Planning for our Maiden Trip to Italy
It has been two years since we embarked on a long trip overseas due to the pandemic. One of my friends asks, “where are you going to travel to at the end of the year?”. Without thinking much, I answered, “Italy?”. About ten years ago, I wanted to visit Italy and see the Colosseum. Unfortunately, I never got around to planning for that trip (yes, I got my Lonely Planet guidebook on Italy 10 years ago). We booked our air tickets in April 2022, when the world wakes up from the nightmares caused by COVID and before the Russian-Ukraine war. We managed to get our return tickets on Turkish Airlines Business Class for $2,400 per pax, which is a bargain. Return Business Class airfares from Singapore to Italy would have cost between $4,500 to $6,000. After settling the air tickets, I started to plan the places we would visit for this trip. As this was the first time we had been to Italy, we naturally wanted to see the touristy stuff. We were quite ambitious to cover from North to South for our maiden trip to Italy.
Flying to Milan
The wait for our trip seems to take forever from when we booked our tickets in April 2022. After looking forward to our trip for seven months, the day we embarked on our trip finally arrived. We met at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 1, where Turkish Airlines operates, and boarded our flight to Milan. Our flight would take us from Singapore to Istanbul, then onward to Milan, which includes a six-hour layover at Istanbul Airport. , Although, initially, we thought the layover was a tad too long, as we disembarked from the aircraft after a 12-hour flight, we began to realise the massiveness of Istanbul Airport. The walk to the transfer gate alone took around 20 mins, and the need to clear the security at the gate can easily take up to 45 mins. During the long layover, we could stroll to the lounge for food, shower, and get some rest.
Turkish Airlines Business Class lounge was very busy in the morning. We can hardly find tables for dining. Luckily we managed to book a meeting room, accommodating the six of us. For the next three to four hours, we stuffed ourselves with the huge variety of food available at the lounge. Our next flight to Milan was scheduled to depart at around noon. Unfortunately, our flight to Milan was delayed for 30 mins, which meant we would arrive in Milan later than expected. At this point, I was glad that I booked the Duomo Di Milano rooftop climb at 4.30 pm.
Arrival at Milan
We arrived at Milan Malpensa Airport at around 2.20 pm. Custom clearance was fast as we had access to the automated gate clearance. However, our luggage took forever to arrive at the belt. We only managed to collect our luggage at 2.40 pm. I got a little worried as our time buffer for our Duomo rooftop climb was getting thinner. Moreover, we would still need around 1 hour to get to Milan Central train station and our hotel. Fortunately, directions to the train station were very well-marked. We had to follow the directions marked “Treni” to get to the station. After getting our tickets and validating them, we found the next Malpensa Express train towards Milano Centrale waiting for us. We reached Milano Centrale Station in good time. It is already 4.08 pm, and time is ticking. I whipped out my phone and started to navigate to our hotel. We were a tad lost at the moment we exited the station. Google Maps did not give us good directions to where our hotel was. After walking around the train station for 10 minutes, we finally got our bearings. We only managed to reach our hotel some 15 mins later (which was only 5 mins walk from the train station if we got our bearings right). It was already 5 pm by the time we got to our rooms; we quickly settled in and headed out for the Duomo, hoping we would still be able to access the rooftop.
Duomo Di Milano
We took the metro from our hotel to the Duomo. The metro station is close to our hotel, located right next to Milano Centrale train station. The Duomo is only four stops from Centrale FS station on the M3 (yellow) line. We followed the signs at the metro station that pointed us to the right exit to the Duomo. Exiting the station, the magnificent Duomo was right before our eyes. Despite being at night, the lighting cast on the Duomo made it look grand and elegant. Coupled with the intricate carvings on the facade of the Duomo, no wonder it took the Italians 600 years to complete this piece of art. Unfortunately, we had little time to marvel at the Duomo’s facade as we had passed our original booking time for the rooftop climb.
The Duomo Di Milano was dedicated to the nativity of Saint Mary and is currently the largest church in Italy and the third-largest church in the world. The Duomo started construction in 1386 when the construction of Gothic-style cathedrals was at its peak and was completed in 1965. The Duomo was initially built with terracotta stone, but the designers then switched to marble when they realised the scale of the Duomo was bigger than they had planned. The Duomo was built by as many as 78 architects recruited from all over Europe. As a result, the Duomo blended different styles from neoclassic, baroque and decorative gothic.
The entrance to the rooftop elevator is located at the back of the Duomo. The staff had no problem in admitting us for the rooftop climb. After some simple bag checks, we were granted access to the rooftop. The rooftop access closes at 6.30 pm, leaving us 45 minutes for the activity. We wasted no time and took the elevator to the roof. We walked up a small flight of stairs to reach the first floor of the rooftop. We were treated to endless intricate marble carvings on the roof of the Duomo. From the arches decorating the rooftop to the numerous statues on top of the 135 spires that seem to guard the marble-laden cathedral, we cannot help but admire the painstaking hours poured in by the sculptors who created this masterpiece. No wonder it took then 600 years to build the Duomo. From this part of the Duomo, we could look out into central Milan. I can imagine we would be able to see further in the day.
We walked along the corridor and came to another set of staircases, which brought us to the terrace of the Duomo. I could look out into the piazza in front of the Duomo along the way. There were still many people down below taking pictures and queuing to enter the Duomo. The terrace of the Duomo is the highest point visitors can gain access to. At night it seems too dark for anyone to admire the architecture and take decent photos. All the lighting was cast on the lower level of the Duomo, and there was no lighting on the terrace. A part of the Duomo was scaffolded off for maintenance works, which can be a bummer for photo taking. At the end of the terrace, where the scaffolding was, we could see the Gold Madonna statue sitting on the highest point of the Duomo. We decided to head back down after taking some photos on the terrace. Along the way, we took more photos and were met by a staff member chasing any visitors away. Looking at the time, it was already 6.30 pm when the rooftop visit closed. The only way down the rooftop of the Duomo was via a flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, we found ourselves inside the Duomo. Though we were passing through, we could see the grandeur of the Duomo even from the inside. There were stained window panels that would be a beautiful sight during the day when the sun shone into the cathedral.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Exiting the Duomo, we went into the open-air shopping mall of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II next to the Duomo. Several restaurants are near the shopping mall entrance, while numerous boutiques selling luxurious branded goods are found further into the mall’s centre. One of the highlights of this mall is the lucky bull mosaic at the centre of the mall. I saw numerous YouTubers mentioning it is a tradition for visitors to spin three rounds on the bull’s balls for good luck. Like most visitors, local or foreign, we joined in the fun, hoping for good luck for the trip. As it was already 8 pm, most of the boutiques were closing. We did not manage to shop at the fashion capital of the world.
I asked my friends if they were interested in trying out the fried pizza, which I saw some YouTubers recommending whilst in Milan. I whipped out my Google map and started to navigate to the shop. After some time, we were led to a shop by Google Maps. This was not the one that I saw people recommending. We walked up and down the street and found this the only shop. We settled for this because the shop might be closed or shifted to another location. I have to admit that we were not adventurous enough to try the more local flavours. In the end, we all ended up having Nutella-flavoured fried pizza. Despite being the wrong shop, the fried pizza is still very tasty. Initially, I thought of having this as a snack before dinner. However, the big portion was enough to fill our stomachs. We were too full to have dinner.
A Change in Plan
After eating the fried pizza by the roadside, we were tired (perhaps due to the long flight). The initial plan was to have dinner at Nagvoli Grande. However, we were too full from the fried pizza plus fatigue started to set in. So, we gave up the idea of going to Nagvoli Grande and maybe visiting it tomorrow after our day trip to Lake Como. As we were walking towards the metro station, I spotted the “original” fried pizza shop that I wanted to bring my friends to try out. I had the urge to buy may one or two to share around, but the queue in front of the shop put us off. We decided to head back to the hotel and rest for the night; after all, we had a long day tomorrow at Lake Como.