My 36 hours in Milan was actually spread out over the course of a few days. On my recent Great Northern Italy Adventure™ with my best friends, Milan was our base. Joseph and I first landed at Milan Malpensa, where we then caught the Malpensa Express to Milano Centrale, the central train station of Milan. From there we met Alessandra, one of my best friends, and then it was off to Torino (Turin) for the first day and night of our stay in Italy, where we would meet Paolo, our other best friend. After Torino, it was back to Milan the next day for a full day in Italy’s second-largest city.

Milan is a beautiful city, full of all kinds of architecture dating as far back as the Roman Empire. Our first stop was the Piazza del Duomo, the central plaza (piazza) where the large cathedral (duomo) of Milan stands. Though it was December 27, two days after Christmas, and fairly cold, there seemed to be no shortage of tourists that day. The square itself is a large, open area, and it is the center of the city, both geographically as well as by importance. The Milan Cathedral stands on the eastern side of the piazza, facing west, the largest in Italy, and the 5th largest cathedral in the world. On the north of the piazza, facing south, is the entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, simply referred to usually as the Gallery, the oldest shopping mall in Italy, and one of the most famous. The Royal Palace of Milan is at the south side of the piazza, facing northwest.

The Piazza was packed, but that didn’t stop my friends from trying to take photos. There were many people that come up and try to get paid to take your photos, especially here at the Piazza del Duomo, arguably the most popular destination in Milan for tourists. Apart from that, they seems to all carry birdseed, trying to sell it to you. At first, I didn’t get it, but then I saw a guy demonstrate, holding out hands full of seeds, and then the pigeons come and sit on your hands, an overly-cliched photo op. No thanks, I see enough of these pigeons back home in New York City, I’ll save my money for some other tourist ripoff.

That ripoff came immediately after, when we all headed inside the Duomo to have a look around. As soon as you enter, there is a desk where someone asks if you want to pay for the privilege of taking photos inside the cathedral. We decided that one of us would pay and handle all the photo-taking, so we paid the €5 ($7) for a red wristband that allowed us to do so. Alessandra started off with the shots, but she had left it loose, and we all took turns snapping away by slipping the band on and off amongst us.

The Duomo was truly a magnificent work of art, every detail, down to the trim and molding, was beautifully carved and decorated. I was awed by its beauty, until Paolo wisely told me that anything today could still be made just as beautiful, if we underpay and use slaves like many of the buildings constructed in that era. Good point.

On display in glass along one wall were several bodies, which I found out to be cardinals. Many were centuries old, but, creepily enough, the hair and the skin on the bodies were still intact. The face was covered by a mask, and there were many people at each glass casket, half pilgrims praying, half tourists taking photos.

Next Page: the Galleria and more »