A Rough Guide to Milan in Italy : From the Piazza Duomo to the San Siro Stadium
After a couple months into my work contract over on Lake Garda in Italy I thought it was time I was paying a visit to Milan.
I knew it was regarded mainly as an industrial and financial heartland of the Italian North but I like visiting large cities. I also knew of its reputation as arguably the fashion capital of Europe with its famous designer shops and stores.
That was purely out of curiosity as they would be way out of my meagre budget. So I headed off early from my campsite base in Peschiera to catch the train to the city.
There was one at 9am but it was the express which, at €15, is double the price of the local train but I got it anyway as the latter wasn't due for a couple of hours. You can already sense my impatience to get going.
The rise of the machines
To avoid the long rush-hour queue I used the ticket machine at the station but couldn't work out how to buy a return ticket. The machine was multi-lingual and obviously much more intelligent than me, so I even had the instructions in English and still couldn't figure it out.
Never mind, I thought, I could simply buy a return ticket in Milan from another very clever machine. The train journey was short at around just an hour and I arrived in the impressive Milano Centrale train station.
The problem I had though in Milan was that the banks wouldn't pay out any cash. It seems the Bancomat machines are not as bright as the ticket machines and too thick to understand that I had plenty of money hidden away in there. This meant that most of the €10 I had in my pocket would have to be spent on my return fare.
I went to local banks three times but got refused every time until eventually I found a Barclays Bank and got my money. I still needed to get a train ticket and eventually got one after heading back to the train station as I felt it prudent to get that sorted before my sight-seeing started.
But when I tried the machines I was quoted prices of €27 and at a second attempt €36 which was over double what I had paid for the express. I had evidently stumbled across the dumbest ticket machine in Milan as it couldn't do its sums properly.
There's always one slips through the net amongst all the bright candidates but I think Trenitalia should tighten up their recruitment screening.
This is all nonsense of course as it transpired that I had been looking up Pescara instead of Peschiera, the former of which is miles away on the Adriatic coast. So the machine got its arithmetic spot on and gave the right answer to the wrong question from a technically challenged Scotsman.
Gotham City Train Station
All these comings and goings between Bancomats and ticket dispensers meant that I had already wasted a full 2 hours running around trying to organise money and travel.
But the train station was worth hanging around anyway as it was very impressive. A giant structure with huge statues of horses on top and Roman effigies inside. It seemed like something out of Tim Burton's 'Batman' as it would have easily passed for Gotham City.
It was built in MCMXXXI according to the inscription which is of course 1931 so Mussolini probably had something to do with it since his type did go in for the grand spectacle.
It led me to ponder however, that if the station had been built in 1905 for example, it would have been labelled MCMIV which could lead to confusion with people thinking it had perhaps been designed by a Scottish architect.
I went over to the tourist desk in the station to get a map of Milan to find my way around. There was a smart looking, friendly guy behind the counter;
"Posso avere una carta di Milano?" I asked , "Si!" replied the smart looking, friendly guy behind the counter,
"Tedesco?" he asked, which is Italian for 'German', "No! Scozzesi" I replied
He then gave me a fist-clenched greeting and a small cheer before saying in English;"Yeah!, I love Scotland" and I replied "Thanks, I love Italy" in my best ambassadorial manner
In fact one of our customers later told me that the Italians really admire William Wallace and he was a huge inspiration to them during the time of Garibaldi when they fought to unify the nation. Apparently there is a section of a museum in Rome dedicated to Wallace and he actually lived there at one time before returning to Scotland.
So maybe this is where all this fist-clenching is coming from. It's the old notion of the Scots as fighters reinforced by the Hollywood industry.
Fashion, finance and fresh bread
As for the roads, well!, the drivers are mad here and I really exercised my peripheral vision crossing the road as it keeps you on your toes.
The locals seemed to anticipate the green pedestrian light as they know the pattern of changes so I watched them and crossed when they did.
There were lots of suits and ties with Milan being an important financial centre but one guy I saw had buttoned only the top of his jacket leaving his tie sticking out the bottom. And this is chic? I don't get it. But it's Milan so it must be cutting edge in the fashion stakes I suppose.
I wanted a baguette as I was getting hungry and, being on a budget, I'd brought a tub of tuna mayonnaise with me. But I couldn't find one for love nor money and I couldn't believe it.
Everywhere you looked there were up-market boutiques with designer clothes, jewels and accessories. There were trendy cafes, bars, ice-cream parlours but no bakers. I walked around for an age before I eventually found one and grasped a fresh, warm baguette.
In the Heart of the City
The first notable building I saw was the neoclassical 'La Scala' opera house. This has been there since 1778 when it opened with an opera by Salieri. It became famous for its association with Guiseppe Verdi and is still regarded as the social and cultural centre for Milan's elite.
I thought it looked like Paisley Town Hall in Scotland myself, but I'm sure it's something special inside. Talking of which, only a short walk away is the Santa Marie delle Grazie which houses Leonardo da Vinci's painting of 'The Last Supper'
It is one of the most celebrated artworks in the world.
But today I was in an outdoor mood and decided to walk in the sunshine rather than hang around the museums. I took a stroll through the famous Vittorio Emmanuel street with its high-class shops such as Prada and Luis Vuitton.
The street was covered too with a glass roof which is just the thing for the bad weather. I immediately felt that Glasgow should follow suit with the amount of rain we suffer back home.
Let's get some roofs over my city and keep the rain away. Goodness knows we could do with it. Unfortunately, the designer Guiseppe Mengoni never saw it opened as he fell off the roof to his death just days before the inaugural ceremony in the 1860s.
In the middle is a glass cupola below which on the pavement is a circular mosaic containing symbols of Italian cities including a bull to represent Turin. Apparently it's good luck to spin around three times on its testicles. A ritual I was unaware of and probably won't indulge in anyway.
Next to the shopping arcade was the Duomo, the world's largest Gothic cathedral which looked like it was covered in dozens of stalagmites like a medieval ice-palace from some fantasy adventure story. Work began on the cathedral in 1386 and the finishing touches were only finally applied in 1813.
It has 3,500 statues around it and is built of marble taken from Lake Maggiore so that might explain the huge gouges dug out of the hills over there as they used it to conduct a facelift of the structure recently.
The Castello Sforzesco
I took a wander to the Castello Sforzesco which was difficult to pronounce but an impressive fort nonetheless. It was restored in the early 20th century by an architect called Luca Beltrami who is much easier to pronounce.
He conducted a massive restoration involving painstaking research and after all that he managed not to fall off the roof.
It was originally built by the Visconti's in 1368 but destroyed by rebellious mobs in 1447 before being reconstructed by the Sforzas. It seems a bountiful job-creation scheme destroying these historical edifices and then rebuilding them.
We shouldn't give folk ideas though or rampaging gangs of unemployed construction workers might start tearing down buildings after throwing architects off the roofs so that they can get back to work.
The Castello Sforzesco with its crenellated towers and fortified walls was used as a barracks by various occupying powers until the end of the 19th century. At the moment it seemed to be occupied by quite a few cats and their recently born kittens who were roaming around.
The long road to the San Siro
After I had wandered around the centre of the city I felt at a bit of a loose end. So I thought "stuff it" and decided to walk the 4 or 5 miles to the San Siro Stadium just to give some purpose to my visit.
I meandered my way along as I like to explore and was surprised to enter Milan's local Chinatown which I never knew existed. I never saw a laundry but I did see plenty of clothes shops and cafes. It was a really hot day but I enjoyed the walk and the San Siro was well sign-posted along the way.
It helps the football hooligans know in which direction the fighting is going to happen I'm sure, but also very much appreciated by yours truly although I did have my map.
The San Siro is a massive stadium with a capacity of 87,500 and all-seated.
To my eyes resembled a huge space station from the realms of science-fiction.
It has tremendous steel girders which looked like huge wings protruding above giant springs.
The latter are in fact winding passages to take fans up to the higher reaches of the stands.
There was beer available in a nearby restaurant which was dwarfed by the stadium and it actually had a Tudor design.
This looked really incongruous compared to the modern football ground next to it and presumably had sat there for decades before the stadium was revamped.
I really wanted a drink but on the price list outside it said that a birra media was €5.00 so I passed on that. How appropriate though that they have astronomical prices in keeping with the space-age surroundings.
I thought about jumping the excellent tram service back as the stadium had its own regularly served terminus but I decided to just walk. It was only 5 o'clock and I had plenty of time available.
I later wished I had taken the tram though as my feet ended up sore and my legs ached. But at least it must be doing me good I thought to myself. I'm probably fitter than I've been in years since coming over here.
Hobbling back into the centre of Milan I marvelled at the many wonderful apartment buildings with beautifully carved verandas bedecked with plants. Through openings you could see attractive inner courtyards and gardens within the blocks. They were enticingly shaded in the dark cool which was a contrast to the heat of a sunny day.
It helps my fitness levels that I'm the World's worst map reader as it lengthens the walking time. I must have walked about 20 miles today and ended up on a huge detour.
I mistakenly walked through the Parco Giardino when I was actually looking for the Piazza Giardina. This took me through the Via Venezia and out onto Via Beunos Aries.
I liked this street as it had lots of interesting shops and since it was now after 6pm it was the rush-hour with suits and ties buzzing around on scooters and motorbikes.
I had hilarious fun standing at a junction or a roundabout watching the bikers, car drivers and bus drivers hooting their horns, waving their fists and raising their eyes to the skies in disbelief.
If you're ever in Milan and want some early evening entertainment then just sit yourself down at a cafe beside the busiest intersection you can find and watch the rush hour traffic.
Let the train take the strain
I caught the slow train back to Peschiera, which was actually only 35 minutes longer than the express. The conductor threw someone off at Desenzano, not literally but insistently, so he wasn't a guy to mess with. After checking my ticket he told me my stop was at Peschiera as if I didn't know that already.
Just to prove my point I got off at Peschiera so I did, with my ears resounding to the whistle of the conductor blowing fiercely to encourage boarders to get on the train. It was one of those strange whistles that sounded like he was actually talking through it;
"Pheeeee-pheee-pheee-pheee-phee!!!!" translated as "Get on the blasted train!!"
So that was the end of a long satisfying day. With the sound of that whistle ringing in my ears I headed for a late supper. Overall I really liked Milan, a fine vibrant city with loads of opportunities for people-watching and plenty of culture and architecture to enjoy.
Also if you have the cash to burn it’s a paradise for designer-shopping of course after which you could relax among the chic in the many cafes.
Although I'm sure it has its rough edges and urban social problems I can confirm that I never saw one Italian hooligan during the whole day. This was reassuring as the Glasgow variety are everywhere back home.
You’re never more than 10 feet from one in most major cities.