My bro made me laugh when we arrived. After about ten minutes of being in the fashion capital of the world, he came out with: “Nothing like coming to Milan to make you realise how uncool you are.” Further to that point, there’s nothing like coming to Milan to make you realise how much of a plump, ugly and pasty English tourist you are. It’s definitely no secret that when whoever or whatever was creating the world, those that were situated around the Mediterranean Sea won the gene lottery. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful city, with beautiful weather, beautiful architecture and beautiful people, but nothing drives that point home more poignantly than the stark contrast I experience when catching my sweaty oafish reflection staring back at me from the window of a Versace store.
And that’s another thing. Versace.
Versace, Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, etc, etc. Who the hell has the money and time to invest in keeping on top of these brands. It’s outrageous. The money people spend in places like Milan is insane. Did you know Maserati have their own bar and lounge? Nothing says I’m a dickhead like sitting in your Maserati lounge in the centre of Milan with your GranCabrio sport parked outside, rocking your Meccanica Maserati time piece and sipping on a Maserati Mojito. The money that circulates Milan is scary. But fair play to you if you have that kind of cash to splash I guess. Who am I to judge?
One thing for sure though. The Milanese know how to build a Cathedral. We were staying in the Straf Hotel which was right around the corner from The Duomo, a breathtaking gothic cathedral situated in the centre of Milan. It’s not hard to believe that it took almost six centuries to build when you look at the incredible detail of its architecture. At the top sits a golden St. Mary statue. You’ve got to admire the Italian’s religious dedication. They like Mary to be the tallest thing in the city, so when a new sky scraper is built that towers over the Duomo, that new building has to put a new statue of her on top.
The Duomo over looks a square which acts as a meeting point for everyone in Milan. It’s a melting pot of locals, businessmen, tourists, guys selling selfie sticks and other useless shit, and pigeons. Lots of pigeons. Yet worryingly there was probably more selfie sticks in circulation than there were pigeons. Hmm. To the north of the square is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a golden shopping arcade that was designed and built by Giuseppe Mengoni and finished in 1877. This is a place where you have to be really good at looking with your eyes and not your hands. Labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton line it’s windows; it feels expensive just walking through! At the centre is a mosaic of a bull with a small trough where his balls should be. For some reason it is considered good luck to put the ball of your foot where his balls should be, and spin around. Seems strange yeah. But, for someone who’s so superstitious that I struggle to even cross people on the stairs without having to throw some salt behind my back, I knew not doing this myself would haunt me. Can’t say my lucks being particularly good since, but on the other hand, nothing bad has happened to me. SO IT MUST WORK.
Having spent a week on an island where a chicken breast or a fillet of pork was about as rare as rocking horse shit, our minds were set on finding somewhere with copious amounts of meat on offer on Saturday night. The choice seemed obvious. Right round the corner from the Straf was a restaurant called Meat Grill Food. No brainer right? They had a huge selection non-aquatic based creatures and air conditioning. We rocked up after freshening up and felt almost spoilt for choice after having lived mainly off pizza and octopus. (Side note; turns out octopus is delicious!) However we ended up being really disappointed. We had a rude waiter for didn’t even look at us nor write down our order when we gave it to him. This was reflected in him messing our orders up, missing things off and forgetting drinks. The whole evening felt very rushed and disappointing. I ordered a beef burger. I had seen them going out, in huge white buns on plates ladened with fries. I know this doesn’t sound like a very authentic Milanese meal, but it was just what I needed at that point. Sadly though, I received just the beef patty, served more like a steak, but with no real garnishing. It was a shame, but at least it was meat. I wouldn’t recommend others bother with this place, we went out of convenience and I reckon there definitely better options around the same area. Just take a look at some of the reviews, it seems to be the general consensus that this restaurant is below average. Just a tourist trap.
Sunday was our first full day in Milan and so we did the standard which was to take a biking tour around the city. We met with Daniela from Bike and the City at Venezia metro stop. After collecting our bikes from an underground garage (which played jazzy interlude music over the PA in what felt like a sort of perpetual elevator vibe) we set off, starting in the silent quarter of Milan. I really rate taking bike tours around new cities; it’s an efficient way to take a lot of information in quick, whilst also getting your bearings for the city. Whilst I’m not going to pretend that loads of it sank in (my memory is shocking) I do feel like now I have a better understanding of the City and I vaguely know my way around. The most memorable stop by far was Sforza castle. This huge 15th century fortress was mind-blowing, not only because of its size, but also because I’ve recently got into Game of Throne which just makes scenes like this ten times more exciting. I could easily have sat in the grounds for a few hours and just let my mind wander thinking about the sort of shit that went down inside it’s walls. If you do decide to bike Milan, I recommend Bike and the City, Daniela was a pleasure to be with, friendly, insightful and beautiful.
We took the rest of the day off to just wander about and take some more of Milan in. Not going to lie, we were pretty shit at being tourists for the rest of the day. The early start and three hours of riding took it out of me and there wasn’t much I wanted to do more than just take it easy in the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room. It was great. No fucks were given.
In the evening we went back to Brera, a district of Milan that we had cycled through earlier. Brera is another big meeting point for locals, with markets lining its streets by day and all the restaurants popping up their red and white parasols in the evening. We chose to dine at an authentic Milanese restaurant, whose name I’ve completely forgotten. The meal was in stark contrast to the previous night, lots of delicious food, friendly staff and generally just a lot more relaxed. The joint was busy, but they waiters didn’t act pushy in terms of getting us in and out. Highlights included the saffron and parmesan risotto that Jack and I had, Mum’s lobster which came with about 10 different power tools for harvesting it and the goats cheese-filled prosciutto rolls. After dinner we hit up a high-end gelateria called Amorino. By far the best gelato we had all holiday. I went for a crepe filled with one scoop banana and one scoop caramel. They also did a banging frappe to go with it. I highly rate at as the place to cleanse your planet after filling up on rich Milanese cuisine.
Monday was our final day, so we all took it easy and did our own thing. I went on the hunt for some new Milanese garms. I trekked up Corso Bouenos Aires looking for a shop I had found online. I was looking for Crasty, a skate outlet store whose website had led me to believe there were some bargains to be had. Unfortunately however, when I arrived, the shop didn’t just look closed, it look shut down. Searching Crasty on Google now suggests that it has permanently closed since July. Unfortunate, it looked like it had so much potential. I had some cash burning a hole in my pocket, and luckily I was able to burn it buying an Adidas Polo from a Size? in town. Not as satisfying when I live about 20 minutes from a Size? back in Bristol, but oh well.
Later on I met up with Jack and we went to check out the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit. Everyone knows that Da Vinci was the man. We all know his mad skills with the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa etc… but I was actually really blown away with the magnitude of things this dude did. armored tanks, crossbows, helicopters, colossi…. He designed the mother fucking flute. The exhibition was basically 3 or 4 rooms which housed all his inventions, including blue prints and original codex documents. A real humbling experience. I think it’s an attraction more geared towards the Italians though… The blurb for each invention was only in Italian. Us English-speaking tourists just got to use these ‘interactive’ screens wherein you had to build Da Vinci’s designs from memory like some sort of hellishly complicated fisher price toy. It felt patronizing trying to put together an intricate masterpiece designed thousands of years ago which had been dumbed-down to 8 pieces that just had to be clicked in the right order. It was more patronizing when I couldn’t do it.
On our way back to the hotel we had to stop at this pizza place that had been eyeing me up all weekend. It was about 10 doors down from Straf and always had a huge queue inside and out. Pizzeria Spontini was the first pizza place in Italy I had come across who’s pizza had a bit of backbone to it. A pizza with some serious girth. No wafer thin base. No leaves on top. They did three pizzas. They just cooked one of each pizza at a time, and you tended to just buy a slice. That’s how big they were. I went for a classic margherita and Jack had something similar but with some fancy Italian ham thrown in for good measure…..
These were INSANE. So filling and so tasty, yet not overwhelming. One slice was the perfect snack amount. It was so big the slices were cut into 9 more manageable chunks. From what I remember it was only a few euros as well. Very reasonable.
The final meal of Milan was the best. I found a Japanese – Italian fusion place which was highly recommended and was enjoying positive reviews online. A place called Zazà Ramen. It was one of those places that do one thing, but do one thing well. Ramen. Located on Via Solferino, or Milan’s new gourmet street as Time Out are calling it, Zaza Ramen had plenty of competition around it. There must have been four different gourmet Asian restaurants on the same stretch. Regardless, we were very satisfied with Zaza. The minimalist architecture was consistent outside and in, paired with the tastefully neutral colour scheme and peaceful noise levels, Zaza had a very calming, zen like quality to it. With each ramen you choose the meat and flavour of noodle soup. I can’t now recall what we all had, but I do know no one complained. The best bit about the meal was the sliced soft-boiled egg that came floating in the soup. Never have I eaten an egg that was soft-boiled to such perfection. It was firm and had good shape, yet the yolk was more like a cream that sat in the egg whites, solid yet with all the right viscosity. It was also well spiced to ensure it packed a punch and didn’t get lost in the complex flavours of the noodle soup. All the vegetables had the perfect texture, not crunchy yet not soggy, and full of sweetness.
That was the end of our short stop over in Milan. We caught a plane back to Heathrow the next day. Milan was a sick city and as usual I feel like we only scratched the surface. Definitely one to go back to, but maybe not until I’m the CEO of some big media corporation / win the lottery / marry rich…
Enjoy a few more photos from the weekend
more photos to come when my internet stops fannying around