Milan Revisited

July 4, 2013: Yesterday’s trip to Milan was supposed to include the stop at Douglas Marine in the morning, followed by lunch and some sightseeing in the afternoon. But with my pack full of boat goodies weighing heavily on me, wandering around lost all of its appeal, so I headed straight back to Sesto. That meant I just had to take another train ride into the city today.

The regional trains are somewhat spartan and generally run a little late, which is often a good thing because you have to pick up your tickets at a little news agent up the road, also a busy coffee bar in the morning.

The train from Sesto arrives at Milan’s Central Train Station, the Grande Stazione. It’s an impressive place, handling more than 600 trains and 320,000 people a day, but the arched glass ceiling makes its pretty toasty inside in the summer.

From the platform, it’s a rather long walk to the underground Metro station, located four levels down. I picked up a day pass for Euro 4.50, one of the best deals around. It’s good for 24 hours and it certainly makes getting around quicker and easier when you are short on time and your list of things to see is long. (The fare for each individual trip is Euro 1.50.)

This wasn’t my first time in Milan. Not counting yesterday’s quick trip in and out, my last visit was 22 years ago. My recollection from back then isn’t great. All those countries, churches, museums, works of art, history and culture all blending together into a giant Euro-smoothie. I wish I had access to the journals I wrote as I backpacked around Europe after uni, but they are packed up in storage in Canada. I do remember it was fall, it was overcast and rainy and cold, and I bought a cashmere sweater and drank cioccolata calda (an incredible thick and rich Italian-style hot chocolate) to try and keep warm.

Cold certainly wasn’t an issue today. Beautiful sunny skies and temperatures in the high twenties. Perfect gelato weather.

The other biggest difference today is the technology. In the early 90s, I had my copy of Let’s Go Europe, a Sony Walkman cassette player and assorted cassettes, and a camera with plenty of rolls of film. Today I had my iPhone with built-in GPS and the offline TripAdvisor City Guide for Milan, 3G for texting and impromptu Google searching, earbuds to listen to music, a Sony superzoom digital camera and an endless supply of battery chargers. Same, same, but different.

But not everything is different. I revisited a couple of the major tourist sites, like the Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the oldest shopping centre in the world. They haven’t changed much.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is how unfashionable I feel wandering around the city. Then in jeans and sneakers, today in shorts and sandals. Milan is one of the great fashion capitals of Europe. There are young, exotic models running around looking tall, waif-like and uber stylish.

Milan is not a green city. The roads are narrow, the sidewalks are narrow, and the buildings are built right up to the sidewalk. It’s not surprising given that Milan’s history dates back to 400 BC. Even the piazzas are squares of concrete with only a fountain or statue to break up the grey. All the more reason that Parco Sempione is such a popular place for the Milanese. This large oasis of gardens, woodland and trails is the site of the former parade grounds of Castello Sforzesco. The castle itself is home to numerous civic museums and art galleries. A nice respite from city life.

The day wasn’t all easy peasy. Two of the must do’s on my list turned out to be a big disappointment. I’d heard great things about Peck’s, a gourmet food store in the heart of Milan. Although it is an amazing place full of incredible (and incredibly expensive) local meats, seafoods, handmade pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, and pastries, with an equally impressive wine cellar in the basement, no cameras are allowed inside and the service was atrocious (virtually non-existant). Lots of people work there, but only one gentleman in the meat department even noticed my existence. Sadly, meat was not high on my shopping list.

I also wanted to go to Tessuti Raponi, a highly regarded fabric store in Milan, to see what sort of upholstery fabric I could find for MOKEN. It was a real challenge to find this place, even with GPS, and it wasn’t close to a Metro station. After a long walk in the mid-day sun, I arrived around 2 pm, thinking they would have reopened after closing for lunch between noon and two. But it was not to be; they were closed from one to 3:30. With nothing else in the area to pique my interest, I gave up, and returned to people watching as I sauntered back to the city centre.

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