We quickly learned two things upon our arrival by train in Milan. First, Milan is hot. Not a cloud in the sky, no breeze, sweltering hot. Second, shopping is the absolute favorite past time. Immediately we spotted multiple Armani and Prada stores, among other high class designers, and all were buzzing with shoppers. To not look like tourists, Katrina suggested we get some shopping bags as accessories, and stuff them with newspapers to make them look full. We also came to realize that it's no coincidence the shops are all well air conditioned, luring pedestrians off the streets with Milan's only refuge from the blistering summer sun.
Milan's geographical centerpoint is the Duomo. The outside is gorgeously ornate and detailed, with hundreds of spires rising from the roof. Katrina was "inappropriately dressed" in shorts above the knees so was not able to go inside, but Patrick took lots of pictures for her of the soaring ceilings and stained glass windows. The highlight of a visit to the Duomo is visiting the roof for panaromic views of Milan, but on our one day in the city the roof was unfortunately closed.Of course Milan is also home to many first-rate museums as well (though not all have AC, and are accordingly not very crowded). An exception is Cenacolo Vinciano, which houses The Last Supper. Unfortunately we were turned away since we did not book tickets ahead of time. So between that, the Duomo roof, and our reader Paola's panzerotto of Liuni recommendation we already have a pretty good to do list for a return visit.
Though we were unable to grace the last supper with our presence, we had a great time exploring the nearby Archeology Museum, full of ancient artifacts and built on rare intact sections of the old Roman city walls that have survived through the centuries. The highlight was a well preserved tower adjacent to which the museum was constructed. The tower first served as a corner of Milan's circus which housed events such as chariot racing and later became the chapel for the monastery built in its place. We stepped inside and were surrounded by a huge fresco painting that decorates the entire circle of its walls. It was amazing to be there undisturbed, so close to this original artwork, with not another visitor or museum attendant in sight! There aren't too many 13th century frescoes one can stumble upon in Boston. The entrance fee for this well-maintained museum is a steal at 2 Euros full price or 1 Euro for students.
An even better deal is the free Modern Art Museum, where they even stored our bags in lockers for us at no charge. "Modern", however, is a relative term. We were expecting to see 20th Century paintings and avante-garde sculptures, but were instead met with works dating from the 1700s. We leisurely strolled through the museum admiring the art as well as the setting, a beautiful old mansion at the foot of the Milan Public Gardens.
The Public Gardens and Sempione Park are Milan's two large green areas at the north end of city center. We'd grown accustomed to beautiful city parks in Europe, and were rather disappointed with Milan's. Both are green, but could use some flowers, creative manicuring, or sculptures. Most importantly--they need more shade! Somehow the trees in these parks manage to provide little shade for dripping sweat denizens looking for a quiet break. On the southeast end of Sempione we found the Castello Sforzesco, a huge old fort that is free to explore from the outside. We were also able to visit the inner courtyard, but to go in the actual building you need to buy a ticket for the host of museums housed inside.
We stayed at two different lodging establishments during our time in Milan. For the first night, we had booked ahead with Camilla Lozza at Milan BnB. We essentially rented a room in her large apartment just a five minute walk from the Duomo. Our room was a bit surprising with its pink and purple decor, but very comfortable. Camilla was mysteriously absent during our stay, but her daughter Manuela saw to our every need with an in-room fridge stocked with complimentary snacks and a huge quantity of breakfast supplies to choose from in the morning. For our second night, we needed a place only for a few hours since we had to leave for the bus station at 3:30 the next morning, and had debated not booking a hotel altogether. However, desire for a shower and a bed won out and we chose Hotel 2000 near the station. It was pretty much what we expected for the cheap price we were paying, with not much more than the desired bed and shower. We had no trouble getting up in the morning--the lack of AC or any effective ventilation made getting more than two hours sleep an impossibility anyway.
We did have a lot of luck getting dining recommendations from our Milan hosts. One of these suggestions was the Naviglio Canal which we were surprised to find lined with bar after bar serving "Happy Hour" buffets. For a minimum drink order, normally 7 or 8 Euros, customers can help themselves to an all you can eat buffet. And these places were packed! We snagged a table by the water at Slice Cafe, ordered two of their fruit-laced long island iced tea concoctions, and proceeded to stuff ourselves with pasta, gnocchi and pizza. All was going well until some lightning flashed, a huge raindrop fell, and suddenly the skies opened up and dumped a torrential thunderstorm. Everyone ran for cover and Slice staff hurried to put out umbrellas. We waited out the worst of it before heading home. We guess Evan was right: all our talk about sunny skies jinxed us with a crazy storm.
View more Milan pictures here.