A Night in Milan, Italy.
On my way home for Christmas, I had exactly 22 hours in Milan between my arrival from Madrid and the departing flight to Hong Kong. Rather than languish in an airport hotel I took my suitcases and caught the next train out from Malpensa – it was nearing 4pm and I had an appointment to make.
Ever since the end of our first year at architecture school, Emma and I had hit it off as great friends. It was partially the fact that we were both international students with a lot of common ground. After spending 4 years working together and pulling all-nighters in the studio, we left uni with the knowledge that we would become lifelong friends. So I was ecstatic when I realised that I would catch her on her semester abroad in Italy.
If anything, Milan seemed like an appropriate transit point between Spain and Hong Kong. As we walked around the centre I couldn’t help noticing that this fashion capital was everything Hong Kong aspired to be. More than anywhere else in Western Europe I sensed an overt love of brand names and luxury goods, and everyone was impossibly well dressed.
Emma had booked me a room at her residence and I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully prepared bed with some towels on top. Its cleanliness – and the quality of the furnishings – genuinely made it feel more like a hotel than a place for students. I dropped off my things and had some downtime before heading out to dinner.
Like Hong Kong, Milan has no shortage of vertical shopping malls. At the very top floor of one we found a rather fancy but relaxing place for aperitivo. A great find for students, the idea is that you pay 7-10 euros for a good cocktail and a light buffet. With our little plates in hand we loaded up on mozzarella & tomato salad, zucchini with parmesan, do-it-yourself bruschetta, mini pizza slices, sandwiches and omelettes.
As it turns out, we were just 10 minutes away from the Piazza de Duomo, the nerve centre of Milan’s public life. From a silent shopping street we approached the apse of the Duomo, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and a masterpiece which took 500 years to complete. The last time I came its façade was shrouded in scaffolding, but in the soft glow of the surrounding buildings I could finally see its beautiful marble surface.
While at the Piazza it’s practically impossible to miss the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a gorgeous 19th-century arcade with a triumphal arch and cast-iron roof. Nicknamed il salotto di Milano, or Milan’s drawing room, the Galleria is one of the most popular meeting places for the Milanese.
On the other side of the square live music was blaring from a temporary stage. We had chanced upon a Beatles tribute concert, complete with a colourful light box and some iconic Beatles sayings. We watched the performance for a few minutes before wandering into the newly-opened Museo del Novecento, dedicated to the city’s collection of 20th-century art.
Housed in the renovated Palazzo dell’Arengario, a sombre building where Mussolini used to give public speeches, the black and white interiors were a bit like Libeskind with curves. Despite the museum’s tight constraints, the architects managed to fit a spiraling ramp with alternating views of the Piazza and its Tiffany’s Christmas tree.
There is only so much art you can take after half a day of travelling and 2 hours’ sleep, but I was still enthralled by the colour and movement in Boccioni’s futurist paintings. Further down the wall I encountered several works of art by a certain Gino Severini, another futurist who I had studied during a project back in high school.
Exhausted and cold, we retreated to the residence for cups of hot camomile tea and a long catch-up session. I had brought my laptop along so we shared pictures of our recent travels, all the while planning our next reunion in the spring. I wished I had another night but it was not meant to be – after all, my plans were fixed and I had eager parents waiting back home.