Travels in Italy, Milan (Is this Really Italy?)


“Cities that are dedicated to making money, and in Milan they appear to think of little else, seldom have much energy left for charm” – Bill Bryson’, Neither here Nor there’

After the overwhelming success of the previous year’s holiday to Portugal where we used the train service to travel from Lisbon to Porto with various stops upon the way, we decided that we would do something similar again this year.  When we were making plans we decided to travel to Italy, persuaded most of all it has to be said by the £40 return air flights to Milan.

Our plan was to use the trains to first visit the Italian Lakes and then to travel through the Region of Emilia-Romagna and stop off at the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna and finish at the seaside at Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera.  We would immerse ourselves in culture and then submerge ourselves in the Mediterranean Sea.

We arrived in Milan late one evening with only just enough of the day left to find our hotel, check in and then hastily find somewhere for evening meal and leave the sightseeing until the following day.

The mile long walk into the City was immediately disappointing.  In Italy I like chaos with the street life, chatter and noise, dripping washing lines hanging across the streets, peeling paint, geraniums on balconies, pavement cafés with espresso stained cups, people selling things from mobile shops and groups of men hanging around on street corners discussing the big issues of the day but there was none of this in Milan just a long soulless street lined with shops and offices, boutiques selling expensive adornments for the body, shoes, handbags, jewellery, designer clothing and other pointless stuff.

Milan Gucci

The place for me lacked any sort of appeal but to be fair it was always unlikely that, as Kim was quick to point out, I would get on well with a city that boasts shopping and fashion as major attractions.  In fact Milan markets itself as the World’s leading fashion capital and to prove it this week just happened to be one of the most important weeks of their year – Milan Fashion Week.  FASHION WEEK! I broke out into an immediate sweat!

Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome and also the richest and most prosperous.  The Barcelona of Italy.  It concentrates on business and banking, commerce and trade; it prides itself on productivity, innovation and efficiency and as a consequence it lacks the vivacity of Naples, the grandeur of Rome, the heritage of Florence or the theatre of Venice.

This is a city of big business and enterprise rather than street vendors and indolence, hardly like being in Italy at all it seemed to me as we made our way to the historical centre.  The reason maybe is that geographically Milan is the most northern major city in the country and only a few miles away from the Swiss border and therefore more central-western than southern European.  Maybe also being part of the Austrian Empire for one hundred and fifty years (1706-1861) has given Lombardy and Milan a certain stoic Germanic characteristic that it cannot shake off.

I checked later and wasn’t surprised to discover that Milan has never been considered for European Capital of Culture and I got the impression that people here don’t really care.*

Although Milan is a large city much of it, it has to be said is rather uninteresting and the historical centre is a surprisingly small area right in the middle.  As we approached we came first to the Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, one of the most famous in the World but just as the streets we had walked along I found the building exterior to be sadly underwhelming…

La Scala Milan

This by contrast is the Scala cinema in Ilkeston, Derbyshire which is where I used to live (Ilkeston not the Scala) which seems to me to a lot more attractive.  Ilkeston may have borrowed the name for its cinema, maybe Milan should copy the design for its opera house and I think that it would be an improvement…

Scala Cinema Ilkeston

Beyond La Scala was the first really interesting building that we had come across in nearly an hour of walking and it turned out to be a shopping Mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.  It is a fine building, four storeys high, built in the grand manner of the mid-nineteenth century with extravagant tiled floors, soaring marble columns and a decorative vaulted latticework roof of glass and steel with a central cupola one hundred and sixty feet high.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This was more like it, I liked this place even though the interior avenues were lined with shops that I have heard of but never used, Gucchi, Prada, Tiffaney, Coccinelle and Versace all with merchandise displaying price labels that had been attached by someone with a grotesque sense of humour.  I mean, who buys this stuff when you can get perfectly good replicas from TK Maxx back home or from a Looky-Looky man on the streets?

Milan Doumo

The main entrance to the building opens out onto what is undoubtedly the finest part of the city, the Piazza del Doumo with an imposing equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II (first King of United Italy) at one end and the magnificent marble Doumo at the other.  There was a very long queue today to visit the Cathedral so we thought that we might save that for another time.

We satisfied ourselves today by circumnavigating the exterior of the largest Cathedral in all of Italy and the third largest in the World and then resumed our walking tour of the city which took us through a large park where we stopped for refreshment and then to the modern business quarter, all polished concrete, shining glass and gleaming steel where we didn’t linger long but instead after eight miles of walking made our weary way back to the Hotel IBIS.

In a fortnight’s time we would be back in the city with plans to visit the Cathedral but the next day we were starting our journey by taking a train to Como in the Lakes and for the time being I was glad that we weren’t spending longer here.  One day in a big city is generally not enough to scratch the scratch on the surface but to be honest it was long enough for me in Milan.

Milan Business Quarter

* Florence (1986), Bologna (1999) and Genoa (2003).

46 responses to “Travels in Italy, Milan (Is this Really Italy?)

  1. Don’t be too critical of Milan… I came ready not to like Milan, but loved it. On a recent trip, I discovered the “canal district” where, as it turns out, all the young people “hang out.” It was full of life and great restaurants. The Galleria Mall is the first of its kind in the world. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last supper is still in Milan because the local Italians had the courage to save it in World War II, and then rebuild the building afterwards.


    • Thanks for the contribution. I really didn’t like Milan that much at all, I found it to be very un-Italian. A big city with only a small amount of interesting areas. I was sorry however that I missed the canal district.
      Overall I think I prefer the South of the country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Both sides of my family are from the south of Italy, and I feel very at home there, so I can’t disagree with your last statement!


      • This visit was a mixed bag. I didn’t enjoy Milan, Como was too sedate and Bologna disfigured by graffiti. I did however enjoy a day in Ferrara and 4 days in Rimini. San Marino was a good day out, does that count as Italy?

        Earlier in the year I went to Naples for a few days , I enjoyed that a lot more.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “other pointless stuff” ? But that’s the basis of our society. Having a watch of the correct brand and a jacket and the trousers and the rest. What will we all do if we don’t do that?


    • Thanks John. A sobering thought. I am always amazed at how much merchandise there is. Things people really don’t need but like to have. Who makes all this stuff and who buys it? I know that I don’t!


  3. It’s very Italian, but the thing is it’s very NORTHERN Italian. Also, I have to defend La Scala. It may not look much from the outside, but the inside is MOST impressive.


    • I just compared the exterior to the theatre in Palermo which is far grander and I wanted to get the Ilkeston Scala picture house into the post.


    • Regarding North Italy I think it can be further sub-divided. This is North West Italy which I found quite different to North East and cities like Padova and Verona. I don’t count Venice, Venice is a theme park! Thanks for the contribution to the post.


  4. I’ll give it a miss, then


  5. The Doumo and business trips is all there. Not impressive at all.


  6. Andrew, I haven’t been to Milan but your post reminds me of something someone said to me when I left Australia for my first trip overseas to England. He said, “John. Do yourself a favour and give London a second chance.” I arrived and was stuck down in Croydon and then went to France and Spain. When I got back to London I gave it a second chance. And it was worth it. Maybe you should give Milan a second chance.


  7. It matters not where we go . . . unless absolutely necessary, we give big cities a wide berth.


  8. not my favorite kind of city, but beautiful none the less – i prefer the more low key kind of place


  9. Ah! What a pity you didn’t like Milan. Although not as exciting as Naples or the southern cities, it fulfilled my need for culture and food, and I even got caught up in a communist march with security carabinieri (or whichever one of the many police forces in Italy police marches) all around, fireworks and shouting. Quite exciting. Milan has a problem with divisive politics which makes it quite edgy. One thing though, don’t go in winter. It was the coldest trip I’ve ever had. I even had to buy a woolly hat, something I’ve never worn before (nor since).


  10. I am very impressed by the Ilkeston Scala!


  11. Well, Milan is special and different from other Italian cities. It is Northern Italy and THE industrial center supporting the whole country (Milanese words not mine :)) But from what I read, you really haven’t seen the interesting parts like Brera or Navigli?


  12. “We would immerse ourselves in culture and then submerge ourselves in the Mediterranean Sea.” Good writing, Andrew. Judging from the comments, you seemed to have got people a little excited over your comments on Milan. 🙂 –Curt


  13. It seems people visit places for various reasons. I’ve never been one to enjoy the frenetic pace of large urban areas. I tend to prefer a more relaxed pace wherever I go. I suspect I would likely agree with your assertion about Milan. Big business buildings and shopping malls hold no appeal for me at all. Even if they’re Italian. Did they even have pizza?


  14. Pingback: Travels in Italy, Milan (Is this Really Italy?) — Have Bag, Will Travel – SEO

  15. Laughed my way through this one. I so love your dry humor. Not surprised Milan would be a disappointment to you though. I imagine it would be for me, too.


  16. Milan grew on me and I enjoyed my third visit. Like you I hate shopping and don’t think I have ever seen anybody in those shops you mention. I don’t think I will go again unless football draws me there – this is despite me swivelling on the bull’s appendage in the galleria!


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