Milan - Artistry in motion
Milan boasts of rich art history and its creative confluence is reflected abundantly everywhere – from historical sites and museums to isolated sculptures and street art
Milano Centrale is not your average railway station. Stepping down from the Trenitalia Frecciarossa coach, the massive dome ceiling is the first thing that would catch the eye at one of Europe's most fascinating and largest railway terminals. Fairly spotless, except for the occasional cigarette butts popping out of the stoned floor, the early-20th century modernist architecture illustrates an aesthetic marriage of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Awed by the enormous arched steel roof and the charming Italian tiles adorning the nooks and corners of the station, I momentarily blanked out. The arrival hall could deceive anyone for a museum entrance. Hanging precisely on its meticulously calculated designated spot, is a poster of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous sketch The Vitruvian Man, colour corrected.
Streets of Milan
The ancient city of Milan implores to be explored on feet. Its playful alleyways, museums, cathedrals and common buildings – all stand testimony to Milan's appetite for exquisite art and architecture. But my large suitcase needed to stay put for me to roam freely and I quickly took a cab to the Art House, my stay for the night. Located at the heart of Milan's city centre, The Art House is a new property which is a stone's throw away from Duomo di Milano. Although the 11 euros wasn't worth the distance it covered, I let my grouch go thinking about the big trolley that I wouldn't have been able to drag from the station. As I stepped in, The Art House's cosy interior cloaked around me with a warmth that reminded me I had to take out my jacket before stepping out into the brisk temperature. Early May is summer in Italy; the weather is sunny with an occasional windy disposition.
A little too excited to be strolling down the home of Da Vinci's legendary fresco The Last Supper, I gleefully skipped my breakfast, which I later realised, wasn't a great idea. But my impulses get the better of me in new cities and a kid in the lobby with an ice-cream cone in hand gave me tremendous gelato cravings. I grabbed my tote and denim jacket and set out for a new chapter in my travel timeline.
The crisp air felt good against the skin of my face. As the windows from the Mussolini-era buildings reflected shimmery sunlight, I was reminded of a very familiar early winter morning in north Kolkata. The memory, I reckoned, could have been triggered by the trams jingling past me in the street. Even though the Milan Tram Network was inaugurated just three years after the first horse-drawn tram ran in Kolkata in 1873, it has always kept its tram network up-to-date, squeaky clean and operational. A warning bell startled me as I jumped on the sidewalk and to my heart's content, accidentally stumbled upon this bright, beautiful ice-cream store.
Just a three-minute walk away from Duomo di Milano, the city's most iconic structure, Rinaldini Milan is a two-time world gelato champion (that's what the board read) and boasts of an explosion of pastels. From dainty macarons of every flavour to inviting gelato, the shop lured me in with a wacky display in its window. There were edible bags and shoes, along with some of the most delectable Italian desserts I'd never even heard of. As I tugged myself inside Rinaldini, a dapper young Italian man at the counter somehow guessed I was a gelato virgin, and smiling, he said: "Take all the time you need, ma'am. Dessert is an important decision." With proper hints, I chose the pistachio double scoop and it has been one of the most wonderful decisions of my life.
Gelleria Vittorio Emanule II
A double scoop gelato pretty much fills you up for a good three hours. I continued to walk past the unique Milano style architectural creations – perceived in random 20th century buildings to a treasure trove of historic landmarks. My first intended stop before the Cathedral was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – an 1877 complex, one of the world's oldest and most luxurious shopping centres. Arguably the foremost fashion capital of the globe, Milan houses sartorial trendsetters of the fashion industry headquartered there. The unmistakable entrance leads me to the middle of the four-story double arcade, as the first thing I noticed on my right was a shiny Versace store and to my left, a blinding Swarovski outlet, adjacent to an expansive Prada. But shopping doesn't pique my interest; therefore, I headed east – where the Galleria wing opens up to the city's central spot, Duomo di Milano.
Duomo di Milano
Before going inside the church, little did I know that the Duomo is the fifth-largest Christian church in the world, which also houses the most number of statues. The gothic building stands tall in the middle of the city, surrounded by hundreds of tourists, colorful souvenir shops, flocks of pigeons flying to find a spot over travellers' shoulders, with more than a hundred gargoyles sticking out of the building's white façade. Shelling out some 10 euros, I found myself inside the Duomo climbing its staircase to reach the
terrazza, as a breathtaking unrivalled silhouette of the city awaited me. Apart from the Duomo's stunning spirals and statues, the clear, sunny day gifted me a sight I least expected: snow-capped Italian Alps.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
The star of my Milan expedition was Santa Maria Delle Grazie, the stunning Gothic-style, Dominican convent is a UNESCO heritage and an outstanding testimony to creative human genius. From Milan Cathedral, I planned to take the tram to Santa Maria. But, confused by the many tramlines and routes, I finally gave in and decided to walk two kilometers. The afternoon sun beating down on me had me pull off my denim jacket and tie a bun on my head. But Milan was not yet humid nor hostile, weather-wise.
I had already booked a guided walking tour of The Last Supper online and paid an exorbitant Rs 3,200. But for Da Vinci, every penny was worth it. An important thing to keep in mind is that you need to check tour availability beforehand and book. Most of the time, the nearest date available could be months from the time of booking. So, you need to book these tickets well in advance. This was nothing short of a pilgrimage for me. Standing at the door of the legendary church and my heart pumping faster than usual, I closed my eyes in tribute to the fresco that adorns the north wall of the refectory. The Last Supper, commissioned by the Duke of Milan in 1494, was completed by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1497. Replete with mysterious symbols and Da Vinci's delinquent iconography, The Last Supper presents the theme, the Gospel of John, in which Jesus, moments before his crucifixion, announces that one of his apostles will betray him.
Appreciating Da Vinci takes its fair share of time. The Last Supper is only one of the eccentric genius' creations that are scattered across Milan. But my limited timeframe allowed me only once, and it was still a jackpot. For those who might want to take a proper tour of all of the Da Vinci art while in the city, you can book guided tours online. These are generally three-hour tours that need to be booked at least a month prior. Sites such as Viator, Get Your Guide, and Klook can be a big help in this case.
The last leg
The gelato had long been digested and I felt ravenous as I left Santa Maria. I grabbed a medium latte and a croissant on the go from a café nearby and decided to park myself at the Duomo complex till dinner. Milan has this raw, fashionable energy throbbing at the core of this aesthetic, artistic ancient metropolis. Sitting on the steps of the Milan cathedral with my book, I could hardly concentrate on the buzzing city around me. Milan is not quaint in any way; it is lively with squirming tourists and industrious denizens. As I watched the city dance among its antique and modern fabrications, I felt awkwardly drawn to the spaghetti carbonara and glass of Chianti an American woman was having right across the street. At that moment, I knew what I was having for dinner.