I had zero expectations for Milan…
… because everyone I knew who'd already been there told me it was "okay."
Milan actually came as an afterthought. I had a couple of days between Florence and Geneva with nowhere to go, and the city was right smack in the middle of the two, so it made sense to make it my in-between.
All I really knew about Milan before my arrival was that it was heavily centered on design (very much my bag!). If Rome was antiquity, Florence was the Renaissance, Venice was canals, and the Amalfi Coast was cliffs and Clooney, then Milan was Fashion. (I was actually there during Fashion Week).
The minute my train rolled into Milano Centrale station, I was floored. I was finally in a CITY (a little jarring after all the cobblestoned streets of Florence). Wide! Open! Spaces!
I made the rookie mistake of missing the walkalator at the station—in my haste, I ended up lugging my medium-sized case down two flights of stairs. (It survived).
Also, a lot of people warned me against pickpockets at the station but I made it out of there safely, with all my money intact.
My Airbnb was in the Brera neighborhood, which had a lot of restaurants, shops, cafés, and a couple of fancy hotels. I would take walks every morning and every corner I turned had at least one or two beautiful pink buildings. They were everywhere!
I lucked out with the ground floor apartment I found. My room was a loft with a lovely window that brought in the most beautiful morning light.
While putting together my itinerary for Milan, I remembered that one of my favorite YouTube people, Estée Lalonde, had done a "36 Hours in Milan" video. I bookmarked the link and watched it multiple times. Thanks to Estée's adventures and her excellent taste in life plus a little research of my own, I was able to assemble a list of Places to See. They were:
The Duomo. I was told that Milan's Duomo would be underwhelming after seeing Florence's cathedral, so I was duly prepared to see just another church.
I don't know what the heck everyone was talking about because the Duomo was VERY, VERY PRETTY and its gothic interior and forest of columns was far more impressive than Florence's interior's white walls (sorry, friends).
Try to get a table at one of the restaurants at the roof deck of La Rinascente (I tried Obicà Mozzarella Bar), the department store just across the Duomo. You'll get a close up glimpse of the astounding detail on its spires.
Bar Luce. I have loved Wes Anderson since "Rushmore." I couldn't not go to the café he designed.
Located in Fondazione Prada, Bar Luce is quite a walk from the nearest train station. I was sweating buckets under my coat (how to stay fresh in hot + cold temperate climate weather? HOW?)—I eventually made it to the café with a substantial sunburn. Bar Luce is Instagram heaven—it is impossible to visit this place and not run into a ton of 'grammers. To be fair, it is very, very pretty.
After some anchovy crostini (complete with olive oil dripping down my fingers), I had a terrific tartine of nutella and orange slices, sprinkled with heaps of cinnamon. Since coming home, I have attempted to recreate this snack twice and have yet to achieve the exact ratio of cinnamon to nutella. On the last leg of my trip, I met an Australian playwright (random, I know) who said it best: Italians know how to take simple ingredients and turn them into something SPECTACULAR. Such was my experience with the Flash-Bang.
The staff, while initially intimidating (they were all burly, bow-tied and tattooed), was very accommodating and patient.
If you want a more in-depth description of the Bar Luce's interiors, check out this post I did for Real Living.
The Giro Giro Tondo Design for Children Exhibition at the Triennale. I found out about this place through Estée's video. Design museums are a no-brainer for me.
While I was completely enamored by the set-up and the toys on display, my memory of the Triennale is completely hijacked by two things. One, I was made to leave the exhibit because I was carrying a box of pizza with me (I had just come from La Rinascente). Two, I was too lazy to deposit said pizza at the bag counter, so I decided to leave it at the restroom instead. The toilet was incredibly stinky. REALLY. I couldn't help thinking how stinky it was as I tried to stuff (read: smash) the pizza box into the bin. At the exact moment I had successfully trashed the pizza, two men walked in and met my gaze with deer-in-headlights looks on their faces. I realized I was in the male's loo (which would explain the urinal on the wall) so I scurried off and headed back to the exhibit. FML.
Il Meneghello. I have an affinity for tarot and this shop sells handmade, hand-cut, hand-printed decks. It's run by artist Osvaldo Menegazzi and his daughter, Cristina Dorsini. Osvaldo makes everything in the shop. EVERYTHING. (Upon my latest visit to the Il Meneghello website, it seems as if the business was sold to someone else. Sadness.)
When I walked inside and spotted Osvaldo at his worktable, I couldn't help myself. I launched into rapid-fire small talk and it took a couple of seconds for it to register that he didn't speak any English. I resorted to sign language after that (you can imagine how that worked out), but we managed just fine and I walked out with a lovely medieval-themed deck, which he said was belissima.
One of the things that stuck with me was Milan's cohesiveness as a city. It is lovely to be in a place where design matters to everyone.
It isn't exactly groundbreaking for a European city to mix and meld the old and the new, but Milan added a very specific charm to this juxtaposition of past and present. Everything reflected it—from the trams weaving through landscaped parks to tall buildings flourished by greenery, from quaint townhouses to decadent storefronts.
Each space blended into the next seamlessly, in a way that wasn't overwhelming or overblown. It felt like nothing was out of place—everything was purposeful.
Also, I don't think I could ever say no to a city with such lovely pink buildings.