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Monday, 12 September 2016 09:15

Geoff Thompson: Destination Milan

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While the fact that the week-end I chose to visit Milan coincided with the F1 Grand Prix down the road at Monza, that had little bearing on the trip; however, seeking out the world-renowned Ferrari store in the northern Italian city was certainly on my list of things to do.

Set in Lombardy in the north of Italy, relatively close to both Turin and Bologna, with the Swiss border and the Alps to the north, Venice to the east and Rome to the south-west, Milan can be best described as the centre of Italy's fashion industry - think Prada, Armani and Versace - and financial sector and brimming with cultural heritage, the latter not unlike most of the rest of Italy.

The early flight at 06:30 was probably 2/3 full and took just 75 minutes to fly south of the Alps. With hot and cold drinks, as well as a fresh croissant, and delightful company with whom to pass the time chatting, we were there in no time. Malpensa airport was not busy at all, but a few F1 aficionados were conspicuous by their presence, as was a Martini welcome desk complete with a F1 car on a pedestal. A 45-minute train ride on the Malpensa Express brought us to Milano Centrale, enabling a quick check-in at the nearby hotel before I set out to explore the city.

With temperatures slightly higher than back home in Luxembourg at 32C, the city was basked in sunshine throughout my visit. Walking around with a map in hand was straight-forward, but to see some of the main sights a pre-booked half- or full-day tour is advised, if only to beat the queues. Along the way there were plenty of trees offering not only welcome shade but also green colour to the city, with a couple of large parks attracting walkers, joggers and pedestrians alike.

The vehicular traffic in the city was much lihghter than I had expected; I discovered later that this was partly due to the congestion charge brought in for the city centre, with the city's metro having secured an additional line for last year's Expo. Many people were transporting themselves by scooter and the Vel'Oh!-type public picycle scheme, with cycle paths on the wider streets. While walking around, what struck me was the number of book and magazine stands, as well as the number of book shops. The Italians must love to read!

Within close driving distances of the city are both the Monza F1 track and Lago Maggiore, a favourite escape destination of Milanese city dwellers. More about this lake in former times, later.

The Parco Sempione lies between an impressive arch, the Arco Della Pace, not unlike the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, except without all the traffic bustling around it, and the Castello Sforzesco, an imposing fort that has been extensively renovated to return it to its former glory at one stage in its history. But what is also noticeable is the dry moat that surrounds it.

This leads on to the Duomo, the magnificent cathedral which is the 3rd largest in the world after St Peter's in the Vatican and that in Seville, atop which is a spire that indicates the highes point of any building within the confines of the metropolitan city. The building is constructed of marble which had been quarried from near Lago Maggiore and had been brought to Milan by barge along the canal that used to stretch all the way from the lake to the city.

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Right beside the cathedral is the famous Galleria Emanuele II, a vast, cavernous shopping arcade that is described as the first of its kind. At one of the stores here, Ferrari, apart from merchandising there was a F1 grand prix car on display, and two full-size simulators were in action downstairs.

The ruins of the imperial palace are almost non-existent, but they are there if you know where to find them; Milan is so unlike Rome in respect of the preservation of Roman architecture.

The famous La Scala opera house may not be that magnificent a building to view from outside, but from inside it is simply stunning. It was being prepared for the first perforance of The Magic Flute that evening; with the new season launch on 7 December of Madame Butterfly, seats for that special gala evening go for between €1,500 and €2,500.

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Saving the best until last, the Piazza del Santa Maria Della Grazie is where the Dominican manastery is located; this houses the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper. While tickets can be difficult to come by, the easiest way to see this masterpiece is to book a half-day tour with the ticket included, or you could do what I did - go to the ticket desk in the morning and see if there are any cancellations or available tickets for later in the day. due to its importance, groups of just 25 people are allowed in at a time, with one group every 30 minutes. When entering the room itself, the painting is at one end, and it is only with other people standing below it and looking up, do you geta  perspective on its size and importance. Listening to the guide is well worth it as there are so many stories about the painting, including how it was protected by sand bags during the war, meaning that it was left standing when its two adjoining walls (that were not protected) were destroyed to rubble.

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Getting there: Luxair flies direct to Milan Malpensa airport (see www.luxair.lu), with the city accessible by airport train for as little as €12 each (tip: don't forget to validate

your ticket before getting on the train). Most places of interest are within walking distance of each other, but public transport is plentiful.

Photos by Geoff Thompson - for full photo album (on Facebook), see http://bit.ly/2cCvf0I

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Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson came from Dublin to Luxembourg in 1989 with a background in IT. He now works in Marketing & Communication and has been active in launching and operating online news services in Luxembourg for almost a decade.

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