Four days to enjoy Milan and its surroundings
January 1, 1970
Summer seems like a long lost dream, and yet just a few months ago the weather was nice enough to hang out and have spring walks. If you were feeling a little bit down because of the cold weather spreading all over Europe, just let me make you travel a little bit through time and space. The spring is right here, the temperature is getting warmer, and you feel like you have plenty of new things you want to do. And why not begin all of this by going on a vacation? This led me to Milan, a few days to plunge myself into the warm, bright and welcoming atmosphere of northern Italy.
Honestly, my first steps in Italy were really far away from what I had in mind about this sunny place, since at our arrival everything was pretty grey and foggy. No need to say that after I left Lille (in the north of France) at 3 a.m. hoping to finally leave the clouds behind, I was pretty disappointed. Never mind, this couldn’t stain my good mood. This is vacation so let’s go! We arrived by airplane at Bergamo’s airport, and the bus took us to the city center approximately 20 minutes later. We were starving so we started looking for a coffee, but soon I was quite shocked by the discrepancy between this prosaic issue and the splendor of the buildings around us. Everything is made of colonnades, galleries, pillars, and they are cut in very big pieces of stone that make you feel very small in comparison.
Bergamo: the remains of the medieval town
After breakfast, we head toward the Città Alta, the high part of the city. We discovered another face of Bergamo: an old town, with somehow remembrance of Middle Age, with cobblestone streets, abandoned communal washing places and of course the extraordinary well preserved defensive walls. All of these features remind the visitors that the high city was meant to be an impregnable fortress. Indeed, from the bulwark we had an impressive overview of the whole city and the hilly surroundings of the town. The atmosphere is also different: these big blocks of stone are still everywhere, but the buildings shine with bright colors, which gives off a very welcoming vibe, especially with all these wrought iron balconies all decorated with flowers.
Eventually, their architecture is often very impressive but they can sometimes have a modest size and be almost hidden in a corner of a small street, I am of course talking about the churches that you will pass by all across the streets. This is how we happened to discover Bergamo Cathedral, and also the Cappella Colleoni, with its amazing patterns in trompe-l’œil.
Como or the Dolce Vita brought to life
For the second day, we had decided to take advantage of the sun that finally showed up and went to Como. The program of the day: to enjoy the lake, ice creams, and everything that would make one so happy after such a long winter! Gorgeous villas pilled up around the lake; Como is renown as the favorite place of the Italian jet-set (and not only the Italian one: for the little story let me tell you that George Clooney as well owns a villa next to the lake). This town looks like it just came out of a movie and every cliché of the dolce vita and the Italian elegance.
A few steps later we arrived at the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, the very last gothic cathedral that was built in Italia. The outside looks all the more impressive that it opens on a small place, that doesn’t allow the visitor to look at it from far away. Thus you have to look up on the building to see the whole thing, which makes you feel pretty small. Nevertheless the inside is less colored than what I expected: there are very few gildings and moldings; stones dominate the whole, with blue touches here and there. That gives off a very dignified vibe.
Milan, much more than a fashion capital
We had decided to stay in Milan during the last two days. There was so much things to see and to do that it would have impossible to try everything out, but how difficult was it to choose! We all agreed on one thing: we couldn’t imagine to leave Milan without going to the Duomo. When we arrived at the Piazza del Duomo, we eventually faced the third biggest church of the world, with all its splendor. We started queuing in the waiting line to go in, but were a little bit confused with the commercial aspect of the visit: almost four euros the entrance ticket, a guard searching openings the bags and of course plenty of group tours with their guide walking around inside, which ends up in a huge cacophony of languages mixing in. From this place you cannot miss the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, its triumph arch, its luxurious shops, and of course in its center tens of heads looking up to the dome. As we went through the gallery, we discovered the Teatro alla Scala, Milan’s opera. You can visit it outside the hours of rehearsal, but I have to admit that aside from a few sumptuous rooms, old musical instruments and a look at the stage, the visit will be over pretty quickly. Unless you are very passionate about operas, I didn’t think that the five euros you would pay for the visit (with the student discount) are worth it, even though it’s always fun to have a look at what is going on behind the scenes.
And what to see after the Duomo and the Scala?
It would be also a shame to miss the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, which would please both grown-ups and children, despite not having a very inspiring name. You will find there reconstitutions of what Leonardo da Vinci created, exhibitions about space, industry, TV, radio, phone, and there are also sheds full of real old boats, trains and military aircraft engines (and even a submarine that you can visit at a specific time of the day)… Interactive, immersive, and instructive at the same time, this museum would fill a whole afternoon without giving you the feeling of taking forever! If you are more into art, you will also have a lot to see with the Pinacoteca de Brera and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
No need for museum to have a great time in Milan
In the end Milan is way too big for us to see everything in a few days, but let’s say: we went to Sforza Castle, a former fortress that became the castle of Milan’s dukes. The castle is today a museum, with exhibitions on ancient art, musical instruments and old manuscript. The park of the castle is very nice for taking a run or having picnic on the grass. It is also very nice to go having a walk along the canals of Milan at the sunset, have a drink while sitting on a café terrace, and enjoy the authentic and trendy atmosphere of the naviglii…
Last but not least: let’s talk about food!
Finally, I guess I don’t need to say that you will eat in Italy the best pizzas, pastas and ice-creams of your life, but there is a place that you must not miss in Milano to have delicious gnocchi (and other typical Italian food) at reasonable prices: I am talking about the Trattoria Nerino Dieci. You absolutely need to have a reservation, because this place isn’t that big, and always full of local people that will be surprised to see tourists there… A piece of advice for gourmets: try the turanici al pomodorino fresco in forma di grana, I can assure you that both your eyes and your belly will be very happy! Curious now? It would be a shame to spoil the surprise…