I drink wine in cafés, I carry on a simple Italian conversation, and I can manage my way with directions. I've partaken in a trendy game of beach volleyball and indulged in pasta, lasagna, and gelato on plenty of occasions. I've even got an Italian phone number. Am I Italian yet?!
As I sit in Italy on my last day of this extravaganza, I can only reflect on what has gone right, what has gone totally wrong, and what could have gone better. Each time that my palette tasted 'that elixir from the gods' otherwise known as mousse caffè, when the sun baked my skin, and when I felt so accomplished after a class- those were the best times. Those were the times I wish I could see every day.
But then, there were those times when the language so immensely overtook me, like when I took the word 'abito' in the wrong context and started talking about where I live. There were times I spent too much money and I had to have serious talks with myself (in English). And there were times when I had absolutely no idea where I was going or if I was doing anything right. But this summer in Italy was just as expected- an adventure. If there were no challenges, how would I ever grow?
Milan was a difficult city to make friends. It's been said to me plenty of times that Milan is a 'closed circuit,' and I believe this to be true. It is also the only Italian city I spent a significant amount of alone time in so I can't really compare them to the others. People told me that I had to honestly be careful because black women were perceived as 'women of the night.' More conversations taught me that it is the go-to assumption for not just black women, but Russian as well. "That is just the job foreign women take on." Therefore, I could be mistaken as one and had to be careful. I, thankfully, didn't experience this first hand. It was quite the contrary actually. I'm great at avoiding people and I was never harassed in Milan. I have been called Naomi plenty of times, but I never felt unsafe. I walked throughout many of the areas in Milan (mostly in the daytime), and I have to say- 'home' was my favorite. I resided very close to Chinatown and Parco Sempione, two great aspects of Milan. But I think no matter what area you choose, you can't go wrong. As long as you're in the first circonvallazione, or even second, you're within minutes of transportation or walking distance to many activities.
While living in Milan, I discovered plenty of hits and misses along the way. Since most people (Americans at least) don't have a month's worth of vacation to explore, I've decided to start the work for you. Depending on what your goals are for the trip, you can start with this short list of my favorites, category by category.
If your main objective in Milan is FOOD, start here:
- PALAZZO PARIGI - For one of the fanciest breakfasts in town, try out this hotel restaurant. You're in a beautiful garden in an amazing space with high end everything. It is pricey, but if you'd like to splurge one morning, it's not a bad idea. They serve buffet style options, as well as a la carte.
- DESEO - For a great lunch option, Deseo is your choice. They are located right on Corso Sempione, nearby Parco Sempione and the Arco della Pace. They're great for fresh salads and outdoor seating.
- PROSCIUTTERIA - This place is known for their sandwiches, but I've had the pleasure of trying their vegetarian lasagna and their charcuterie board as well. Their food is great and they've got awesome house wine as well.
- OSTERIA DELBINARI - Let's save the best for last. What words could I use here? WOW! The service, the interior, the food- just wow. Go for the ossobuco. It melts in your mouth.
If it's SHOPPING, start here:
- VIA DANTE- You really can't go wrong or ever be limited with shopping in Milan. It seems like there are stores waiting to take your money on every corner. On Via Dante, starts a long road of shopping, all the way down towards the Duomo where you'll find more stores and la Rinascente department store. For more department stores, follow this guide.
- VIA TURINO - You'll find all your basic stores like Zara and H&M here. However, some of their pieces differ from what the New York stores carry. It is worth a peak inside.
- CORSO BUENOS AIRES - This is a major street for ready to wear fashion shops, similar to Via Turino, but it stretches much further. It starts in the Porta Venezia neighborhood and continues for about 1.2 km to Piazzale Loreto.
- VIA MONTENAPOLEONE - I don't know what kind of budget you're on, but this is one of the most famous shopping streets in Milan. It's filled with high end designers like Cartier, Versace, and Valentino. If that is your thing, then this is your street.
For CULTURE/HISTORY, start here:
- THE DUOMO - This is an obvious MUST-SEE in Milan. If you plan to venture inside, know that there is a dress code. No shorts/dresses above the knee, shoulders covered, and modest clothing. When you are buying the tickets for entrance, don't leave out the terrace. There are great views and lots of photo ops.
- HOP ON, HOP OFF BUS - I know people think it's corny, but I'm a fan of the tour buses. It's a great way to see the gist of an entire city with some tidbit information as you go. There are 3 line options for Milan and they take you far and wide throughout the city. The ticket office is located at Via Cusani 18, right nearby Carioli.
- THE LAST SUPPER - These seem to be the hardest tickets in town! You have a couple of options to get a 15 minute glimpse of the painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. You can book in advance and be guaranteed a spot at that time, or try your luck at the door when they first open.
- CIMITERO MONUMENTALE - If you've been to the cemetery in Buenos Aires, get ready for a similar feel. This place is just as grand, with tombstones that outdo one from the next with detail, size, and grandeur. It's quite a memorable experience.
If you need some RELAXATION, start here:
- PARCO SEMPIONE - It's the biggest park in Milan. It's quite lively on summer weekends and great for kids. You can go there to relax with a good book. You can get a gelato or bottle of wine nearby and enjoy it on the grass. Or, you can get active, do some running, or even play basketball. There is a court. If you'd like to do some sightseeing, at one end of the park is Arc de Pace and at the other end is Castello Sforzesco. And if all of that still isn't enough to fill up your day, you could always go catch some Pokemon! I hear this park is a great spot.
- NAVIGLI - This is the perfect place to people watch and have aperitivo. Aperitivo, meaning access to drinks and family meal style food, usually starting around 7PM with the possibility to last until about 9 or 10PM. Walk along the water to find the best scene/deals. Young kids probably mean cheap prices.
For DRINKS, start here:
- RITA'S - That was a good time with good, interesting cocktails. It's great for after dinner drinks and it is located right off Navigli.
- CAFE MAGENTA - Good drinks, nice scene, and aperitivo. Another plus is that they open early and close late.
- SUGAR - Sugar is a trendy outdoor bar with a Williamsburg vibe. It's great for casual nights with friends.
- BOTTEGA DEL VINO LA COLONIALE - This is a wine shop that has aperitivo. As you walk past the store, there are plenty of people sitting outside and enjoying their evenings with a glass of wine in hand.
And for NIGHTLIFE, here you go:
- BYBLOS - So you wanna party. This is what I think of when I think about a typical Italian club. They try to charge girls at the door. They have drink tickets instead of a cash bar. They play old music and still have a great time. Byblos will give you that experience if you're looking for it. I must shout out the amazing bouncer in VIP. Thanks for the hookup! My Italian WILL get better!
- ARMANI - I'm only going to mention this because it was recommended to me so often. Unfortunately, Armani Prive is closed in the summer months between June and August. But it's referenced in a Jay-Z song and I think that says enough. Since I was in Milan in July, I didn't get to go. However, if you've been to any of the other clubs Jay-Z mentions in his songs, I think you know what to expect.
- OLD FASHIONED - To be honest, I will have to pass you along to Google and Yelp for this review. I didn't party too much in Milan, but this was another recommendation from people who seemed to be cool.
Last, but not least, since we are on the topic of sharing, let me also leave you with some notes that I've picked up along the way.
- I'm told that everyone leaves town in August to go on vacation and the city basically shuts down. Therefore, August is not a great time to go to Milan.
- Taxis are not hailed. You can call one or go to the taxi stand. If you choose to call one, note that the meter will start running when they're on their way to you, before you even get in.
- Public transportation is pretty good. For above ground lines, you can buy a ticket (biglietto) at a tabaccheria or inside the metro station. They last 90 minutes after they are stamped.
- Any time I was hungry at 6PM, I would have to just push back my hunger to 7PM because no restaurants were ever open earlier than that.
In a nutshell, that was Milan. Although I am nowhere near confident enough to brag about my Italian skills like I wanted to, I really enjoyed my time in Italy when my friends came to visit. My language goals aren't complete, but they will continue. I'm going to put myself out there and do things outside of my norm more often, and hopefully I will continue to grow that way! I hope this list has helped. If you've got favorites in Milan that I've missed, please share. Happy traveling!