Thoughts on Milan

I don't promise posts every day or even any other day of the trip, but since I have a quiet moment, and my wife is writing in her diary, I thought I would post a few thoughts.

  • Milan is way underrated as a tourist spot, at least for a day or two.  It has the reputation of being a cold industrial town, and much of it may be that way, but the center of the city is quite nice to visit.  It was a legitimate rival to Florence and Venice in the Italian Renaissance.  Lots of good shopping, some good tourist sites, and the streets, particularly at night, are great to walk around.  The weather is wonderful, which helps.
  • Single impression I will hold from Milan:  Very attractive women dressed to the nines in chic outfits wearing 5-inch heels -- all while riding a bicycle.  They are all over the place.  And as for the overall rating for the lady-watching, I don't think any spot will surpass Buenos Aires in my book (with Beverly Hills probably as a #2) but Milan very much held its own in that department.
  • Stayed at the Park Hyatt on points (thank God because it is really expensive).  This is one great hotel, in a fabulous location with the best service I have ever received.
  • If you are coming to Milan, fly into Linate rather than Malpensa if you can -- the difference in time to the center of town is about an hour.
  • Milan is a great place to start your trip in norther Italy.  One can fly here from about any where in the world and they have fast, cheap trains that go everywhere in Italy.
  • Speaking of trains, don't ever, ever buy a Eurail pass for Italy.  I bought one out of habit (the Swiss pass is awesome) and because last time I drove in Italy my car was hit 3 times in 1 week.  But train travel in Italy is so cheap that the pass is not worth it, and almost every good train requires a reservation (and reservation fee) which defeats the "just walk on the train" advantage of the pass.  Also, as an American, the Trenitalia web site is endlessly frustrating, and won't accept most American credit cards, so the only way you can reserve a train in advance (which you must do) is to trudge to a travel agency or train station in Italy.  You can do it from a few US web sites but they add on huge fees.
  • The Cathedral (Duomo) in Milan was right next to our hotel and is the 3rd or 4th largest in Europe.  I found it kind of unexceptional, except for its size (and perhaps the beautifully sculpted front doors).  The interior highlight is probably the large stained glass windows (OK and the body of the saint lying in a room whose design looks like it was pulled right out of the haunted mansion ride at Disneyworld was interesting too).  However, there is one other thing unique about the Duomo that was fun -- you can go up and walk on the roof.  Not just go up in a tower, but walk all over the roof and in between the flying buttresses.  Great view and enjoyable

  • The Sforza Castle, for all its history, is about the bleakest and most overtly military building I have ever seen produced by the Italian Renaissance.  But probably appropriate for their history, given that the Sforza's were top generals to the Milanese Dukes before they took over the succession, and Milan was really home for the Renaissance era defense industry.
  • The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele is is a great Victorian-style glassed arcade near the Duomo.  The structure is cool but unfortunately there is not really anything inside to do it justice.

  • Took a lot of 3-shot photo series with a bracketing of low to high exposures so I could play with some new High Dynamic Range imaging software. This kind of scene above, with lots of texture in the buildings that gets washed out by the sunlight from the glass dome, hopefully will work well.  I will report on results.
  • On to Florence today, where we have a beautiful deck overlooking the Arno and Ponte Veccio and views from the rooftop restaurant all around Florence.  At least if the goofball in the black shirt would stop jumping in front of the camera.


  1. JDT:

    While you are out of town your favorite, actually I should say "America's favorite," Sheriff was on the Sean Hannity program this afternoon.

    I caught it on my way home from work and could only think of the Coyote.

  2. GTS:

    More women dressed to the nines, less goofballs in black shirts.

  3. R. Shearer:

    Most Italian cities are great for at least a couple of days. I like quaint Verona and the villages around Lake Garda especially. Anyway,I've never had a problem getting a train by just using the kiosks in the train stations w/o reservations. (You don't slide the credit card, leave it in until the transaction is complete).

  4. TVH:


    Good observations. We should compare notes when you and Kate return. Laura & I had our last hurrah vacation (before kids) in the fall of 1998 (as we were starting up Mercata but before we settled on the group buying concept or launched the Web site). We flew in and out of Zurich, in part to rent the car in Switzerland. I'm a better driver than you and most Italians so I just drove like an Italian and had no problems whatsoever. We spent about 2 1/2 weeks in Italy and had a great time.

    Let's talk when you get back.

    Best, TVH

    P.S. There are some problems in Italy (not the food or wine or tartufo [truffles] however). Birth rate is very low. 30-year olds move in with mom and dad and stay. No one gets married. Catholic values don't seem to be getting out of Vatican City to the population in general. Italy will implode if these trends continue so it's good you are visiting now before it does...

  5. joe:

    one of the best photo spots is on the ponte vecchio or one of the other bridges at sunset.

    we've been to florence 3 different times, and one mistake I made was not going to the accademia to see the real statue
    of david until the last visit. It's much better than the copy in front of the palazzo vecchia, and you can walk all
    the way around it to see even the calf muscles on the statue flexing as david gets ready to sling his stone.

  6. FG:

    I'll second your comment on Milan being underrated as a tourist destination. Having said that, I like it because it isn't on the general tourist itinerary.

    Malpensa to the city is easier than you think - train from MXP to Cadorna and then the local subway will take you where you need to go. Easy peasy. Incidentally, if you want to go up to lake district, then this is the station the trains leave from, not Centrale.

    Depending on your interest adding Milan makes sense to provide an opportunity to view da Vinci's Last Supper.

    The roof of the Duomo is one of my favorite spots, but I have a bit of a thing for sculpture and stone carving ...

    If you have a watch fetish, then when in Florence wander into the original Panerai store across from the Duomo there. If you have a watch fetish, and it is a slow day, and you ask nicely they may take you upstairs to their private museum.

  7. FG:

    One more thing - in Florence near the Duomo is a Rinascente store (Italian department store). Go in an up to the top floor to their outdoor patio and cafeteria for some more good views, but from a different perspective than you have in your photo. Stay for a EUR 5 iced tea if you like it.

  8. Titan28:

    My wife and I were in Italy earlier this summer and agree completely with your observations on Milan. It's better than advertised. Florence was also a delight this time around. The new mayor has cut much of the downtown off from vehicle traffic, which makes the place very pedestrian friendly. Florence is wonderful and alive at night. Reminded me of Barcelona. Be sure to get in to some of the restaurants on the other side of the river if you have the time. Great pics! Thanks.

  9. Calgacus:

    Hey, Coyote, et al. I forget what name I used, but I'm the crazy chartalist guy who commented a while back. I recommend everyone read Stendahl's classic book Rome, Naples and Florence. It's a book about Milan! :-) Went to weddings of old friends (very aristocratic plutocrats) in the Veneto and a distant middle class relative in Milan. She married a guy who looked exactly like Groucho Marx. Boy were the eats crap at the Veneto plutocrats', and great in Milan. Totally underrated.

  10. Fred from Canuckistan:

    . . . and everyone has a cell phone pressed to their head, a cigarette in the other and is walking/talking/hand waving in serious time :)

    I have a great picture of two monks taken just at that big palace across the ponte vechio - think Friar Tuck, with the head hair ring, the brown robes with a rope belt, the sandals . . . and both on cell phones, yakking away in very high speed Italian.

    Fiernza is just wonderful . . . if you get a chance head off to the big farmers market food building . . . about 1/4 mile NE of the Duomo . . .

  11. Scott:

    For one of the best views in all of Florence go to the hotel Torre Guelfa (2 minute walk from the north side of the Ponte Vecchio) and go up to the terrace on the roof. You don't want to miss it.

  12. Uncle Bill:

    One of the worst days of my life was spent in Milano, although to be fair, it was partly my fault. We were traveling with a group of 13 people, in three cars, and got separated from the rest of our party. "No problem," I thought, "we'll just check into a hotel, and meet at the Duomo in the morning." Well, no. My party included my sixteen-year-old niece, and her mother had her passport. The hotel clerk absolutely would not check us in without her passport. He said it was Italian law, due to problems with the Mafia. Yes, he actually used the word Mafia. After a lengthy drive through a very scary part of town, we would up in the main Milano police station at midnight, trying to get some apparently non-existent exemption form. The atmosphere in the police station was about what I would expect in a New York police station at midnight. They did eventually locate the rest of our party for us, so we were able to get the passport and check in, but what an ordeal.

    Then, the next morning as we were viewing the Duomo, we were accosted by a group of what I would describe as Gypsy children. I had been warned about this by a friend who had the same experience, but it was still impossible to keep them away. They somehow got my wife's wallet from her purse, and simultaneously smeared black grease all over her light blue coat (as a distraction, I guess). We would up back at the main police station to file a report, and some of the same police officers were still there. They stared at us in disbelief, probably muttering about incompetent Americans under their breath.

    As we drove across the border into Switzerland later that day, my wife said, "I've never been so glad to leave a place in my life! I'm never coming back here!" But, a few years later we did have a delightful vacation in Rome, Florence and Siena, so my opinion of Italy has improved considerably.

  13. Esteban:

    Buenos Aires a good location for woman watching? Holy christ, this wins a Hellen Keller award..

  14. Sam Grove:

    We flew to Italy from San Francisco the very day the Frankfurt airport was opened after the volcano problems. As the flight to Rome was canceled, we took three different trains though the night to get to Rome and saw the Swiss Alps just before dark.

    I noted the decrepit tendencies of the hotels. In Rome, the shower head was missing the retaining ring which kept the rubber nozzle piece in place, so half the water ran straight down. The bidet was missing it's nozzle.

    Eating the continental breakfasts in Rome, Florence, and Venice, I was disappointed that even the croissants were dry and HARD. Yuck.