A wet weekend in Milan

Accommodations were scarce in Milan on the weekend we planned to visit because of several events going on in the city including the Milan Marathon.  Sonja managed to find us two nights in an apartment a little outside the city centre.  This modern apartment with paper thin walls (and a screaming baby as a neighbour) lacked character, in stark contrast to the museum-like apartment in Florence.  It was less than ideal, but it was across the street from a Metro station giving us easy access to the entire city.  This was the smallest apartment we stayed in – a loft bedroom with twin beds and a double bed in the living area – but it was also the cheapest.  For two nights, it was sufficient to meet our needs.

As the second largest city in Italy (Rome is the largest), Milan is the main industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy.  The city is recognized as a major world fashion and design capital with 12,000 companies, 800 show rooms, and 6,000 sales outlets, and four weeks dedicated to top design shows each year.  It is also well-known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, which was one of the events happening during the weekend we were there.

But we were there for the marathon so the first order of business was a visit to the race expo where Sonja picked up her race kit, after which we headed towards the historic centre to check out the sights – in the pouring rain.  In fact, it rained from the minute we arrived on Saturday afternoon until we left on Monday morning.

We found the Castello Sforzesco, one of the most famous monuments in Milan dating back to the 14th century, and wandered around the grounds for a short while; you could easily spend an entire day going through the twelve mini-museums and large archives that cover a vast array of subjects and periods from Palaeolithic history through to 1950s furniture of all things. The Castello complex includes The Museum of Ancient Art, The Furniture Museum, The Museum of Musical Instruments and the Applied Arts Collection, The Egyptian and Prehistoric sections of the Archaeological Museum and the Achille Bertarelli Print Collection. The best known of the current civic museums is the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, with an art collection which includes Michelangelo’s last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna and Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Trivulzianus manuscript. During the 15thcentury, this castle was home to the aristocratic court of Lovico ‘il Moro’ Sforza, patron of Leonardo da Vinci.  Of course, we didn’t have time to visit any of these museums.

The highlight that afternoon was a visit to the Duomo.  This gothic cathedral took over five centuries to build; it is the third largest cathedral in the world and the largest gothic cathedral in the world.  To say it was impressive would be an understatement.  We entered the cathedral during mass and so we were privy to the medley of sounds of the organ, the choir and the priests.

On Sunday, Sonja arose before dawn to find her way to the marathon starting point. It was still raining and it was quite cold.  Chris and I thought of her as we stayed behind in our cosy beds (yes, we had the twin beds in the loft) sipping our espresso coffee.  We could easily have just lounged around all day, but we pushed ourselves and went back to the historic centre to do a little more sightseeing.  Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves next to the marathon route when we exited the subway in front of the Duomo.  We watched the runners for about a half an hour, clapping and cheering them on as loudly as we could even though the handful of other spectators lining the course were as quiet as church mice and kept darting puzzled looks our way.  We were even more surprised and pleased to see my sister heading our way – we couldn’t have planned it any better.  Chris managed to get a few photos of her as she made her way through the piazza.  I think she was happy to see our familiar faces even though she still had 16 km to go.

We went into the Duomo for a second look and I was surprised to see so many things I had missed the day before, like the huge crucifex hanging high above the alter at the front of the church, reputed to have one of the nails from the cross Christ died on.  After climbing 250 steps to the roof top, we stood outside on the Duomo roof in absolute awe.  Even though it was raining steadily, we walked slowly around the entire perimeter of the Duomo, taking in all the fine details of the gothic spires that were adorned by over 2000 statues.  I have never seen anything quite like it.

Off to the side of the piazza, we discovered the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where we joined hordes of tourists seeking shelter from the rain under the double glass vaulted arcades. Apparently, this Milanese Galleria, larger in scale than its predecessors, was an important step in the evolution of the modern glazed and enclosed shopping mall. It has inspired the use of the term galleria for many other shopping arcades and malls.

We only spent a weekend in Milan but it was enough time to see the most important and memorable sights.  We found the city to be rather drab, an impression that I don’t think was entirely influenced by the dismal weather.  It seemed ironic that some of the world’s leading fashion designers came from such a dull and dreary place.

Category: Europe, Italy
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