europe · italy · Travel

Ciao Milano! Cathedrals, Castles and Cocktails

It’s a slightly snoozy Mr and Mrs Fletche that emerge from their stupid o’clock Flybe flight from Birmingham International to Milan Malpensa. The alarm went off at some ridiculous time that I didn’t even know existed (unless coming home from a VERY rowdy night out) but the warmth of the Italian sunshine on my poor, Vitamin-D deprived skin sends a ripple of energy through my drained limbs and I’m ready to face the trip into the city.  Our suitcases are already making their trip around the luggage carousel by the time we’re through passport control and we are impressed with the efficiency of the Milan baggage handling staff.  Of course, it’s still barely dawn and speed and efficiency is not what we were particularly hoping for given that there is little chance of us being able to check in to our hotel (Check in time?  We hadn’t even reached Check-Out ­time yet…)

We keep our fingers crossed that the Milan public transport system will prove every bit as efficient as the UK one and provide us with the delay we desire to prevent us from sightseeing around Milan with our suitcases in tow.  No.  Newly purchased Malpensa Express Tickets purchased from the (easy-peasy to use) self-service machine, the train is at the platform awaiting our embarkation (albeit at the other end of the platform, causing momentary confusion… “Do you think that’s our train?”).  The train is practically empty, and within half an hour of touching down in Italy we are on our way.  Despite my sources (Google) telling me that this would be a 52 minute journey, we are pulling into Milan Cadorna just 32 minutes later.  At this rate, we will be at the hotel before breakfast has even been served.

The metro from Cardorna to Cordusio is just as swift and we emerge blinking from the underground into the Milanese sunshine.  We do manage to waste a good two minutes whilst identifying which of the streets radiating from Piazza Cordusio is the right one.  If we had looked up one way we would have seen the Duomo looming in the distance.  If we had looked the other we would have seen Castello Sforzesco.  We looked in neither direction, blinkered by our desire to at least drop off our suitcases at our hotel.  Our suitcases are no longer trusty travelling companions, they are now hindering, lumbering, massive obstacles intent on tripping up anyone and everyone in their path.  A “scusa” here and a“mi dispiace” there and we make it to the Hotel Gran Duca di York.

Mr Fletche launches into a protracted explanation about how early we are and could we just store our suitcases and freshen up and… only to be interrupted by those wonderful words – “Your room is ready…”  We could kiss the lovely man on reception, but we refrain and instead bundle ourselves and our inappropriately large suitcases into the lift.  We love this hotel already.  We love it even more when we enter our lovely room and find that we have a tiny little patio.  And free soft drinks in the mini-bar.  And slippers (which somehow fall into my suitcase at the end of our stay – if anyone from Hotel Gran Duca Di York reads this I am more than happy to post them back if you don’t mind them slightly bloodstained from the blisters…)

Hotel Gran Duca di York, Milan
Our little patio at Hotel Gran Duca di York

Now we have a home for the night, and we can divest ourselves of our luggage, we can relax.  Except we only have one day and night in this city so there’s no time to relax and enjoy our tiny little patio, our free soft drinks or even our slippers.  Mr Fletche makes the critical error of letting me navigate.  We’re looking for the Duomo.  You know, that tiny little hidden gem of a cathedral?  We find Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore.  A quick glance at Google maps tells us that we couldn’t be further away from the Duomo if we tried.  Don’t get me wrong, as churches go, this is one is pretty cool, being the oldest church in Milan and all that, but we’re on a tight schedule.  And we’re in need of sustenance (our toast and jam colazione at Birmingham Airport seems like a lifetime ago…).  Panino Giusto meets our basic needs (bread, meat, beer) and we’re good to go again.  In the right direction this time.  This lengthy diversion was probably not the right occasion to break in my new shoes

We retrace our steps, and lo and behold!  We find the Duomo!  About five minutes from our hotel.  Oh well, what’s a mile long diversion between friends?  We mingle with the selfie-stick sellers. (When did this become a thing? Every time we point a camera we get a plastic extendable contraption waved in our face by a hopeful seller… How exactly is hubby’s DSLR going to fit on that?)  The Duomo is an impressive sight and (if my feet don’t fall off first) we look forward to scaling the terraces later.  There’s more of Milan to see though so we wave bye bye to the selfie sellers and amble through Gallerie Vittorio Emmanuele II – a shopping mall just like the Birmingham Bull Ring.  Prada.  Gucci.  Dolce & Gabbana.  Louis Vuitton. (Disclaimer.  It’s nothing like the Birmingham Bull Ring).
Gallerie Vittorio Emmanuele II, Milan
Inside Gallerie Vittorio Emmanuele II (nothing like the Birmingham Bull Ring)

We pay a flying visit to Piazza Della Scala (strangely underwhelmed by the exterior of the famous Opera House, maybe the inside is more impressive?) and then on to the Brera district (buongiorno Naked Napoleon…).  We contemplate returning to this area for dinner as there are loads of little bustling cafes and restaurants nestling in narrow streets and alleyways, but it starts to seem a long walk back in the 30+ degree heat and with feet which now seem a little too big for my shoes.  Back at our hotel room I am immensely grateful for both the free soft drinks in the mini-bar and the free slippers.  Just a short nap before dinner maybe…after all, we got up SOoooooo early this morning…

2 hours later.

Fresh as a daisy from our “nap”, we’re raring to go again.  I replace my “very comfortable but slightly rubbing” shoes with “slightly less comfortable but no rubbing bits” sandals.  After all, we’re not planning to climb to the top of any cathedrals tonight are we?…

This time we head straight up Via Dante towards Castello Sforzesco.  Milano is bustling in the warm early evening sunshine and we mingle with tourists and locals alike enjoying their gelato and granita sitting around the fountain at Piazza Castello.  We grab a granita ourselves – better known as “slush puppies” back home – and head into the courtyard of the castle.  No time for museums today, but we do walk through the courtyard to the huge Parco Sempione at its rear.  It’s the perfect place to spend a balmy sunny evening, and there are people walking dogs, throwing balls and Frisbees, jogging, or just relaxing on their own or with friends.  Had we another day in Milan, we would have lingered longer, maybe traversing the narrow tree-lined paths down to the Arco della Pace at the opposite end, or take the elevator to the top of the Torre Branca.  But there are sights still to see, and rumbling tummies to satisfy.

Despite meticulous planning, predictably we end up at the first restaurant which catches our eye (and where the waiters don’t look too eager to drag you in).  A light meal is in order, and no-one complains when we simply order abruschetta and insalate from the antipasti menu.  The meal is nothing special but satisfies our hunger – and the vino rosso is good. (Let me just state for the record now – all the wine was good. White wine.  Red wine.  Sparkling wine.  There is no bad wine in Italy.  And when it’s cheaper than water…you drink wine.  Lots of it).  The entertainment was also somewhat…interessante.  It consisted of one man sitting on a stick held by another man.  Just sitting there.  For hours.  And then another man comes along and covers them all with a tent.  A crowd gathers.  What will emerge from the tent?  Will they have disappeared?  Will they have swapped positions?  Um, no.  45 minutes later it turns out they were just unravelling themselves from their uncomfortable positions and changing into their jeans and t-shirts.  Fashion is high-quality in Milan, street entertainers aren’t.

Mildly entertained, and hunger satisfied, we head off on our next adventure.  For the princely sum of 13e we can get the lift to the rooftop terraces of the Duomo.  Or for 8e we can walk.  Never one to let unsuitable footwear get in the way of a challenge, we opt for the stairs.  200+ steps and one blister later we’re at the top!  And it’s pretty spectacular up there, surrounded by spires, marble and gothic architecture.  And all bathed in a wonderful amber glow as the sun lowers on the horizon.  There are surprisingly few people joining us on our rooftop expedition, and I’m glad we’ve chosen this time of the day to do it.  The nice staff invite us to descend in the elevator…a very welcome alternative to the winding staircase!

After our descent we decide to ascend once more – this time to the rooftop cocktail bar of La Rinascente department store.  The outside tables are all taken, but we’re seated close to the big glass windows overlooking the spires of the cathedral, tracing the path of where we stood barely half an hour ago.  It’s a pretty magnificent view to enjoy alongside our cocktails.  They’re pricey at 14e each, but the feast of exquisite-looking and tasty morsels accompanying our drinks make us feel as if we’re getting value for money.  And where else can we get this view?

We both agree that one night in this city is not enough, and with it being a handy Flybe flight away from home, this is definitely not the last time that we will set foot in Milano.  (Of course we’ll be setting foot in Milano again very soon as we have to come back for our return flight but that’s just passing through…)

We wake up in the early hours of the morning to find the room momentarily as bright as daylight. It takes me a minute to realise we are not being abducted by aliens, but we are in the middle of what sounds like a quite spectacular thunderstorm.

Wake up at a slightly more respectable time to find that a slight glistening on the pavements is the only remainder of the turbulent weather overnight.  No need to pack up the sandals and break out the wellies just yet.  We have a very satisfactory buffet breakfast, and take a final pre-check out walk up to Castello Sforzesca to pick up the obligatory fridge magnet souvenir.  Feet are swaddled in plasters and my pink pumps, lime green socks and a flowery summer dress make me look as if I have escaped from some sort of tragically unfashionable care home.  Ah well, I’m only in Milan, where no-one cares how they look…

Only the bare essentials have been taken out of my suitcase for one night, yet the contents look like a Primark 50% off sale has occurred in there overnight.  Mr Fletche smugly congratulates himself on neatly rolling all of his clothes.  We check out, still thanking the staff profusely for our unexpectedly early check-in the day before.  We take the Metro from Duomo to Milan Centrale, and await our train for the next stop on our grand Italian tour – Verona

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