I happened to visit Milan for a technical conference for 4 days. When I heard of the impending visit, I was amused that of all places to visit it has to be Milan. I had very little idea of Milan or for that matter Europe. Its not a regular haunt of IT people (except UK) and quite distant for visiting on my own. Once I came to know of the impending travel I sprang up and started to look what is on the agenda, not the conference but the city :) Milan is second biggest city of Italy with vibrant business, education, cultural and of course fashion activities. Though in terms of art of Renaissance era it is not considered to be at par with Florence or Venice but is home to one of the most famous paintings “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci. Initially we thought that evenings would be free so I tried to look up something to do in the evenings but all hopes were dashed when our sponsor scheduled technical events in the evening on 2 days and dinner on 3rd day. Thankfully we kept one free day as buffer so practically left with a full day and an evening of the day we arrive to venture out.
We reached Milan via Istanbul on Turkish airlines. Milan’s Malpensa airport is outside the town. Though there are cabs, we thought of taking a bus followed by metro train. It was more exciting than a quick cab ride. There are scheduled buses by private operators like Malpensa Express which drops you at Milan central station in 45 minutes for 10 euros. After that we took MM1 (yellow) line to station Lodi Tibb station which was pretty close to our hotel. Bus and train ride made it clear that public transport was efficient and well patronised. The public transport is of various forms like regular buses, trams, trolley buses (which take power from cables), suburban trains and of course the metro. Our conference and other venues were within walking distance so hardly took advantage of public transport. All these transport come under single management called ATM. There is just one type of ticket which is 1.50 euros for 90 minutes and they are not available inside buses or trams. One has to purchase it from stores, stations and just punch in the device inside the vehicle. After check-in at hotel even though after almost 20 hours of travel since leaving home and completely exhausted we still mustered energy and decided to utilize the evening.
We decided to visit the Navigli district famous for its evening-nightlife. Even though Milan is not known for canals like Venice, it used to have several canals out of which couple of them survive probably to preserve the heritage. Thankfully the place was not too far from where we were staying, a direct bus ride plus a small walk away. The walk from bus stand to the place gave first chance to soak in the surroundings. The place lived up to our expectations. There was a canal with clean flowing water and small bars and pubs around it with open air seating. It was dusk which gave good light for photos.
|Navigli Grande @ Dusk|
|Enthusiasts canoeing in the canal|
|Navigli Grande with lights|
Lots of tourists and local people had gathered to savor not just the ambiance but also gorge on Aperto which is pre-dinner snack time or happy hours for Italians. You can buy a drink at any bar and get buffet of snacks or finger food for free. The food is actually enough as a dinner. We looked for a bar serving a few vegetarian dishes and found it though had to wait for some time to get the open area seating. When it was well past in the evening, the area was a sight to behold. All the bars around were lit and crowd teeming around making merry. There was celebration in the air and we were completely relaxed from our travel exhaustion. There were couple of bridges to cross over the canal which were good vantage point to soak in the surrounding area.
|Bridge to cross the canal|
|Promenade around Navigli Grande|
|Love locks on the bridge|
After spending most of the time around Navigli Grande we decided to walk back along the second canal called Navigli Pavese which was not as vibrant as former but it was nice.
Next three days were spent in the conference and associated technical events. Only on the last day of conference we headed out to a local park, Parco Vittorio Formentano during a break. The park was quite green and had a working fountain even at the middle of the day.
|Fountain at the park|
|Free potable water|
At other instance I just headed out from hotel for a longish walk and to travel in the tram. The roads are all named as via which means road like “via Comelico”. For directions a plaque of the via name would be plastered to the wall of the first building of every street. On some roads there is tram line going in the middle. Some trams lines were probably abandoned flanked by trees and sprinkled with autumn dried leaves
|Abandoned tram line|
Even though I so longed for it, I could never make it to travel by tram due to paucity of time and had to make do with just gazing them from outside. Just like Kolkata trams they are a part of the heritage. I read that there are some trams which are 100 years old and have survived both the world wars where Milan was damaged.
|Tram at the middle of the road|
As far as vehicles are concerned, though cars seem to be the mainstay, somehow we felt like there are more cars parked than moving on the roads. Maybe the residents use the efficient public transport than their personal vehicles. To our surprise we saw some cars which are very common in India like Santro and Wagon R though only a couple during the trip. Two-wheelers were quite attractive. There were some high-powered two-wheelers from auto companies like BMW and others which were seemed quite popular. They are quite distinctive than the ones we are used to see in India.
|Stylish two wheeler|
|Typical street scene|
|Bicycle is stylish in Milan|
There seem to be strong culture of using bicycle. You can see bicycle riding people with basket in front all peacefully managing among bus and tram. These were not people from lower strata or anything. I saw some very stylish people with high-heels and proper suite riding bicycle.
On our last day at Milan we finally headed out for Milan sight seeing. The biggest attraction of Milan is Duomo which is a Gothic style cathedral. It is a huge, magnificent structure situated at Piazza del Duomo. Piazza in Italian is open area where people meet, express, play, show their talent just laze around basically an open community area. Duomo is centre of Milan in all respects. The moment one comes out of metro station and gaze at Duomo he is sure to skip a beat.
Being a Saturday there was huge crowd at the piazza. The structure is made of famous Italian marble and it is continuously being repaired. It has hundreds or spires and statues. It is equally magnificent inside. There were few murals and paintings, altar, confession boxes and stained glass from several centuries.
After that we went on top of the cathedral. There is elevator for 12 euros and for stairs one need to pay 7 euros. From the top one can see entire Milan city. I was thinking about how this magnificent structure would have been built. I believe that compared to our Taj Mahal this structure too could be worthy of being recognized as a wonder of the world.
|Piazza Del Dumo from the top|
|Statues on spire atop Duomo|
|Hundreds of statues on spires on Duomo|
|Pinnacle of Duomo|
After climbing up and down the Duomo, we were hungry. We had a quick bite at a fast food chain called Spizzico. After that we went to Emmanuel Vittori gallery which is just adjacent to Duomo. It is equally awe inspiring structure with glass ceiling. It is known as oldest mall of the world. It has few stores but I wonder whether anyone would shop there. Probably it would be a matter of prestige to have a store at this gallery.
|Galleria Emmanuele Vittorio|
|Inside Galleria Emmanuele Vittorio|
We came out of the gallery to Piazza della scala which has statue of Renaissance hero Leonardo da Vinci.
|Leonardo Da Vinci @ Piazza Della Scala|
Our next destination was Castello Sfarzesco which is a castle where Milan royal family once lived and was used as a garrison. Here we thought we could take tram ride but we could not make out where the stop is situated. Since the castle as close by we decided to simply walk. The walk took us through via Dante and Cordusio area which was quite busy market with shops and eateries. Here there was intersection of tram lines. We got to see some single car old looking trams. Perhaps they were the century old ones.
|Tram intersection near Cordusio|
|Old style tram on one of the lines|
The castle was again teeming with people and had a fountain in front. The castle was huge and there was a park called Parco Sampione behind it. The structure was made of bricks throughout and had a small moat around it. The garden inside the castle and Parco Sempione was all teeming with people. People were playing, relaxing, feeding the ducks in the water body and there was even a professional photo-shoot going on.
|Inside the castle|
We came out and tried gelato ice-cream which is another thing to do about Milan. I didn’t find anything special in it or maybe the tired soul did relish it properly. Here bought a couple of regular souvenirs – postcards and a fridge magnet. After this we thought of going to Montenapoleone area which is the fashion district of Milan. Though we were tired but still dragged on thinking that when are we going to be back here. Within fashion district there is a specific intersection known as Fashion Quadrilateral where all studios of big designers are situated. Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Christian Dior are all situated here. We decided to just make to that square and then call off the day.
The walk required us to go through Brera neighborhood which is known for its varied and bohemian culture. The area is distinct as at some point it was outside Milan city wall. What we could see was that alleys in the area were a little different. They were narrow and dotted with pubs who had spread themselves on the walking path all brimming with crowd. Perhaps it would require a deeper and relaxed observation to really make something out of this neighborhood.
We eventually came to via Manzoni which is the main thorough fare in fashion district. In our pursuit to the fashion quadrilateral we asked couple of folks but they were unable to help us and map did not point out the exact spot. We were tired by now and had early morning flight to catch so we decided to call it quits and made way to nearest metro station Turati which fortunately was on yellow line which would take us to Lodi Tibb station close to our hotel.
The post could not be finished unless talk about their food. Our breakfast was included in the stay at the hotel. What I read is that coffee and croissant is the staple breakfast of people in Milan. We got that in our breakfast and much more so could not experience the real breakfast. Our lunch and dinner was also taken care of by the conference and sponsors which had nothing much to write home about. Two days we had panini sandwiches which the organizer said were recipe from some part of the Italy. On other days we had some snacks which were native to Sicily. The only time we could choose and order food I ended up having a pizza only. Pasta, Sphagetti or chicken was not even on the menu. Except our Aperto on the very first day, we did not enjoy our food that much on this trip.
|Pizza for dinner|
Though our time was over but we were not fulfilled. Only if we had one more day we could have visited a little more. My reading of Milan is that its was a big place with lot going on but still relaxed.
It has its own identity and lifestyle. It did not seem like a city with restless people. Hope I would be back here someday to explore the place a little more.