BY MY THIRD DAY IN MILAN, I started to feel like I was trapped in a giant shopping mall. Each name brand designer has half a dozen stores here, and every American chain is represented. Tonight, my last in the city, I walked up Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of many major shopping streets, and have to concede that even New York doesn’t have that concentration of stores anywhere. It’s store upon store, along the side streets too, as far as the eye can see. This is Italy’s fashion, design and finance capital, and the spending prowess is here. I climbed to the roof of the Duomo today — an unmissable experience — and was surprised not to find a Dolce & Gabbana billboard up there.
My genteel hotel, Gran Duca di York, while tucked away in a quiet back street, is a few minutes’ walk to Piazza del Duomo, top, with all its hawkers, buskers, street artists, shoppers, students, tourists, locals. (I think I finally figured out what the latest street vendors’ product, a three-foot-long long metal stick which holds an iPhone or camera on the end, is for: taking better selfies.)
Starting May 1 and continuing through the summer, there’s going to be a World’s Fair here, Expo Milano. So there are street repairs and construction going on everywhere, adding to the chaos.
Above: The entrance to the Galleria, the Victorian-era shopping mall, is currently enshrouded in scaffolding and wrapped in a billboard.
As an antidote, I needed some culture. I paid a visit to the Museo del Novecentro (Museum of the 20th Century), below, opened in 2010, and loved it. The five-story museum’s architecture is outstanding, its ramps, escalators, and glass walls always visually connected to the historical surroundings. Almost exclusively Italian works are presented in order of their execution, from Futurist painting and sculpture of the ‘teens and ’20s through conceptual installations of more recent decades, like rooms empty of anything but moving laser beams.
The climb to the top of the Duomo was the equivalent of nine floors, according to my iPhone’s pedometer, via a narrow twisting stair. (There’s also a lift.) Emerging onto the roof, face to face with all that intricately carved marble, you marvel at the fact that it took only 500 years to put together. The view is astounding in all directions.
From the top I spotted Torre Velasca, below, the 1958 skyscraper whose top floors are cantilevered over the rest, an idea never to be repeated. It remains a unique symbol of venturesome Milanese design. I later walked underneath it in my quest for lunch.
I walked and walked, taking in more of the city, including the area around University Statale, below, full of bookstores, cafes, motorcycles, and of course, high-spirited students.
My eventual lunch spot, Cantina Piemontese, below, in the same location on via Laghetto since 1908, is a find — I loved the ambience and the food (that’s my starter, artichoke hearts with bufala mozzarella). All that bread’s for me?! (They charge for it, and I keep forgetting to tell them not to bring it.) As usual, I was early, but the place soon filled up with well-tailored businessmen and ladies who lunch. All locals; I was the only non-Italian-speaker within earshot.
I walked and walked and walked some more. Since my first evening in town, when I was afraid I wouldn’t find my hotel, I’ve been comfortable walking around the city after dark. There are people everywhere.
Milan is a complex, exhilarating place. It’s stressful to navigate, in the same way midtown Manhattan would be for a newcomer. But I’m not opposed to spending more time here at some point, particularly as it is often the least expensive European city to fly in and out of. After three days and four nights, I know I only scratched the surface.