Europe is a mosaic of cultures, languages, people and cuisines, which together form a marvellous and vast tapestry, and yet retain their individual essence. There are innumerable places to visit in Europe, ranging from small, rustic villages like Saint-Emilion in France, to bustling metropolises like Barcelona and Paris. Whatever your wanderlust desires, Europe can offer!
However, there is a destination in Europe which presents a particularly rich mélange of culture, charm, and tradition on the one hand, and ultra-modern sophistication on the other: La Città di Milano, or in English, the City of Milan, in Italy. Most famous as THE place to be for fashion and design, Milan is a lot more than just glitz and glamour. This city was a one-time capital of the Imperial Roman empire, and is a beacon of cultural and historical significance.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
Though on the surface, the city may look and feel like an urban jungle, beneath this brash exterior is a strong sense of history and culture. The cathedrals, priceless art collections in the museos, opera houses, villas, charming districts with quaint roadside cafés are the cultural soul of the city, and give it its characteristic ‘modern yet traditional’ feel.
The city has many other, and more material, attractions like the Quadrilatero d’Oro (‘rectangle of gold’) which houses outlets of several of the world’s leading fashion brands, where you can get the latest and the best in the world of glamour. These stores can be seriously expensive though, so watch out! For those who prefer ‘sorties’ of the nocturnal kind, Milan has a vibrant nightlife, with several chic and elite nightclubs for you to let your hair down and have a memorable time. One of the city’s most famous, yet polarising addictions is calcio (Football), which may even have more devout followers than religion!
What to look out for?
The list of attractions and things to do is extensive; every type of traveller will find something extraordinary to visit. You can choose to roam around in the city in an open-top bus, take a segway tour or just walk around. History buffs and the culturally curious will enjoy the grand Gothic cathedral, the Duomo, which is the third largest church in the world that took nearly six centuries to be built, and the Teatro alla Scala opera house, where many of the world’s finest singers have performed. There are several art galleries and museums with priceless art collections. Shoppers will literally have their hands full with the variety of outlets, while gourmands can enjoy delectable traditional Italian recipes or they can satisfy their taste buds in the many Michelin Star restaurants in the city.
Sports fans can enjoy the hallowed atmosphere and ringing cheers of almost 70,000 fans in the seats of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, which is home to not one but two of the world’s biggest football clubs, dividing the city into two sets of equally ardent fans. Even people not interested in sports should witness this spectacle, which can be likened to the gladiatoral battles of old!
What about food cravings?
The star dishes in Milanese cuisine are derived from the Lombard tradition (originating from a region called Lombardy). The cuisine is rich in tradition and is largely based on meat dishes with not many vegetarian options. In general, Lombard cuisine is more similar to that of Austria and Central Europe than to Central or Southern Italian cuisines.
While top-end restaurants will serve you creative and sophisticated dishes, the authentic taste of Milanese cuisine is in the dishes you can have in traditional trattorie and osterie, which are more often than not family-run. The characteristic dish is risotto, with specialties like risotto alla milanese, which has saffron and is generally offered with the typical Milanese main dishes, like ossobuco alla milanese and cotoletta alla milanese.
Milan also has other signature dishes like cassoeula and the famous panettone Christmas cake. Wine afficionados can have their cravings satisfied by visiting one of the famous wineries in the city, and Pizza lovers can eat to their heart’s content in any of the Pizzerias dotting the city.
How do I get there?
Since Milan is a major city, it has three airports- Malpensa International, Linate and Bergamo Orio Al Serio, all of which are outside the city. To reach the city centre from there, you can take the train or bus, or even a taxi. Taxis will give you better flexibility, but can get exorbitant.
Any other tips?
Milanese people are not very well-versed in English; you will have to either purchase an Italian phrase book, or rely heavily on hand gestures to get your point across. You can also use one of the many translation apps available for smart-phones, but beware of sky-high data charges from your mobile service provider! Also, the rainy season in Milan is all year round, so carry a small umbrella or rain-coat.
Most businesses shut shop from 2 pm to 4 pm, and most are closed on Mondays. Almost all businesses are closed by 8 or 9 pm and by 6 pm on Sundays. Unless you are in a tourist area, these timngs are quite rigidly followed. So plan your trip accordingly.
Lastly, though the known hotspots are the highlights of the city, try and gather local knowledge of lesser known spots, where you can actually see the city’s true nature, and not the façade which is put up for tourists.
So, I guess it’s time to start learning Italian. Ci vediamo, a presto!