A Weekend in Milan (with a side of Lake Como)

Transport: Ryanair
Hotel: Hotel Ritter
Currency: Euro (€)

Welcome back!

I have just returned from a weekend in Milan, with my good friend ‘Patch Adams’. You may remember Patch from my trip to Reykjavik, which was another whirlwind weekend of no sleep and jam-packed activity. So, if you’re wondering whether you can see a decent amount of Milan and Lake Como in just TWO DAYS, you’re in the right place.

  • Day One 

Nothing actually happened on our first night in Milan, as our plane landed at around 9.30pm at one of Milan’s three airports, Malpensa. If you arrive late, there is likely to be no one around to direct you, but after a brief moment of panic, we found the correct exit (4) and came across a bus heading to Milan Centrale (the main train station).

The bus to Milan costs €8 and takes around 1 hour. From here, we took a taxi to Hotel Ritter, which was a further €11. Had it been daylight, I think we would have taken the metro (which is super) but this was perfect considering our sleepy stupor and it wasn’t too expensive either.

Hotel Ritter is in a great location (under a minute’s walk from the metro stop ‘Moscova’) and is a fairly old school/no frills kind of accommodation. The rooms were plain and simple, but perfectly quiet and comfortable considering the low price we paid. A delicious hot and continental buffet breakfast is included with the room.

  • Day Two

Our booking to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ was an early one (8:45am), so we hit the metro in search for the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The closest metro stop is ‘Conciliazione’.

This painting is one of the most famous pieces of art in the world, but in case you’ve never heard of it, it depicts the moment at the Last Supper when Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. Before looking into The Last Supper, I had always assumed that it would be on a canvas, like the Mona Lisa. However, you may be surprised to read that this iconic scene is actually painted on a wall! This would ordinarily be known as a fresco, however it cannot be known as a true fresco, because Da Vinci chose to paint on dry plaster for a greater sense of luminosity. A traditional fresco would be painted on wet plaster. As a result of this method, the painting has deteriorated quite significantly and rapidly, despite numerous restoration attempts.

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The controversial rumour behind this painting was brought into the mainstream by Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which alleged that the man to the left of Jesus was not in fact John the Apostle, but Mary Magdalene. I must confess that upon seeing the painting in real life, I turned to Patch and said “I can see 11 disciples, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but where is the 12th disciple?” Creepy.

You are allowed to stay and look at the painting for around 15 minutes, before you are ushered out for the next group. After our first activity of the day, we decided to go to the Duomo before our next appointment at the Brera Art Gallery.

The Duomo (closest metro station is ‘Duomo’) is one of the most famous cathedrals in Europe, being the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world. This really is an icon of Milan, as it took nearly 6 centuries to complete this feat of architecture in beautiful pinky-white marble.

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We didn’t spend long at the Duomo, but headed straight for the Pinacoteca di Brera (closest metro station is ‘Brera’) for our 10:45am entrance slot. The Brera Art Gallery houses over 500 works and has one of the best collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.

When choosing between art work and artefacts, I would always go for a museum over an art gallery. I think this is because I don’t have a great deal of knowledge on the history of art or artistic techniques so, while I might see that a painting is beautiful, I might not appreciate the artist’s deeper meaning. Despite this, I have been to a lot of art galleries in my life and I had grown a little weary of the fuzzy depictions of religious scenes and the wide sweeping landscapes found in places like the National Gallery in London.

However, upon visiting the Brera Art Gallery, I felt immediately that this place showcased some of the most vivid and refreshing creations that I had ever seen. I became totally transfixed by Crivelli’s incredible eye for detail, Caravaggio’s subversive brutality and Canaletto’s almost high definition scenes of Venice. It’s therefore odd to me that despite the incredible paintings on show, it is not really that well known (when compared to the Louvre, for example).

Either way,  it shoved my ambivalence to once side and gave me a re-ignited interest in both the observation and the creation of art.

After our illuminating trip to Brera, we decided to head to Milan Centrale and jump on the 12.20 train to Varenna. A return costs approximately €13 and the journey took about an hour. Although there are lots of towns near Lake Como that you can visit, we had heard that Varenna and Bellagio were some of the prettiest and given the close proximity to Milan, we thought it would be foolish not to stop by.

I won’t go as far as to say that this was an error, however, if you do decide to make the same journey as us, I would seriously suggest considering the weather beforehand. Being early February, it was cold and raining upon our arrival at Varenna-Esino train station. Thick fog and low clouds had descended over the pretty harbour town and the stunning views we had expected were almost entirely eclipsed.

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This would have been ok had it not been for the fact that virtually nothing in Varenna was open. With nothing to do but walk along the sodden, empty streets, our moods started to dip. Luckily, Patch and I are the kind of people who find shitty situations hilarious (throwback to the Northern Lights tour) and remembering how lucky we were to be in Varenna in the first place, we decided to make the most of the day and appreciate Lake Como in all of its haunting beauty. After all, not many people can say that they’ve seen Como quite like this!

We had lunch in the one open restaurant in Varenna, which only had margherita pizza for sale (potentially microwaved but perfectly welcome in the circumstances), walked around the edge of the lake and drank thick, gloopy Italian hot chocolate before catching the 4.30pm train back to Milan. Bleak as it may have been, I am definitely not done with Lake Como and would love to go back a better time of year.

After a couple of hours of recuperation back at the hotel, we decided to go back to Milan Centrale and find a restaurant called Platina. This restaurant is renowned for its pasta dishes and we really enjoyed the fresh, comforting bowls of spaghetti we ate. For dessert, we had big slabs of cake from the California Bakery near Moscova (granted, not entirely Italian).

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  • Day Three 

The next morning we trudged through the rain back to ‘Duomo’, where we queued for about 30 minutes to get a pass to the inside of the Duomo, the terrace (by lift), the archaeological area and the museum. This pass costs approximately €16 per person and it is well worth getting.

The inside of the Duomo is, of course, just as magnificent as the outside and as we were visiting on a Sunday, we were lucky enough to catch some of the service being performed (albeit in Latin). The archaeological area lies underneath the Duomo, where the remains of the original cathedral have been found, along with a burial ground.

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Patch and I mused on the fact that whoever you are, whatever you do and however desperate you are for attention, one day you will be just as forgotten as the people who were buried in the foundations of this ruined cathedral. It sounds dark but what we really meant was that everyone should strive for success that benefits others in their lives, not just for posthumous recognition, but to leave a positive and lasting impact on the world you leave behind.

Despite the weather, we decided to brave the roof terrace. The lift led up to the roof, which was more like a waterfall by the time we arrived, due to the torrential rain. Health and safety risks aside, the architecture on the terraces was magnificent and definitely worth seeing.

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Our final stop was the Museo del Duomo, which housed what can only be described as TREASURE. Many of the artefacts, which were entirely of the religious persuasion, were made of gold, silver or crystal and encrusted with precious jewels. Pieces by notable artists sit alongside pieces by students or anonymous creators. These items reflect the history and the construction of the Duomo, curated in a seamless and awe inspiring manner.

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Before leaving, we had decided that we wanted to try traditional Milanese saffron risotto and panzerotti from the famous Luini. Well, Luini is closed on Sundays and the risotto in the stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele was far too expensive (€35+), so while we stood on a street corner deciding where to go next, the most unusual thing happened.

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 

As I google mapped restaurants on my iPhone, a hand grabbed mine. I looked up – it was a smart looking gentleman with adult braces and a Burberry scarf. He looked fancy, so while I was taken aback, I was fairly sure that he wasn’t about to mug us. “Don’t worry darling, I’m gay, I’m not an asshole”, he said, before descending into peals of wild laughter.

At first he was making strange small talk, but he then revealed himself to be a palm reader. I have nothing against fortune telling (although I don’t partake in it generally) but this approach put me immediately on edge. He asked us where we were from and I said “London” rather curtly, at which point he turned to Patch and told her that he could tell I wanted him to f**k off. Fair play, that was pretty obvious. He then told her that she seemed more open than me (true) but she seemed like a more emotional person, whereas I was more hard.

He said to Patch, “You’re a doctor … you’re going to be a famous doctor one day, I see a winner in you.” All correct so far – slightly creeped out but trying to hold it together. “You are a genius but your friend is a different sort of genius to you. She is your protector, you have a symbiosis. She is a lawyer, she may be a judge one day but she is a [women’s] warrior type. I hope you will stay together forever. You are both winners and leaders.” I am a lawyer and I do run a women’s rights charity project. 100% CORRECT. I was SHOOK. 

He didn’t seem to want money because shortly after making these earth shattering revelations, he disappeared, leaving us wondering whether we had imagined him. Well, what’s Milan without a little magic?

Our flight back to London left from Bergamo airport and we managed to catch a bus from Milan Centrale (€5), which took around an hour. Before heading back and still reeling from our encounter, we grabbed a final slice of pizza and some gelato for the road.

All in all, it was a highly eventful weekend and one that I won’t forget in a hurry!

Tips for Milan 

  • Single trips on the metro are €1,50 each, which is fine, but this can add up to a lot if you are making lots of journeys. If you go to one of the little shops in the metro station, you can get a 24 hour Milan Card which gives you a day travel pass for €4,50. I would recommend getting this, as it also comes with other perks like discounts off attractions and free Uber rides.
  • If you take the train to Varenna (or anywhere else), make sure you validate your train ticket beforehand, by scanning it through one of the yellow boxes at the station. If you fail to do so, you may have some jumped up, patronising, little jobsworth of a ticket inspector telling you how generous he is not to fine you €50 and asking you to ‘pay attention’ next time.
  • Don’t go to Lake Como if it’s raining.
  • You MUST MUST MUST book in advance if you want to get tickets to see The Last Supper. I am talking 2-3 months in advance! If you’ve left it late like I did, try a website called The World Is Mine where you can register for a waiting list for tickets. The tickets aren’t guaranteed but it’s the best (and cheapest) way of getting tickets at the 11th hour.

For more on my Milan trip, head over to my Instagram account! I am also new to Twitter, so follow @planeemoji to keep updated on my uploads.

Thanks for reading,

~ Plane Emoji

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