Milan’s Milpanesa airport is in the middle of nowhere. It is, however, well connected to the city by shuttle buses and trains. It was 10ºC when we stepped outside the plane, which after days of sub-zero temperatures in Amsterdam felt quite cozy. The sun was shining brightly and in the distance we could see snow-capped Alps. I was momentarily overcome with memories of our trips to Bhutan and Ladakh.

Not wanting to be stuck in traffic, we skipped the 10€ direct bus service from terminal 1 and took a shuttle to terminal 2 to catch the train to the Milan Central Station. The Milan Central Station is quite grand and had a Louvre like palace-museum feel to it. We took a metro from here to our hotel in the historic center of the city.

Outside our hotel was this graffiti that made it very clear how welcome the austerity measures were.

After a delicious pizza lunch at a quaint local restaurant we walked to Piazza del Duomo to see two of Milan’s most prominent attractions — the Milan Cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The square was abuzz with tourists (and pigeons). Evening light was illuminating the gothic façade of the cathedral beautifully.

The stained glass work inside was quite exquisite but as it was too dark for a decent picture, I let my phone remain in my pocket.

The Galleria was nothing like I had seen before.

It’s an old shopping mall dating back to the 1880s and has all those big-name glitzy Italian brands (Gucci — check, Prada — check, Lladró — check; you get the drift) that cost a fortune but seemed right at home here (well, Milan is their home).

That evening we walked chasing random landmarks on our tourist map but didn’t reach anywhere particular. By the time we got back to our hotel we were so tired that we just procured some bread, cheese and fruit from a Carrefour next door and slept early.

We somehow managed to carry our aimlessness into the next morning and found ourselves amidst modern under-construction buildings and noisy traffic.

Then in the middle of a quite, unassuming, residential area, we came across this gateway.

After a refreshing coffee break at a neighbourhood cafeteria we managed to orient ourselves and get to the Sforza Castle — an old 16th century citadel right out of a fantasy novel, complete with a moat and drawbridges.

The citadel had a large attached park where we spent some time walking in the bright afternoon sun. It must be the in thing” in China these days to get married in picturesque European cities. We came across two couples having an ostentatious photo shoot in their wedding dress with a small group of friends and relatives.

After lunch at a nearby café (where for dessert I ordered Hazelnut ice-cream and the wife ordered an espresso and mixed the dregs into my ice-cream because she was feeling inventive), we walked back to Piazza del Duomo. The buildings around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele might house mundane offices, banks and a post office but they look every bit as regal as the mall.

Some buildings of the University of Milan happened to be on our way to the hotel from here. Their intricate façade of red bricks and terracotta (and the pressing need to find a loo) drew us in.

The building was equally impressive inside with a cloister and a huge statue at the end of a corridor that spooked us a little (I half expected to see it come to life with fire burning in its eyes, and chide us for having trespassed).

Before going to the hotel we wanted to tick another landmark off and Rotonda della Besana — a squat, round building — does look rather curious and inviting on the tourist map. It turned out to be precisely what was advertised — a circular, columned courtyard with a small park and church at its center. We walked a circle and left for our hotel.

The next day we took a day trip to Turin but that place deserves a post of its own. We returned that night and headed straight to Piazza del Duomo in search of a restaurant and despite not quite finding what we were looking for, I am glad we did head there because unbeknownst to us, it was a full-moon night. And while the façade of the Duomo is artificially lit every night, it is quite a spectacle with the moon thrown into the bargain.

(The phone camera was a letdown but I hope it conveys some sense of what it was to stand there.)

We left Milan next day in the afternoon. Parts of Italy remind me so much of India of my childhood (or perhaps a place I used to imagine in childhood), that it always makes me sad to leave. Not to mention it’s the only place where you get a perfect cup of coffee every single time.

March 17, 2013