coats, hats and scarves and gloves. I could have been in any European city....except this one has some very Italian architecture, art and history to explore (as well as excellent Italian coffee, pastries and pizza, of course!).
I liked the easy way one could move around the city using the Metro. I'm not fond of underground systems, but this one isn't as claustrophobic as some (the Tube in London is horrid) and even when quite crowded I found it bearable. But walking is still the best way to explore any city, and I must have walked at least 5 miles every day.
The Duomo had to be my first stop. Like many in Italy it is gorgeously decorated, its exterior a mass of wonderful Medieval carvings. I especially like to look at these, for many of the heads carved by ordinary master-masons were modelled on ordinary folk those men knew personally. So when you are gazing at them you are seeing real human beings who once lived in Medieval Milan (or any Medieval city, for you will find such heads carved on great churches throughout Europe).
But Milan's Duomo is special. As well as the rather fascinating archaeological excavations of previous versions, which you can visit from within the Duomo itself, you can actually visit its roof: a truly unmissable experience. I was lazy; I didn't take the steps but paid a bit extra for the rather speedy lift access. And then I wandered for almost an hour, entranced by the intricacy of the myriad carvings and sculptures up there (some inaccessible at the moment as restoration work is being carried out) and at the views over the rooftops of Milan.
I'll make separate travelogues to show the fantastic stonework on that rooftop.When you visit, remember that it was all created (and built) without the aid of any modern technology at all but by using wooden scaffolding, wooden cranes, hard work, sweat and sheer skill.
And from the Duomo I walked onwards to visit as many ancient churches as I could fit in, to have a look at the Navigli area, with its canals, to see what remained of Milan's Roman heritage....
And that first day wasn't enough, not least because Milan's ancient churches still close between midday and around 3pm. So I had to take more time from another day, to 'finish' what I really wanted to see and, in the process, discover things I'd not planned to see but enjoyed seeing anyway. Chief amongst these was the Archaeological Museum, a clear 'must' for me. But I had not realised that the monastery church of San Maurizio Maggiore (the museum is housed in part of the monastery) was open to the public, every wall of its interior richly decorated with stunning 16th century artwork in the most beautiful colours, including frescoes by Bernardino Luini (much of whose work has been lost).
I didn't see Leonardo's 'Last Supper'. Even 2 months in advance there were no tickets available for the days I could visit (school holidays, I'm afraid). But that was no a major disappointment; whilst I fully appreciate great art it does not have the 'must-see' pull for me that ancient buildings have.
Yes, I did use Milan as a base.....I visited Como, and Torno, and fascinating Pavia. But, to be honest, before I visited I had not realised that the city itself is worth a couple of days' exploration even for someone with no interest in shopping or fashion.
In this case I was pleased to be proved wrong. :-)
- Pros:History, architecture, art...
- Cons:A business destination, thus expensive.
- In a nutshell:More than just fashion and shopping.
Malpensa airport is a perfectly functional and efficient airport, although its brownish decor makes it feel rather... more travel advice
I added the 'full of Italians' bit because I am frequently very irritated by those few who consider places like this to... more travel advice
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