I love Milan. The city is the future and the past. It is a fast-paced metropolis of creativity, and the people are fueled with bubbly ambition and energy. Milan is the business capital of Italy, and Milanese lifestyle has evolved to support working hard and playing harder. At every corner, cafes and vending machines dispense endless shots of espresso, each for a single euro. (America needs more espresso vending machines.) Every evening from eight till midnight, people of all ages flock to the bars for aperitivo, a Milanese culture of free buffets with the purchase of drinks. In the mornings, the city begins the hasty business day around nine. Although they smoke and drink excessively, they also maintain a proper, assembled ambiance. Looking good is compulsory. For travelers, Milan is welcoming and relaxing, while expressing a sense of home. The city has many hidden secrets with only select tourist destinations. Thus, Milan feels authentic and free from lingering crowds. The center of Milan houses the Castel Sforza, the Duomo and the Galleria Vottorio Emanuele II, so many tourists congregate here. Luckily, the main streets in this area are majestically wide, and the tourists are comfortably spread out.
Wide piazza seen from the Duomo
Espresso vending machine
Uniquely, the center of Milan was reconstructed after the city was conquered by Napoleon. Napoleon influenced the architecture to reflect Paris. Even today, Milan looks more similar to old downtown Paris than the rest of Italy. Just outside the Castel Sforza, there is a twin of Paris’s Arch of Triumph. It’s called the Arch of Peace. The two arches are on both sides of a road that connects Paris and Milan. Even today, Milan wants to be more like Paris. Currently, Milan’s economy is strong, while the economy of the rest of Italy is crumbling. In recent news, Milan wants to gain a specific government for the city in order to speed up politics in favor of thriving entrepreneur businesses. Many people believe that the Italian government is slow and harming the economy. Similarly, Paris also has their own independent government power.
Arch of Peace
Milan has a rich dynamic of ancient history and thriving entrepreneurial nuances. The old part of Milan is an immense downtown center. Massive marble buildings stand firmly within the ancient walls of the old city. Here, the luxury brand shops for the high-class business citizens fill the streets. Churches dating back as far as the 3rd century are small treasures hidden within the windings streets. Every church is still used religiously. For example, one church, shown below, is called the Santa Maria Presso San Satiro. This church was built in the 15th century. When it didn’t have enough space to expand, an illusion was painted to make the church feel bigger. Furthermore, the Civic Archaeological Museum displays the Roman artifacts, on which the modern city is built. Near the fantastic Hostel Ostello Bello, the streets have open spots that offer sneak peeks at the Roman ruins beneath.
Santa Maria presso San Satiro
The ancient ways are alluring to the people in Milan. On the last Sunday of each month, the Navigli district, the ancient canals that flow through Milan, hosts a massive antique market. Continuous tents weave along the canals, displaying Roman artifacts, watches, African trinkets, Renaissance art, statues, silverware, clothing, jewelry, and furniture. The market is a real treat, as it is a glimpse into the culture of Milan.
Leonardo Da Vinci is a historical favorite of Milan. In fact, Da Vinci lived in Milan for over 20 years of his life. He worked for the Duke of Milan to paint the impressive Last Supper, and he lived with the Duke in the Castle Sforza. Within the Castle, Leonardo lined his room with wood and painted beautiful tree canopies across the ceilings and walls. This room is preserved under the name Sala Delle Asse, and available to the public within the colossal fortress. The Castle Sforza also sports another famous painting by Da Vince, the Madonna Lia. While painting the Madonna Lia, Leonardo was experimenting with using light sources and sloping shadows, mixed with physical movements, to reveal the soul and new perspectives of space. It is one of the best paintings to depict his artistic philosophies.
Salle delle Asse
Leonardo Da Vinci was not only an artist. Recently the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia analyzed Leonardo’s invention journals. Experts used his ideas to create models and presented the masterpieces in an exhibit. One model was an improved printing press. Another was a mechanical loom. He also experimented with war boats and flying machines.
Milan has a strong sense of entrepreneurship and growth. The push towards the future, developed during the Renaissance era, has continued throughout the centuries. Northern Italians are prideful of the Risorgimento, an Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. This was a time when Italy finally eradicated their feudal system and fought for a new Italy under one King, Vittorio Emanuel II. The heroes of this time are honored as the statues across Milan, and their names are presented on popular streets and buildings. The passionate determination for the future persists because of the remembrance of these heroes.
Vittorio Emanuele II
Then in the early 20th century, artistic and social movements influenced the period of Futurism in Milan. The change emphasized speed, technology, industry, and fascism. The modern paintings from this time are displayed in the Museo del Novecento. The paintings hint towards Picasso style but with more fluidity and movement rather than cubism. In 1913, Umberto Boccioni sculpted the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. This famous statue is featured on the 20 cent euro coin. The speed of this figure is still reflected, today, in the people of Milan as they walk determinedly across the city.
In addition, many buildings still remain from the fascist politics of the early 20th century. The Milano Centrale train station and the Milan Stock Exchange are in fascist style buildings. The architecture is elegant and full of replicas of Roman statues and designs. Recently, an artist placed as sculpture in front of the Milan Stock Exchange that presents a strong message. It shows a hand with all the fingers cut off but the middle one, an old fascist symbol. It is presented as a remembrance of the fascism that used to reign in Milan. However it also a modern message. This statue suggests an attitude towards the crumbling banks of Italy.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Today, Milan is the forefront of fashion and business in Italy. The constant, daily evolution of fashion in Milan has shaped a culture of nuance in every part of the city. Situated outside the Milano Centrale train station, there is a massive sculpture of the Apple logo with a bandage across the bitten piece. It symbolizes that nature and technology must find a way to coexist. This theme is scattered across the city. Everyone in the city uses the metro and walks. However, small electric cars (far cooler than Tesla) scurry through the streets. The modern part of Milan, Porta Nuovo, contains some of the most impressive architecture in the world. This area is lively and creative. The towering Unicredit Tower marks the hub of modern business in Milan. Amongst wavy architecture, fountains and modern sculptures, the impressive forerunners of millennial entrepreneurial businesses are presented such as Tesla, Moleskin, and Swatch. Peeking out from behind the Unicredit Tower is a unique skyscraper called the Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest. This is a new residential building that uses an elaborate watering system to create an appealing green living area filled with trees and plants. The entire area of Porta Nuovo is under construction. The large land proposes hope for a green, livable modern business center of Milan. The new opportunities and potential are enticing.
Tesla and Moleskine
The Teatro Alla Scala offers a lavish and stunning experience into the thriving tradition of opera. I bought pricey tickets to be in a plush compartment near the stage. It was one of the best seats in the opera house. I sat in awe at my surroundings. The compartment fits four people and was decorated with intricate gold embroidery that surrounded velvety cushions. The view into the audience was stunning. The compartments rose up five stories high. The wealthy regulars popped their heads over the balconies to chat with their friends. Antique gold lights radiated the expanse with a warm glow. The entire room was massive! I spent longer staring at the marvels of the room than I did admiring the Duomo. The Teatro Alla Scala is a must see destination. Unfortunately, camera use is strictly forbidden so I didn’t take my own pictures.
I attended the performance of La Bohème, one of the most famous operas in the world. It was emotional and intense. I sat above the orchestra, and the music complimented the story with hints of excitement followed by mourning. The opera opened with a humorous scene of starving artists freezing in a simple apartment. Dramatically, the artists burned their operas and writings to keep warm. I found the set to be amazing! It was extremely detailed from scuffs on the walls to textured windows. It was so realistic that I felt like I was peering into a portal, and witnessing France in the 1840s.
Scene from La Bohème from Teatro Alla Scala website
The next scene was intense. The curtains drew back to reveal a stage that was two stories high and filled with hundreds of actors. The bottom story was a busy riverside festival near a restaurant, while wealthier citizens gossiped on the upper story. Horses and donkeys pulling carriages and carts of goods traversed across the stage. The music was uplifting, as the two main couples each fell in love during the festivals.
Then the following scenes got dark and depressing. The relationships between the two couples struggled. In the climactic end, the woman, Mimì, confesses her final love to Rodolfo as she dies from a short life plagued with poverty. In her dying moments, Mimí asks Rodolfo if he thinks she is still beautiful. Rodolfo romantically explains, “Beautiful as the dawn.” Then tragically, Mimí replies, “You’ve mistaken the image: you should have said, beautiful as the sunset.”
The entrance to Teatro Alla Scala
The average fashion in Milan is not as wild as Vogue Magazine portrays. However, the people of Milan are confident and prideful. Thus, the people of Milan dress smartly. There is a strong culture of eating small, healthy, fresh meals and hastily walking long distances, while exorbitantly drinking and smoking. This culture has uniquely paid off in an interesting way. The people of Milan are beautiful, sexy, charismatic and grungy. In fact, they walk a fine line. Due to healthy eating and exercise, the people are thin, with strong attributes of either femininity or masculinity. The women’s hairstyles are typically long, straight and black. During the summer, the younger women wear high waist short shorts with exposing blouses and elaborate laced sandals with super thick soles to make them appear taller and thinner. Also, rompers are very popular. The older women wear longer, colorful sundresses, or tight sheath dresses. I did notice that the fashion shops are influencing elaborate woman shoes. For example, heals are covered in fluffy fur. I didn’t notice anyone wearing these shoes. However, I did see a couple woman with shoes that had huge red bows on top. The bows were so enormous that the woman had to be careful to not trip.
The men have a stricter dress code. It is imperative to wear pants, preferably slacks, to enter many restaurants, churches, or special events. Shorts are not accepted. Even collared shirts are suggested. The men wear elaborated leather shoes, slacks, and half buttoned up dress shirts, exemplifying the machismo culture of Italians. Businessmen are dressed in full suits. The older men have longer, curly hair that is pushed back. The young men sport a more modern look of undercuts, with the sides trimmed short and the top long. The top can be slicked back or let loose, wildly.
Men and women both typically have many tattoos and greasy looking hair. Furthermore, sunglasses, bracelets, and large flashy watches are popular for everyone. Every type of sunglasses is worn such as round, wayfarer, butterfly or even octagon. The signs of tobacco and alcohol leave hardened faces and wrinkles. The women cover the wrinkles with flawless, but heavy makeup, while the men rock the look as it supports their masculine toughness. This is a unique contrast from how elegantly they dress and walk.
The food is surprisingly cheap. Unless of course, you are eating from a balcony in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is contributed by the prevalent aperitivo tradition and the lack of mass tourism. A traveler could eat well with only spending 20 euros a day. Aperitivio is typically 8 euros which includes a drink and a buffet for dinner between 8 pm and midnight. Breakfast seems to be a small muffin with a couple shots of espresso before work. Italians typically eat smaller meals when they are hungry. Panini, gelato, and pizza cafes are everywhere. Each store takes fresh fruit for the new gelato each day. The pizza joints make their own tomato sauce by using a slow process with the best Italian tomatoes. This makes the pizza excellent. Shopping at market stores is the cheapest option. Groceries are significantly cheaper in Milan than in Montana. Notably, olive oil is insanely cheap. As I am from Montana, Milan food lights up my taste buds. The fresh produce in Milan is mouth-watering. Even the cucumbers are juicy!
The cafes are my favorite. If you want to sit down, coffee is more expensive. Usually, Italians stand at the counter to drink their coffee and talk. It’s easy to meet people. Unlike Montana, liquor licenses in Italy are easy to attain. This makes a wide available variety of types of coffee. A cafe shakerato is an iced coffee made like a cocktail with a shot of liqueur. A cafe correcto is an espresso with a shot of brandy. Many times a day, I always order a cafe macchiato. Each time, it is prepared excellently. In America, I would be running the risk of getting a horrible latte caramel macchiato. Uniquely, McCafes are popular here. In fact, I ordered a really good cafe macchiato from a McCafe.
Interestingly, the food in Milan used to be fairly unhealthy. Then, the Expo 2015 shocked Milan. The quality food from around the world at the festival altered how people in Milan thought out about food. Now, the healthy and exotic cuisine is fashional in Milan. The food scene in Milan is diverse and popular.
Follow closely as I dive deeper into Milan and the nearby cities of Italy.