What It's Like For Three Lads To Visit Milan On The Beer
Milan is simultaneously predictable and surprising. It’s chic, fashionable and modern; yet traditional, historic, and the locals are unexpectedly friendly. Brassy pizzerias and quaint flowery cafes greet you on every street corner. Everybody smokes and nobody wears a suit. It’s all terribly relaxed.
It’s the perfect place for a typically Italian weekend break, without the tourists. Walking, looking, people watching, appreciating, eating and drinking are the orders of the day.
In short, Milan isn’t one of those places you get into a drunken brawl with a Scottish lad after a game of keep up football. Unless you’re us.
I‘ll admit I’d pretty much made my mind up about the Milanese before I arrived. I expected snobbery of the highest order and looks of disdain from uber-stylish locals. Yet, in reality, we were humoured by locals wherever we went.
There were still posy Italian blokes in abundance, but they were really welcoming. True Brits-Abroad, we learnt no Italian, yet people gave us directions willingly, and served us beer at 8am without so much as a scowl. In fact, everybody seemed to be smiling at us most of the time. Whether it was mockery or genuine, I’ll never know, but I’d rather continue with my opinion well and truly altered.
"Brassy pizzerias and quaint, flowery cafes greet you on every street corner..."
I learnt a few other things on this trip, such as ordering a Sambuca with your espresso at 9am is completely acceptable, and the city has vending machines offering packets of dried pasta.
If you arrive like we did, by train, you are rewarded with a spectacular internal view of Milano Centrale. A Parisian inspired grand hall greet you, with the ceilings spectacularly vaulted, and the only thing more eye-catching than the statues dotted around the station are the prostitutes hanging around the Metro entrance.
The next thing you should do is get on a metro and take it to a stop called the Duomo. This will be the first time you lay eyes on the Milano Cathedral and get the chance to buy a shit bracelet from a North African hawker. It’s the largest church in Italy and only took a mere six centuries to complete.
If it wasn’t for its sheer size and magnitude, it could almost be a bit ugly. Once you’ve absorbed it from afar, get the best view of the city from the top of the cathedral. It’s worth the climb up.
Another good view is from a cocktail bar opposite called Terazza Aperol, specialising in Aperol based cocktails. They also make a solid Old Fashioned. Head there late afternoon when it’s quiet and still sunny.
Milan is easily navigated via the buses, trams and the metro was always running super smooth, so it doesn’t really matter what order you do any of the touristy things. However, due to some unforeseen hangover induced lie-ins, we had to butcher our timetable somewhat.
I was all for cutting our planned trip to the San Siro, but I’m really glad we didn’t. It really is a feat of colossal brutalist architecture. They do an open tour for about ten Euros and it can be fully appreciated in only an hour or two.
"...It’s a bit like the Northern Quarter with more canals and less twats."
After satisfying your inner hooligan, engage your artistic side with a visit to the Sforza Castle, a 14th century fortification housing ancient art collections and a museum displaying Michelangelo’s last sculpture. When you get bored of feeding your creative appetite, there’s a quality little café that employs people with learning difficulties in the adjoining park, called Locanda Alla Mano. The coffee is first rate, the beer is cold and the staff are super cool.
The Navigli district is by far the most entertaining place to go day or night. We gravitated back to this area two out of three nights. It’s refined but rough around the edges. It’s a bit like the Northern Quarter with more canals and less twats.
Weekend markets sell old records with vinyl’s that don’t match their sleeves for a euro. Hawkers sell all sorts from refurbished vintage bicycles to brown leather belts. The Navigli is also known as the design district of Milan, so expect cool coffee shops and forgettable modern art. It’s also the cheapest drinking we found in the whole city.
As daylight begins to fade, head to a self service bar called La Bruschetta and get yourself a massive bottle of beer for four Euros. Drink too many though, and you may find yourself rolling around a very crowded canal side floor scrapping with your best mate.
After you’ve kissed and made up, saunter on down to the local South American club, where you can be snubbed by beautiful Italian and Latin girls on the same dancefloor. It would be wise to end your night around this point.
But for a more intimate and memorable experience of Milan, stay out a bit longer on your own like I did. Get locked out of your digs and sleep rough in one of the many quaint piazzas that adorn the quieter areas of the Old Town. It really is a lovely way to spend your last night in Milan.
Words by Aidan Tate. Photos by Bharat Tripathi. Fights by Matt Tomlinson.