Milan was an incredible experience for both of us. It surprised us in so many ways. Above all, the city is about style--you feel the vibe on the street, in the way people dress, in the stores and showrooms filled with beautiful clothes and furniture, in the local food and wines, and in the neighborhoods. Milan has its feudal and commercial history, its Sforzas and Viscontis, monuments and architecture old and new, the Last Supper, the Galleria, La Scala, but it especially exudes a creative vibrancy that was appealing and infectious. I just had to buy a few clothes there!
Entering Milan via train after the sleepiness of Lugano is a bit of a culture shock. Back to Euros, not Swiss Francs, where's a cambio, where's a bathroom, what do the signs say? The station is a huge, open concourse, an Italian Fasicist version of Grand Central, complete with high ceilings, paintings of major Italian cities, Venchi chocolate, tons of cafes, pizza and gelati kiosks, several levels of stores. Like Union Station and Grand Central, it takes you back to the heydays of train travel--when you arrived you really arrived.
We got our bearings, got Euros, did the WC, and walked out into strong heat to get a taxi. After a whirl of traffic and congestion, we were let off near a pedestrian area kitty corner from an art museum, and near a busy restaurant patio--the closest our cab could come. One door down was our home for the next week and a half, an apartamento at No 29 Via Brera. We met our host, were taken just off the street past a heavy old door and through a dark corridor (whoa, there's the back door to the restaurant kitchen!) to the outside elevator while our host ran up the stairs. The elevator barely fit us and our suitcases. As it rose the the third floor, we could see passageways in the high back courtyard leading to many other apartments, whisps from planters here and there. We were given a tour of the place and left to collapse.
The place was above Via Brera, a busy, noisy area filled with restaurants one after the other, bike riders and loads of pedestrians. We went to the place below us and had a decent meal before figuring out the apartment. Charming breakfast nook, but the kitchen lights and outlets didn't work! There were other issues. The smoke and noise until all hours from the restaurants below was only partially helped by closing windows and turning on the A/C. To make it all worse, we also soon found out that renovations were being done in one of the places behind us--workmen started before 8 am and worked most of the day. If we were busy online (Jan is still teaching two online courses; I was keeping up with family, the condo and the blog), we couldn't hear ourselves think.
There were steps up to the bathroom from two sides--the kitchen and bedroom, and sliding doors, which meant remembering to not trip or burst in on each other. The shower was extremely narrow, and there was a clothes washer next to it, inches across from the toilet. Excuse the crude joke but, if you wanted to, you could wash a load while dropping one. Still, a separate personal sink and plenty of closets, hangers and other storage space. But, we were seriously thinking of moving elsewhere.
I helped myself to brochures and booklets other residents had left and, while we waited for things to get fixed, I read up on the area. Well...turns out we were living in one of the most historic, bohemian sections of Milan, called Brera, after our street name. Its coffee houses and bars were very popular between the world wars and the area was a literary and artistic nexus in the post-WWII years, affectionately known as the Montmartre of Milan. More gentrified now, it's still a creative hub and is full of interesting boutiques, food stores, galleries, bars and restaurants.
When things got fixed, after a fashion, the workmen evaporated, and a day later, when we realized we could walk or tram almost anywhere in central Milan very easily from our boho perch, we decided to stay.
In addition to older sites, fashion, The Last Supper, etc., Milan is filled with a variety of Neoclassical architecture and modern sculptures adorn many squares. The twisted multi-colored one is in a square by a transit stop.
The 'Finger' has its own great story. It's called Salute to the Borsa, by Maurizio Cattelan, because it stands in front of Milan's stock exchange, a Mussolini-era building with a fascist, neo-Roman facade. It's located not far from the Duomo, but off a hard-to-find side street. Seemingly as an affront to his detractors, Cattalan perhaps tongue in cheek claimed that it's real name is L.O.V.E. for Liberta (freedom), Odio (hate), Vendetta (revenge) and Eternita (eternity). But the depiction of an actual fascist salute with its severed fingers has become, due to its locale, an attack on the fascistic aspects of capitalism. Really worth finding, even on a hot day! Couldn't resist my own salute.