A day in Milan

An African in Milan for a day

Few cities in the world are as talked about in fashion circles as Milan or Milano as the Milanese refer to their city. I had heard about Milan’s voracious reputation as the fashion capital of the world, I but did not quite imagine exactly what this meant. A few years ago I recall gawping at photos of an African themed furniture design by Moro called M’Afrique at Milan design week online and thinking, wow, I have to be there to take in what this design and fashion crazy city is all about.
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Five or so years later and a weekend trip to celebrate a birthday in Brescia somehow creatively got rejigged to include a day in Milan.
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A coach was the best option at a few Euros to take me from the Milan Bergamo airport, where I landed, to the centre of Milan. A short trip by tram afterwards and I was in Milan’s Quadrilatero d’Oro (‘rectangle of gold’), a small square known for high end shopping. I would like to believe I am a sharp fashionista of course, until a few minutes of strolling around central Milan began to make me feel decidedly insecure.  From over the top catwalk-like Milanese to simply dressed fashionistas, I just couldn’t help, but gaze at them in amazement. What struck me more than anything else was that they seem to carry themselves in their garbs so effortlessly.
A day in Milan
Something else struck me though. A good 90% of all the security men I saw in the Quadrilatero d’Oro were black, most probably African. Given there were no other black folks around they stood out like a sore thumb. Making eye contact was near to impossible. I felt as I did in Cuba on an organised tour to a cigar factory. The entire workforce was black and I was the only black in my tour group. I wondered what the workers thought of me as I felt their piecing eyes focused in my direction. Was he a rich American sportsman? An African politician? An extremely tanned Southern European perhaps? The awkwardness I felt as I filed past the security men were not dissimilar to the cigar factory experience in Cuba.
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Milan has a lot to offer. The Duomo Di Milano, Galleria Emanuele, the painting of the last supper and Panzerotti Luini can all be experienced in full in a day. Perhaps lunch at the Mercato del Duomo, coffee, aperetivo and dinner at one of numerous cafes and restaurants in the centre of Milan can also be added for the foodies amongst us.
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Duomo Di Milano
A day in Milan
Cathedrals define cities. They are the most important social and community spaces in most of Europe. It was, therefore, no surprise that prior to visiting Milan, those who had been there always made a point of telling me to visit the Duomo di Milano. The Duomo di Milano building was began in 1386 and took a warping five centuries to be finally completed. It is reputed to be the biggest gothic style cathedral in the world. I had to walk around it and stand as far away as possible to really appreciate its scale and stunning beauty. The pinnacles and spires are the work of art. For a small fee you can gain access to the Duomo and an additional fee will give you access to the rooftop terrace.
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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
A day in Milan
Named after the first King of the Kingdom of Italy, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. What struck me was its glittering glass dome. The Galleria Vittorio is lined with high end haute couture shops as well as some fine restaurants. The entrance to the galleria is only a stone’s throw away from the Duomo di Milano.
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Spinning on the bullA day in Milan
In the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is a rather famous, but amusing tourist attraction that seems to get grown ups reliving their childhood. To the Milanese, there is actually a serious point to it. Legend has it that, Guiseppe Mengoni the chief builder of the Galleria Vittorio Emmanule plummeted to his death from a scaffolding just a few weeks before the Galleria project was completed. As good luck and to avoid the same fate, tourists and Milanese often head for the mosaic of the dancing bull, said to mark the exact spot where Mengoni fell to grind their heels firmly into the bull’s balls. I loved it and here was I thinking Africans were superstitious.
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Panzerotti Luini
Pastries at Panzerotti Luini
Not to be missed. One of the world’s most famous pastry shops. I was so impressed with what I tasted that I had to devote a more in depth coverage to it. Panzerotti Luini is so well known that, all you need to do is get yourself to the Duomo Di Milano area and ask a local to direct you as I did. It’s about a couple of minutes walk away from the Duomo.
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Mercato del Duomo
A day in Milan
Another food attraction that impressed me. I was, however, bemused by how few people were in this complex. It had a postmodern feel that perhaps was at odds with the centuries-old Duomo Di Milano near by. For me though, it spoke of modern design laden Milan. A great use of space that you will appreciate if you appreciate art and design.
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Milanese Coffee
No group of Europeans do sophistication better than Italians and more so, better than Milanese. Espressos, the all powerful beverage of the coffee world is the firm favourite here. There is no lounging about sipping coffee in long glasses whilst your Mac takes centre stage here. In Milan, coffee culture is a bit like what a heroine addict may be more used to, a quick sharp fix. In central Milan, especially around the Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele there are several coffee shops. Some are decades old, but all serve consistently great coffee made the Italian way.
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Aperitivo
Traditions, traditions, traditions. None is more Milano than the aperitivo. An absolute must try for its uniqueness and uber Italian-ness. An aperitivo is basically the canapés, small bites or perhaps more traditionally the spread of pizzas, pastas, crostinis, meat and vegetables that you are offered when you order a cocktail during happy hour – early evening. Yep, a single cocktail costing under 10 Euros entitles you to a mini meal, perhaps to help soak up the alcohol so you don’t get too tipsy. For some reason I do not believe aperitivo hour will ever take off in Senegal or Ghana or Naija. Let’s just say I know my people.
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Restaurants
A day in Milan
Restaurants in Milan share some of the same characteristics as restaurants in other famous European cities. Somewhat expensive, they seem to cater exclusively not to the locals, but tourists. I tend to head outwards to places less expensive where the locals eat in European cities I visit. That is not to say that there aren’t a range of restaurants, some serving typically Italian specialities such as pasta and pizza.
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One day is enough to get a feel of Milan and to see and experience the main attractions. I would have loved to have taken a walk to the Brera neighbourhood to experience its picturesque streets lined with small boutiques and art galleries. Even though I did see the famous Castello Sforzesco, I wish I had had enough time to explore it. Overall, my experience of Milan was one that brought Italy to the forefront of my traveling plans. A must, if only to shop.


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