Milan: The Old and the New

Mike and I were so productive this past weekend it was ridiculous.  I can’t even remember all of the things we did.  Lots of cleaning and running errands though!  Plus the weather was amazing… so warm (mid to high 50’s)!  It was so nice outside I ended up going for a long run on both Saturday and Sunday.  The Saturday run was around Lake Union and the Sunday run was twice around Green Lake.  Apparently I was in a ‘lake’ mood.  🙂

Mike and I also planted garlic, kale, arugula, and lettuce in our garden plot.  I’m hoping for the best.  The rosemary bush we planted several months ago also seems to be doing great.  It even has some new branches.  🙂

Last night we went to a cooking class at PCC, our local grocery store.  It’s basically a local Whole Foods.  The cooking class was all about cooking anti-inflammatory meals.  Everything we tried there was delicious… even Mike liked everything… and it was all gluten-free and vegan!  Now that I have some super healthy and great-tasting recipes, you’ll probably see some of them show up here!

All right.  On to the next leg of the Italy trip!

We went from Rome to Milan!  Our train got to Milan mid afternoon and it was about ten degrees colder than in Rome.  That’s the difference between northern and southern Italy apparently!  Fortunately, once again we had planned it so that our hotel was near the train station, so it was easy to find.  The train station itself was huge and really cool.  It almost had a mall feel to it.  A very old, cold, stone mall anyway.  🙂

Once we got out of the train station, we were instantly greeted by yet a new feel.  Rather than feeling like ancient Rome or like slightly suburban Trastavere, Milan felt like a very high-powered city.  Many of the people walking around were fashionably dressed and many of the men had suits and ties.  There were also very modern-looking skyscrapers that we observed as we walked the couple of blocks to the hotel.  And we saw very few tourists.  It definitely seemed like a city full of people who got things done.  Despite the many modern skyscrapers there were still a lot of obviously old buildings, so the city had an interesting new + old feel to it.

The hotel where we stayed was definitely old, and was on a street full of other old buildings all crowded together the same way the old buildings in Rome had been.  Inside the hotel, it had a nice although slightly worn feel to it.  We checked in and found our room at the end of a long hallway.  The door was set into the wall at a 45 degree angle, and the interior structure of the room likewise seemed to have strange angles.  It had a strange, quaint feel to it.  There was one window in the room (also at a strange angle relative to the bed, and we discovered that it opened two ways… either by pulling the window in to open it from the top or by holding the handle at the side and pulling it open sideways.  Although both engineers, Mike and I were fascinated by how it worked… sometimes opening from the top and sometimes from the side depending on the position of the handle.  It definitely was an old building with old designs!   Fun times!  🙂

Another mechanical challenge we instantly discovered was the toilet.  When you flushed it, you had to stop flushing it.  If you didn’t, it would apparently sit there and flush forever.  No, I’m not joking.  I’m really not.  It just sat there and flushed.  This was clearly a toilet from the days before low-energy appliances.  🙂

It was dark by the time Mike and I were ready to get dinner since we’d snacked on the train.  We hit the streets to wander and find somewhere to eat.  We actually only went a block and a half before we saw a well-lit self-serve restaurant: Pianeta Luna.   We saw a lot of self-service restaurants in Milan.  Basically, you go in, look at the hot and cold buffet bars of food, and point out what you want.  Anyway, I loved the look of Pianeta Luna… it just looked so bright and warm and inviting!

So warm and brightly lit!

So warm and brightly lit!

And it was!  🙂  We lingered there just talking and enjoying the food (crazy fresh food… a homemade pizza for Mike and a salad that I carefully constructed from the salad bar.  One of the things they had there were whole roasted scallions… SO good!  🙂  When I took the above picture, the waiter came by and smiled at us.  I loved those moments of feeling a connection with the Italian people.  Everyone in Italy was so nice and friendly, but communicating was sometimes difficult because of the language barrier.  And in Milan we were straying outside of the most touristy areas, so English communication was a little more difficult than in Rome.  But a smile is understood in every language.  🙂

So, why did we go to Milan?  Because we wanted to experience a different side of Italy.  We loved Rome, but most of what we experienced there was ancient Italy.  Milan is a much, much different city than Rome.  Milan has a fascinating history and I would highly recommend reading this wikipedia article, but here are a few facts about Milan in case you just want a quick snapshot.

–  Milan is the second largest city in Italy.

–  Milan is the fifth largest urban area in the EU.

– During WWII Milan got bombed extensively by the Allies.  Because of this it’s a very interesting mix of old buildings that survived the bombings and new buildings.

– Milan is the home to most of the major financial institutions and fashion designers in Italy and is also the center of the Italian Stock Exchange.

Actually, there’s a lot more I want to say about Milan and its culture and history.  So you should really read the wikipedia article if you’re interested.  It has lots of good info in there.  But anyway, Mike and I were intrigued.  🙂

The next day Mike and I woke up bright and early, bundled up (since it was definitely colder in Milan than in Rome!) and headed out.  We were about a mile away from the fashion shopping district so we decided to head that way and see what it was like!

The walk there was really interesting!  Definitely a mix of the old…

Old Milan

Old Milan

And the new… only a few blocks away.

Modern Milan

Modern Milan

We spent the morning browsing stores in the fashion district like Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Armani.  Those clothes are EXPENSIVE!  Then we walked a couple blocks over where our map said was a ‘more reasonably priced’ shopping area and the Duomo.  We didn’t know what a Duomo was, but we were ready to see some ‘reasonably priced’ clothes.  By this point our view on cost was completely skewed and anything under $400 seemed like a steal.

So we walked up and down a few crowded shopping streets and saw some familiar stores.  Hello H&M!  Hello Nike!  Hello Sephora!

What is that???

What is that???

And then as we were walking through this shopping district, we saw THIS!  What in the world?  The first thing I thought of was some fairy castle in Disney World.  But no, this was the Duomo di Milano, one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world that took 600 years to complete (that’s right… SIX HUNDRED)!  The entire city of Milan is built around the Duomo.  We had to get a closer picture…

The front of the Duomo

The front of the Duomo

This is a picture of the front, and the picture above is a picture of the back.  Crazy!  The gothic intricacy of the architecture was like nothing I’d ever seen before!  Both Mike and I took a lot of pictures of the Duomo, so expect to see more when we post pictures to Flickr.  The gothic architecture was just so different from Roman architecture.

After taking pictures of the Duomo, we window shopped at several stores, including a huge, amazing department store that had so many floors I completely lost track of how many times we took the ‘up’ escalator.  We saw a Calvin Klein line in the ‘international’ section… weird.  🙂

Eventually we wound up at the very top of the department store where there were a bunch of food cafes.  They all looked amazing, but we ended up stopping here.

Eating at the top of the department store

Eating at the top of the department store

The lighting was awesome there, and we were next to a big window through which we could see the Duomo.  My tuna salad was awesome, and Mike’s lasagna was awesome.  Note: In Milan there was a lot of seafood on the menus.  Rome had hardly any seafood.  Apparently, despite its lack of proximity the ocean Milan is a seafood-oriented city.

When we walked back to the hotel, we were pretty exhausted from a day of walking around shopping, even though we hadn’t actually bought anything.

That night we decided to do something relaxing.  We planned on going to a club and found a fun-looking one called Metropolis, but the music inside was pretty deafening and we still wanted to be able to converse with each other.  So we ended up at the Black Diamond, a low-key bar with fun neon lights behind the bar.  It was an incredibly relaxing time.  We just talked leisurely.  We had planned on having fun cocktails, but we went with our old standby drinks instead.

The Black Diamond

The Black Diamond

The next morning we planned our day while drinking cappuccinos and eating breakfast at the BEST cafe we found while we were in Italy: Cafe Nico.  We knew there was another shopping district that was supposed to have fun, creative, bargain shopping, so we decided to try going there the following day.    We each kind of wanted to buy at least one article of clothing from Milan to remember our trip there by, especially since they’re known for their fashion and design.  Plus Mike hadn’t brought a sweater, so he was kind of chilly and we wanted to make sure we got him something warm to wear since Milan was colder than Rome.  We went to a bunch of cool stores.  The United Colors of Benetton was a popular chain store there that we saw a lot of.  We got Mike a conservative black sweater there.  He initially thought he might go with something a little crazy since we were in fashionable Milan, but he didn’t like anything I recommended and really only liked the plain black sweater.  So that’s what we ended up going with.  🙂

Some other stores we went to that seemed to be primary brands in Italy were Mango, Tally Weijl, and Desigual.  I bought a dress from Desigual which is AWESOME and a scarf from Mango, both of which really on sale, which was great!  So all in all we had a fun day.  For lunch we stopped at a cool looking panini place called Panino Giusto.  Mike was ready for something besides pasta, I think.  🙂  It was a charming place with a lot of hardwood, really friendly relaxed service, and big salads.  🙂

That evening we decided to go out somewhere fun for cocktails since we hadn’t been very adventurous with cocktails the night before.  Also we decided to dress up a little even though it was cold out.

Karen... ready to go!

Karen… ready to go!

Mike... ready to go!

Mike… ready to go!


So we wound up at La Malmaison, seriously the strangest place ever.

La Malmaison

La Malmaison

I really don’t know how to describe La Malmaison.  It seemed like a nightclub that was playing trance-like music.  But it was also a restaurant.  And a bar.   With big chandeliers.  But outdoor-style chairs.  And it had a seriously pink theme going on.

Lots of pink

Lots of pink

The woman behind the bar definitely seemed to be in charge.  Very weird, but very fun and different.  And we got dinner and our cocktails.



After two busy days of window shopping all over Milan, we got great sleep that night!

To be continued… as usual.  Still more to go!  Don’t worry… I’ll get through our whole trip eventually.  Mike and I are SO happy it’s Thursday and we’ve almost made it to the weekend… last weekend was so productive that lots of rest and relaxation must occur this weekend.  🙂  I hope everyone else is looking forward to a relaxing weekend!


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