Milan: not-so-touristy Italy

Colin and I started our trip last month in Milan, where he had a week-long conference. Now Milan may be known as a fashion capital of the world and an international business hub, but it is decidedly not known for its tourist appeal. That meant that our week was pretty quiet overall, compared to other places we’ve traveled. And that was fine! The city grew on us by the end, and while I still wouldn’t recommend it as a first-choice destination, there’s plenty to do if you find yourself there for work or just because the airport is convenient.

The first thing to do – the main destination listed in guide books – is to visit the Duomo di Milano. Colin and I have seen a LOT of churches after living in France for a year, and although Milan’s isn’t the tallest, oldest, or most famous, it is definitely one of the most unique. Actually, here’s its superlative: it has the most intricate façade of any cathedral I’ve ever seen.

The inside of the cathedral is beautiful, of course, but the star of the show is the rooftop. We bought fast-track passes (highly recommend!) and were expecting to have to climb up a dark spiral staircase as we’ve done everywhere else, but no: in Milan they’ve invested in elevators. Mille grazie, Milano. You only have to climb down.

Anyway, even though you only have a minute of anticipation before the elevator deposits you on the roof, the view still takes your breath away. The Duomo is known for its thousands of intricate carvings and statues, many of which have been painstakingly restored in recent years.

I also loved peering down at the hustle and bustle of the city from above. The Milan skyline has far too many generic skyscrapers (and some remarkably ugly ones) to be notable, but the plaza around the Duomo is beautiful. With one exception: the pigeons. If you thought the pigeons around Notre Dame were bad, wait until you see the Duomo! I did NOT miss the pigeons of Europe, that’s for sure.

After checking the Duomo off our list, we phoned a friend for ideas. Luckily, the friend we phoned has a PhD in art history, which she earned for a dissertation on Milanese art, so she knows a thing or two about what to do in Milan. She immediately sent us a list of a dozen other churches, museums, parks, and neighborhoods to visit. I did not manage to see them all. In fact, I only managed one other church (San Satiro, which is very near the Duomo and has a neat trompe l’oeil interior) and two parks (Parco Sempione, home to the Sforzesco Castle, and the Indro Montanelli Public Gardens).

Other than that, Colin and I mostly ate, which, if you’re in Italy, is probably high on your priority list. And we people-watched, which is the other big thing to do in Italy. Here’s my fashion report from the fashion capital of the world:

  1. Medium-blue suits are definitely a thing right now; and
  2. Milanese women are not afraid of biking in stilettos.

The first observation was not super surprising, except for the sheer number of medium-blue suits that I saw. The latter, on the other hand, pales only in comparison to the Parisian woman I saw biking with two bottles of wine in the back pockets of her jeans. How is that even possible?!

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