There is something really interesting about a city made famous for fashion, yet has so many other hidden stories to tell. They say that Milan is modern and moves with the times, so in order to get to know Milan, you need to look harder and peel off a few layers.
We spent two marvellous days in Milan and I must say that this city did not initially have the wow factor that I expected until I saw all the trendy shops and people! As you walk out of Milano Centrale station, there are huge crowds of people milling about trying to get their shopping fix from designer stores like Prada to the mainstream stores like Zara (my top 2 favourites). Milanese are very serious about their shopping and even have stores available to you from the moment you step off the platform. Definitely my type of city!
The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Sanpi, was located just 10 minutes from Milano Centrale station. The staff at our hotel were fantastic! We must have looked a little lost and confused to the friendly concierge who was having his smoke break outside of the hotel. He gestured to us as we were crossing the road and asked us whether we were looking for somewhere to eat. Now, I don’t do well when I’m hungry so I was nodding furiously! He kindly directed us to a variety of trattorias and restaurants within the latin quarter. He said that if we wanted to try the local dishes, trattorias will give you the traditional Milanese food while restaurants are a little fancier and may feature non-traditional food. We decided to take his advice and pop across the road to a trattoria named Il Carpaccio. This place was buzzing with locals and tourists and looked like a traditional trattoria with the fresh ingredients of pastas, tomatoes, lemons, eggs etc on show in the restaurant for all to see. This place was such a hit with us that we ended up eating there every night!! I even stuck to my favourite dishes of veal scalopini and tiramisu. Rick had a seafood risotto dish and we loved it so much that we ordered seconds!
The next day was spent taking a tour in Milan. We met our perky tour guide and 20 other tourists on front of the Duomo, the gothic-style Cathedral in Milan – known to be the second largest Catholic Cathedral in the world. This tour was my favourite tour by far, mainly because I found the tour guide so entertaining! I actually only booked this tour to skip the line to see Da Vinci’s “last supper”, but I learnt so much more than I ever imagined!
Our tour guide walked us through the Duomo and mentioned that unlike other cities in Italy, Milan is always building on their past rather than the complete preservation of their ruins. When we explored the Duomo, we discovered that the church was actually a mixture of different styles and this is because of the constant restoration efforts. I also learnt some fun facts, such as:
- Milan used to have canals running through it before they filled in those canals with concrete.
- The stain glass windows were used to teach people about the bible. Pictures were helpful for teaching those who could not read.
- The church has undergone constant renovations since it was built. It was originally built simply and statues were added later. This was another way for Milan to build on past structures while preserving parts of their past.
- One of the significant parts of the church is the lady Mary that keeps the city safe. The statue sits on top of the Duomo as if to guard the city. Milanese laws used to prevent buildings from being any taller than the lady Mary, but in modern times, that rule was no longer followed.
- The Duomo is said to hold one of the nails from the cross that held Jesus. I took a picture of it but it looks like a beacon of light as its affixed on front of a stain glass window.
- Noble families used to think that they could buy their way to heaven by purchasing “land” from the ceilings of the Duomo. When they died, they used to hang their coffins from the ceiling. This was said to bring them closer to God and heaven.
- We saw the sarcophagus of Saint Charles, who was known for his humility and efforts to simplify the church’s interior. It was quite the interesting to see that although the noble coffins were no longer hanging from the ceiling, our humble Saint Charles was enclosed in a sarcophagus made of fine jewels and crystals. I still prayed to him anyway but I was a little freaked out by the body in the sarcophagus so I stayed a few metres back. We were lucky to see him actually, because they only take him out during special celebrations.
The next stop was Castle Sforzesco which was under construction and didn’t feel much like a castle with its simple red brick exterior. But the tour guide reminded us that this Castle is much like Milan, undergoing another modern renovation to keep up with the times. I have a fascination of Castles but I think this also didn’t interest me as much because it’s no longer used as a castle. It’s definitely worth a visit, if only for a quick peek.
We only stayed at the castle for 10 minutes before making our way through the Brera district, with it’s trendy shops and cafes. We walked past the simple yet beautiful opera house, La Scala. La Scala is known for it’s simplistic architecture and has had appearances from many of the world’s finest opera singers and musicians. La Scala does not look grand at first glance but looks can be deceiving. A significant portion of the structure was built underground, and the acoustics is said to be so perfect that many great performers line up to perform here.
Milan Museum, which is the home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” was our final stop. This was the highlight of my trip. “The Last Supper” was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci and is a fresco painting found on the wall of this building. The way that the fresco was painted means that temperature will always effect its preservation. In order to get to this room which held the fresco, we had to go through two sliding doors which lead to two small rooms that were kept at a particular temperature. To keep the temperature at this level, only 25 people can be there at any one time and for a full period of 15 minutes. Rick and I just sat there in silence admiring the large art work. This picture bears significance to me because it hangs above the dinner table of both my parent’s and grandparent’s house and is a reminder of family and our faith. I was so proud to tell my grandmother that I finally saw it in real life! You cannot take a photo as it might affect the painting so I took a photo with the photo of the painting. Just as a souvenir.
Finally, after such an amazing tour, we waved goodbye to our tour guide who was busily chatting with the tour group, and made our way to the main streets of Milan for some serious shopping! Milan is definitely somewhere you should go for shopping but I’m glad that I ventured out a little further because it lead me to some really interesting parts of Milan.
I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Milan! Did you find other interesting things to do and see? Let me know in the comments below or send me a note on twitter. Please subscribe to my blog because there’s so many more exciting stories to tell!