I ended my 89-day long trip in Milan, Italy where I caught Cathay Pacific Airway’s direct flight to Hong Kong. Milan is Italy’s second largest and the most dynamic city and the powerhouse of the country’s economy.
Milan was founded by the Unsubres, a Celtic people and was later conquered by the Romans. During the middle ages, it, under the rule of dynastic families, flourished as a commercial and banking centre. From the late 16th century to the 19th century, Milan was ruled by the French, Spanish and Austrian. In 1859, the city was annexed by the new Kingdom of Italy. During the early 1900s, Milan led the industrialization process of the young nation.
Today, Milan remains the industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy as well as a major world fashion and design capital. Milan has well-preserved buildings the style of which is predominantly neoclassical, art nouveau and modern, abundant museums and iconic landmarks including the Duomo, La Scala, Santa Maria della Grazie where Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Super.
October 14 (Sunday): Tirana, Albania – Milan, Italy
I arrived in Milan after a short and pleasant flight from Tirana and took the airport bus to the colossal Central Station which is 45km away. The return fare is 16 EUR (fairly reasonable given its long distance)
I was fortunately to find a room in the Amadeus Hotel for 55 EUR close to the Central Station. It was quite a bargain as most 3-star hotels nearby asked for 60-80 EUR. The hotel is nice with helpful staff.
I find everything pricy after spending two years travelling in developing countries in Africa and Asia. I had to pay 35 EUR for a simple but yummy dinner with sautéed mussels and clams as starter and pasta with mussels as the main course. The seafood was fresh and the pasta was al dente.
October 15-16: Milan
I spent the next two days doing very little (by my standard). The weather was miserable, wet and cold on the first day. Fortunately, the weather improved on the second day. I was lucky to see Milan at its best! I got a 24-hour pass for 6.5 EUR which would give discount for shopping and eating. But such deduction is useless to me: I should have simply brought a bus pass for 4.5 EUR.
I had visited Milan twice in my life. On my first visit in 1980, I managed to get a standing place to watch the Flying Dutchman in La Scala! During a 2-day working trip to Milan in late 1980s, I saw the world famous painting The Last Super. My memories of Milan are, however, faint. This time, apart from visiting the Duomo, Museo del Novecento and Monumental Cemetery of Milan, I spent most of my time discovering ancient Milan on foot.
Duomo of Milan, the world’s fourth largest church is at the heart of the city – Piazza del Duomo. The building began in 1386 and finally finished 500 years later. The façade built with pink marble from the Lake Maggiore area is a mix of Gothic and Baroque. On my first visit, I took an audio-guide which covers 56 stops with information on the history of the Cathedral, key monuments, paintings, tainted glass, sculptures etc.
I went back the second day for a free organ concert by Alessandro La Ciacera, Vice Organist of the Duomo at 1:30pm. I have no talent for music but I always enjoy anything which is beautiful and aesthetic! The concert was well attended. I enjoyed the performance was great and found the music spiritual.
Museo del Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century) opened in December 2010 is one of the most important art galleries about Italian and international 20th century art in Italy. There are sections dedicated to Futurism, Spatialism and Arte Povera. The collection is impressive.
Monumental Cemetery of Milan is in my view one of the world’s best open air museum where all main Italian artists were represented. Inaugurated in 1866 this project was designed by Carlo Maciachini, a renowned Lombard architect, as a memorial garden for all Milanese citizens. The Famedio – Cupola (Temple of Fame), a Pantheon-style building dedicated to the memory of the illustrious and most worthy citizens of Milan, is the most outstanding building. The tomb of Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), a poet and novelist famous for his novel The Betrothed (1827) is placed at the centre of Famedio.
I spent three hours looking at the Famedio, the Central Ossuary, the Crematorium and the tomb sculptures. This visit gives me an excellent opportunity to appreciate the artistic history of Italy from realism and eclecticism of the late 19th century, to art nouveau and symbolism of the early 20th century, from the 1930s to the contemporary age.
I had a most interesting time in exploring the oldest aspects of ancient Milan. I walked in the rain on the first day along the canal at Porta Genova and Porta Ticinese which is no longer in use. It started to get dark when I arrived but the streets were lively and atmospheric. There is a lot to see along via E De Amicis including the Archaeological Park and Antiquarium, Sant’ Eustorgio, San Lorenzo Maggiore and the Chapel of Sant Aquilino and Sant’ Ambrogio (4th century).
On the second day, I discovered the area around the Duomo and beyond including via San Barnaba, Porta Romana, Piazza Scala and Piazza Fontana. I note the area around the Duomo is now filled with eateries and brand name shops.
Milan is expensive. But I find two nice surprises. First, Italian ice cream is delicious and not expensive for its high quality. Second, bars and some eateries offer a ‘happy hour’ buffet with wine/beer, hot and cold snacks for 5 to 8 EUR. I sampled some dishes and easily filled my stomach.
I left Milan on Wednesday, October 17, had a good flight and was home in the early morning the following day.
I like Italy and have made to a dozen Italian cities so far. I knew little about Milan and was glad to spend two full days in discovering the oldest aspects of ancient Milan while experiencing the sophisticated aspects of this modern and sophisticated city.
Milan is an amazing and vibrant city rich in history. Its architectures (modern and ancient), arts, culture, fashion and design are world-class. Italian cuisine is one of the best in the world. Milan today looks posh as compared with my last visit in late 1980s. I shall return one day as there is still a lot to see.