I had been to Milan several times before. The first time as an impoverished inter-railer in 1987 and 5 or 6 times in the late ’90s & early’ 00s whilst on business. Well if you count going to the Monza Grand Prix and the San Siro to see Milano v Real Madrid in the Champions League as business that is!
All the visits had been somewhat fleeting, never staying more than one night, as four of the visits had just been pit stops en route to Genova, less than two hours away by train where I had some cruise clients in the shape of Costa Crociere and MSC.
I had always thought of Milan as being a great venue for a brilliant weekend break taking in opera or ballet at La Scala and Serie A football featuring Inter or AC Milan. The opportunity arose thanks to Roberto Mancini becoming manager of Inter. Let me explain that one…….
Mrs Wilbur is not particularly fond of football, but she has become fond of Signor Mancini. This was borne out of the three and a half seasons that he spent as manager of my team, Manchester City. Mrs W accompanied me to several matches, always having at least half an eye on the demonstrative touch line antics of Roberto. When he was sacked having won three trophies during his time in charge, she vowed to stop liking City and transfer her allegiance to wherever the wronged manager pitched up.
We almost went to Istanbul to see a game featuring his Galatasaray team, but he left there after just one season in charge. He was linked with jobs with Napoli and the Italian National Team, before returning once more to manager Internazionale (to give their full name), where he had won two Scudetti (Serie A titles) when he was in charge there previously.
A quick look at the Italian fixture list confirmed that Inter would host local rivals Milano (they actually share the same San Siro Stadium) in mid April.
As luck would have it, the Friday night would see a performance of our favourite ballet Giselle at La Scala. Prime tickets near the half-way line for the football were purchased at €130 a piece, sub-prime tickets in the gods for the ballet were also purchased at €40 a throw. No doubts where my priorities lay, whilst Mrs Wilbur’s birthday present was now taken care of!
Flights with easyJet and Airbnb accommodation (click on Serena’s for details of the accommodation) plus a booking to view Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper, completed the package. We would stay three nights, just as well as the football was eventually moved to Sunday night.
We arrived in Malpensa, Milan’s equivalent to Gatwick and purchased return tickets on the Express bus for €16 each (€10 one way) to the monolithic Central Station. We would have preferred to go by train, but that would have meant shuttling from T1 to T2, plus the there was only one train per hour.
Although the Metro station of Piola near our accommodation was only two stops away, time was on the tight side so we taxied the short distance to our delightful apartment and waiting feast laid on by our generous host.
This was just perfect as we only had about an hour before we would be off again, La Scala bound. I had always wanted to visit the iconic theatre venue, so we left in eager anticipation for what would be my fourth visit to see Giselle, having also seen the most graceful of ballets at Covent Garden, Garnier Paris & Kiev.
We were to be delighted once more by the sheer romance and artistry of the spectacle, particularly the second act when the ethereal Wilis perform their deathly dance dressed as brides. I will admit to a tear in my eye due to the beauty of what we saw and also the thought that my dearly departed mother would have loved to have been there too.
So another iconic venue was ticked off my cultural bucket list – New York, Sydney & Moscow to go. All the venues are pretty similar internally if truth be told, but sometimes just the fact that you are somewhere iconic adds to the event.
After a grande beer in the shadow of Milan’s majestic duomo, it was time to go. Not however before Mrs Wilbur had planted her heel on the nether regions of the mosaic depiction of a bull on the floor of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and spun around three times. This act is said to be lucky and would also ensure that you would return to the Northern Italian giant one day, so the legend goes.
Next day after a lazy morning, we returned to the cathedral and after visiting the impressive inside, we took the elevator to the roof terraces for the fantastic experience of clambering along the roof top.
The views were excellent despite the afternoon being on the cloudy side and to get up close to all the statues that adorned the cathedral’s pinnacle was wonderful fun.
After a nearby beer and a nip into the football shop to buy an Inter scarf for Mrs W, we returned to the apartment, but had to unfortunately dive into Nicky’s Bar to escape the hail. More beer it was then!
As the weather was poor, we ate pizza locally, in fact right next door to our lodgings.
Sunday was culture day. We started with a tour around Milan’s castle and gardens, a very pleasant stroll in the sunshine, augmented superbly with gelato and coffee.
It was then off to Santa Maria delle Grazie Church to view the Last Supper.
I am ashamed to say that I did not previously know that the iconic work was situated in Milan and had also always assumed that it was a painting rather than a fresco.
Good that you continue to live and learn! Photo’s of the great work are forbidden, but I found a couple on the web that were not copyrighted.
We were only allowed to linger for fifteen minutes, one of most amazing quarter hours I have experienced.
We then went to a nearby convent to see a number of Da Vinci’s plans and drawings, sketches of the buildings and inventions he is credited for, including a perpetual motion apparatus and a flying machine that was a pre-curser to the helicopter.
After an al fresco lunch, it was time to travel to the big match, which would kick off at 20.45.
Despite witnessing the first goalless draw in the match for eleven years, we loved the whole experience, which was played in a cracking atmosphere conjured by over 74,000 fans.
We eventually got back to the apartment tired and happy, after midnight.
We left early Monday morning with just time to take in the mammoth Central Station, an expression of Mussolini’s grandiose vision for an all-powerful Italy.
A wonderful weekend all round. If only Mancini stays successful, we could well go again soon!