It has been almost 10 years since the last time I was in Italy, and Milan is still an uncharted place for me. It’s time to make the most of this ending summer and pay my south-eastern neighbors a visit 😀
My childhood friend Clément moved to Milan a few months ago, so now is the perfect occasion to pay him a visit and discover Italy’s economic capital city. As often, my only option for this trip is to go on a week-end, but fortunately Milan is pretty easily reachable from Paris by plane, and it’s quite affordable as well. Getting out of work I head straight to the airport, in time for my flight, and a few hours later “Voilà!” I’m at Clément’s place, savoring a good old pizza with his flatmate Emanuele. Their flat is awesome, in an old building with typical Italian staircases, laundry drying at the windows and a lot of plants on the balconies. I love this mood, it this feels very lively.
At his time of the year, the city is quieter than usual, a lot of people are still on vacation. Yet, going out for a beer on a Friday night is a good opportunity to meet strangers. Though don’t expect everyone to be able to speak English. Just like French people, Italian people aren’t the greatest English speakers out there 😅. Clément and I stroll around to have a few drinks in his district, but agree to call it a night before 3 am, because we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow !
On the Saturday “morning” starts the real visit. We head out towards the city center on foot, the plan being to spend the day out and have a good overview of what Milan is made of. The first thing that strikes me is the mix in architectural styles, a lot of buildings remind me of what you can see in countries like Austria, Switzerland or in the south of Germany : big, massive, plain and mostly gray. For some of them, you can easily guess they were built during the Italian Fascist years, especially the Central Station. The rest of the houses is much more colorful, with tiny balconies, much more typical of the rest of Italy. It makes an interesting blend between central and southern European styles 👍
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Reaching the center, we come across the famous Duomo di Milano. This Gothic Cathedral – located in the heart of Milan – is gigantic, not so tall but really massive ! We’ve decided to visit its rooftop, but now is around noon and I’d rather come back when the light is more interesting, in the evening. The Piazza del Duomo is impressive, too.
We start looking for a place Emanuele told us about : Santa Maria Presso San Satiro, not far from the Cathedral. The particularity of this church comes from its choir, being one of the firsts Trompe l’oeil exemple in art history, pretty impressively designed.
On our way to grab some food, are standing the Colonne di San Lorenzo, a 4th century colonnade, vestige from the Roman Empire. We head to the nearest park with some Focaccia and Pizza ;), so we can find a bit of shadow and water. It’s around 35°C today and we’re on foot, but the good thing is you’ve got a lot of drinkable water fountains throughout the city. The surroundings are made of paved and narrow streets, in which we stroll until reaching the southern canals (aka Navigli), a great place if you’re looking for a restaurant, a bar, or simply want to spend some time by the water. Before 1930 there were 5 of those canals crossing the city, unfortunately most of them are covered now. The good news is : they are currently planning to open them again. I like this idea, I’ve always loved cities where you can chill by a river or a canal 😌
We’ve already been walking for 4 hours, so we decide to head to the Sempione park to have a quick nap, and then visit the Forzesco Castle. We run into those guys on Piazza Affari, they seem to be setting to shoot a movie, I love how this man came by himself into this frame : Tranquilli !
Here is the tour of today, broadly speaking
Now is finally time to get to the Duomo’s rooftop, the sun is getting lower and the light much more interesting. We go through the huge Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, to the Cathedral and take the stairs to the top. The building is facing west, so I know I’ll have some good back-light and side-light shots to make, with a lot of details from the building.
I like to use prime lenses (aka lenses you can’t zoom with), so when I need to reach a wider angle, I just take a couple of pictures, and then stitch them together. Here is my friend Clément, sitting on the Duomo’s rooftop, with the business district Garibaldi in the horizon.
After a whole day of walking it’s now 7pm, which means it’s a good time to change context. At this time of the day begins l’Aperitivo, the Italian happy hour. The use is to go to a bar, order something to drink, and enjoy a free buffet of food. Emanuele and Clément take me to the Frida, in the Isola neighborhood. This is a really cool place, full of young people, with a glass rooftop covered terrace, very cosy.
We stay there for a few hours and a few drinks, and then leave to walk randomly until we see something appealing. The next place we find (after only 2 minutes 🙂 ) is quite enjoyable too. Still in the Isola district, the interesting part of this bar isn’t inside (I don’t even remember the name of the place) : everyone is out in the street, chatting, drinking, laughing, it’s a great place to meet people. We spend some time with a group of freshly met Italian people but eventually around 3 or 4 am everybody starts leaving, and so do us. On our way back home we end up nearby the Garibaldi business district, and decide to cool our feet for a few minutes in one of their fountains, at the foot of the Palazzo Lombardi, a 160m tall skyscraper.
On the sunday we’re a bit washed out from the day and the night before, but I’m only leaving at 6pm, and eager to see the northern canal, the Naviglio Martesana. Emanuele told me it’s worth the visit, and he is right ! This canal is much less touristic than the southern ones, and bordered by pretty Villas, parks.
A lot of people come here for a walk, a bike ride, or even a sunbathe. We come across a great looking place, the Cascina Martesana, which looks a lot like the Frida bar, but even more chill, with hammocks, music and a lot of young people. This reminds me a lot of guesthouses and bars in Southeast Asia, definitely a place I’d like to try next time !
Now this is it ! I only have the time to buy some Italian food I can bring back to my roommates, and to say goodbye to my awesome hosts, and I’m on my way to the airport. I have to say I didn’t really know what to expect, coming to Milan, but I had an incredible week-end, I’m thrilled and can’t wait for my next trip !