Milan, Italy, Day 1: Sightseeing, Shopping, & Some Fancy Cars (1st in a 5-Part Series)

Let’s warm you up for the food by seeing some sights first, yes?

My Italy Series:
Milan, Italy, Day 1: Sightseeing, Shopping, & Some Fancy Cars
Milan, Italy: The Food
Milan, Italy: The Best Dishes I Eat
Ravenna, Italy: Small But Marvelous
Bologna, Italy: Bliss

Oh Milan, a high-powered mecca of fashion where tall women in impossibly high heels teeter through warrens of cobbled streets displaying cleavage low enough to show. It’s the height of summer and the heat is hellish but cool sales make up for it as do newly bought swags of sparkly designer bags slung over shoulders. Milan is the hometown of Prada and its flagship store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II beckons like a beacon of consumerism along with Louis Vuitton, Bally, Gucci, and the rest of the glossy gang.

Milan, like the rest of Italy, is flat, making it easy for its citizens, the Milanese (mi-lah-NEHS-seh) to zip by in Vespas (“…so Italian,” my Bin remarks). One would also be hard-pressed to describe the city’s structures. Boasting a medley of architectural styles, its famous landmarks like the Duomo and La Scala couldn’t be more different, and some neighborhoods are charming, like Brera, while others are edgier, like Navigli.

But I love big cities wherever they are, and diversity is a delightful delirium. Come, see Milan with me.

Here’s the Duomo captured at sunset in her commanding glory (cover photo above). Milan’s iconic symbol took four centuries to complete and hosts flying buttresses and 3,500 statues. Displaying styles ranging from Gothic to the neo-Gothic, it’s the third largest church in the world. In the cover photo, surrounded by scaffolding, is the Madonnina, a 14-ft statue of the Madonna which has become symbolic of Milan.

Another view of the Duomo, this time from the back, shot at mid-afternoon.
Inside, the Duomo’s massive marble walls and sky-high dome provide respite from the searing heat outside.
The Duomo possesses the largest stained-glass windows of any cathedral.
In Italy, Piazza means “square,” a center of activity. Here’s a view of the Pizza Del Duomo, always teeming with people and pigeons.

Directly across the Duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, otherwise known as il salotto bueno, the city’s fine drawing room, because it serves as a passiagiata, passenger route from Piazza di Duomo to Piazza di Marino to La Scala.

The Galleria, opened in 1867, is truly impressive. Its towering iron and glass interiors glisten as brightly as the luxury heavyweights it houses: Dutti, Swarovski, Mercedes-Benz, et al. Considered avant-garde for its time, the Galleria’s design is the peg for many similar shopping malls around the world.

The floors of the Galleria are equally unparalleled. Century-old mosaics represent Asia, Africa, Europe, and America while in the center is an octagonal area. Its four arms shoot out from its axis representing four major Italian cities. The Galleria’s architect, Giuseppe Mengoni, fell to his death on the job in 1877, and, to ward off similar misfortune, there’s a Milanese tradition to dig one’s heels into the erm, balls of the bull mosaic situated directly beneath the Galleria’s glass dome. I decide to spare the poor bull from any more of these humiliations and walk into a shop instead.
Passing directly through the Galleria leads me straight to the Teatro alla Scala. Its unassuming façade is thoroughly 18th century but its superior acoustics, mirror-lined salon, and seating capacity of 2,015 is decidedly new world.

Via Dante, named for the Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, is a lively pedestrian street lined with mid-range shops and restaurants that never seem to close (quite the rarity in Italy’s smaller cities). The street has many little roads that branch off of it lending the promise of adventure to courageous travelers.

At the end of Via Dante is Castello Sforzesco that stands within Parco Sempione. In the photo above, the castle is partially hidden by the majestic fountain that graces its entrance. This massive red brick castle was designed by Leonardo da Vinci and housed families that ruled Renaissance Milan. Today, the castle is home to ten museums, notably the Museo d’Arte Antica that contains Michelangelo’s final work, the unfinished Pietà Rondanini.
Parco Sempione is a green oasis with lots of trees, lakes, and winding paths. Towards the end of the park is the Arco della Pace (Arch of Victories), begun in 1807. A marble and bas-relief splendor, the monument originally faced France, but when Milan was surrendered to Austria in 1815, it was re-positioned to face Milan’s center.

The Quadrilatero D’ Oro (The Golden Quad) goes by a few other names: Monte Nap or Napo, a reference to its nexus, Via Montenapoleone, that links to three other streets: Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, and Via Borgospesso. It’s a golden area that’s known to all fierce fashionistas and those with paper or plastic to burn. I find this a beautiful area to walk in, not really because of the people but rather, the stunning residential architecture and the clever store displays. In addition, and to the delight of my Bin, flashy European cars glide by, their engines purring like supremely satisfied cats. These are the stupendous car models that are distinguished from a distance by any avid car enthusiast, inspiring goggle-eyed looks and jaw drops to the floor.

“Honey, it’s a Bentley, oh my god, it’s a real live Bentley,” my Bin whispers to me fiercely. Then: “Oh lord, it’s the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT Am!” We also spot a Maserati, a red Ferrari, and many Mercedes-Benzes. I can’t remember them all honestly, but judging from the open-mouthed stares of those walking around the Quad, there are more than a few car aficionados walking around.

This is the sprawling Giorgio Armani store on Via Alessandro Manzoni near the Quad. It spans almost half a block and houses the famous designer’s lines for fashion, home, and a café.

Just an example of the creatively elegant store displays all designed to seduce and make one buy, buy, buy…

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