By Walter Sanders
The Set Up: Sharon and I caught a great airfare on Emirates from our new hometown Charlotte to Milan. We decided to make a two-month visit to Italy focusing on areas we have never experienced or wished to know better.
Milan is a world-class city on the make in every way: fashion, design, home and office furnishings, music, art, banking, the whole shebang.
And the colors! Not just grays and glass but shocking Phalo blues, vivid pinks, blinding white marble, and husky maroons jostle for your attention. The skyline is in constant flux where construction cranes abound and whimsical grattacieli (skyscrapers) erupt into the sky.
Yet on ground level there’s a comforting familiarity. Outdoor cafes and restaurants as spring had sprung. Shop windows display the unique Italian ability to have love affairs between style and commerce and one night stands between sleek designs and future functionality.
And the fashions! Sure, in the windows. But look around on the streets, in the Duomo square, in Brera, even at the central station. People looking grand. Look at that guy! Movie star maybe? No, just some well-dressed, super-coiffed guy grabbing a caffé.
And look at her! She’s a 6’ 1” exotic principessa walking among plebeians. Is she a holdover runway model from Milan’s Fashion Week or just a regular working woman booking it back to the office?
The city is lousy with glamour.
Our Airbnb, about a 20-minute walk from the Stazione Centrale, is in a fine location just two blocks from snazzy Borgo Buenos Aires and the Porta Venezia Metro red line stop. We are also just a couple of blocks from the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli park.
We head to the park to clear our jet lagged heads. Everything green is in blossom. Buds are blooming, wisteria is flaunting its blush, people are footing (jogging) in branded spandex outfits and the latest in running shoes…there’s a guy wearing Guccis!
Early dinner at San Pietro Café. I jump into an Ossobuco (veal shank) with risotto Milanese and Sharon goes local with a costoletta alla Milanese. Trendy Milanese have moved on from these trademark dishes but we go old-school for the evening.
After dinner, we take a stroll around the neighborhood to see what’s going on. Still warm, the tables, diners, cocktail and wine sippers are outside also greeting the season. We like the vibe at Pesa Pubblica (The Public Scales).
There’s a 45-minute wait for an outdoor table so we decide to grab a drink inside. We order a Cannonau, the pride of Sardegna, in honor of our upcoming visit there. Our friendly server Linda teaches us a new work calice (wine glass or chalice).
We’re sitting near a large wooden armoire that looks straight out of “Beauty and the Beast.” Turns out, it’s the entrance to the wash room. The regulars know about it and open the door on the right which triggers an internal light. The rookies keep asking where the washroom is and when directed open the left door … then have to probe for the light switch.
Day 2 Milan: The Last Supper and Sforza Castle
We sleep well and awaken early and refreshed. Colazione (breakfast) outside in the welcome sunshine at Pesa Pubblica. Some old-time friends are already there swapping laughs and cigarettes. Their table keeps growing as more pals drift in. Could be their Saturday thing.
We are anticipating our tour and visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. But first we ride the Metro to the Duomo. You have seen it a million times. The Italians call it the pin cushion and it is spectacular. The Square is packed. Locals and tourists alike are feeling the warmth. In anticipation of the three-hour tour later in the afternoon, we each grab a panino for a bit of sustenance.
We stroll over to Peck for some visual food sustenance. This world-class emporium of everything Italian-deliciousness is a must see, smell, and linger for culinary lovers.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is the church where we meet our group and tour guide Stefania Fiegl of www.girandomilano.com She introduces herself and explains the ground rules to the group of 15 (Americans, Germans, Brits and a couple of Italians) via a closed-circuit mic and earbud.
We wait as the tour groups are stacked up. To maintain environmental integrity, only 30 people are allowed inside the former refectory for a duration of 15 minutes. I’m grateful that Sharon had the foresight to book the tour months in advance as ad hoc tickets are impossible to purchase.
Do the tour, please. The historic, cultural, and artistic arcs of the story intertwine and collide in an astonishing manner. The tour continues on foot to the Castello Sforzesco (Castello Sforza), the ruling family that hired Leonardo da Vinci. Then the crowded walk towards the La Scala Opera House, the stupendous, glass-covered Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II shopping and dining gallery.
Dinner at the local favorite Ristorante Oscar a long-standing down-home, family-run place with some exceptional Argentinian-inspired fare.
Day 3 Milan: Gallery of Modern Art and Brera District
We sleep in a bit. Breakfast outside in the sun at Qubo (cube) a tiny cube-shaped hole in the wall on Borgo Buenos Aires. Then a quick walk to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Milano on the park. Lovely collection, including pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Matisse, Utrillo and a wealth of talented but lesser known Italian contemporary artists.
Another beautiful day so we take a 20-minute walk to the artsy Brera district of Milan. Formerly filled with studios, galleries, and artists’ garrets, Brera is now most trendy and bristling with bars, bistros, and dozens of restaurants. It has become a fashion and design center in its own right. We stumble upon a spring market at the church of San Marco with lots of plants, summer fashions, jewelry, bric-a-brac, families and fun.
Late lunch/early dinner/meal of the day in restaurant row with pleasant but unremarkable food, an engaging waiter and word-class people watching.
Evening stroll back and a nightcap at Pesa Pubblica. We bid arrivaderci to our new friend Linda. Tomorrow we pick up our leased Peugeot.