I am in the Euro star connecting Zurich Hauptbahnhoff with Milano Centrale. The train is fully booked. Two ladies are complaining bitterly about who has seat 15A. Both claim to have reserved two months in advance. And I thought I was neurotic! Finally it turns out that one woman is on the wrong train.
I am excited about getting into Italy but I quite forget it when I look out of the window. We are travelling through some exquisite Swiss scenery. We go through the Gotthard tunnel, the highest tunnel in the world. It is all of 16.9 km long and you come out at Lugano in Italy. Voila!
The upper portion of Italy connecting with France and Switzerland is the Lombardy region. My next seat neighbor informs me that it has one sixth the population of Italy and produces one fifth its GDP. She gives me a list of must see places in Lombardy...the names are music. Brescia, Pavia, Mantua, Como (of the lake fame), Bergamo. She is quite disgusted that I have only two days in Lombardy.
Milano Centrale station opens onto a massive piazza with roads radiating in all directions. My hotel had promised me that it was within 200 m of the station and so it is. I park my bags and run back to the station to buy a Metro ticket and start exploring.
The best part of European towns is that the touristy area is concentrated around a main plaza or church. Everything is walkable. You may like to take a conducted tour or just buy a guide map and start walking. Or ask your hotel for a local guide and finalize the fee before you start.
The heart of Milan is its Duomo. You come out of the underground and it is a vision. I am not the only one standing on the Metro steps with a dropped jaw. The sky is extraordinarily blue (no name has been found for this color yet) and against it, the Duomo is a fantasy of white spires. Its doors are of heavy bronze, etched with biblical scenes. The bell towers boast immense bronze bells which toll every hour. As they start ringing, the other churches on the vicinity set their bells ringing too. Quite an opera every hour. You take a seat at one of the outdoor cafes and enjoy.
I have been expressly advised to try the polenta, a special Milanese cake with almonds and chocolate mousse. It is difficult to have one portion. My tummy is full but mouth craves at least another portion. I heave myself up and go for a walk around the Duomo. The famous La Scala Theater is not far away. Its tourist shop has posters of many a famous opera staged here over the last fifty years. This theater has been around since 1778. Milan is also the birthplace of Gieuseppe Verdi, the composer of famous operas like La Traviata and Aida. Don't even dream of getting in without prior reservation.
I must walk and work off the polenta since Milan is also the fashion capital of Italy and one must look half way decent to take a peek at the fashion district in Quadrilateral d'oro. Via Montenapoleone and Via Manzoni are two main streets lined with all the best known brand stores...Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana...the list goes on. The sidewalks had some of the most well dressed shoppers I have seen. What I really enjoy most is the five storey Ferrari store in the same area. Car buffs, you will love it. Window shoppers, you can have a splendid afternoon just strolling down Via della Spiga.
While in Milan, don't forget to try some of its Gorgonzola cheese. It is salty, white marbled with blue green. Risotto and pasta are cooked with it. Try also local wines..Bellavista or the Bonarda Lombardy.