Milan: Surprisingly Delightful

Nisha

We took the train from Paris to Milan for the Italy leg of our "honeymoon," staying in Milan for only 24 hours before catching another train to Lake Como. Though Milan was technically just a layover in our plans, we took the opportunity to tour the fantastic Duomo cathedral, the Duomo museum, the main shopping area, a couple city parks, and an Alberto Giacometti exhibit that I was excited to find at the Galleria deÁrte Moderna (I like Giacometti´s statues because they have spindly limbs like mine). Listing out all that we did makes it seem like we did a lot in 24 hours, and we did, because we really liked Milan!

Really liking Milan came as a surprise, since all of the guidebooks say it´s nothing special - a typical industrial city with few attractions beyond the Duomo and great shopping. After spending eight days in radiant Paris, the city did appear gray and industrial at first glance; but in contrast to the bustling tourist scene in Paris, we were a bit relieved to  be in what felt like a "real" city where normal people (albeit abnormally fashionable) live. 

The evening we arrived, we jumped on the metro to get to our hotel during rush hour, and the platforms were filled with Italians heading home from work. We were the only obvious tourists with our giant backpacks (we call them "turtle shells"), and yet we could have been fellow Milan residents returning from some adventure. Milan is much more diverse than other European cities I´ve visited, and feeling less like an ethnic minority is always a relief on some level....one less thing to be hyperconscious about while traveling.

Perhaps another reason I felt more at home in Milan was because it was my first Italian experience, and many Italians look like my mom´s New Jersey family, who are mixed Italian and Polish. I love looking at their faces and seeing a bit of my mother, my grandmother, and my aunts....and maybe even a small bit of me in their dark features. People-watching in Milan is fun, as there are literal models striding around looking like they just stepped off the pages of fashion magazines, as well as impeccably-dressed Milan residents of all shapes and sizes (they´re not all model-shaped). 

More about the sights: The Duomo has a rooftop walk among its impossibly intricate Gothic spires, which is pretty breathtaking. The parks we visited were vast and green, and all seemed to be setting up for festivals. An Italian gentleman volunteering at the Duomo museum (whose daughter coincidentally studied in San Francisco) explained to us that the festivities are related to a large exposition that Milan is preparing to host, which will kick off a new initiative to work with local farms on the outskirts of Milan in an effort to become a more locally sustainable city. He said "perhaps Milan will become a global leader in this area." He also showed us a book he´d just purchased that illustrated the city of Milan as it once was, with a network of canals running through the city that were gradually all filled and replaced by roads between the 1930s and '70s. There is currently a small movement of architects and city planners lobbying for these waterways to be recreated. One thing we absolutely did not expect from this city was a bastion of green ingenuity, but there it was.

Due to some Indian visa drama (will explain more later, but in the meantime, cross your fingers and say a prayer for us that we'll actually be able to get into India!), we returned to Milan for a day after visiting Lake Como and Venice (again, more later), cutting our Cinque Terre stay one day short. After our errand at the Indian consulate, we had several hours to spare. Simon and I split up to do laundry and run errands respectively, and despite the logistical issues that brought us back to Milan, I felt lucky to be there.