Pulling into Milan’s train station late at night only one word escaped me, as I pushed my way out of the train:
I was quickly hushed up as thousands of people crowded in and out of the train, ears glued to cellphones or eyes to tablets. I hurried to grab my bags, found my brother and sister, and looked around to at the colossal train station. At over 230 feet tall and 660 feet wide, the station made me feel a small part of a much larger picture, as it was designed to do. Built in 1931, Mussolini wanted Milan’s Centrale station to represent the power and dominance of fascism. While fascism’s power has long faded, the Centrale station still conveys its original purpose, to make the individual tremble at its size. We scurried out of the station, making our way through crowd after crowd of professional Italians, and stepped out to the huge plaza in front of the station, surrounded by towering buildings. Milan is Italy’s business and financial capital, and it shows. An urban city, ready and willing to strut its stuff.
Known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, the Milanese are a walking exposition of the latest in fashion. The Via Monte Napoleone is the sixth most expensive shopping street in the world and has all of the latest fashion houses and styles. Unfortunately, due to wallet constraints, we amused ourselves with window-shopping as we walked along the city streets, much to the chagrin of my sister. While we couldn’t afford the latest in fashion we were still awe-struck by the size and beauty of the stores around us. One innovative, sometimes shocking fashion, followed after another and while we couldn’t buy, looks were for free. We eventually found our way out of the maze of fashion stores, with the crowning jewel of Milan, the Duomo up ahead.
The towering Duomo of Milan is a testament to the ego of the city and to the men who have controlled it. From the Dukes of Milan to Napoleon, the Duomo’s construction lasted nearly 400 years, up until 1965. The Duomo is a monument to everything Gothic with over 140 spires at 356 feet tall, the Duomo dominates the piazza and serves as the centerpiece of Milan. We gathered at the cathedral and were soon approached by a man with a bag full of seed. He quickly grabbed my sister’s hand and stuffed seed in it while yelling “Photo! Photo!” Not quite understanding what was happening, the purpose soon dawned on me as I saw dozens of pigeons appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and descend upon my sister. After snapping a few photos, we quickly left as the man asked for money for seed. Beware the pigeon charmers of Milan.
We then descended on a nice restaurant for a splendid lunch of pasta and wine. While the food was delicious, we felt a bit out of place being sweaty American tourists with daypacks and cameras, in a sea of smartly dressed Italian businesspeople. We then headed off to the Sforza Castle, the former residence of the dukes of Milan.
The castle yard was spacious and green, a welcome site after the urban chaos of Milan. Being a history connoisseur, I was taking photos left and right. A monument here, old cannons there, a couple statues, some medieval armaments. Around the walls of the castle was an old moat overgrown with grass and weeds that was slowly crumbling. When crossing the bridge to enter the castle I noticed a strange sight, a cat, right up ahead. No collar I assumed it was lost, but when I leaned into the moat to look at the walls, I noticed even more cats.
Packs of cats, in fact.
Wild cats, right in the center of Milan.
Naturally, I filmed them for some time, and found it difficult to not try and take one of them home, despite the obvious risks of wild cats. I have no idea why they are there, but the best part was a noted lack of pigeons…