Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The next stop on our tour was Milan. Initially, we chose Cinque Terre and Barcelona as our bookends, and we needed another city to fill in the middle. Florence and Venice were too far away; the French Riviera and Monaco weren’t places to which I wanted to backpack. Milan seemed like a good solution, as it would provide a serious change of pace without requiring a long trip to reach. Indeed, the train ride from Riomaggiore only took a couple hours, and Milan could not be more different from the five villages.

Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly my favorite stop on the trip. Perhaps high expectations spoiled an otherwise interesting city. I imagined nothing but unparalleled grandiloquence and class, sophisticated opulence and haute couture; this was Milan, after all, where impossibly slim Dior-clad ladies and Armani-suited gents slip gracefully out of Ferraris and Maseratis to fetch (nay, have their butlers fetch) champagne flutes and caviar on every street corner. And while I’m convinced this vision still exists somewhere (read: the Four Seasons), the vast majority of the city was something quite different. Even the nicer area around all the designer shops lacked the glitz and glamour I imagined would pervade. In a way, it reminded me of Los Angeles (sorry, Melissa!).

Overall, the city has a very industrial feel, which is really just a nice way of saying it’s dirty. There is a fine line between that visceral, grimy residue of urban energy upon which I thrive, and just plain filth. In too many places, Milan crosses that line and has far too much of the latter.

But what it lacks in form, it makes up for in function. This is a city that works. Everywhere you look business suits and skirts scurry across the streets. The freneticism of people running every which way, coupled with stifling heat and humidity, amounted to a downright oppressive atmosphere. I think the thickness of the air clouded my entire perception of the city. But don’t get me wrong. Milan was a great change of pace. If you know me at all, you know I love a bustling city, and it felt good to be there after a few days in rural Italy.

The upside of Milan, however, is Il Duomo, the world’s largest Gothic church (and second only to Rome’s St. Peter’s in sheer size). With seating for up to 40,000 condemned souls, it’s pretty freaking huge. Basically, it can hold all of Wrigley Field, so Cubs fans should probably make a pilgrimage there to beg forgiveness for their fucking atrocious baseball team (on the upside, there are actually two teams that have worse records than we do!). Anyway, I took a picture of the interior, posted below, but though I noticed no signs forbidding flash photography I thought it would be disrespectful. As a result, the flash-less image is crappy. Sorry (but not as sorry as I am for the Cubs!).

We took a lift to the top of Il Duomo and walked around the roof for an up-close look at the architecture. Let me tell you, anything that takes over 500 years to build is going to be impressive, and this was no exception. What takes over 500 years to build, you ask? 2,245 unique marble statues, the first of which was carved around 1386 when construction first began. You’d think I’d learn a lesson here about patience, but I didn’t – I’m still annoyed the Trump Tower in Chicago isn’t finished yet.

As the theme goes, the pictures I took atop the church once again don’t do it justice, but check them out anyway. Looking out from the roof, the Milanese skyline isn’t much to behold, but all the flying buttresses and statutes were enough to keep our attention for an hour or two. We sat on the roof for a good long time just chillin’. It was the high point of my stay in Milan.

The rest of the time before we flew to Barcelona was spent walking the city, window shopping a bit, checking out a museum, and hanging out in the park. That’s about it. We spent two full days in there, but only one was necessary. Then it was on to Spain.

The piazza from the top of Il Duomo.

On the left, Il Duomo; on the right is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, essentially an open-air mall and home to many designer shops.

Down a steet in the Milanese shopping district.

No comments: