Like most people I know, Milan conjures images for me that include high-end stores and well-dressed people and sometimes the Duomo. The fashion facet of Milan exists, to be sure, and the Duomo is definitely a big part of the Milan cityscape.
Pretty big. Hard to miss.
But for the most part, what surprised me about Milan is how normal it felt. While it’s summer in Italy and there are tourists running around, Milan seemed like a place where real people lived and worked.
The B&B we stayed at was in an “actual” building on a street with real businesses. When Mark and I went for a run in the neighborhood, we did pass the cheap scarf and sunglasses vendors, but we also passed a flower cart.
We stopped for some appallingly overpriced drinks in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II (5 euros for Lipton black tea? Get it together.), notable for being one of the world’s oldest shopping centers and for its covered ceilings.
It’s a great place to people-watch. Of course, there were the fashionably dressed, the Milanese families, and the tourists filming everything with iPads, but the crowd turned out to be diverse enough that you would feel no more out of place in a trendy tailored suit than in a grunge outfit, a see-through dress, or a bohemian skirt and flip-flops. Italy seems to be kind of like that—do whatever you want, as long as you do it entirely.
Milan was also notable in that I would actually recommend every tourist thing I did there to others.
Duomo. Pictured above. You can go inside; I didn’t, so I don’t know how much it costs. As with the main tourist attraction of any city, don’t eat in the square. Do go see it, though.
Parco Sempione. This is a park that used to be the grounds of a castle! As an American, I’m not used to castles being around, so this was exciting for me. It also means that the park is really nice.
Next to Parco Sempione is the aforementioned castle, Castello Sforzesco. This is another place that you can pay to go in, but you are also able to wander around the grounds free of charge if you don’t go inside. Finally, the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie has a very special claim to fame: it’s the church that has Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painted on its wall. This is definitely worth seeing if you’re into art, but take note of the weird rules surrounding it.
1) Because it’s so fragile, groups of people are only allowed in front of it for 15 minutes at a time. It’s so popular that there is absolutely no chance of buying a ticket at the church—you need to book ahead of time.
2) This brings me to the next thing. The base price for a ticket is 8 euros. That price is only available from here. The times sell out very fast, and third parties buy whole swaths of tickets and resell them as packages for much more. We ended up buying a package with the da Vinci exhibit called Codice Atlantico, a collection of da Vinci’s notes and sketches, for €26.50, and that’s a fairly reasonable one.
3) You can’t take photos, again because of the fragility. There is a replication of the Last Supper on the way out that you can take photos in front of, and a lot of people did that when I was there, but frankly, I find that kind of weird.
There are obviously no photos of the mural, which was bigger than I expected and fascinating to see in person. The church itself is also worth a photo op: like many Italian buildings, it’s old and beautiful.