One Year in Milan: Why you definitely do and do not want to come here.

One Year in Milan: Why you definitely do and do not want to come here.

Milano. Fashion and Glamour capital of Italy. On par with the Juggernauts of Paris, London and New York. Business epicenter of the Mediterranean. Italy at its most efficient and creative. Cosmopolitan and sexy. Backdrop to Il Duomo, the third largest cathedral in the world – and arguably the most outstanding of all.  It looks great on paper doesn’t it? Even the name sounds good; Milano, it rolls off the tongue more eloquently than say, Bydgoszcz or Reykjavik. But the reality is a little different. Having lived in Milan for almost a year I’d always encourage people to come and visit me there, but in brutal honesty I’d recommend 101 places to see in Italy before the city which the rest of the country hates.

To be fair the cities reputation as a design and fashion powerhouse has been well earned. In the middle ages, Renaissance, and indeed for the centuries that followed,  made-to-measure orders flooded in from elite of Europe to the famous Milanese craft guilds, producing customized suits of armor, weapons, jewelry and the highest of contemporary fashion. Da Vinci did some of his best work there, as did Caravaggio, Raphael and many others –and you can see it today. As early as the 13th century, an extensive and impressive network of Venetian inspired canals had been established with waters fed in from the nearby great lakes. It was a colossal undertaking for the so called Dark Ages but the canals’  merchant vessels established immense wealth as well as an infrastructural efficiency which was the envy of Europe. And when the Industrial revolution came to pass in the newly unified Italy (rather late in the second half of 19thcentury), it was Milan which oversaw a great deal of it.

Downtown Milano

By the turn of the 20th century almost all of the Milanese canals had been filled in to make way for new industry, and thus taking with it arguably its most endearing feature. Medieval and Renaissance travelers had often commentated that Milan was more beautiful than Venice, something which it patently is not today. But worse was to come in WWII when, as the center of the Italian war industry, Milan was thoroughly destroyed by a sustained Allied bombing effort. While Milan did admirably to revive itself in the postwar years of Il Boom, it unfortunately did so without style, consideration or grace. In a race to become fully industrialized and as efficient as any leading world city, Milan was reconstructed largely in featureless, grey concrete blocks as if it were designed by a Belorussian communist with a chip on his shoulder. It’s in this ugly state which most of the city remains today. The only good thing that can be said of this is that unlike Rome or Florence, visitors on a tight time frame can see practically everything worth seeing in a day.  In addition to the Cathedral, there’s the Castle Sforza, Leonardo’s last supper, the Vittorio Emmanuel Gallera – Italy’s first modern shopping gallery, Via Napoleonne – the elite fashion district, and lots of pompous, pretentious locals to run into.

In Milan these guys would just blend in.

It’s no secret that each of Italy’s regions have produced a different type of Italian. Take a Sicilian and a Tuscan and you’ve got nearly as many differences as a German and a Greek. The friendliness and gusto of a Bolognese or a Puglian are regrettably not the hallmarks of a Lombardian. In fact the Milanese are probably the worst kind of Italian, a sort of bad Parisian stereotype – with worse English. Snootiness, arrogance and coldness can all be expected while fanatic materialism, connections, looks and fashion, rule from a high – with people going to absurd lengths to look stylish, even when it means looking ridiculous (Cue leather pants, jacket and a scarf during 45 degree summer heat ).  Of course not everyone fits this mould, but as far as sweeping generalizations go its generally accurate as the majority of cool people I’ve met there were either from elsewhere in Italy, or elsewhere in Europe.  It’s also a madly expensive place – officially ranked 12th in the World – and your jaw will drop from time to time if you’re not wallowing in money. Famous for its nightlife, entry to a good club (though also to many awful ones) such as Hollywood, Limelight, Karma (this place is great) or La Banque will generally cost around €20 (including a drink), though some places will charge up to and over €50 such as the United Wankers and Homo Convention Centre, better known as Armani Privè.

The Navigli District

But I’ll stop sounding like a  bitter asshole for a bit. Milano does have some good things going for it.  Due to the business and tertiary education institutes it’s very cosmopolitan with a huge influx of people from across continental Europe and beyond. I may not have taken to the Milanese but it’s a great place to meet people from everywhere all in the same place. Then there’s the benefit of all the international models wandering around just about everywhere you go. Hooking up with a few of these girls from time to time certainly salvaged some positives for living there.

When it comes to good local food, it’s almost impossible for any part of Italy to disappoint and Milan delivers when you know where to look. Simple rules apply. Never eat in the city ‘tourist’ centre, as in around the Duomo and Galleria, the food there is absurdly priced and generally mediocre.  Small Osterias and Trattorias should be your first port of call for quality local food. Do try the Milanese specialty Risotto allo Zafferano (with saffron) – its probably the best risotto you’ll ever have. I’d also recommend Osteria Romana Giulio Pane E Ojo‎, renowned for its superb pasta and meat dishes. As a bonus there’s even complimentary Bruschetta – and I’m still searching for a place which can hold a candle to the one that they make there. But one of the best value things in Milan is the culture of Aperitivo which while done throughout Italy – is done best here. Available at virtually any bar from 6 -10pm and varying in quality and quantity, Aperitivo is basically an all you can eat buffet accompanied by any alcoholic (or regular) drink of your choice. This usually costs €6 – €10 but as I occasionally noticed, locals will often just grab a plate and pile it up with food without ordering a drink, making it a free meal (though you won’t get away with this everywhere). The Navigli district has some of the best Aperitivo places (try Màs), and indeed bars in general. A remnant of the once great Milanese canal system, Navigli is also considerably more chilled out and friendlier  than the rest of the city, and definitely worth a visit if there for any length of time. The small but fantastic area surrounding Colonne also echoes this vibe, named after its landmarking 2nd Century Roman temple columns – the only Classical structures remaining from ancient times.

Shopping. It needs to be mentioned since this is Milan. But as a guy I really don’t care so I’ll keep it short and to the point. You can get anything here. There are great selections for any kind of budget, from the cheap, funky and alternative on the far end of Via Torrino andNavigli, to the ludicrously extravagant Flagship stores of ArmaniZegnaGucci etc along Via Napoleonne. And that I guess sums up my main source of friction with Milan – it’s basically not for me. My later adopted home of Bologna is infinitely better. Die hard fans of fashion, design and art history will definitely get a kick out of it though so don’t let my own judgments keep you from making the most of it should you go. While my mood towards this fair, concrete metropolis echoes that of a great many, I also found people there who do enjoy the Milanese lifestyle – though most of them were cunts. And no offense to my Milanese friends – you guys are cool. If you weren’t we wouldn’t be friends.


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