Why Milan? Mostly because that’s where the direct flight from Hong Kong stops nearest to Cinque Terre, so it made the most sense. I have been to Milan a couple of times in the past and have never felt a huge urge to go back. This was my first time to visit on my own terms though, and since I had months to plan I was determined to do it right.
The Malpensa Airport: Some time into the planning I realized that I have never been through the Malpensa Airport before because I have typically visited via train or the Linate Airport (which is super close to the city – like the Haneda to Tokyo). I didn’t realize until then that it is almost 1 hour away from the city. Not knowing whether they have van cabs in Milan that can carry our party of 4 (and 4 large suitcases) and whether there will be extra charges, I decided to book a minivan to pick us up via Airport Taxi Transfer (which a colleague had previously used). The price came out to be around 85 euros which I thought was reasonable (vs. 72 – 86 euros by cab according to TaxiFareFinder).
It is worth bearing in mind though that Airport Taxi Transfer is a UK based company which outsources to local car companies. We know this because our flight arrived early, and when we didn’t see anyone at arrival waiting for us we called the hotline. Someone in the UK picked up and said that we should have recieved the direct contact of our driver already – we didn’t. They gave us an Italian number to call, which finally went through after a few times (this is early at around 7am in the morning). Turns out in Italy when you say you are arriving at 7:55am, they don’t double check your flight status but arrive promptly at 7:55am. Many other passengers appeared to be waiting for their drivers as well.
Shopping: After breakfast and a quick nap at the Bulgari Milan, our first order of business was to check out the Chanel store. Since we have many days and a lot of train rides ahead of us, we wanted to leave our shopping till last. But Chanel was the exception because they were apparently going to hike up prices in Europe on April 8 and the Boy bag is a super hot item. We had to use every opportunity we had to snag it!
Turns out we were not the only ones thinking this. Chanel was the only store along the Monte Napoleone with a line! After waiting around 15 – 20 minutes, we were finally let in – only to find that they have sold out of classic boys.
With the benefit of hindsight, I regret not shopping in Milan. The stores were definitely more peaceful (and likely with WAY more style and sizes) than in Florence or Paris!
Salsamenteria Di Parma: Time flies when you are shopping/ lining up. Before we realized, it was already close to 2pm (end of lunch time)! Consulting my map and list of recommended restaurants by friends, we ended up at the Salsamenteria Di Parma which was noted as good for “salami and sparkling red wine” and was conveniently located 2 blocks away from where we were.
It turns out to be a super casual joint filled with lots of local customers (a good sign!). We were seated after 5 – 10 minutes and ordered a platter of their best ham (because why not?), some sandwiches and pasta, as well as half a bottle of house red (served in a bowl!). The food came shortly after. I’m not a huge foodie, but I can say that aside from the sandwich (which we thought was a bit dry) it was a very satisfying and good valued meal (came out to be less than 20 euros per head).
Duomo and Galleria Vittorio: After lunch, our next stop was the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio. It was packed with tourists (and probably theives) but it is not a trip to Milan if you don’t stop and say hi!
The last time I came, the front facade of the Duomo was under construction. So it was nice to actually see it in all its glory this time (and under such gorgeous weather). I also really wanted to make it up the Terrace (roof top), because I have never been and I have seen some really gorgeous pictures of the architect up there.
I’m not sure if it was because it was Easter Friday, but there was a huge line going up that did not appear to be moving. And sadly I had not thought to pre-book a ticket either. We decided to come back after we went to see the Last Supper (which we did have a ticket for) because we didn’t want to miss our slot. But when we came back a hour later the line did not improve.
Luckily we have our ears pricked at all times. The trick is to buy tickets from the other side of the Duomo. It seems that everyone somehow lines up on the left side of the Duomo (the side near the Galleria), and forget about the ticket office on the other side. It seems that the elevator was broken that day (or tickets ran out?), so we took the stairs (around 200+ steps).
It was all worth it though. The flying buttresses, the beautifully intricate carvings and statues – it was magnificient. MUST GO.
Opening times (Terrace): daily 9.00 – 19.00. Last ticket 18.00
The Last Supper: Growing up, we have always had a copy of the Last Supper above our dining room table. So when I went to Milan during college I really wanted to see it in real life. Except I didn’t know it was such a hot commodity back then, and was quickly shown the door when I tried to go see it. This time around I was determined and prepared.
About 2 months before the trip (in early February), I emailed our hotel and asked them to help book Last Supper tickets for us. It was fortunate timing, because the pre-selling for April and May was about to start in a week. A week later the hotel emailed back on the day of the sale, and said that they secured tickets for us. A few hours later though, they emailed back again and said there was something up with the system and they actually did not…
What happened is that Last Supper tickets (which are only worth 8 euros at ticket level!) are quickly swiped up by local tour agencies to be incorporated into packaged tours. And many people do indeed join these tours just to see the Last Supper (I have many friends who have done that!).
… anyway, in the end the hotel put us on the waitlist via their agency, Gold Black Style. I frankly did not have much hope and almost booked myself on one of those packaged tours. But 2 weeks before the trip, they emailed us back and said they got us tickets!!!
So if you want to buy Last Supper tickets here are the ways:
So that day we arrived super early and actually had time to tour the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazi as well. The actual entrance to see the Last Supper is on the left side of the church in a very non descript looking building (apparently the reflectory). After going through a few set of doors (for conservation purposes), we eventually found ourselves with a small group in a dimly lit medieval hall with the Last Supper painted on one side of the wall. We all fell silent and sat down on the benches set in front to stare at the Last Supper.
I am not sure what I was expecting exactly as I am no expert in art appreciation. It was definitely different from the typical painting in a museum. Because of the method it was painted in, it was also much more faded than the replicas I have seen. It was also way bigger than I thought. Eventually people started to move around, and we realized that behind us was another painting (the Cruxificion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano). You can really see the difference in the painting method makes when you compare the two pieces, and start to understand why they take such great pains to protect it. But anyways, after about 10 minutes (which I think is just about enough time) the bell rang and we were herded out into the gift store.
Was it worth it? Definitely. Would I go again? Probably not, I would peg it as an once in a lifetime experience.
Getting connected: One of my key missions in Milan was actually to get a local sim card for the rest of the trip. After comparing prices, I decided it was cheaper to get a local sim card (vs. a wifi egg) while I am in Italy. It is easy to open once you find a store (I picked Vodafone and it took around 15 minutes), cheap at only 30 euros for 4 GBs (for the month!), the connection is great and it allows you to make local calls which turned out to be very useful. The wifi egg on the other hand costs ~10 euros/day, has inconsistent connections and always run out of battery (bad experience in Seoul last time!). Also I guess I just don’t like to be tethered to other people. But anyway, I was super happy with it and highly recommend it!
The most convenient store is the Vodafone on Via Orefici near the Duomo (the street behind the Duomo taxi station) or in Milan Centrale. It took me a while to find the store without data, so it will be useful to print yourself a map beforehand! Alternatively, TIM stores seems to be even more prevalent in Italy. But I don’t know what packages they have.
Other Recommended Restarants by friends (because there’s nothing quite like the word of mouth):