Back in the golden days of dirt-cheap budget air travel, when Ryanair wasn’t yet the dreaded last-resort carrier it is now, you could fly from Glasgow Prestwick to Milan Bergamo for around £30 return, including taxes, with no extra baggage fee, no check-in fee, no nothing. Those days are sadly long-gone, and with Prestwick Airport on the verge of bankruptcy – seemingly being kept afloat solely through Nicola Sturgeon’s partiality for duty-free Glenfiddich – I was concerned that my low-cost tips to stay with my favourite Italian relatives were a thing of the past…
We’re not in Scotland any more though folks, and with a new hometown comes a new hub from which to explore moderately priced airfares, and lo and behold, Ryanair has a route from Maastricht to Milan. It would be in pretty poor taste not to take advantage of this opportunity and go on a wee jaunt south, would it not?
Yes, is the answer.
I’m staying with my aunt and uncle and their two kids, and they live in the small commuter town of Carugo which is about 4o minutes train ride from the city centre. Erica, my aunt, works in the city, so during my time here I’ll be travelling with her on her morning commute, doing a full day’s touristing, then getting the train back with her to spend the evenings with the family.
It’s the afternoon by the time my bus from Bergamo arrives at the station, so I just have time for a very quick bit of sightseeing before meeting Erica outside La Scala. I know the city of Milan fairly well, but I’ve never been to the bus station, so to get my bearings I do what most tourists do: head for the Duomo and go from there. I am delighted to see that Milan has had a nice dump of snow fairly recently, and also that the Duomo is looking significantly less scaffoldingy than usual – both of which make for a nice scenic change from previous visits.
I take a quick walk around the Galleria, which is looking stunning as usual. You can also see the snow through the glass roof, which is a nice bonus for a snow-lover such as myself.
I then head to La Scala to meet Erica (I’m a bit early so I amuse myself by reading the February schedule for the venue. I’ve never been to a live opera, but if I ever do I’d like it to be at this place because the pictures of the inside look absolutely stunning) and when she arrives we head to the Milano Nord Cadorna station, from which the trains to Carugo depart.
Carugo is your classic suburban commuter town. There’s a small centre with bars, restaurants and various shops and services, surrounded by nice big Italian-style detached houses with big gardens, barky dogs and imposing gates:
That evening we have a lovely meal in the house (with some lovely Italian wine) and have a good catch-up. There’s time for a spot of trashy Italian television after the kids go to bed before we follow… It’s been a long day and we gotta be up early tomorrow for the Milanese morning commute
Apparently it’s Valentine’s day today? Well not for me! Exiting Cadorna station at around 8:30am after 40 minutes on a packed train, I was starting to feel like it was already time for the day’s second cup of coffee. The cold, crisp air was nice though, so I figured I’d walk around aimlessly until I happen across a nice café. That shouldn’t be to hard in Italy.
On my mindless wander, I stumbled into the financial quarter, and discovered that there was something weird going on at the Piazza d’Affari, where the Milan Stock exchange is located. All around Maurizio Cattelan’s middle finger sculpture are row upon row of bright yellow hard hats. Curious.
I find out later that this is an installation of 10,000 hats, which are supposed to represent lost construction jobs in Italy. Apparently 893,000 employees in the industry have been laid off in the last five years, leading us to this day, which people have called la giornata della collera – the day of anger. The giant middle finger in the square quite excellently emphasises this sentiment. Good location choice. I hang around for a while to see if anything noteworthy is going to happen. Nothing really did, so I continued my search for coffee.
After finding a café and sitting there for a good two hours taking advantage of their free heat, fast wifi and prime Milanese people-watching views, I headed back out into the cold. One of my favourite Milan-based activities is shopping. And when I say shopping I obviously mean window-shopping because I don’t think there’s anything on sale in the city that is within my budget. I started with the small streets of Via Spadare (because in addition to nice shoes there is nice architecture – iron art nouveau balconies and intricate stone window surrounds) and went from there.
Erica’s office is by the Piazza del Carmine, a pretty square with a lovely old church (built in 1400 old). The church is called Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine and, having once being a favoured destination for aristocratic burials, is filled with the tombs of posh Italians. I met Erica outside the church and we headed back to Carugo for an evening of pizza and wine.
The next day morning we came back to Piazza del Carmine and went for a nice coffee and breakfast pastry at the Marc Jacobs Cafe before Erica went to work. Very nice wee cafe/bar, if a little expensive, but that’s to be expected of the area. Looks like they do nice aperitivi too (*makes note to return one day*). This is my last full day in the city, so I’m going to see some sights I’ve never seen before, I think…
… That is, after I’ve seen the Castle, which I think is cool so I see every time I come here, plus it’s very close so it would be jolly inappropriate not to. It’s called Castello Sforzesco, and is kind of unlike any castle you’ve ever seen. Well it’s very unlike the ones in Scotland anyway. It’s also looking very nice today with it’s little dusting of snow round the edges. And look at that sky!
Also in the area is the Pinacoteca di Brera, a gallery which houses one of the most impressive collections of Italian paintings. Also, there is a nice courtyard with balconies and statues and columns. I think the theme for the rest of the day shall be columns. It’s good to have a theme.
In search of some more columns, I headed due south towards the great educational establishment that is the University of Milan, generally referred to as Statale to distinguish it from Milan’s other prestigious universities. I got a coffee from the local student cafe, and wandered around the beautiful historic grounds. It was nice to spend some time at a University with a proper campus (the buildings of Maastricht University where I am doing my postgrad are also beautiful and historic, but are spread around the whole city), and it reminded me of my undergrad days spent milling around the University of Aberdeen campus. The columns of the central courtyard did not disappoint.
Other university buildings were suitably columny too. We are doing well with the column theme.
I headed south again, and took a casual stroll through Parco Alessandrina Ravizza, before heading back up to the centre of town. Not much going on in the park, just some nice snowy scenes.
A final wander through the streets led me to what is possibly the most Milan scene there ever could be. Vespas, sculptures, and banks – which is basically this city in a nutshell. It’s also mostly red, white and green, which helps too. More columns? Check.
And on that splendid final note, it is time to head back to Carugo with Erica for one last evening of frivolity with the family before my morning flight back to Maastricht. It’s been a short but very sweet trip, and hopefully I’ll be back soon now that this lovely new low-budget route is in operation. Thank you Ryanair – you have actually done quite well this time.