A Few Tips for Exploring Milan

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Tony and I lived about 45 minutes outside Milan (in the city of Cremona) for over three years, so I feel that we got to know the city pretty well.  This January, after my sister- in-law Cassie got married in Camogli, I was able to take a trip back to Milan and then on to the snowy paradise of Cormayeur.

One of the best parts of being back in Milan was finally getting to see the Duomo (main church) in it's full glory without any scaffolding (or should I say, minimal scaffolding). It really is a spectacular church, and it's fun to spend a crisp morning wandering around the plaza and nearby surroundings.

After admiring the church and exploring the plaza, my next stop is usually the original Campari bar called the "Camparino", located in the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery (the entrance is to your left if you're standing in the plaza and looking at the Duomo).

Campari happens to be my favorite alcohol in the world, so I was very excited to visit it's birthplace.  Although the drinks are expensive, the atmosphere takes you back to old-world Milan, as does the service.  When I asked about the history of Campari, the waiter ran and brought me back an entire book, insisting I take it with me.  It turned out to be one of the most interesting things I read while in Italy--- I learned that this bar was the birthplace of the aperitivo tradition, which as I mentioned in a previous post, happens to be my favorite Italian custom.  I also learned about how Milan developed as a city, which made my walks around the different neighborhoods much more meaningful.

After enjoying your aperitivo,  I recommend that you stroll through the rest of the Vittorio Emanuelle II Gallery, admiring the designer store windows. Under the large dome you might see a group of people gathered around-- they are taking turns stepping on a mosaic depicting a bull and spinning around three times for good luck (the trick is you have to step on the bulls balls!).  If it's not too crowded you can give it a try yourself.  ll's balls for good luck!

By this time you may have worked up an appetite and there is a place nearby that I can highly recommend.  One thing you have to be very careful about in Milan, especially near the Duomo, is finding the right place to eat.  Everything is super-touristy and most restaurants are either really bad or extremely overpriced.  On this last trip, following the advice of the NY Time's "36 Hours in Milan", my family and I had an absolutely delicious meal at an incredible price at the Antica Focacceria San Francesco.  It's a simple cafe/restaurant located outside the other end of the Gallery that specializes in Sicilian specialties like arancine and canoli, with really cute southern decor and a chalkboard wall with full descriptions of what everything is.  We sat down and ordered full meals, but when the giant, piping hot arancines arrived we knew we had ordered too much.  An arancine   (which means "orange" in Italian) is a big fried ball of rice coated in breadcrumbs, usually filled with a meat sauce, but it can come with many different fillings.  Our total meal, with arancine, pasta, chicken and wine cost 32 euro for 4 people.  Amazing!

I often hear from people that their time in Milan was one of their least favorite parts of their trip to Italy.  But I think if you do Milan right (and do your research first) it really is a fascinating and vibrant city.