Italia – Musings in Milano

For a change I headed to the airport after work rather than the usual disgustingly early flights. We were flying with Easyjet to Milan and unfortunately, after some dinner and drinks we found out our flight was going to be delayed by 3 hours!! We arrived into Malpensa at just after 2a.m and because of the delay had to spend 100 euros on a taxi to the city. Our Airbnb host was also not particularly impressed with our late arrival, and so here we were ready for a lovely bank holiday weekend trip, exhausted and annoyed. Everything looks better in the morning though, right?

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After sleeping in and waking up to glorious sunshine, everything did in fact look much improved from the previous night. Our studio apartment was great and so convenient for getting around the city. Despite the snacks and drinks provided in our apartment we were feeling peckish and so decided to venture out for breakfast. Just around the corner from our apartment was City Life Cafe, a little café where I had the best ever toasted cheese and ham panini and an espresso, when in Italy and all that. After fueling up we decided to wander over to the cathedral in the sun and check out some more of Milan. It was about a 30 minute walk and was lovely, especially the walk through one of the main parks – Indro Montanelli – with fountains and an old palace. The nearer we got to the cathedral the busier the streets became with football fans here to celebrate the Champions League Final which was taking place that evening. As we passed the famous Scala opera house and entered the Marino Palazzo the crowds were huge. The chanting began to rise and as we wandered through the famous shopping court – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele the noise was so loud it was vibrating off the roof and being sent back into the swell of the crowd.

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We finally arrived at the cathedral which we were immediately impressed with, the architecture was impressive and being in the cathedral square surrounded by the thousands of fans all chanting and singing was quite a surreal experience. We really wanted to go onto the roof of the cathedral and after waiting for a short while in line to purchase our tickets we went to the back, left hand corner of the building to queue to take the lift up. The queuing was actually quite enjoyable given the sun and everything going on around the square for the match. The lift zipped us up to the top in seconds and from there we were able to walk right the way around the entire roof, getting some spectacular views of the  city. It was surprisingly not too busy in sections which was nice, as the sun was shining so we had the perfect opportunity to chill out.

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By this point we were feeling pretty peckish and so decided to walk a few blocks to the right of the main cathedral square for some lunch at Bottega Ghitoa. I opted for the Spaghetti with clams which was lovely and light with a large glass of local white wine. It was really tasty and my mum’s pizza wasn’t bad either. Feeling full, we joined the queue to enter the cathedral and I had to fashion myself a scarf from a piece of material due to my shorts. The cathedral was HUGE, probably the biggest I have ever been in with some absolutely beautiful stained glass windows and wall carvings. We wandered around in awe before making our way back out into the sun. The Cathedral ticket is pretty good value and includes for 15 Euros, entrance, the rooftop lift as well as an archaeological exhibition and small museum. Given the spectacular weather we skipped the museums and made our way over to Sforesco Castle, the meeting point for our art tour.

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One of the things I was most looking forward to on our trip was seeing The Last supper, probably one of the most famous Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Tickets to view the masterpiece sell out well in advance and my lack of Italian made trying to purchase them over the phone pretty difficult (that and their inability to answer calls). So as not to miss out on one of Milan’s highlights, we opted to take a tour which also covered some of the other sights. It was more expensive but I definitely think it was worth it. We booked through TickItaly and met our guide Laura at the entrance to the old fortress. Finding them was quite tricky given the masses of football fans milling around but once we were all assembled we wandered into the old castle fortress for the start of the tour. The castle is free to visit and wander around for those who may not wish to visit with a guide. However, for me the highlight of the day was having her explain about the history of the city and the 2 ruling families – the Visconti’s and the Sforza’s. The history definitely brought the old historic fortress alive with stories of the old families and how they used each of the rooms. She also gave an explanation of the coat of arms of the Sforza family. Bianca Visconti was the last heir to the Vinconti house and so the family name disappeared to the Sforza’s when she married Francesco. The coat of arms shows a serpent devouring a child and is even used today on Milanese products eg. Alfa Romeo.

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After all the history we made a short comfort break in a bar, where I sampled yet another lovely local wine, before making our way to Santa Marie della Gracie – the church and Dominican convent where da Vinci’s painting is housed.  We first enjoyed the tranquility in the back courtyard where they had a very cool frog fountain. We were also able to access the side room here which is usually closed due to a local market being on. After going around to the main entrance Laura explained to us about the history of the painting, how it was almost destroyed during a bombing in the war and was simply covered with a piece of tarpaulin. She also gave us some background on the painting style used by da Vinci. Usually the frescoes in churches are painted by artists who mix the paint with cement to ensure that the painting lasts the lifetime of the building. For this style of painting you have to be fast so that the paint doesn’t harden. Da Vinci wasn’t able to work fast enough for this technique and so as a result the paint he used started to chip less than 50 years after production. Thus, a huge restoration effort was undertaken by art historians to try and put the painting back into its original state. You can definitely tell it has been restored and other than the interesting positioning of Judas at the same side of the table as the other disciples there was little difference, in my opinion, to other last supper paintings undertaken by other artists. There was also a very interesting crucifixion seen on the opposite wall which I spent a lot more time admiring. Giovanni Donato da Montorfano.

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It had been a long hot day and by this point we were starting to wane, so nipped around the corner and took the subway back to Central in 5 minutes. We opted to eat at Cafe Panzera which was located right next to the station and less than 50 steps to our apartment. This was probably not the best choice and my Milanese Risotto was distinctly average at best. We did have some more prosecco though, which was tasty and some local cheese. It was lovely after being out and about all do to be back in the apartment. There was great art on the walls, a fantastic shower and generally a very modern atmosphere. We drifted off to sleep feeling hugely contented.


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