The Italian Job – combining business with pleasure in Milan
After a year’s worth of discussions and negotiations, I was incredibly happy to win an exciting new client, especially once I discovered that the briefing process would involve a trip to Milan! I was needed for two days, but of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore, so I made sure to fly overnight and land in time for a full weekend too.
Milan itself wasn’t particularly high on my list of must-visit destinations – I’m not an arts or fashion aficionado. However the Duomo (cathedral) was well worth a visit, with its impressive milky spires soaring skywards. We made the trek up the hundreds of stairs to the roof and lay on the sun-warmed stone slabs watching the milling tourists and shoppers scurrying below before checking out the largest stained glass windows in all of Christendom inside.
As a key Italian city, there was no shortage of fresh gelaterias saving up mounds of delicious fresh gelato in all flavours, as well as quaint delicatessen shops with mounds of fresh hams and salamis, and some of the biggest rounds of cheese I have ever seen. It was also a great city to get inducted into the Italian tradition of Aperitivo – happy hour (s!) where mounds of tapas style food are provided complimentary with your drinks. I wasn’t a big fan of the traditional aperitivo drink Negroni (made from Campari, Rosso Antico and gin) but there were many other options for me to work with, including some deliciously sparkly Proseccos.
We took a full day to go to Venice, the three and a half hour train journey was well worth it, and we made sure to get an early start and make the most of the day. From the station we took the vaporetto (ferry water taxi) around the Grand Canal to San Marco Basilica, which was a great way to get some stunning pictures of the city’s key monuments from the water, without having to pay put a small fortune for a gondola (not a particularly attractive option for us anyway as we visited while it was raining). We queued and paid the extra €5 to go out onto the roof of the Basilica and take pictures of the city below. The golden domes inside were awe-inspiring, and we were grateful that the rain seemed to have kept away half of the tourists, enabling us to move around relatively freely. Armed only with a little Lonely Planet Venice Encounter guide and pull out map, we wandered around the sprawling alleys and streets, over the vast network of waterways, checking out the markets (floating and stationary), carnevale shops, Murano glass galleries, gelaterias, and trattorias where the crowd spilled out onto the cobbled streets. We indulged in traditional Ciccetti (Venetian style tapas) for lunch, which included delicacies such as baby octopus cooked in squid ink, and deep-fried courgette flowers, all washed down with a traditional Spritz (made up of Prosecco, sparkling water and Campari). We whiled away the hours sitting in quiet piazzas sipping fruity Prosecco while listening to the church bells and watching daily life going on around us, before finally picking up a couple of Bellinis for the train journey back.
We also made it across to fair Verona, home of the star-crossed lovers, to see Juliet’s house and the infamous balcony, as well as to pay our respects to Dante and soak up the culture and heritage of the architecturally stunning town over a crisp cold glassof local Soave.
Four days was nowhere near enough to do Italian gastronomy justice, but I made every effort to work through gelato and coffees in every town (espressos naturally, cappuccinos are only acceptable at breakfast!) I also managed to taste the best tiramisu I have ever had, and indulge in chocolate salami(!), traditional veal dishes, risottos, pizzas, bruschetta, pumpkin filled pasta – we even went to a mozzarella bar in Brera, an up and coming district in Milan. My favourite night spot however was Navigli, this little district is set along Milan’s canals and is full of bars and restaurants with barrel loads of Italian hospitality and charm – a great way to finish up a long day’s exploration.
All in all it was a fantastic long weekend (and a pretty successful work trip too!) I’ve been so focussed on the Middle East and Asia with my travel over the last few years that it was refreshing to be reminded of how beautiful Europe can be, even during a wet weekend! I have therefore promised myself that on every trip home to the UK, I will ensure to visit the continent at the same time, if only for a few days – enough to get my fill of beautiful architecture, greenery, history, and of course gelato! 😉