Milan, Lombardy

September 16, 2011

The next morning our breakfast was much less exciting as we had to get out of the hotel and back on the road early. As it turns out, in Italy you pay for your stay upon check out, not upon arrival. Just gotta keep that in mind and not leave without paying by accident. 😉

There was still enough time to give the town a last look around and take some photos. The weather was finally sunny, and the few clouds that were visible only provided for a less boring sky.

The clouds seem to act as an extension to the soft mountain peak.

With mountains all around, the landscape was begging for a wide panoramic shot. Unfortunately, that feature was not available.

Even with the clear skies the faint blue haze still enveloped the distant slopes.

Old town of Sirmione sunbathing in the morning.

Infrared cuts through the haze in its usual fashion to reveal sharp shadows on the slopes from the passing clouds. Also notable is the black colour of the lake surface. On overcast days bodies of water look fairly normal in infrared, but in full sun they turn menacingly black. The physical explanation: on sunny days the infrared radiation (which is simply heat) from the sun passes through the air easily only to get absorbed by the water, which makes bodies of water excellent collectors of the heat during the day, which they release slowly at night softening the temperature differential throughout the day. On overcast days infrared radiation gets scattered by the clouds and does not reach the water in such an organized manner, this scattered radiation makes the water surface look grey, like in the previous post's photos.

The castle.

View of the harbour and the boardwalk leading to the ferry boarding area.

Boats in the harbour.

The old town in infrared.

Another set of mountains covered by shadows.

Right now someone is boarding the ferry for another trip around the lake. And some of them never did this before and are in Italy for the first time in their lives.

A lizard sunbathing on a rock near the shore.

Upon realizing we were going to shoot it, it swiftly woke up and ran for the bushes.

The next destination: Milan. There were three basic facts I knew about this city before arriving.

  1. It is a fashion capital second only to Paris.
  2. It was the home of Andrei Shevchenko during the peak of his football career.
  3. It contains a humongous cathedral known as the Duomo which took a long time to build and was probably worth it.

Also, it promised to be an actual city and not a tourist destination. It seemed like this could be our home if we did want to go through with our plans to ditch boring Toronto and move to Italy (a thought that formed a few days after we came there and never quite went away to this day). Seeing the city in real life though was a little less impressive.

Traffic in Milan.

The major reason was the traffic. The trip from the outskirts to the centre of the city showed that it’s magnitudes worse than downtown Toronto. Construction / road maintenance on every other block, lots and lots of cars (and an addition of motorcycles and mopeds, which follow slightly different, looser rules than cars, naturally), street lights (even Italians cannot make roundabouts work in a major urban centre), and the heat. The heat! That would be the second item against Milan. Unlike Venice on the shores of the Adriatic sea and Sirmione in the middle of lake Garda, Milan is landlocked for good. There is nothing to take the heat off the streets, it gets absorbed by the pavement and released back at you with interest. Riding with the roof down suddenly became a pain. At the speed we were moving there was no wind, the heat started to affect our mood.

After finally reaching the hotel we checked in, left our bags and had to head back out. Just like in downtown Toronto, parking in central Milan is a luxury. We could not leave our car on the side street for long, and were directed to a garage where we could leave it for only €6 a day. That meant we had to go and drive there! Oh no! After circling around for a bit, we found the garage and were glad to not have to go back to driving in the city for the next 3 days.

By the time everything was settled it was late afternoon. We headed out to the very centre, to the Duomo.

Milan at dusk.

The buildings all looked significantly newer than the almost medieval structures in Sirmione and Venice. The two-wheeled transport was definitely very popular in Milan. The proportions of motorcycles and mopeds to cars was probably 50/50, and for good reasons: ability to filter through traffic, park in tight spaces, ride on the sidewalks if necessary.

Unlike Venetians, Milanese do not usually keep flowers outside their windows.

A store window.

One of the prettier members of the Milan's architecture.

Art installation on the street in Milan.

A fountain in a square close to the centre. The Duomo can be seen in between the buildings in the background. There were benches around the fountain, which we took advantage of. This city is definitely not meant for walking.

The Duomo, finally. This is only the back of it, by the way.

It's freaking big, even from the back. And covered in larger than life sized statues. And huge!

One of the statues on the outside walls.

Another statue on the outside wall. There are thousands of these on the outside and inside walls of the cathedral, and each is uniquely designed.

Part of the front of the church. It's very hard to fit the whole thing in the frame.

The piazza in front of the Duomo. We are facing north, towards the entrance into a huge shopping mall (known as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II). I think it's bigger than all the major Toronto's malls combined, but more importantly, it's much more lovingly designed and built.

Closer look at the guy on the horse.

The horse getting freaked out by the full moon.

Inside the shopping area. Aside from obviously high end Prada and LV stores, it also houses the most posh MacDonald's ever. Take note of the frescos below the ceiling. This place is decorated like a church, a place of worship as significant as the Duomo.

While in Venice and Sirmione I kept our shopping to the minimum with the expectation that Milan is going to be the it place for such activities. Although the stores were closed by the time we got there on the first day, it did look like there would be plenty of opportunities in the following days.

On the way back to the hotel we were greeted by this cute kitty on an advertising poster.

The following day was spent scouting shopping areas. Focusing around Duomo there are hundreds of stores both inside the pretty covered mall and outside on the streets. One notable mention goes to the local H&M – it’s huge, and it has all the same stuff that I saw earlier at Toronto’s locations, plus about 3 times more stuff that I did not. Another fine example of inexpensive but good looking clothing retailer is Bershka (not found in North America). It has a vibe similar to H&M, but a little more punk. Ever so slightly.

The rest of places are going to have to remain unnamed, there were just too many. While I did see quite a few women with LV bags, I did not buy one. If I wanted it, I could have gotten it in Toronto, thankyouverymuch. If you think you are going to get a “deal” on designer items in Milan – think again. The prices are pretty much the same if not higher, the advantage is the added choice. I’m sure Milan stores have their own sales, outlet locations and so on, but you do have to hunt for that stuff, and it was not my main reason for going there. What you are getting primarily is the abundance of things that actually look decent and perhaps reasonably priced Italian made leather goods. One thing we stocked up on was belts. I have not seen so many cool looking belts anywhere in Toronto. While there is no maximum to how much things can cost, we managed to never pay more than €35 for a belt, often less, and that is inclusive of VAT (I simply loathe the way every price tag in Canada is always showing you the pre-tax amount, but your receipt shows a nice 13% surcharge).

There was not a lot of time to spend photographing, but we did find time to revisit the Duomo in daylight. It’s even more magnificent than at night.

Tiny people in front of the Duomo.

A 180° fisheye lens managed to fit this monstrosity in full.

At times you have to give up and just savour the Duomo in small portions.

Detail of one of the gates of the Duomo.

The panels of these gates give you a brief summary of the New Testament with incredibly detailed reliefs.

After studying the outside, we went to see how this cathedral looks on the inside. The short version, it’s just as good. The longer version – it’s huge, dark, with magnificent stained glass windows and more sculptures, with paintings and everything. It is grand and overwhelming. Photography is not officially allowed inside, but many tourists disregard the posted sign at the door and start taking photos right away, and never stop. Although they were nothing but subtle about it, no one stopped them or said anything. Regardless, we decided to respect the wishes of the religious folks and not take any photos. They would not be able to express the grand space of the church anyway. This is one of those things that have to be seen in three dimensions, and the dim lighting would further inhibit any attempts to photograph it. The bottom line is, if you are ever in Milan and do not visit the Duomo, you should be arrested and fined, with the proceeds going to a travel fund of a local orphanage.

The piazza in front of the Duomo is always very busy, day or night.

The day ofter that was fully spent shopping and there was not a single photograph taken. Amazing but true. Shopping wears you down like few things can. The only thing we could manage after a shopping spree is eating and then taking refuge in the air conditioned hotel room.

Speaking of food, it was not particularly impressive. The food itself was okay, but the atmosphere was definitely not as great as what you can have in a small town. That’s just a problem of infrastructure. There is too much of it, and it’s too industrial. Too much like Toronto. Not different enough. On the first night in Milan we ate at a rather high end restaurant, and while the food was tasty, the portions were fairly small, and it ended up being our most expensive dinner in Italy. It was very tasty, and very upscale, but at the same time it felt like a pair of tired, casually dressed people stood out in that spot, and the waiter was just a little bit on the snobby side. Well, the next two nights we ate at a more casual pizzeria close to the Duomo (but not too close, too close and they will rely on location rather than food quality to attract patrons), with a flashy name Flash!. There a single plate of pasta would fill you up before you had a chance to finish it. Good times. A highlight of that pizzeria was orange juice. It was freshly squeezed to order and tasted heavenly. I seriously never had a better tasting orange juice. I don’t know what the trick was, but there was something in that juice for sure.

This boring shrub is significant because it was growing in a small park near our hotel, and we passed it every time on the way to and from the Duomo area.

Waking up after our third night in Milan we were anxious to get out of there. So anxious, I completely forgot to pay for our stay and just ran to the car with one of the bags and was somewhat surprised that my partner did not rush after me. He had to call for me from the door, as I am the assigned credit card swiper. After payment was the time for the next surprise: the concierge presented us with a bottle of red wine as a gift. We thanked him, and went to the car, to finally headed out of the city for some pleasant country roads.

Destination: La Spezia, and Cinque Terre.

1 Comment »

  1. Linda Stanford says:

    Great reading I got here from Trip advisor. Just wondering which hotel you stayed in while visiting Milan. We leave in 2 weeks. Thanks

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