Fascinating Milano

Fashion District

Fascinating Milano

Shopping arcade : Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Photo by Janardhan RoyeOn a cold wintry morning we left Geneva’s lakefront and pointed the car in the direction of northern Italy. The small city of diplomacy and secret accounts vanished rapidly as the Beemer leisurely negotiated the snow-white terrain of the Alps, Mont Blanc and descended into ‘prosperous and cultured and stylish‘ Milan.

The cosmopolitan city has 1.3 million people, second only to Rome and is a delightful mix of colourful Italians and many-tongued visitors exploring its ancient monuments, palazzos, museums, art galleries, theaters, cinema halls, tempting restaurants, gelaterias, and of course, its haute couture stores. Milan’s fashion hit us in full force immediately as we walked into the massive 1865 shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

This flamboyant glass-covered arcade brims with luxury stores and classy cafes, set on a floor plan shaped like a Latin cross and decorated with the signs of the zodiac. The Galleria was the first iron and glass construction in Italy. Today, it is a great place to watch the world’s fashion go by.

Pomp and glamour

With steaming hot espresso in hand, we took in the happenings unfolding around us. Would we sight Giorgio Armani or Monica Bellucci? People were going ga-ga over the designs, colours and chic outfits that exploded non-stop.

There were gorgeous fashionably dressed women catwalk-hopping, handbag-carrying. One pretty thing in leather cap and lace-up boots came strutting out of Prada, flipped open her diamond-studded hand-set and let loose a torrent of French!

From the Galleria we moved to another high-fashion district, Quadrilatero d’Oro, the Golden Rectangle, formed by the four streets — via Monte Napoleone, via Sant Andrea, via Manzoni and via Della Spiga. Every well-known fashion-name and his cousin was there — Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, YSL…all chic, all frightfully expensive. The shops brought to mind a quip of actress Bo Derek: ‘Whoever said money can’t buy happiness, simply didn’t know where to shop.’

As dusk fell, we were on the brightly lit via Monte Napoleone. The window displays take on an extra shine with twilight. We passed by stores that have their own cafés — where an espresso costs € 6. We continued blinking in disbelief as other price tags hit us — handcrafted shoes at € 500, crocodile-leather bags at € 2000 and so on.

It was glitzy ambiance alright. Just the right sort of eclectic background for the movies and snazzy TV shows where images come flooding of Milan as ‘a screaming scary bustling metropolis’ — growling low-slung cars, leggy women walking jaunty diamond-collared poodles.

But Milan is more than fashion and fashionistas, espresso and hep people. The city has some remarkable icons and social and cultural life — art galleries, museums, theatre and a wonderful night life. The first dose of culture and heritage came at the legendary square, Piazza Del Duomo. There, a giant Xmas tree was brightly and cheerfully decked-up for the upcoming festive event. Beyond the tree was the magnificent gleaming Duomo, the third largest church in Christendom — outdone only by Rome’s St Peter’s and Seville’s cathedral.

Although the key elements of the building were in place by 1391, the cathedral took another 500 years to be completed. Thanks mainly to Napoleon, by 1805, the building got its finishing touches and the Frenchman proclaimed himself king of Italy. Today, the Duomo’s awesome beauty — marble, flying buttresses, doors depicting biblical themes, magnificent stained glass windows and hundreds of spires and statues on the roof make it the prime attraction of Milan. On clear days, there are spectacular views of the city and of the Alps.

For discerning visitors, however the greatest view to be had is at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. There on a wall is the stunning, evocative Last Supper. It is perhaps the greatest legacy of Milan. The huge delicate mural in tempera, mixed media on ‘dry’ plaster, was painstakingly, patiently worked over three years by young Leonardo da Vinci. In it the disciples are portrayed ‘behaving like real people’. The painter has captured the precise moment, and amazement of the apostles, when Christ announces that one of them will betray him.

It is said Leonardo wandered around the streets of Milan looking for the right ‘model’ faces for the painting. Unable to find a truly evil face for Judas, he drew inspiration from the convent’s Prior who kept badgering him about when the work would be completed.

Author Dan Brown created a stir when he wrote in The Da Vinci Code that the figure on the right of Jesus was not John the apostle but Mary Magdalene!

Whatever the case, there is no disputing the fact that in da Vinci’s masterpiece, every element is focused to the calm Christ’s head, making the work a supreme example of artistic ‘perspective’. Tip for those planning a visit: Book well in advance, tickets are hard to come by. Only a small group is given access to the mural, once every fifteen minutes and advance reservations are required.

After Santa Maria Della Grazie, Castello Sforzesco, La Scala (where, from a red velvet, gold stuccowork box, we watched a rehearsal of Bizet’s Carmen) and the National Science & Technology museum, tired but satisfied, we felt a need for an aperitivo. It is a Milanese after-work happy hour. In the golden sunset light we found Obika Mozzarella Bar in via Mercato. Snacks came gratis with order of drink.

The buffet at the end of the bar was unbelievable — Mozzarella di Bufala and other cheese, olives, breads and more snacks — salads, chargrilled vegetables, pizza and pasta dishes. With a glass of Morellino Scansa, we sampled the snacks. What a shame we had to save appetite for a dinner later at a fine trattoria.

As may be expected in this cosmopolitan city, there are many options for gastronomic adventures. We chose Ristorante dalla Zia, via Fara Gustavo near the Central station. And what a good selection that was! With a careful pick of wine, we had a most satisfying gourmet meal that included starters, pasta, porcini mushrooms, fiorentina steak and dolci. Post dinner, there are many entertainment and fun nocturnal options, including theater, cinema and a hopping club scene.

There is never enough time to explore this cultured, fashionable and fascinating city.

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