Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Days 441 to 444: Milan

I wasn't looking forward to Milan. A flash city of fashion, what possible appeal could this superficial city have for a fashion dreg like myself, who once used to only wear green because it made shopping quicker? After the delightful medieval haunts we'd spent our last two weeks in, this would be a different side of Italy, a brash plastic side where money is king. Well, I was wrong. Once again, Italy delivers - Milan is terrific.


And in fact, it was rather refreshing. I like an old medieval centre as much as the next man, but we've had weeks of them. Milan more-or-less dispenses with the medievalism and jumps to the 19th Century. Broad boulevards with handsome neo-classical buildings, it reminded us of Paris. It had a big city kind of feel, the sort of city that can soak up tourists. Milan dominates the tourist, unlike places such as Florence where it is the other way around. It has over a million people, massive crossroads everywhere with traffic lights and angry cars, and a subway with three lines full of maniacs. It's hectic. It was just what we needed.

It was a seven hour bus journey from Perugia, and by the time we arrived the weather had turned. It was hot. Not that it hadn't been hot before, but this was next level, well into the 30s. It wasn't the sort of weather you want to struggle to find your accommodation in, which was exactly what happened. The subway station we exited was a vast one, with numerous exits all over the place, spread across hundreds of metres, and I'd be damned if I could find the correct street (my hand-drawn map was somewhat inadequate). An hour later, after much marching around, I was more sweat than man. They say that 90% or whatever of us is H20 - I was a visible demonstration of that.

Milan's central appeal is its cathedral, an unusual Gothic edifice built over centuries - it was only finished in 1965. It occupies the heart of the city, facing a large piazza. I'd considered it a few times for my Wonder list, and likely it would have been included had not I already added so many cathedrals that I wanted to avoid overkill. Nonetheless, probably Milan Cathedral really should have been added, as it's a pretty distinct looking thing - although curiously more petite than I'd expected. Unlike most Gothic cathedrals, which have a large facade with a tower or two, Milan Cathedral's facade is more like an A-frame house, then absolutely covered with spires and points. It's the most hedgehog-like of any cathedral I've seen. I like it. Inside is cavernous with vast supporting columns, and a dim atmospheric light. Outside is ornate Gothic hyperactivity.





One of the best things about visiting the cathedral is climbing the terraces. Most cathedrals have a tower or a dome to climb, which involves some queueing and usually limited space at the the top. Milan Cathedral doesn't have a tower or a dome, it just has a series of rooftop terraces between the many flying buttresses, and then an actual rooftop right on top of the cathedral. There's loads of space, and almost no queueing. It's a novel experience actually being able to walk right on the roof of a cathedral. If it hadn't been so searingly hot, it would have been perfect for a picnic.



The heat was a dominant force through our three days and nights and Milan, ensuring we barely slept (we had no air conditioning) and meant our keenness for lots of wandering was diminished. But no matter, because near the beefy Sforza Castle - about 20 minutes walk from the cathedral, still in the city centre - on our first day, we found a little stall. To our delight, it sold Prosecco - or some kind of fizzy wine at least - for 1.50 a glass, or €6 a bottle! In a city where everything else costs a fortune, this was a godsend, so we visited daily to rehydrate ourselves.



And after our attempts at culture in Perugia visiting an art gallery seemingly entirely dedicated to Virgin Mary paintings, we visited an art gallery we actually enjoyed - an exhibition about Gustave Klimt. No Virgin Marys in sight - and it was air-conditioned. My favourite picture of his wasn't there, probably because it was last bought for $135 million. It's the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and here it is.


He painted a sequel too, although in the manner of most sequels, it's not quite as good. This is the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II.



Still, beats 850+ Virgin Marys.

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