Today is our first (and only) full day here in Milan, and so we rise early to make the most of the time we have.
Breakfast is included at the hotel, meaning we gobble it up heartily, stockpiling enough fuel to get us through the day’s planned antics.
It’s still cool and quiet as we amble into town, retracing most of our route from last night, but bearing a hard left this time towards Milan’s key attractions.
We pass boutique shops with pretty little striped awnings overhead announcing their designer wares, reminding me of Saville Row or the smaller places on Rodeo Drive.
Old wooden rickety trolley cars rattle past us on tram lines, a laissez-faire attitude about their task in hand, no worries as to whether they actually reach their intended destination or not.
We continue on until we accidentally happen upon the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. We walk through high open archways, and are immediately halted in our tracks by its magnificence.
A double shopping mall arcade, towering at four stories high, the vaulted ceilings stretch infinitely, a mass of glass and iron, letting the morning’s light shine through perfectly.
Dating back to the late 19th century, the galleria’s lofty centrepiece is a great glass dome, flanked by beguiling frescos. At the opposite end, its floor is paved in mosaics, including one of the Turin Coat of Arms, which depicts a rearing bull. It is a Milanese superstition for good luck to spin your heel upon the testicles of the bull, and a deep crater now resides where his poor genitalia must formerly have been. Needless to say, we do in fact take a spin on our return journey trough the galleria just in case (sorry Mr Bull!).
After ogling the designer stores housed within, we decide, in a bout of extravagance, to take a seat at the ‘Gucci Cafe’ (well why not eh?) and grab a coffee.
Designer drinks procured, we move on to view the Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s landmark cathedral.
We exit the galleria and are presented with its façade immediately. And it’s exquisite. Gothic spires tower high into the clouds, a vision of brick and marble.
A statue of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated, sits atop its highest point, the gilded bronze glittering and shimmering golden in the sunlight.
The crowds are already queuing to enter, but instead we appreciate the beauty from outside, where there’s still plenty to see; statues, carvings and a large entrance doorway with relief figures depicting various biblical scenes.
Once our eyes have taken in all they can, we move on, heading next for the Chiesa di San Maurizio which according to our guide book is a ‘hidden gem’.
The church itself is minuscule, and we duck through a side entrance marked as the ‘gallery of nuns’ expecting an even smaller recess. I am instead greeted by a chapel larger than the actual church, playing home to a giant organ, and the most amazing frescos.
Every inch of the walls and ceilings in this section are covered with brightly coloured paintings, the stand-outs for me being a scene of Noah’s ark, and one of the Saint Agata who, bemusingly, appears to be carrying a platter bearing her own breasts as an offering.
Once back outside, our exploration continues and we walk on, passing San Nicolao church, then the bourbourge-esque Piazzale Cadorna, with its modern-art installation ‘Needle, Thread and Knot’.
We keep going until we reach Castello Sforzesco, and boy, what a castle it is. I expected some crumbling remains from a time gone by, but instead I am faced with a great citadel, a fortress whose rotund towers still proudly dominate the skyline.
It’s very Game of Thrones, and we enter through the ‘Porta Giovia’, which literally translates as ‘Jupiter Gate’, perfectly capturing the castle’s transcendental qualities.
We wander around, standing on the drawbridge and looking out towards the Arch of Peace, before heading back to the main part of town.
In a complete juxtaposition, our next stop is an area fondly termed the ‘Quadrilater d’Oro’ (the golden quad) Milan’s premier designer shopping spot. Starting with the Via Montenapoleone, this road and several which shoot off from it, house all the great haute couture designers. Their window displays are something else, and the doorways are flanked with suit-clad henchmen who will never in a million years be opening one for me.
All fantasy realms now firmly explored, and my friend takes her leave, so it’s just me and the baby bro who hop the rickety tram from earlier to head out past China Town, (him somewhat reluctantly) to the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano.
We arrive not too long before closing, so only a manage a quick sejourn, but it’s just enough to reinvigorate my soul.
Deathly silent in the most literal sense of the term, we enter to the right of the main memorial chapel, wandering past great towering evergreens, drinking in our surroundings.
I am fascinated by the different sculptures, tombs, temples and mausoleums with which the Italians chose to honour and remember their dead.
I creep down a hidden trail which opens out to reveal giant replica of ‘The Last Supper’, guarding the final resting place of the Campari family (of the liqueur fame). It’s enormous, and wouldn’t be out of place as a grand monument commemorating a thousand dead, let alone just one family.
I really do adore these places (see previous documentations for further evidence of this morbid obsession), and I feel humbled to have been able to wander around and pay my respects.
A claxon sounds, snapping me from my reverie, to announce closing time and we head back to the hotel to change for dinner.
Tonight’s venue has been recommended by ‘Food Republic’, and I have high hopes. They are only mildly challenges when our 20 minute walk sends us to the outskirts of an industrial region, but I needn’t have worried.
We arrive at what looks like an old country ranch, sequestered away from the main road, an absolute vision of old-world elegance. It’s wonderful inside too, the traditional features remaining, but added to by a hodgepodge of modern touches, a mirrored bar, and an eclectic mix of wines filling one whole floor-to-ceiling bookshelf.
The atmosphere is relaxed and low key, and not being familiar with the majority of dishes, we plump for a tasting menu.
We start with salads, it’s three different kinds of radishes, perfectly seasoned, and paired with a sparkling Pinot, every bit as crisp and light as champagne.
A dry white Moscato from Piedmont is next, providing a punchy aftertaste, which picks out the flavours of the trout carpaccio.
A delicious red complements a roast onion risotto, and it’s trout again for our final savoury part of the meal, served hot with thyme butter, and with what looks like a rose wine, but tastes much better.
Tangy watermelon granita cleanses our palette, before we are served intricate deserts with powerful flavours of chocolate, fruit and pepper exploding in every bite.
Full to bursting with the most delectable treats, we head back for a quick nightcap in our hotel bar before sleep once again takes hold.
As I lie in the dark, my head is spinning, a solar system, my thoughts orbiting all of the different and varied things I’ve seen and tasted today. I’m certainly a big fan of Italy so far, and my fun-packed day in Milan has whet my appetite for our continuing adventure over the next few days. I can’t wait, and so I snuggle down, dreaming of castles and couture, a smile upon my face.