The train ride to Milan was a long one. It was the middle of the night and I had not had any sleep, but still, the 13-hour trip seemed like a daunting ride. I could not fall asleep to save my life. However, there are definitely worse places to not be able to sleep on a train than the ride from Vienna to Milan. It is absolute beautiful vistas for a majority of the ride.
A little more about Milan. . .
Being the most populous metropolitan area of Italy with 1.3 million within city limits and over 5.5 million in surrounding areas outside of the city, Milan can get quite hectic. The only train I rode through city center was packed like sardines. It is the fourth largest city in the European Union.
Milan is the most important industrial and financial center of Italy and globally. The city is also a major world fashion and design capital known for several events such as the Milan Fashion Week and Milan Furniture Fair. It’s also a very popular student city; hosting 11% of all of Italy’s university students.
Its attractions pull in over 10 million tourists a year with its world renowned cathedrals, theaters, and landmarks. In addition, Milan is also home to two of Europe’s major football (soccer) teams: AC Milan and FC Internazionale.
First Impressions. . .
I was already able to pick up on basic Italian as soon as I arrived in Italy by eavesdropping on conversations. It was much easier to hear certain words because of the similarities to Spanish.
I met my friend Dunco at the main Milan Station around six in the evening. We made the long journey out of the heart of the city to his place. Milan during rush hour is the definition of a city I could never live in. Honestly, I think my life would be miserable commuting in a place like that every day. The metro was a sardine can for a solid hour at least.
Once we finally reached his place, we took a quick breather while we decided on a plan for the night. On a whim, we decided to head straight for Como which is a day trip from Milan and why I decided to include it in the Milan guide. We were going to hitchhike, but as it was almost sundown, most workers had already made the hour long commute home from Milan, and there was rain in the forecast so we thought it’d be better if we took the train. The train from Milan to Como is $10 round trip and takes about an hour each way.
Cheap wine, sneaking through metro and intercity train gates, and hiding from train attendants checking tickets in the bathroom are all part of the reasons why I love adventures with my friend Dunco. He is a friend who is always down to do anything adventurous and save a few bucks – I think we are similar in that way.
Como is just as beautiful by night as it is in the daylight. It’s a secluded city inside rolling hills with a beautiful lake, Lake Como, as its centerpiece. The hike to the cathedral at the top, however, which Dunco underplayed to me, was much more strenuous than I was anticipating late at night in the rain with all of my gear with me.
Nowhere to sleep
It was always in the back of my mind, as it was probably in Dunco’s mind as well that we were in the middle of the mountains, it was bound to storm the whole night, it was 2 o’clock in the morning, and we had no shelter or a plan for sleeping. However, we never cared to talk about it. It was literally one of those nights that you just do something to do it and you don’t ask questions or think about a plan or anything. I loved that feeling.
We made it to the top and slept on the steps of a church we found at the peak. It was partially covered, but it was still a wet and cold night. I slept comfortably enough for a few hours before Dunco was already up at sunrise ready to take in the view and make our way back down the mountain. This guy is crazy. I would’ve liked to take in the sights when I could actually see the city more, but Dunco seemed on a mission to get back to Milan.
Other Attractions in Como, Italy. . .
– Villa Olmo
– Tempio Voltiano – Lighthouse, museum
– Basilica of Sant’Abbondio
– Como Cathedral
– Castello Baradello – Castle
When we arrived back in Milan, we headed for the Sforza Castle which was more like the size of a fortress. A much-underrated part of Milan. We lounged around at the park next door to Sforza and did some people watching. It was a cool spring day in the sunshine that had the feeling of fall, but there were plenty of people still out and about doing an assortment of things at the park.
As soon as we left Sforza we were at the sight of the infamous Duomo; the Milan Cathedral. What is there to say about this thing that accurately captures its magnificence? There are no words. The amount of time I spent thinking about the detail that went into it as I stood in front of it says more than I could.
As pigeons whizzed right past my face scaring the hell out of me and Dunco was all but rolling on the ground of Duomo Square laughing at my paranoia, I realized that being there at that moment was a moment forever etched in my European memory bank. To me, the Duomo is the cathedral you see when you envision European cathedrals.
We walked around the outdoor marketplace of the Duomo Square at the peak of Saturday weekend traffic in Milan. It was quite an experience – mostly touristic – but an experience nonetheless. Vendors were as plentiful as the visitors purchasing from them. They were selling anything from souvenir flags to Chinese yo-yo’s, to produce.
Being a large economic hub, Milan is very multi-national. Around the city wherever you go, you notice people of different ethnicities which is somewhat uncommon in many European cities. In addition to that, there are a lot of languages being spoken. However, I thought it was the best English-speaking city in Italy.
You could definitely see the presence of high fashion near Duomo. Fancy clothing stores I dared not go into and advertisements displaying posh wardrobes flooded the alleyways. Even some people, although not as many around Duomo as in the business district were dressed to the nines in clothes that apparently represent fashionable ways of dressing.
Milan impressed me while I was there, however, as I mentioned, it is just far too busy for me. I would go back for a longer stay, but could never imagine myself settling down there for a while.
Other Attractions, Restaurants, and Bars. . .
- For beer and wine, it’s just better to stick to the markets as alcohol in Milan is very expensive.
- Teatro alla Scala – Grand opera house for Italian classics
- Brera – art galleries, botanical gardens, shopping, nightlife
- San Siro Stadium – 86,000 seat capacity stadium for AC Milan
- Santa Maria delle Grazie – church with Da Vinci’s The Last Supper on display
- Spontini – for the cheapest authentic Italian pizza near Duomo