Ciao Milano!Saturday, November 26, 2016
A couple of weekends ago I finally visited Milan, Italy's most populated city, for the first time. A couple of Italians that I know warned me about how the Milanese people can be (rude, snobby etc.) but one of my friends recently moved there so I thought that I would just check it out myself!
The first stop on my tour of Milan (apart from the California bakery) was the cathedral aka il Duomo di Milano which is probably the most famous thing in Milan and one of the most well-known places in Italy. It is the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world! Pretty impressive considering that it started being built in 1386 although it took almost 6 centuries to complete due to politics and lack of funds... Italian's take their time okay (I joke). Some more fun facts: there are 3,400 statues and 135 gargoyles that decorate it and there is a spot on the façade marked with a red light bulb which is said to be the spot where one of the nails of Jesus' crucifixion was placed. Who knows if it's true but it is pretty interesting nonetheless.
The beautiful building is made entirely out of marble from the Lake Maggiore (which is beautiful) although it originally had started being built from terracotta. I'm sure that everyone is glad that they changed their minds about this because I can't really imagine it any other way. We didn't end up going inside, but you don't have to in order to admire its grandeur. The piazza del Duomo (the square just outside of it) is pretty famous too, for having pigeons. There are literally so many and it's a great photo opportunity if you/your pigeon of choice can be brave enough to take a picture together. If you give up on trying to lure a pigeon into your hand there are a couple of guys who slyly sell you bird feed so it should make the process a little easier (ha!)
When Tim (my friend/local tour guide) asked me what I wanted to see in Milan all I said was the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II because that was all that I had seen on instagram (lol). It's literally right next to the cathederal and full of designer shops. My erasmus money had just come in but could I really justify spending it all on a pair of shoes... not really. And it wasn't even enough to buy most of the designer handbags that they sell in there anyway #studentlife. Opened in 1877, the structure is one of the world's oldest shopping malls and was named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. For those of you who have studied Italian history and/or study the same course at university as me, you know that Italy's history and unification is not a simple story.
It's actually quite funny because apparently in 2012 McDonald's wasn't allowed to renew it's occupancy (it was the only "restaurant" that was denied the right) and so it sued the city of Milan (the landlord) for €24 million, claiming that they would lose €6 million in sales very year. It was then replaced by a second Prada store and they dropped the lawsuit when they were allowed to open in a nearby area. A similar thing happened in Florence actually - McDonalds wanted to open a store in the piazza del Duomo (in Florence), got rejected and then tried to sue. I understand it though, the Italians don't want some of the most beautiful areas/landmarks of their city polluted by a greasy, American fast-food chain (don't try the new nutella "sweety" burgers from there, not good - and how one can make something out of nutella taste bad i'm not quite sure, but McDonalds managed).
Before leaving we had to take part in one of the strangest traditions in Milan which is spinning on the bull's balls (sounds weird but see the picture below). Apparently the proper way to do it is to place your heel in the ground where the hole is and turn backwards three times. Some people have said that backwards is the only correct way, some say that it doesn't matter but i'm pretty sure that I went forwards oops. Tradition says that if you spin three times with your heel on the testicles of the bull from the Turin coat of arms (Turin is another city close by) then it will bring good luck! So hopefully I get my sprinkle of good luck even though I did it the wrong way, rookie mistake.
Our last stop on the tour before going shopping was the Parco Sempione which is a beautiful park! It felt so nice to be in a green space in Italy because in Florence there aren't many at all. You barely see any trees! Unfortunately though, it was raining. Why? I am half English and have lived in the UK for the last 4 years and haven't ever experienced this much rain.
When we entered the park there was this amphitheatre style structure and Tim started talking about how it was a Roman structure used for gladiator fights. Embarrassingly I actually believed him (like everyone does on his tours, apparently) and it was all "oh wow, incredible, amazing, interesting" when actually it's just a sports complex that was built in a neoclassical style to resemble a Roman amphitheatre (awkward times for me).
The park borders both the Castello Sforzesco aka Sforza Castle (15th Century) and the Arco della Pace aka Arch of Peace (19th Century) which creates a great photo opportunity for those who would like a snap with this famous landmark in the background. Loads of people obviously knew about this spot because ...
In general Milan is just such a different city to Florence or to anywhere else that I've been in Italy. Rome is obviously the capital but it doesn't have that metropolitan feel. Everything still seems oh so Italian (not that that's a bad thing, I love it!) but I think that to live, Milan would be a way more interesting, culturally diverse place - although you have to watch out for those people who, in true Milanese fashion, can come off as rude.
It does definitely feel less Italian, and it's a bit like any other big European city (maybe that's because the sky was a little grey hahaha). The metro is very well connected and reminded me of the tube in London, especially the part when over half of the people look like they hate life but you get more interesting bars (we went to one on the first night when I arrived which was unlike anything I had seen in Florence) and restaurants and the nightlife just doesn't compare. If you're looking to have a real Italian experience I wouldn't recommend Milan as one of your stops however it is a very beautiful city and it's not hard to see why the Milanese think they are so different than any other part of Italy!
p.s. the blanket around my neck was a necessity, not a fashion choice as Milan was freezing.