Things started looking up though - starting with the Duomo. A monumental gothic cathedral - it stands sentry over Milan, truly amazing. It is crowned with over 100 spires topped with stone statues, surrounded by sculpture, and decorated with vibrant stained glass. You could even hike up the roof for startling views of the city.
Within the same square as the Duomo is the King Kong of shopping malls - the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle. If only all malls looked like this one - vaulted, barreled glass ceilings, renaissance inspired architecture, incredible tile-work. Row after row of designer shops: Gucci, Prada, etc. This place is the inspiration of Rodeo Drive in LA. Fun to look around (not really..) - but prohibitively expensive for all but the most lavish.
My next stop was Milan's finest art gallery, the Pinacoteca di Brera. The works here are collected as inspiration for the Accademia di Bella Arti held within the same building and include some incredible masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque. Mantegna, Caravaggio, Bellini, Raphael and even some work by Spanish artist Ribera are showcased. I took my time strolling through the galleries then popped my head into the academy, wondering what the future masters might be brewing.
European city parks have catapulted to the top of my favorites list, so I meandered next to find what Milan had to offer. On the way I found a gold-mine - an American bookstore. I remembered everything I needed for my solo flight through Italy - save for a good book to keep me entertained when relaxing. Equipped with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, I integrated myself as a reading tourist among the laid-back atmosphere of bongo drumming, stick juggling, and soccer playing Milanos in the shaded seclusion of Parco Sempione.
I have always loved Italian food - but my first dinner in Italy really made it clear what a treat I was in for. I had the best gnocchi of my life. The difference was in the texture...perfect. You could taste the flour the dumplings had been hand rolled in, then were assaulted by the flavors of fresh pomodoro (tomato sauce), basil, and strong, Italian cheese. All mopped up with fresh bread and washed down with Chianti. Magnifico! And what else but creamy gelato for desert...
My hostel was a real drag. It was clean enough, but the sterile atmosphere and indifferent staff gave me the most uncomfortable feeling - it made me want to flee Milan! My room mates were great though, and after a few hours of conversation in Spanish about Brazil and Argentina (and making friends to visit there..) I hit the sac - and dreamed in Spanish for the first time! It was quite bizarre...
Unsettled, linguistically confused, and thoroughly outclassed I felt more then ready for the serenity of Lake Como.
Milan took a bit to grow on me. My first impression was intimidation - walking around the cafes by the Duomo & Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle I couldn't find one place where I wanted to get a coffee. There were cafes - its just they were all full of Milano men dressed in over thousand euro Italian suits. Not exactly my crowd. I settled for an espresso at McCafe - a coffee joint in McDonalds! I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive myself.. :)