Contrasts of the North of Italy

In 2015 I went with a friend to the north of Italy: to the cosmopolitan and stressful Milan and to the beautiful romantic Verona. Two cities very close to each other but very different.

MILAN

Facts about the city:

Every night, from 7 PM to 9 PM, it is time for aperitivo – the bars and cafes offer huge spreads of food, which everyone can enjoy for free after buying a drink.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is made famous by the fact that it houses the original painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. Before visiting it, most visitors don’t realize that it was actually painted on the wall of what once was the monastery’s dining room.

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I decided to take a trip with my colleague Vera. We were both in need of a routine and the stress of work. We decided to go first to Milan and then to Verona. I did not take any days off so I arrived in Porto in the morning at 8:30 am and I went to work at 10:00 am, but everything went well and it was truly worth it.

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I did not like our hotel – Hotel Brasil Milan – and I do not recommend it. It was terrifying! Away from the center, away from the metro, they did not speak English, we had a WC in the room but there was no toilet and, worse, had a horrible wallpaper stuck in our room, with a horrible tropical sunset. Plus we had to get on a super sly elevator. We paid €180 for two, for two nights. That is, stayed for €45 per night per person. It was not even worth the money.

I did not like Milan very much to be honest. It is a city full of stress, full of people hurried on the streets, full of wealth and ostentation (but at the same time full of poverty in the streets) and full of consumerism. Consumerism is the key word. It is undoubtedly a consumer city.

I only liked three places. The first place I found worth seeing in Milan is the Duomo di Milano (which, yes, is imposing and beautiful) and the main square, On the weekend in which we went to Milan was running the EMA’s of MTV in the square of the Duomo, but we did not see any famous there unfortunately.

The cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy (the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City) and the third largest in the world.

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The second place I also liked is right next to the Duomo and it is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its expensive shops. This is Italy’s oldest shopping mall and contains the Town House Galleria, a five-star hotel. Housed within a four-story double arcade, the Galleria is named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.

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The other site that I also liked immensely was the Castello Sforzesco, with its lake and the beautiful Parco Sempione behind. The castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

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Parco Sempione was established in 1888. I loved having coffee with Vera in the park, watching the ducklings on the lake and listening to a street artist playing. The Arco della Pace is also beautiful and stands at the edge of the park. The very design of the park, due to architect Emilio Alemagna, was conceived with the intent of creating panoramic views encompassing both monuments – the castle and the arch.

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We also visit the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, which is a Romanesque church with exquisite patio, in addition to a crypt where are the remains of Saint Ambrose. We went to the Pinacoteca di Brera (the main public gallery for paintings in Milan) and to the Quadrilatero della Moda (the most famous shopping streets).

We also visited Piazza della Scala, a square named after the renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house, which occupies the north-western side of the square. On the opposite side is the facade of Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall. The centre of the square is marked by the monument of Leonardo da Vinci by sculptor Pietro Magni (1872).

We also trolled around the Navigli (water canals). The system consisted of five canals: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno, Naviglio di Bereguardo. Today, the canals are mostly used for irrigation. The only two canals who operate a tourist navigation system connected to the Darsena are the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, also becoming a nightlife pole.

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We went to have pizza twice (typical, I know) near the Duomo. We also had bruschetta and lasagna. Of course, we also drink the typical Italian coffee, although I think it’s almost the same as ours.

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I ran into Carla in Milan, a girl from Paredes who took a French course with me in Porto! What a coincidence, the world is really small (and here I didn’t even know that next year I would be traveling with her to Copenhagen!).


VERONA

Facts about the city:

Verona is the city where William Shakespeare based one of his famous plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Shakespeare set two more plays in this city – ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. If you visit Juliet’s house you should rub the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet. It is meant to bring good fortune for those who are unlucky in love.

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For me the best part of this trip was the day we went by train to Verona, the romantic city of Romeo and Juliet. There, unlike Milan, the people were friendly (in Milan we were shocked by the lack of sympathy of some people! And nobody knows how to speak English nor make the effort to understand us) and everything was more beautiful and cute.

We entered the historical center by some beautiful arches called Portoni della Bra, which gave access to the magnificent Piazza Bra. This square has a beautiful garden with the fountain of the Alps and a bronze statue of Victor Emmanuel II. It is lined with numerous cafés and restaurants, along with several notable buildings and colorful houses.

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One of them is Arena di Verona. This arena is a very well preserved 1st century coliseum (better than that of Rome). It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people was the housing capacity of the Arena. Nowadays, for security reasons, the maximum attendance is 15,000 people.

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It was also in Piazza Bra that Vera and I had dinner in a very fancy restaurant.

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After this square, we continue along Via Mazzini, a very cute shopping street, full of well-known shops but, unlike Milan, here the shops are in medieval buildings with flowerbeds. Most of the major Italian labels are represented, and even if you can’t afford them it’s great to wander and window shop.

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At the end of this street we went to the most beautiful place of Verona in my opinion: Piazza delle Erbe. This square is beautiful! Home of the Forum in Roman times this is still a focal point of the city. It contains the ‘Britney Verona’ fountain and a nice market. Its old buildings are very picturesque, it looks like a movie set.

The Torre dei Lamberti was completed in 1463 and is the tallest in Verona. The unmistakable clock tower looms over the Piazza delle Erbe, and you enter via the palace courtyard. Although there are 238 steps to the top, there is a lift! Views from the top are breathtaking.

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Next door is the Piazza dei Signori and the tombs Arche Scaligere, which is a group of five Gothic funerary monuments celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.

Then we passed another shopping street and went to Juliet’s House. This is supposedly the location of the famous balcony love scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The house is a major destination for tourist pilgrimage, as the tiny courtyard is normally packed with love struck teenagers photographing each other on the famous balcony. The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a statue of Juliet. There is an unbelievable amount of graffiti and general scrawling on the walls, floor, seats, anything that will hold ink – there is a tradition of writing love messages to Juliet, and visitors leave notes, trinkets and bits of chewing gum fashioned into love hearts.

Afterwards we went to see some churches like the Verona Cathedral, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, San Zeno Maggiore or Sant’Anastacia. Some of these churches are very old but they had to be rebuilt after earthquakes and after the II World War.

San Zeno Maggiore is dedicated to Verona’s patron saint, Zeno. Zeno’s tomb lies in an atmospheric shrine in the church undercroft. The church itself was a center of European pilgrimage for centuries, who have left their mark – pilgrims happily inscribed graffiti in the frescos, and signatures dating from 1390 survive to this day. Its fame rests partly on its architecture and partly upon the tradition that its crypt was the place of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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We also went up to several medieval bridges. First, the Ponte Pietra (completed in 100 BC), with a fantastic view, which gave us access on the other bank to visit in a Roman Theater. The theater was also built in the late 1st century BC.

Then, the fortified Ponte Scaligero, with an authentic market of stalls in its interior, that gives access to the Castelvecchio Museum. The museum displays a collection of sculpture, statues, paintings, ancient weapons, ceramics, goldworks, miniatures and some old bells.

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I finished the day smoking a cigarette there to relax by the river and in Verona, yes, I felt that I had some rest. I loved the city!

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