Trip to Italy - June 2003

HomeGot any questions? Send me a mailTrip report from Venice (Venezia)

A short summary
This is a travelogue about the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to Italy (Milan and Venice) in the period from June 7th to June 14th 2003. We spent the first 3 nights in Milan and then we took the train to Venice - where we stayed for 4 nights before returning home to Norway (via Milan). The trip report is divided into two pages. This page will focus on our stay in Milan and the second page will focus on the stay in Venice.

Nikki at Copenhagen airportFor a few years we have been talking about going to a European destination again and we had planned on going to Spain in 2002 but we ended up in Thailand instead.  But this year we wanted to take a 1-week vacation to a European city and lucky for us SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) had some great offers to different European cities and we decided to go to Italy. Our ticket cost us 1,250 Norwegian Kroner (about 150 €) each and that is really cheap compared to what I’m used to. So, why Italy? Well, we had not been there before and Venice is after all a classic destination :-) As usual we planned our trip by buying a couple of guidebooks. This time we choose to buy the DK Eyewitness guide for Milan and Venice and they helped us out when planning what to see and what to do in the two cities. As usual we bought these books on Amazon as it is cheaper than buying the bookstores of Norway. We also did a bit of searching on the internet and even though Venice is a city that is visited by millions of people each year, I still didn’t think that I found what I was looking for.

The trip begins
We started our trip early in the morning on Saturday the 7th of June. When we were driving out to the airport here in Stavanger we saw a couple of deer along the runway fences and some cows were enjoying their gras on the fields next to the airport. After a few hours and a short stop in Copenhagen we reached Malpensa airport in Milan and stepped out into the big city. That’s the beauty of traveling to a European destination for us: you start to travel in the morning and by noon you are ready to start sightseeing in a new city :-)

The first thing we had to do when we got through customs was to get some cash. As usual we had not brought any cash or travelers cheques…just the VISA card. Malpensa ShuttleSo after getting some Euros we were ready to head into town and we chose to take the Malpensa Shuttle bus. It cost €4.5 and took about 50 minutes to reach the Stazione Centrale (the main railway station in Milan). The bus trip gave us an opportunity to have a first look at Italy. Malpensa airport is located a bit outside of Milan so it was nice and green driving into the city. When we reached the Stazione Centrale it was easy to see that this was maybe not the best part of town (homeless people loitering about the bus station and park in front) but the building itself is impressive. It was opened in 1931 and is 207 meter wide and 36 meter high so the entrance is quite spectacular.

Hotel Marconi seen from the outsideThe reason we took the Malpensa Express was to reach Stazione Centrale because our hotel was located near by. We had booked a room for 3 nights at the Hotel Marconi located at Via F. Filzi number 3 (near Repubblica Metro station) by using In short we got a nice 3 start hotel where the standard of the room was OK. And it was in a pretty quiet area too (if we don't take the church bells into account of course :-) A longer review (including comments on the room, breakfast, cost and so on) of the Hotel Marconi can be found on this page. So by 1 pm we were checked in at the hotel and we were ready to start our sightseeing. We started off by trying to find the Rebubblica Metro station. And of course when you are new to a city you sometimes take a wrong turn :-) So on the first day we had some problem finding the station but we soon discovered that it was only located a 5 minute walk away from the hotel.

Nikki and one of the many trams we saw around in MilanThe Metro is a great way to get around in Milan. For 1 € you get a ticket which is then valid for a period of 75 minutes, if I’m not mistaken. You can find a map of the metro lines on this link: The only problem with the metro was that it was quite noisy. It was almost impossible to have a normal conversion while the train was in motion. Apart from this Milan is quite a small city so it is actually not a problem walking around to the major attractions. It seems like Milan also have an extensive network of tram lines so I guess if you can figure out this system it can also be useful for getting around.

A tram ride through the cityThe first thing we decided to do when we got into town was to hop on the Tram Turistico. This is a restored tramcar that gives you a tour around town. I guess we have a tradition Waiting for the ride to startfor this because we have taken similar trips in Cape Town, London, Paris and so on. I think it is a great way to get to know the town a little better.  For 20 € we got a tour of the city that took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes. You get a headset on board and you can get comments in several languages. The tram route includes going past the Duomo, Scala, Santa Maria della Grazie and so on others. Having risen at 5 am the rocking motion of the tram only contributed to our drowsiness – probably not the best thing to do on our first day. The tram ride also gave a great feel for the city’s main attractions.

Piazza del Duomo
The covered facade of the DuomoThere is no way of getting around the fact that there is a natural center in Milan and that is the Piazza del Duomo. The place is dominated by the magnificent cathedral Duomo. The building of the church started in 1386 but was not finished until 1813 when Napoleon had the façade completed. We were a bit disappointed when we first got out of the metro station on the piazza. Instead of seeing the magnificent façade View from the top of the Duomothe guidebook describes in such detail we saw a plastic covered scaffolding. I guess it is a constant battle trying to maintain an old building like this cathedral but it was still a disappointment not to be able to see the front. We did get to see some other highlights, like the amazing front doors. And the church itself is open and services are held there all the time. The spires of the DuomoWe went there on a Sunday (during Asuncion) and there was a service, the organ was playing, a choir was singing and it was just a special atmosphere inside the church. This church is the third biggest in the world, according to the guidebook and I can only say that this is the kind of building that you have to see for yourself. The pillars holding the roof up are massive, the stained glass windows are magnificent and the acoustics Nikki and Gard of the roof terrace of the Duomosounded good when the organ was playing. After we had taken a look on the inside we decided to check out the roof terrace. The entrance to this is on the left side of the building and you can choose to go up by elevator (€5) or take the stairs (€3.5). We chose the latter and after a few minutes we were on top of the church itself. The view from the terrace is breathtaking. First of all you have a great view of the city but also get a better view of some of the 3500 statues that decorate this building.We also paid €1.5 to go down a few steps to the “basement” of the church to see ruins of an early Christian building site. I’m not sure it was worth the time or the money because all the information was written in Italian and our guidebook didn’t give much information about the place apart from the fact that it was the place where St Amrose baptized St Augustine.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III mentioned that the Piazza del Duomo seems like a natural center in town. In front of the Duomo itself is the piazza and it is occupied by pigeons, tourists, street vendors and people trying to sell pigeon feed to the tourists. The people trying to sell The mosaic floor of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele IIthe pigeon feed were a bit aggressive and annoying. Even if you said “no” they tried to grab your hand to put some food into in order to attract the birds. We eventually managed to outmaneuver them  :-). Another place to mosey through is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is an old and elegant arcade that connects Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza delle Scala (where you will find the world renowned theater Scala). The building houses shops and cafes (including a McDonalds that seemed a bit out of place there) and there is a special atmosphere due to the glass ceiling and the mosaic floor.

Throughout our wanderings in Milan the weather reached peaks of above 30 degrees Celcius (85 degrees Fahrenheit), which meant a high bottled water consumption on our part. If you buy bottles from the street vendors on the piazza del Duomo it can cost about € 1 for ½ liter. We soon found out that you can get 1 ½ liter for 0.75 € at the supermarkets.

Keep it cool
The great Italian ice cream (or gelati :-)Norwegians enjoy their ice cream and I was not aware of the fact that Italians seems to love ice cream too :-) And I have to admit that the Milanses ice cream (also know as gelati) was excellent, to say the least. Gelati is sold more or less everywhere and it was a bit softer than I’m used too. I recommend Straciatella, strawberry (fragola) and tirimasu. My wife was a bit more adventurous and tried stuff like lemon (limone), mint and dark chocolate and some of them were a bit too rich in flavor for me. I strongly recommend that you go to a gelateria and try out the different flavors for yourself.

Food, glorious food
Risotto alla MilaneseI have been fond of Italian food for quite some time. Pizza, pasta, lasagna and risotto are all dishes that I make on a regular basis at home. So I was looking forward to going to Italy to try out some authentic Italian cuisine. The first couple of nights we went to a place called Ristorante Limone located right next to the hotel. I was first of all looking forward to trying out Risotto alla Milanese and other types of risotto. Sea food risottoThe Risotto alla Milanese that we had at the restaurant was not that great but maybe my expectations were too high. But it is basically just risotto with saffron. I’m used to having a bit more in it , e.g. parma ham or mixed mushrooms. We also tried Costoletta alla Milanese which is veal cutlet covered with breadcrumbs and fried; spaghetti Cabonara; Risotto ai frutti di mare (sea food risotto); and of course pizza and calzone. Veal cutlet (costoletta alla Milanese)I was also looking forward to trying out Semifreddo al limone but we didn’t find this dish at any of the restaurants we went to. It was great trying out different dishes but it was not always easy to understand the Italian menus so it was nice to have the guidebook to help us figure out what to order. One evening at Ristorante Limone we ordered a starter buffet and we helped ourselves to the different dishes. When we were done we noticed that there was a similar table for the dessert so we asked the waiter if the dessert was included in the buffet. He didn’t really give us a good answer but he came running when we started helping ourselves to the desserts :-) It turned out that it was his task to serve us the dessert and I guess that is why the other guest were looking at us in a funny way :-)

Our lunches in Milan were a variation between pizza (and gelati) or a toasted roll with mozzarella and tomato / Parma ham (and gelati).

A scientific genious
The inner garden of the Science museumWe stopped by the Museo Nazionale della scienza e della tecnica (science and technology museum). It is located in the sant Ambrogio district and when we got there it was more or less empty. We wanted to go there because there was supposed to be a special Leonard da Vinci exhibition. So we paid the 6.20 € to get in and we walked around for a couple of hours. The drawback once again, is that a lot of the information in the museum is only in Italian and hence it is not easy for the ones that don’t know the language. But it is a large museum and it houses models of boats, engines, power production, photography, watches, mining, radio and so on. The Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was OK but we didn’t see any of the hands on exhibits that we had read about. But quite a lot of wooden models had been built to display some of Leonardo’s ideas.

The museum itself is actually located inside an old monastery and surprise, surprise – it too was undergoing a face lift. It turned out that this would become a repeating “problem” during our trip.

The Last Supper
Santa Marie della Grazie, the church where tha Last supper can be foundNo, I’m not talking about not our last meal in Milan :-) I’m referring to Leonard da Vinci’s world renowned painting “The Last Supper”. The painting depicts the moment after Jesus Christ reveals that “One of you will betray me”. It is painted right on the wall in one of the buildings in the church Santa Maria della Grazie and Leonardo started painting it in 1495! It puts it into perspective when you know that this was only a few years after Columbus “discovered” America.

This is not the original Last Supper! Thsi was taken at the Science museumFirst of all I have to say something about the process of getting tickets to see this painting. We walked past the Santa Marie della Grazie (where the painting is located) on our way to somewhere else and decided to stop by. We were told that we had to book in advance. So I asked if we could book for the following day but then I was informed that this could only be done by telephone. I’m not sure why they have made it so difficult to see this painting but we got the feeling that they wanted to limit the number of visitors. Telephonic reservation made, we were ready to see the great work of art. When we got there we were let into the room in groups - I guess this is to avoid overcrowding. The painting is big and it has been through many restorations so it has lost some of its splendor. We paid 6.50 € to enter and and a few extra Euros for the audio guide. Photo taking is not allowed, but the detailed audio guide description etches the painting into your memory.

The local wild life
Milan is located inland but in the good old days there used to be a lot of canals in the city. In fact there were so many canals that Milan became one of the larger ports in Italy. Well, only some of the canals are left and the guidebook warned about mosquitoes in the canal area. One morning when I got up I noticed that my back was itching. It turned out that I had gotten something like 6 bites on my back. We sat outside on the night we first sampled Risotto di frutti di mare. Well, after a short while we had to cancel that great idea because I had gotten 5 bites on my legs (through my socks!!) and a bite in the face just during dinner. It got a bit better when I finally got around to buying some mosquito spray :-) But be warned…the local wild life can suck you dry :-)

Try to cross the street
TA Smart car parked in Milanhe DK guidebook mentions that it was not easy to walk around in Milan because cars are parked all over the place. And it is correct that cars are parked all over the place (I would have driven a Smart car if I had lived in Milan, that is for sure) but it was not that difficult to move around on foot. And on major streets we just had to wait for the green man to cross the street. We had one odd incident when crossing the road to get to the Statione Centrale. We had a green light to cross but pedestrians facing us were not crossing. So I turned around and people going the opposite way still had a red man (Don’t walk signal). If anyone can explain the logic in that I’ll be happy to hear from them :-)

There is one other major attraction in Milan and that is of course the theater Scala. But the place is closed at the moment and will reopen in 2004. It didn’t come as a surprise to us but it would have been nice to see the theater.

San Lorenzo alle ColonneSo what do you do when you have covered the major attractions in Milan? Well, if you like churches and architecture you can just start walking around. We stopped by Santa Maria della Grazie after we had seen the Last Supper. But once again we came to a church that was partly covered up (inside and outside) due to maintenance. We stopped by San Lorenzo alle Colonne which contains the largest dome in Milan.. But to be honest all the churches that we went to after the Duomo can’t really “compete” against its splendour. If you’re visiting during warmer months, be sure to wear longish legged and armed clothes when visitng churches, otherwise you won’t be let in.

Tempio della VittoriaWe also stopped by a place called Tempio della Vittoria . This looks like is a memorial for Italians that has been killed in different wars. Outside you will find an “eternal flame” and inside there are names of the victims written on big boards.. We ended up walking to the Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) several times too by the way. This was a fortress that was built in 1368 as a fortress. It was later turned into a ducal palace and then into a military building again before ending up as a museum. Porta Vercillina..ruins at Castello SforzescoWe didn’t visit any of the museums in the castle so I can’t really comment on them. But I’m not sure if all of them were open. Once again we found some of the inside of the building covered due to maintenance. We also walked in the big park behind the caslte (Parco Sempione) and we walked there first of all to take a look at a Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace). I hate to repeat myself but once again we found a building that was…you guessed it…covered up due to maintenance. Well, at least we got a nice walk in the park and we found a little market where we bought some nice fresh strawberries :-)

A market in MilanWe also went to the art museum Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. We paid 7.5 € to get into the museum itself and here you can see works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio and many, many others. The painting “Portrait of a musician” is one of the more famous paintings in the museum and it has been painted by da Vinci. I’m not sure if I understand why this has become so famous or what is so different about this compared to other portraits. Once again we were not allowed to take any pictures. Why is that by the way? Are they afraid that the flash will ruin the painting? Or are they afraid that people won’t come to see it if they have seen it on the net? The museum seemed to have been refurbished lately and well looked after. But I do get tired pretty fast when walking around in slow a slow pace in places like this so we didn’t really stay long.

It is fashion Dah-ling
The Armani storeWhen I think of Milan I often think about the fashion industry. I can’t say that I’m a slave to fashion but the locals seemed to be comfortable in almost cat walk ready outfits :-) So we had to take a walk in the fashion district of course. And on our little tour we passed by shops by Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianni Versace and so on. I guess I can call myself lucky because it was after closing hours so we had to settle for window shopping. I’m sure that our credit cards didn’t mind :-)

Time to move on
Our Eurostar train at Stazione CentraleOn Tuesday June 10th it was time for us to move on to Venice. We bought 2nd class Eurostar tickets at the Stazione Centrale the day before for 41 €. It was not really easy to understand which line to get into to buy the tickets but we got the tickets at least. You can also buy tickets buy using a credit card and a ticket machine but we went for the manual method :-) It was easy to find out which train to get on at the platforms and soon we were on the train making our way to the classical destination of Venezia.

Enjoying some ice cream at Piazza del DuomoSo will I recommed Milan to others? What will I remember from the stay? Well, first of all I have to mention once again the disappointment of seeing so many buildings being covered due to maintenance. But the thing that I will remember the best from the entire stay is of course the Duomo. It was an amazing building both inside and outside and being on the roof terrace gave us a great view. And I will remember all the walking we did and all the great ice cream that we had. If people ask me about Milan I will most likely tell them that it is a nice place to start their Italy journey. But after 2-3 days the major attractions has been covered and then it is time to move on.

Follow this link to read the travelogue from the stay in Venice.


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