A Day Out in Milan, or How to Get Robbed Blind.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 17:27

It's my birthday! Huzzah! I am now 21, which means I can do...exactly the same as I could when I was 18, but now worldwide! What a brilliant stroke of luck. I've always wanted to drink in America and Canada. Good thing I wasn't thinking when I turned down American Studies at Swansea, or we wouldn't have these lovely little updates about places in Europe.

Today, I thought I'd man up, and see the world. I'd read that Italian trains were confusing, at least far more confusing than your average British hunk of metal. All we do is get on board, buy a ticket, and we're set. Sometimes we pre-order them and reserve a seat, but that's only if we think it'll be busy, or we want to be extra sure. Here in Italia, it's totally different. You buy a ticket before getting to the platform, then you validate it to prove that you are using a ticket for that day (rather than one you bought three months ago and have used ever since), and then you try and find a seat in second class.
"Stuff that," thought I in my hubris. "It's my chuffing birthday. I'm riding first class!" - so, tentatively I stepped up to the little machine that allows you to buy train tickets. I tapped my way slowly through each screen, and ended up with a seat reservation on an Intercity train to Milano Centrale. That means: no stops! (or very few, anyway) I dragged myself to platform 3, and stood waiting for the 10.33 from Genoa - when it arrived, everyone huddled towards the back of the train, while I ran to the other end of the platform to find first class. Surprisingly, even though it wasn't cushy (like the pictures of the Frecciarossa which I've seen), it was pretty damned nice. Think individual compartments of 6 seats, with a sliding door, and a long corridor, like in all those smoky, romantic 1940s flicks. Sweet.

Half an hour later, I was in Milan. And ten minutes after that, I'd found my way to the Duomo. And that's where all the fun began - apart from parting with €5 for a piece of string (as well as peace and quiet) from one of the lookie-lookie men, I decided it would be a good idea to wander Milan on foot. So, here, for you, in photos are "The Places I saw in Milan while walking around avoiding using buses, trams and the metro"

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
(from Piazza della Scala)
Instead of making myself look like an obvious tourist (which I really did anyway), I decided to rush through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is like a posh shopping arcade, which is laid out in a cross. On one side, you have the Duomo, on the other La Scala. In the other two directions seemed to be offices, and shops. Inside the Galleria, however, were the reasons why Milan is one of the capitals of haute-couture. Prada, Louis Vuitton, Versace; all the things that make girls swoon, and all pretty much crammed right next to each other. It really puts St Davids's II in Cardiff to shame.

Teatro della Scala
Leonardo da Vinci
(Shouldn't he be in Florence?)
Ah, La Scala. This was the other reason I rushed through the Galleria. It's one of those well-known Opera Houses, and has played host to Verdi, Puccini and Salieri. Anyhow, La Scala doesn't usually start its season until December, but it still looks rather nice from the outside. It's on its own little Piazza, featuring a statue of Leonardo da Vinci. There was quite the crowd today, but then again, what tourist attraction doesn't pull in a crowd?
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
(from Piazza del Duomo)
Inside the Galleria
So, I decided to wander back to Il Duomo, and look at the Galleria properly. Talk about busy. Even the really expensive restaurants inside were full, though admittedly it was mostly Asian tourists who were sitting there eating pasta and pizza like there was no limit to their finances. Architecturally, this isn't exactly stunning - it reminds me of the one in Brussels - but, inside you just have to admire how it manages to look old, yet so very modern. It's like Victorian-chic.

Il Duomo di Milano
Il Duomo, the main Cathedral of Milan, is the hub for most tourists. When I got on the metro to go there, I couldn't move for love nor money; but on the way back to Centrale, there was almost nobody using the underground. It's also the place where I got caught out by a lookie-lookie man, who honed in on me from across the piazza. I tried to fob him off with my bad Italian - "No, grazie. Non la voglio. Sono in ritardo. Ciao" but he persisted "It's a present. We are friends. It is free" before tying the bastard string to my wrist and demanding €20. I looked at him as if he'd just shat on the Pope. And then told him I'd give him €5 if he wanted to remain "amici" and would leave me alone. He obliged, but not before adding "Go on, a bit more...?" - at that point I walked off...far off...to the other side of town.

La Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore
The Columns of San Lorenzo
And this is where I ended up: San Lorenzo. Surprisingly, considering the number of beautiful churches in Milan, there were no tourists around. This place was empty, apart from some locals in caf├ęs on the edges of the piazza. This was the point where I decided "Well, if I've found this, I may as well continue walking to everything else!" Those columns are the Columns of San Lorenzo. I guess they're remnants of something from Mediolanum, or maybe just the remains of an over-the-top cloister for the church.

I seem to have a knack for finding War Memorials. This one was hidden, sort of, behind Sant'Ambrogio, another church where I expected there to be a few more tourists rambling around. Surprisingly, there were far more locals there. Oh well, that's Italy for you I suppose - people have no taste if they're not Italians. Anyway, the big white one is a Sanctuary for all the Milanese killed in the World Wars, and the black one is for those who died fighting in the Russian campaigns. Beats our conformity with hundreds of bland, old cenotaphs eh?

La Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
And that up there is Sant'Ambrogio, an old basilica. Looks like it was built in Lombard Romance, like a lot of early churches in this part of Italy. You can usually tell by the way the brickwork looks. [Yes, I am that sad, and, yes, I do like my church architecture.] The only thing was, it looked like more of a museum than a church, and after parting with tha €5 earlier, I wasn't up for parting with anything more unless it was for essentials (like a train ticket home, and something to eat!)

Il Castello Sforzesco
The final stop on my tour, and probably the one which annoyed me the most, was the Palazzo Sforzesco. It's to the north of the Duomo, but I found it by doing pretty much a semi-circle from San Lorenzo up. It's one of those old palaces that has existed from the time of the signorie, which is sort of the early middle-ages. It's really quite spectacular, if a bit empty in the grounds. But, it was covered in lookie-lookie men: six (I kid you not) on the main entrance, and three on the museum entrance, and one covering a side entrance. I actually gave up with it - "Hello, for you, one euro only" - and decided enough was enough: "It's my birthday, I'm going for food, and then I'm catching a train home"

I suppose that's the only downside of this entire thing: Milan is such a tourist trap that people know they can sucker someone into giving them a 'donation' for a piece of string, because it's a veritable Babel. If the German next to you doesn't speak English or Italian, and you don't speak German, you're left to the mercy of these vultures. I suppose I'm looking at it the wrong way, simply because I got caught. What I should really say is:

Milan is a nice city. Architecturally it's beautiful. Socially, it's bustling with life. The transport network is really well thought-out. It's the perfect 'metropolis', and great for a few days if you go in a group. If you go it alone, you really have to beware the people who will hone in on you and try to sap you of all your cash. Beyond that, I'd recommend it to anyone, especially as I spent €15 on a return, first-class train ticket, €5 on food (okay, it wasn't from a restaurant but I got 'money conscious' all of a sudden, okay?), and had a nice day out.

Next time, I'm thinking Genoa, Parma or Turin.


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