This is a beginning of a new series of posts documenting my travels to the Northern part of Italy in May 2017. This post is about our day in Milan, the business capital of Italy and widely regarded as the fashion capital of the world. ( Though I am as clueless about fashion as can be!)
We had flown out of Mumbai on a late night Brussels airlines flight which took us to Brussels. There we finished our immigration formalities and took a short flight to Milan. I consider this a much better option rather than flying via a Middle Eastern country because of all the new rules regarding carrying electronics on the flight ( And I just can’t check in my camera and lenses!) & completing immigration as you wait for your next flight.
We arrived in Linate airport Milan at 11am to dark grey skies and pouring rain. I had been tracking the weather forecast for a few day, so it wasn’t a total surprise. We always travel with full rain gear whenever we travel, so it wasn’t that big of an inconvenience.
Linate airport is the domestic airport of Milan and is closer to the city than Malpensa airport used by the bigger Middle eastern carriers, ( Another reason to fly by a European airline!) so we went to the taxi stand and hired a cab to take us to our booked hotel, Hotel Star in the Milan city centre. Taxis in Italy are not a very expensive proposition and I have used taxis more in Italy than in any of my trips abroad especially for airport transfers.
The Hotel Star was in a small by lane just behind the famous La Scala Opera house. Even though it wasn’t check in time yet the staff was gracious enough to give us our room. The hotel is a small boutique hotel with colourful decorated rooms walking distance from the centrepiece of Milan, the Duomo.
We quickly got ready and left the hotel in full rain gear (decathlon jackets and over trousers – highly recommended) into the pouring rain. We only had one day in Milan at either end of our stay in Italy and we were not going to let a little rain stop us from sightseeing. We walked from our hotel to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, “THE” high end fashion mall of Milan. The Galleria is one of the oldest malls in the world, but we were not there for shopping. We were there for the amazing architecture ( And to get some respite from the rain!).
As you can see the Galleria is a beautiful sight even if you have no intention of ever venturing into any of the shops. ( Any of which can easily empty out your precious vacation budget in minutes!) What you can’t see in the photo are the hundreds of tourists taking shelter from the rain. We walked around for a few minutes and took a lot of pictures. Suddenly our stomachs started growling in protest and we meekly followed its orders and found ourselves a nice restaurant for lunch, which specialised in different types of Focaccia. So we had a few varieties each of which was more delicious than the other. We finished off with a delightful jar of Tiramisu. (I have never had a bad Tiramisu in Italy!)
Now we were ready to tackle the humongous cathedral of Milan with a full stomach. We bought combo tickets to the cathedral itself, the cathedral museum & a roof top visit by elevator valid for 3 days which was a great deal. As it continued to rain many people got the bright idea of visiting the cathedral to get away from it, resulting in a half an hour wait in line in the now Mumbai -esque rain. I didn’t dare get my Camera out from under my jacket even though it was supposed to be weather sealed!
We finally got in to the 4th largest cathedral in the world and it was a relief! It was warm and due to its huge size it easily accommodated the entering masses. The structure itself is imposing with huge pillars, a seemingly never ending nave leading to a beautiful altar.
It has huge windows which on one side are lined with the original 15th century stained glass and on the other side with newer painted glass ( More effects of WW II bombing) I have always liked how stained glass looks and the difference in between the two is very apparent.
We moved towards the altar which was cordoned off sadly and we couldn’t get end on close up views. So we circled around and saw some of the beautiful memorial graves of pastors and Popes.
We moved on till we reached the famous statue of St Bartholomew wearing his skin like a robe ( He was flayed to death), it is an anatomically accurate statue from times when dissection was a crime. ( You make the deductions!)
A replica of the Spire topping Madonnina statue is placed behind the altar which you can see at close quarters. The one at the top of the Spire is still the tallest point of Milan.
We visited the royally decorated crypt of St Charles Borromeo which contains relics which can be viewed from behind a closed grill door and the glass casket containing the embalmed body of the saint himself.
Without realising we had spent more than 2 hours inside the cathedral and it was time to move on. So with one last look at the humongous structure (and a few more photos) we walked out into the wet Duomo square.
It had stopped raining & finally I could get my camera out and photograph the exterior of the church with its marble facade and pointy spires. Everywhere you turn on the Piazza Duomo is a photo worth taking and thanks to the rain it wasn’t teeming with crowds making it easy to take photos.
We returned to the hotel to rest our feet a bit before we left to have dinner at the Naviglio Grande. The Naviglio Grande is a canal which in earlier days was the main trade route connecting inland Milan to the sea but is now lined with restaurants. It is a picturesque place to have dinner. We took the Metro to the nearest station P. Genoa and walked to the canal itself. The Milan metro is super efficient and useful and more like the Paris metro than the Rome one, which is limited and pretty useless for tourists.
We walked along the banks and surveyed the restaurants lining the canal. There were a lot of options so we took a fair bit of time just walking along the banks and building up an appetite and enjoying the views and mallards swimming along the canal.
It was 7.30 pm but it showed no signs of getting dark so I had to shelve my plans of taking photos of a lit up canal and go to a restaurant for dinner. We chose the Osteria del Gnocco Fritto and settled in to have a wonderful dinner of Gnocchi for the better half and Pasta with boar meat sauce ( Cinghale) & a beer for me. The speciality of this restaurant is an unlimited supply of gnocchi fritto which is a fried Italian Bhatura which they keep refilling. The meal was absolutely divine and super filling!
We walked out super full only to discover that it was not dark yet and that all public transport had stopped because of Labour day (May 1st). So we took a cab back to the Duomo square and finally it started to get dark. The square was beautifully lit up and was a photographers delight.
The galleria looks absolutely breathtaking all lit up and I couldn’t stop clicking away to glory.
Even the already beautiful Duomo facade looks more beautiful lit up. This is what makes paying a few extra euros for staying in the city centre worth it, getting to see these beautiful places at night without having to worry about getting to your hotel later.
We walked through the Galleria just to take photos of the lit up interior and the blue night sky filtering in through the glass dome and roof. Just spectacular!
Slowly the effects of the long flight had caught up with us and we walked back to the hotel after taking photos of Leonardo da Vinci in a funky hat in a square behind the Galleria.
It had been a memorable first day of our vacation. We hoped that the weather would take a turn for the better the next day since we wanted to visit the Cathedral Rooftop and the Sempione park which were both open air sights. But that is topic for another post, another day.