Monday in Milan
After finally reaching Italy, after a period of life a few years back where I had become truly obsessed with the country (think fan girl map-posters, learning the language, and even learning how to make pasta from scratch (dedicated, I know)), it seemed surreal. From immediately being surrounded by Italian to watching businessmen and women zip around the streets on vibrant Vespas, I was in my weird 16-year-old self’s dream. For the next 5 days, I aimed to cram in as much of North-West Italy as sanely possible and as a lone-traveller – a real Italian adventure. Day one: exploring Milan.
What could only compensate for having to wake up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a 5am flight to Milan from Budapest was dining the best breakfast bistro/cafe I could find – but of course, a trip to Italy should start in no other way. After thorough research of my pre-pencilled-in Italian locations, I reached my first checkpoint: Bianco Latte. Literally translating to “White Milk” this little cafe/restaurant/patisserie joint is super refined and guaranteed to dish up delicious fresh pastries, treats and general Italian grub. Struggling from lugging around my heavy rucksack for nearly a whole hour, and just pure exhaustion, I stumbled in and ordered a breakfast tray, being served up a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a latte and a freshly baked croissant filled with apricot jam – a seemingly common product wherever I went on this trip. To my (not-so) shock-horror, upon ordering the latte the waitress gawked at me in confusion. “Latte solo?” … Well, latte means milk, so no I did not care for a plain glass of the white stuff. My brain struggled to make the connection and helpfully the waitress advised before I could put the pieces of the puzzle together myself: “Latte Macchiato?” However, various places in Italy yielded various results when ordering a latte macchiato, so I’m yet to discover how to properly order a bog standard Latte in Italy – some places served espresso with a tiny cloud of milky foam on top, others a cafe-latte like what you would find in the UK (or elsewhere). Whilst pondering this not-so-important mystery, opposite, two men conversed with emotion over espresso, gesticulating in the stereotypical Italian way that by no means is just a myth.
After regaining my energy somewhat, I threw my rucksack back on my shoulders and headed toward the centre of the city, with the famous Duomo as my next checkpoint. I headed south, with no exact plans of what to see specifically (only a few standard tourist-spots) meandering meaninglessly through the Milanese streets. It’s probably no surprise when I say that those also strolling around me were (I’m can only guess) at the height of fashion (I am not exactly with that high-end fashion trend, think more hand-me-downs, sports leggings and stripy everything). Even after disembarking the airport and hopping onto a train, a flock of fabulously dressed Milanese citizens immediately lived up to the fashion capital’s reputation; fur-lined ponchos, Armani tailored suits, Dolce and Gabbana what not… it’s hard to describe but just let your mind do the work. I clearly had walked through a fashion district of sorts, every shop window I peered into boasting wild fashion trends and bearing a headline label ready for the catwalk. I felt a bit out of place in my bulging backpack, striped culottes and Dr Martens, so I hurried to the centre to feel more like a tourist.
I had found the centre at long last, firstly seeing Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – an extravagant 19th-century glass-topped, barrel-vaulted tunnel hosting a variety of up-market cafes, restaurants and couture stores. If on a budget, not the best place to stop for a cuppa, so its best to people-watch and walk around it a couple of times instead. By walking from one side of the Galleria you can walk out the other straight on to the Piazza del Duomo which to the left sits the completely stunning Duomo di Milano; with its breathtaking gothic spires and exquisitely ornamented facades, it stands majestically in the piazza, overlooking the city and looming over the mere tourists that scurry and flock in and out of the square and building itself.
The cathedral is truly iconic, a symbol of Milan across the world (and it’s no wonder why when you see it for yourself). You can spend a fair amount of time simply walking around the Duomo, walking around the square it sits in and just people watching those doing the same. One qualm I have is that the piazza is unequivocally rammed with tourists. I luckily arrived earlier in the morning, but as I stayed longer more and more people flocked, just as the pigeons that seemed native to the area. It probably wasn’t lucky to have arrived during Milan fashion week too, this probably accounting for the gargantuan volume of tourists. I did enjoy a spectacular balloon-art kind of show happening though – that was a plus.
Having only a few hours in Milan, planning to head to the Ligurian capital of Genova later in the afternoon, I decided against joining the horribly long queue to enter the cathedral and decided to get a ticket just to go to the rooftop instead – an excellent decision might I add. As the day reached noon, the clouds parted and suddenly the sun beamed fiercely down onto the city – just as I was climbing the Duomo to reach the terrace. As I reached the top, I slathered sun cream on in panic before enjoying the magnificent views of the Milanese cityscape from the gothic peaks and arches on the Duomo’s roof-top.
After descending, it was just about time for my next Italian meal. I was honestly looking forward to the food the most in Italy – and Italy didn’t disappoint. Still fatigued from the horrendously early morning flight, I was in dire need of sustenance, also having walked nearly non-stop for the better part of the day. G.B. Bar was my saviour; a very classically Italian looking sandwich bar with a glowing green neon sign in the arched shop-window, this place had all the sandwiches you could ever possibly dream of, stacked in piles in the glass unit separating customer from server. Its popularity was obvious, a large queue of businessmen in front of the bar, gazing at the Panini and Piadini waiting for them. For only a couple of euros, you can get a massive panini, freshly made with incredible fillings and a coffee. But these paninis are really not like the ones you’ve ever known; so fresh, so delicious, so moreish. If you’re struggling to decide on a choice of pre-prepared filling, ask the sandwich server. I was recommended the smoked cheese, beef carpaccio and fresh tomato panini, and boy was I in heaven… I really have never felt so passionate about a sandwich in my life. I perched on the cafe tables available in front, most already occupied by fellow hungry customers, and was served my panini, slightly toasted, with a steaming Americano to wash it down with.
It had already been a couple of hours and I hadn’t had any gelato. In realisation, I adamantly meandered once more to a Gelateria, in search for the perfect scoop. Of course, I wasn’t disappointed; I sampled the gelato from famous gelato chain, Grom: a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of hazelnut to cool down under the fierce September sun. The flavours were crazy intense and the gelato was so smooth and thick – it was like nothing I had had before – maybe I was still starving and it seemed better than it was but that’s beside the point. My gelato and I needed to kill some time before my afternoon train, so we ventured further into Milan on foot.
Like any other city, the centre was mainly filled with shops and restaurants, but upon further exploration, I found Sforzesco Castle – a massive Medieval-Renaissance fortress featuring museums and art by Da Vinci and Michelangelo. It was impressive for sure, with tall fortress walls and little-decorated piazzas and gardens inside which was well worth the random walk.
Alas, my time in Milan had come to an end at this point and I began my journey to Genova, located right on the West coast, speed-walking my way back up to the North of the city in the burning heat.