Our day started slightly earlier than expected thanks to the calling of the local Cockrel. About three hours too early but we were in Milan so who can complain? An early morning shower then breakfast made us ready for the big sight-seeing day we had in mind. A walk of five to ten minutes to the local tram station would have been lovely to start the day if once reached there I hadn’t had to run after the tram as it was just leaving. Luckily for us, he stopped and with the good fortune of the language barrier we managed to get a free journey into the centre. The journey took about twenty five minutes due to the number of stops, but it is good to see the city outwards in.
We arrive in the city and the driver points us in the direction to go, and within seconds we walk into the famous Piazza Del Duomo, the beating heart to the city for over seven centuries and home to the Cathedral of Milan, the equastrian monument to Vittorio Emanuele ll, Museo Del Novecento, The Duomo Museum, Palazzo Reale as well as prestigous bars and restaurants. We stop and stare at the beauty and size of the Cathedral, (157m long and 92m wide and 108m high at its highest point). You can see why it took over 500 years to build. Crowds of people take photos of its magnificence. Statues proudly stand on every corner, side, window and roof. I believe it houses 3,500 statues in all. You gain entrance through one of the five bronze doors at the front, but are searched by the army soldiers protecting the doors first. Once entered you are not allowed to take photos, though no one stops you as every one takes them, but no videos. There is also a policy of no shorts and no food or drink. There are many paintings and statues to look through as well as 3,600 figures that are depicted on the stained glass windows, over a surface of 1700 square metres, but the two things that stand out (to me) are the bodies of the former Archbishops of Milan, Ildefonso Schuster and Andrea Carlo Ferrari which are encased in glass tombs in the Cathedral for you to look at and take pictures of. Walking past them and towards the rear of the cathedral you can gain entry to a downstairs room which houses the treasures of the church. It costs €2 so is cheap enough but I was disapointed by the lack of things to see, especially when compared to other Cathedrals like St Peters in Trier. After a wander around, and plenty of picture taking we leave and decide we want to take the trip to the top of the cathedral which is accessed by one of two ways, lift €10 or steps €6, we choose the dearer as my back is a little sore and with over 250steps, we take the cautious stance. (Not lazy!) Upon reaching the top, the view is stunning. Views reach from all over Milan and in all directions. You can walk around the sides gazing down and at the front you gain a fantastic view of the Piazza Duomo and surrounding buildings. We stopped to watch the people walking around down below, wandering around unaware of us observing their every movement. We made our way back to the lift and down below where we headed into the “Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II” ( Inaugurated by the king Vittorio Emmanuele II in person in 1867, only two years after work started). You walk in through one of four large arches, and are greeted by expensive shops (Prada etc) and beautifully designed buildings. However it also houses a Mcdonalds (they get everywhere). There is not a huge amount of shops, and it now houses many Restaurnats as well, but it is most certainly worth entering for the building beauty alone. The floor of the central octagon, under a 47m high vault, bears the symbol of the then reigning Italian family, the Savoys. It is surrounded by the symbols of the four major Italian cities: the Lily of Florence, the she wolf of Rome, the red cross on a white ground of Milan and the bull of Turin, people often tread on the image for good luck, in the animals…”Delicate”…place. Upon leaving we head out of the left wing and head to the Via Dante which leads you up to Piazza Castello, home to Castello Sforzesco, one of the most visited buildings in Milan.
However on reaching the Via Dante we came across “La Voglia Ice Cream”, now this place should be one of the most visited places in Milan, the ice cream, especially the chocolate, is special to say the least, a place I would most certainly recommend.
Walking up the Via Dante, you are met with Restaurants on both sides, umbrellas and table and chairs imposing themselves on the walkway. Painters drawing peoples faces and even a man who makes flowers out of vegetables, very clever, its a shame he is sitting on the sidewalk and not working in a shop selling them or for a restaurant decorating visitors tables. At the top of Via Dante is a roundabout, Largo Cairoli, with a monument to Garibaldi, and behind that is Piazza Castello, the road which circles Sforzesco Castle. Large fountains front the Castle and it is all free to enter. It holds a lot of information on its history and is deffinatly worth a read. Telling its history from 1368 where it was built on the wishes of Galeazzo II Visconti, under the Austrian rule until 1848, and then its museum status.
Walking through, again after taking many photos, we enter onto Parco Sempione (the huge garden to the rear of the castle). It houses many walk trails as well as an aquarium the Triennale as well as a small lake, (full of turtles) “Ponte delle Sirene” with bridges that have been moved here since the closing off of many of Milans canals, one bridge is now home to the four mermaids, a lovely bridge and a great place for pictures. It also contains “Arena Civica” where the Milanese football teams played before the great San Siro was built.
On leaving the gardens you are met with Piazza Sempione which houses the wondeful looking “Arco Della Pace” (Milans Triumpant Arch). Also known as the “Arch of Peace”. Building began in 1807 by Luigi Cagnola to celebrate Napolean and was completed in only 1838 on the orders of Francis I of Austria. The arch is surmounted by a six horse chariot cast in a single bronze block by sculptor Abbondio Sangiorgio. It stands so proud looking down the Parco Sempione, through the castle and down the Via Dante. The view from the top must be amazing!
We are feeling pretty tired but very happy with our days exploits so we decide to walk back to the Via Dante but are first met by a demonstration, something to do with Syria. Flags, chanting, whistles and marching, though peaceful, were being kept closely watched over by the Italian Polizia.
Back in the Piazza Duomo we decide to have our dinner before heading back to the tram and to the motorhome. We search out a small Pizzeria a short walk from the square and order a large pizza and litre of water. We would have liked a few beers but at €8 each we decide to wait till we get back to the van. The dinner is delightful, the atmosphere with the famous Dean Martin singing in the background was as romantic and nothing short of what you would expect from an Italian restaurant and it was the perfect end to our first day exploring Milan.
Morning comes with glorious sunshine beaming through the motorhome windows, and after our succesful day yesterday we can’t wait to get back into Milan again today. A quick bite for breakfast, cup of coffee and we walk back to the tram station. (You can buy tickets for as little as €1.50 for 90 minutes). Once in the city we walk straight back up the Via Dante to the Castello as we have decided to take a tour bus around the city,(All hop on/hop off). They have two circuits, €10 each, red and blue, each showing different sights of the city. We choose the red line (Castello, S.Ambrogio, P.Ticiasise/Navigli, Parco Basiliche, Universita Statale, Duomo, Manzoni/Scala, Manin, Moscova/Arena and back to the Castello) as one of our “Tribe” wants to see the “Viale Gorizia”. One of the cities last remaning canels which is supposed to be lined with bars and restaurants. A nice place to get off, take a walk and have our lunch before getiing back onto another bus and continuing the tour. We pay our money and recieve a set of headphones to listen to. You can change the language into 9 different translations, very handy. After half an hour or so we drive past the canal and on our headphones we are advised to take a look around the shops, have some food or even take a boat ride, however we are met with a waterless canal, full of bricks and men wandering around, not really looking like they know what they are doing! We decide to stay on the bus. The tour takes about an hour and a half and is worth the ride in my opinion.
We leave the bus back at the Piazza Castello and decide to walk to the “Santa Maria Delle Grazie” a church stunnigly rich in history, which is also home to Leornardo Da Vinci`s “Last Supper”. We look around the church, however to see the Picture you have to prebook your tickets at a cost of €8 (Remember for next time!). We leave there, still spirits high and head to the Piazza s.Ambrogio, or Basilica of St Ambrose, but just before we enter we walk through the original pillar entrance into Milan. They have two arches and three statues in the middle near the top. They have had exstensive repair over the years and I actually wonder how much of it is original? Through them and into the Basilica of St Ambrose, one of the finest romanesque churches surving today, which houses the remains of St. Ambrose` (former bishop of the Milanese) along side Gervasius and Protasius (Both Martyrs). On entering, you enter not a church to begin with, but a colonnaded court yard, one of the finest 14th century worship places still intact. The church itself was built and founded by Ambrose in around 350 AD. There is plenty to see but again like the cathedral, for €2 extra you can see churches treasures. Only a few euros but a way to keep the church available for generations to come.
Once leaving the church there is extensive work going on to the surrounding streets and we can see a large hexagen shaped building housing a large statue but unfortunately we are unable to find out what it is, and who it is for. Just after that we walk past the University which used to be the city hospital. Further on again we come across a museum dedicated to Da Vincis thoughts on flight and science. Well worth a look we thought but unfortunatley for us, it was closed. We wander through many more strets taking in the architecture and sights before we find ourselves back in the Piazza Duomo. We head to the back of the cathedral where we come across another church, we head in to find it to be “Basilica of San Carlo”. A very quiet but beautiful church, and one the tourists don’t seem to have found. The altar and statues are all perfect and it also houses the body of “Giovannangelo Porro”. Once out we head back to the tram to head home for the night, have our tea and think about the sights we have seen.
Woken up by our cockeral friend and feel very happy with our Milan exploits but decide one last venture into the city is worth it before we leave to pick up our new member of the team from Bergamo Airport. We have our breakfast and tidy the van, fill the water tanks, pay the accomodation and head out for our final trip in on the number 24 tram. Once in the city we head straight to the Mcdonalds on the Piazza Duomo for a hot cup of coffee, and at €1.60 for a large, it is were we have had most of our coffees from. We wander around slowly enjoying the atmosphere, taking in the sights and buying a few souveniers before we leave. We decide we will enjoy lunch in the square and find a lovely restaurant whose tables gaze outwards onto the square and upto the cathedral. At €6.50 for Spaghetti, pizza or Lasagne the choice is good as well as cheap but again beware, the beers are nearly €7 each so take the water option to keep the price down. We have a very pleasant meal and decide we can not leave Milan before one last thing….yes, back to the Ice cream parlour for Strawberry and Chocolate ice cream mmmm!
We arrive back at the van and now all ready to leave we enter into the sat nav the destination and head off, little did we know the sat nav wanted to take us on its own tour through the heart of Milan…..if we had knew this earlier we would have saved €10
Back on the motroway we decide to spend the night on the services as it is getting late and we are unsure of a suitable place to park closer to the airport. We are not short of time so with a large glass of Italian red we raise a toast to the city of Milan, I would certainly recommend it.
5 Top Milan Tips
1) Dont be put off by the vandalism, there is alot but it won’t detract from the genuine beauty
2) There are alot of “lucky lucky men” who try to give you “free” wrist bands for money, ignore them or stay to the edges of the square where they are not allowed and they will leave you alone.
3) Watch out for pick pocketers, they are still about but with the mass police presence they are far and few between now.
4) When buying food, it can be cheap but the drinks are real expensive, €7 – €10 a glass of beer is normal, so take it into account.
5) The drivers are crazy and trams come from nowhere, cross at crossings and wait for the green man.
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