Day 1: Milan

We were still awake last night when midnight struck and got to see lots of fireworks from our 6th floor hotel window. Fireworks were being lit from the tops of many buildings and it was quite a show. And a little noisy. And lasted a fair amount of time, maybe 15 minutes. After we went to sleep pretty quickly, slept pretty good and both got up just after 8am.

We are staying at Hiltons everywhere on this trip, mostly related to Dan either wanting to use or acquire more points! Plus it’s predictable, we get treated well, and breakfast is always included. So that’s what we did. Nothing remarkable about the food, pretty similar to what we typically see when traveling over here. But it was good and we were happy with it.

I worked over an hour after breakfast, we headed out about 11:20am. So here’s the thing about Milan on New Year’s Day: every travel article we came across essentially said “don’t do it!” We were warned over and over again about nothing being open, streets being dead, nothing to do. All of this really surprised us because Milan is the 2nd largest city in Italy and the 5th largest urban area in Europe – certainly you can find something to do even on a holiday, right? And if all the travel advisors were correct, we were looking forward to that in an odd way, and had prepared ourselves for just walking around all day, being the only ones out and about, stopping at the cathedral which would be easy since there would be no lines, and having dinner in the hotel (breakfast is one thing, but anything else is against the rules) if we had to. Dan even looked at the menu on our way out from breakfast and I said “let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

We had even convinced ourselves at one point in the planning that it was going to be so bad, based on the warnings, that we should just skip it and use today as the travel day to Venice or, better yet, just fly into Venice in the first place. But by that time the seats we booked the vouchers on were all taken so we stuck to our plans, and looked forward it to being a relaxing day. We like cathedrals, so if that’s all we did, we could live with that. Just keep all that in mind as you look through the photos.

Our hotel is just a couple of blocks from a subway entrance. We headed towards the city center, and 15 minutes into the ride the train stopped. They made an announcement in Italian and everyone got off. We were just about a 30 minute walk from our destination so figured why not; we could easily be waiting that long for it to get moving again.

We ended up on Venezia, a Street that reminded us a little of the Champs-Elysees in Paris: a broad boulevard with lots of high end stores. Milan is the country’s business center and a global fashion center. So by definition it’s not the tourist destination that the remaining cities on our itinerary are – and why we mostly didn’t care about all the warnings that we ignored.

Right away we noticed that there were way more people about than we anticipated, and way more things open, too. We had about a 1.5 mile walk into Duomo Piazza, the square in the center of the city where the cathedral is. We passed this on the way. Not sure what it is but it certainly looked old. We love happening upon random old building. We were joking about – do Europeans get as excited about everything being new in America as we do about everything being old here?

Over a mile into it we noticed the entry of a pedestrian shopping district – a staple of every European city we’ve visited, something we’ve come to expect and definitely enjoy. We came across this Church right away and stopped in for a peak. There was a mass going on. (If you’re not familiar with Catholicism, you might not know that New Year’s Day is a “holy day of obligation” and mass attendance is a requirement.) It’s the Church of San Carlo or St. Charles. Built in 1844, not very old by Europe standards.

Shortly after we got our first glimpse of the cathedral. It is the 5th largest in the world (and in Rome we’ll get to see #1). We agreed right away it’s probably more intricate and ornate than Cologne, a favorite of ours, and is about 2000 square meters bigger as well. Started in 1386, construction went on for almost 600 years. (And for Dan: the Cologne spires are about 150 feet higher, which might explain why this one didn’t feel as massive despite actually being larger.)

We couldn’t believe they put advertising essentially on the cathedral. More on that later. It gets worse.
The cathedral from the front. It IS pretty.


We also love public markets and enjoy seeing what the locals are selling. We picked out a couple we would return to later in the day.

 Believe it or not, that “fruit” is actually marzipan.
Those balls front and center are the arancino I describe later. Wonderful.

Once we got to the cathedral, we stood in line for over 30 minutes to get onto the Terrace, or Duomo Rooftops. Definitely something I hadn’t done before, although Dan did the same thing in Strasbourg. You get some perspective on the building and the surrounding area you couldn’t otherwise get.

First view we got from the top.




A random beautiful roofline on what was clearly just an apartment building across the Street.

It was after 2pm by this point. We weren’t ready for a full meal but went back to the market and got some Italian snacks. Dan got something tasty we can’t remember the name of – pastry filled with White cheese and something tomatoey – and I got an arancino – a fist sized pastry-like item that was meat ragù wrapped in risotto wrapped in cornmeal and deep fried. And hot. It was great, and Dan enjoyed his, too.

After we went into the Cathedral (another line, probably 20 minutes), and the archeological dig beneath it (which we could have skipped – but at least there wasn’t a line!).

OK yea I guess it’s pretty big.


One of the many side altars.

We both agreed we hadn’t seen that kind of work done at the top of columns before.

The front of the church was closed off to visitors, only parishioners allowed.
This and below is the front door. So intricate.

The square from the steps of the cathedral.

Dan was standing on 2nd story steps from across the plaza to get this one.

And this monstrosity was on the side of the Church: a stream of ads playing to those standing in line and/or walking by, some related to the cathedral, the Others all Samsung. We wondered how much they paid to put that up there. At least it’s clever: that’s not actually on the cathedral, but a facade that sits in front of it. Still, tacky as hell in our opinion. When we walked into the square at night this was so bright the Whole area took on a “Times Square” sort of feel. Would be a shame if anymore went up.


On the left side of the plaza as you’re facing the cathedral – the entrance to what we learned is essentially a mall. Dan says I look like a babushka in this picture. I don’t care, it was Cold.


Nothing but random walking around after that, which eventually landed us in a huge park that we enjoyed, with museums in the middle (that we skipped as well).

A square in front of an art museum with a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci. He lived in Milan in the earlier part of his career.


I love that it’s just Leonardo.

Forgive my stupid expression, I like the shot I the background. This was the beginning of Castello Sforzesco, a huge complex of museums and park.

Just behind the walls of from the shot above.

Not exactly chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but these were pretty good. We ate these as we made our way through the rest of the park.
It just kept going.
I’m sure you’ll get to enjoy many a goofy expression, just like every blog. I leave the truly horrific ones out.

We got some nice pictures in the evening as we headed back to the center to look for something to eat.

We picked up some goodies from the public market to eat on the train to Venice tomorrow. For dinner, we decided on something just off the square – typically less expensive and less touristy – and did pretty good. Dan got a bolognese dish, I got Milanese Risotto – apparently that’s a thing because it was on the menu of just about every restaurant we looked at. It’s essentially a plan risotto with saffron. Risotto is one of those things I will Always get when it’s on the menu. Can’t say I was disappointed. A nice rich flavor of saffron, cream, butter. Simple and satisfying.


After we came back to the room to unwind. I spent a frustrating 90 minutes trying to get an internet connection, only to find out that the general wireless router was out. I wrote this downstairs on a business center computer, and will upload the pictures from Dan’s phones once the wireless comes back..

Did you notice, by the way, that all the travel advisors were wrong? We’re glad we didn’t skip it.

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