28.05.15 – 30.05.15
We arrived in Milan still with the same coffee buzz we left Anzola with, as it only took us an hour on the high speed train from Bologna Centrale. After waiting only a few minutes just outside Genova Metro station, my friend Martina suddenly appeared, full of energy and excitement to welcome us to her city. We walk only about 15 minutes in the glorious, welcome sunshine to Martina’s apartment she shares with her boyfriend and brother. It’s in the Navigli district of the city, so not in the frantic city centre but a more bohemian, alternative neighbourhood. There are boutiques, bookshops and endless cafes. The canals are lined with endless options for having a drink at any hour of the day.
Martina has conveniently taken the rest of the day off work, so after we dump our bags she takes us for a little tour of the city. We walk everywhere and it’s exhausting, but finally the sun is shining so it’s no bother really. We first go ‘in colonne’ as the locals say when they want to meet ‘at the columns’. In a large piazza 16 large columns stand alongside each other facing the Basilica di San Lorenzo, and the area is a common place to meet friends according to Martina.
We grab some ‘panzarotti’ for lunch from Panificio Luini, which is close to the city centre but hidden down some side streets. We’re shocked to see a small bakery with a queue down the street, at least 15-20 people forming an orderly line, but Martina says in fact we’re very lucky it’s not much longer! Luini’s apparently is an institution among Milanese workers who want a quick, cheap lunch. I had never heard of a panzarotti, and was disappointed in myself when I found out what it was. It’s close to a calzone, except with a different dough recipe. It’s softer, lighter, and the original Luini’s recipe is still a family secret. Considering Milan’s rep for being an expensive city, Luini’s is definitely good value for money, with the basic tomato and mozzarella panzarotto going for less than €2.50.
The city is buzzing because of the World Expo getting underway just over a month ago, so when we arrive at the Piazza di Duomo housing the world famous Milan Cathedral there is a big stage set up and an Italian rapper playing to a half decent crowd. An Italian rapper, playing in the middle of the day, outside the Milan Duomo. Not something I was expecting, but when I find out the rapper is a D-list celebrity who’s also a judge on Italian X Factor, maybe this is why he’s playing lunchtime Thursday and not on the weekend. We decide to save the Duomo for tomorrow because the size alone just tells us it’s going to need a few hours and more energy than we currently had. Plus the crap rapper sorta kills the vibe.
As Martina walks us through the city and we end up sitting in the castle gardens enjoying the shade, I realise Milan isn’t quite what I expected. I thought this whole city would be super corporate, suits everywhere and glamorous models strutting around, and this definitely exists. But thankfully there are little pockets, small neighbourhoods which have a completely individual personalities, like Navigli where we’re staying. So while it was a shock to come from quiet little Anzola where no one spoke English to loud, crazy, international Milan, it was nice to see that this city wasn’t quite as soulless as cynical old me imagined. Bonus: it’s so clean! – Although Martina tells me this is all to do with the image of the city that the government wants portrayed because of the expo underway.
We also are taken to the flagship Dolce and Gabbana store, as it seems to be a tourist attraction in itself. The place is a maze, between its two storeys it’s a true Alice in Wonderland-esque heaven but also museum for fashion addicts. Seeing a pair of shoes that cost about the same as the amount of money as I’ve spent in two months in Europe affirms why I’m probably never going to buy anything from here. Nonetheless, it was a different kind of attraction and I’m glad we got to experience a part of the fashion culture of Milan.
In the evening we get ready to head out for ‘Aperitivo’ with Martina and her friend Francesca. We’ve never had a proper Italian Aperitivo, so we’re excited to sit outside and soak it up as the sun sets. Aperitivo is kind of like happy hour on crack, but instead of drinks being cheaper, they are actually inflated a little bit to account for the plates and plates of food you can help yourself to at the buffet inside the restaurant or bar. So while paying €20 for two cocktails did feel like a dagger to the heart of two budget travellers, you need to remember that you’re not just getting a drink, you paying for access to a glorious Italian buffet. Nearly every single eatery along the Naviglio Grade canal is full, and the ones that aren’t, well that’s just a sign that you shouldn’t be eating there.
The next day, sadly already our last day in Milan, we take more time to explore Navigli, stopping to get a cappuccino along the way. We’ve decided to walk to the top of the Duomo, so to fuel up we’ve stopped at possibly one of the unique and best value places we’ve eaten so far. It’s called ‘C’era una volta una piada’, you’d almost walk past it, but then once you step inside it’s as if you’ve been transported to some kind of fairytale dining room, even the staff are wearing adorable outfits. Apart from the interesting theme and décor, the menu lists nothing but piadinas; which are really quite cheap for the sheer size of them. They’re enormous! I struggled to eat two thirds of mine; lucky I have an eternally hungry boyfriend to help me.
Arriving at the Duomo was a little less chaotic today, thanks to the disappearance of the X Factor judge. Our decision to walk to the top instead of take the lift was of course based on money, as it’s actually quite an expensive attraction to visit! For the both of us to enter the Duomo and access the top terraces (on foot) cost just under €25. The climb wasn’t half as bad expecting either, plus you feel like you’ve really earned the views when you arrive at the top! The panoramas across Milan are amazing, we spent much longer up there than we anticipated –mainly because the staff don’t hurry you along at all, you’re free to sit down and take it in as much as you want. In that way we definitely got value for money! The inside of the cathedral was also stunning, even though I’m not religious in the slightest, I can still appreciate the design and grandeur of the place!
That night we head out for aperitivo again with Martina, and do one last little lap around town,
even stopping and sharing some cheap drinks in the columns. We decide to more or less call it a night and start walking back to the apartment, only to stumble upon a huge outdoor silent disco. Of course we’d be super lame to pass up such a fun looking event, so we queue up, pay for our dorky headphones and join the crowds. So we spent our last night in Milan dancing, singing and watching everyone’s headphones flick between green, red and blue depending on which DJ was playing the most popular tracks. We arrived home just before 2am and were asleep within two minutes flat.
Our time in Milan was short and sweet, but I think we got an authentic Milanese experience, mainly thanks to the lovely Martina hosting us for a couple of nights. I definitely enjoyed the city more than I thought, and only wished we had one more day so that we could have ventured out to Expo. I think Milan is best summed up in an article I read somewhere, describing the city as ‘Italian, but with an international vision’.
Now we head back to Ljubljana on our way out to Lake Bled.