Milan Trip 2019: Day 1



Hello, my lovely readers! This has been a Summer of changes for me: I finished my bachelor's, got into a master's and feel like I am an adult! You can read more on this on my The Reader Diaries blog post. One thing that I really wanted to do was to get back to Italy. Honestly, I have been thinking of going back ever since I came home from my first time visiting, a few years ago with my family. Since you are reading this I believe you can guess that I made it and I went back to Milano, or Milan, whatever you prefer.
To me, Milan is the perfect mix between classy and imponent old buildings and modern sleek new buildings. It is the centre of high fashion in Italy and, therefore, the world. In this marvellous city in Lombardy, you always feel surrounded by the old masters and, at the same time, by the young innovators of the world. This is a cosmopolitan fashionable city, and this is not only because Chiara Ferragni lives there. Its famous canals were designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, it houses one of the greatest examples of late Gothic architecture in the world and it is, most of all, a "good vibes" cultural city.
In this series, I want to share with you what I managed to do on my trip and to give you some tips to succeed in this amazing area of Italy. Like the Italians would say: cominciamo!


I firmly believe that one of the smartest decisions I made on this trip was to book night flights. I went with an amazing friend of mine who is always up to take a ton of pictures of yours truly and to go along with my crazy ideas. Since he works, I had the stupendous idea of booking night flights, this way we won an extra day and a half and he was able to work on the day of our first flight. I also used up some of my Star Alliance frequent flyer miles that I had piled up flying with TAP during my Erasmus+. We departed from Lisbon Airport around 9 p.m. and arrived at Milan Malpensa Airport around midnight. Since I like to save my money where I can, we opted to sleep in the airport arrivals chairs and get to the city on the earliest train we could catch after the sun was up.
Before our trip, I bought the train tickets online to the Malpensa Express. Buying a return ticket online and taking it printed meant that besides saving money, we did not have to wait for the ticket office to open. We just got on a train at around 6:30 a.m. and headed towards Milano Cadorna Station. The Cadorna station is literally right beside the Castello Sforzesco (the Sforza Castle) which is located quite in the centre of the city. Our Airbnb check-in was only at 12 a.m. so we just took in the moment to walk around the city before the other tourists got out on the street.
If you ever plan to do like I did, please do remember to pack light. I only took a 30-litre Quechua backpack with me, so I only had to carry the weight in my back. It is certainly a privilege to walk around some of the busiest places in Milano and not seeing a soul around, it really lets you take in the scenery. Of course, we had to go to the Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral's Square) and take some pictures while it was relatively empty.
Right beside the Duomo, it is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II the oldest still sunning shopping mall in Italy. This amazing piece of architecture was designed in 1861 and built between 1865-1867 by Giuseppe Mengoni and it is named after the first king of the unified kingdom of Italy. Until Vittorio Emanuelle II what we now know as Italy was in fact divided into several smaller kingdoms with their own languages and traditions, this is still very noticeable today. There is a tradition that states that "if you want to return to Milan, ... you have a spin with your heel on the mosaic bull's 'attributes' that make up the pavement of the Galleria" (from Turismo Milano).

   

After strolling around between the Galleria and the Piazza del Duomo, we entered one of the side streets in search of a nice place to have breakfast. After at least 20 minutes of checking Google Maps (amazing place for advice) and walking around, we settled on Caffè Vergnano (the one on Via Speronari). I had an amazing Caffè Vienese and a cannolo siciliano (my dears, cannoli is the plural of cannolo). The caffè has an amazing ambience and the people are very nice! If you get to go there be sure to ask them for guidance on what to have because they know all the ins and outs of Italian desserts and barista culture.

  

After having breakfast we started making our way towards the area of our Airbnb. Since we still had some time, we decided to make some detours in order to kill some time. First, we visited the Colonne di San Lorenzo and the Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore. Unfortunately, I did not have access to my makeshift skirt and was wearing shorts so I did not want to risk entering. One thing that you will learn very quickly when you go to Italy is that you need to cover up to enter churches. This means no bare shoulders and nothing above the knee, for both men and women, even if they are a bit more relaxed when it comes to menswear.
The Colonne di San Lorenzo are 16 humongous corinthian columns in a row that were moved to their current location in the 4th century, after being removed from either a public bathhouse or a pagan temple. They are a reminder of how in the 4th and 5th centuries Milan, or Mediolanum how it was known then, was the capital of the Roman Empire. Besides being one of the most important Roman findings in the city, the square between it and the Basilica is a great place to experience Milan's nightlife along with the locals. In the square between the columns and the church you will also find a bronze copy of the 4th-century statue of Emperor Constantine, the original is located in the San Giovanni in Laterano church in Rome.


The Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore is located right in front of the columns and behind the statue of Constantine (that is posterior to it). This basilica was originally built in Roman times and rebuilt several times over the centuries, it is one of the oldest churches in Milan being consecrated in 402. This is a great symbol of the legacy of the Roman Empire in Milan. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante and Giuliano da Sangallo studied this building's architecture. Besides its great cultural importance, this is a great place to stop by and eat lunch underneath the trees. It is also located in an area known for its old churches, having a wide garden behind it that was once used for executions (I know, it takes my hunger away too).


After crossing one of the amazing parks located in this area we headed towards the Chiesa di Sant'Eustorgio. To be honest, we were not even heading towards the church, we were walking around and stumbled upon it. This church was probably founded in the 4th century by Eustorgio I, Bishop of Milan. It was once an important place of pilgrimage since it is said to contain the relics of the Three Magi, translated to the church from Constantinople in 344.
Besides its great religious significance, it also possesses one of the main and most notable examples of Renaissance Florentine art in the whole of Milan: the Portinari Chapel. Firstly, my bookish friends, as far as I have been able to check, Pigello Portinari, who commissioned this chapel to be a private sepulchre was of the same Florentine family as Dante Alighieri's famed Beatrice Portinari.


The Portinari Chapel is exceedingly beautiful with its frescos and overall magical ambience. This is where the tomb of San Pietro Martire is located: a luxurious funerary monument in marble by Balduccio Pisano (believe me, the details are out of this world). You will see a lot of San Pietro Martire in this church, so here is a little bit of context. San Pietro Martire was a 13th-century catholic priest and served as an inquisitor in Lombardy. His only recorded act in Milan was one of clemency and he was able to convert a lot of Cathar Christians (Cathars were a very weird sect of Christians) back to Catholicism. Milanese Cathars did not like his conversions and hired an assassin to kill him, which he did, cutting the top of his head with an axe. His way of being assassinated is why he appears in drawings and sculptures with a blade stuck in his head.
I really enjoyed this church, it is one of those places where you can quite literally feel the old. Ever since the moment I walked in, I felt surrounded by the imposing and beautiful building and decor. One cannot simply explain how one felt in that situation but I gather that you can assume how astounded I was by my lack of ability to describe it.

     

After leaving the church we did finally head towards our Airbnb directly. This statement may not be totally honest: Milan has so much to see that it is totally impossible not to stop and stare every 5 minutes. We stayed in an amazing studio near the Parco Vittorio Fomentano which was chosen not only because of the price but also because of its closeness to the Duomo. After checking in and taking a shower we headed towards Navigli. We did this in a way I do not advise: we went through Porta Romana and passed through Fondazione Prada. The Fondazione Prada is a complex of buildings in the old gin district of Milan that serves as the headquarters of the institution headed lead by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli. This institution is dedicated to contemporary art and culture and promotes a rich cultural programme.
After walking nervously for a while because I was waiting to know if I made it into my master's degree or not we finally arrived in Navigli. After sitting to rest my feet, I started to check my email (for the one-millionth time) to see if the university had sent news... and I was accepted! We then decided to commemorate by eating pizza.


Prior to actually eating anything, we took some time to walk through the amazing canals of Navigli. The artificial canals located throughout the city of Milan were built between 1179 and the 16th century. They were used to transport merchandise and also to bring the marble used to construct the city's cathedral, the Duomo di Milano. The system of dams used in these canals was famously designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself, who stayed in Milan or awhile, serving the Sforzas. After their construction, the canals quickly became the city's main form of communication and transport
This is a great place to have an aperitivo, the Milanese tradition of buying drinks and getting the food for free (within a certain schedule, of course, usually by the end of the afternoon)! We opted not to do that though and I ate an amazing pizza Margherita, which is my favourite.
Going to Italy, and especially places like Navigli, you should be prepared for the prices. As an example, I paid 8 euros for my pizza, 4 euros for a can of coke, 3 euros for coperto and the dessert we shared was a whopping total of 12 euros. This could have been more expensive if we had gone along with the Italian tradition of meal structure.

   

The classic Italian meal structure is as follows:
- aperitivo: it is the beginning of the meal, similar to an appetizer (it relates to the Milanese tradition I mentioned earlier); usually includes alcoholic drinks and light food.
- antipasto: another starter that is a bit heavier; usually cold foods, like mortadella, prosciutto, bresaola and other charcuterie, also cheeses and small bread-based dishes, like bruschetta and panino.
- primo piatto: the first course; hot food; heavier than the previous course but lighter than the next; usually non-meat dishes such as risotto, pasta, soup, gnocchi, polenta, lasagne and others.
- secondo piatto: usually meats or fish; sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone and others; the most Milanese food to eat in this course is Cotoletta alla Milanese.
- contorno: side dish; usually served with the secondo piatto; usually raw or cooked vegetables.
- formaggi e frutta: cheeses and fruit.
- dolce: the dessert; included are things like panettone, tiramisu, panna cotta and other Italian delicacies.
- caffè: coffee; we Europeans like to drink our expresso after our meals.
- digestivo: after coffee, alcoholic drinks like limoncello, grappa and amaro are served.


Besides the food, we strolled around, watching the sun go down and collecting free books. That's right: free books. I was so lucky that on the day we went to Navigli it was the anniversary of an Italian chain of bookstores called Libraccio. Libraccio spread books alongside the canal and let people pick and take what they wanted without paying. These were used books and they said they were giving them away because books are not meant to be forgotten. It is important to mention that I do actually speak Italian so I was not taking books just for taking.
We ended our first day by strolling around the canals and drinking a cup of Spritz! I do not approve of plastic straws but the seller gave them to us before I could refuse. Spritz is an Italian drink made with Aperol, prosecco and a bit of sprite.

    


This is the end of the first post in the 5 post series about my trip to Italy in June. I hope you enjoyed it! Please comment below what you thought!

Extra tips:
- if you ever see a sign or a warning saying sciopero in Italy then there is some kind of strike.
- a train platform is called binario, a ticket biglietto, help aiuta, please per favore and thank you grazie.

2 comments

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