Plan for the two Days
We had 2 days in Milan to visit 3 “must-visit” places, Milan Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II and Naviglio Pavese. The plan was to drive into Milan one the first day. The journey would take about 2 and a half hours for 190 km. Once we reached Milan we would check into our hotel where we would stay for two nights. We would park our car at the hotel (free parking) and get to Milan center by public transport which was off limit to car. We planned to visit the Milan Duomo Terrace at about 5 to 6 pm and stick around area till dark.
On the 2nd day we planned to visit Naviglio Paves in the evening which was also famous for its night light.
By the end of two days
Immediately after breakfast in our hotel at Aosta, we went trekking up a hill (a natural reserve) just behind our hotel. At the peak we had a great panoramic view of the entire surrounding. In the late morning we started our journey to Milan and reached IH Hotels Gioia (in Milan) at about 2 pm. The hotel room was comfortable so we took a one hour rest before going by subway into Milan center. At about 5.30 pm we were up on the Duomo Roof Terrace and it was the worst possible time to rain! But like all other visitors, we whipped out our umbrellas and stubbornly remained on the roof till closing time. For the rest of the evening we moved around the Duomo area. The Milan Duomo looked as beautiful in the night as it did in the day.
On the spur of the moment we visited a Milan Public Park on the 2nd day. Surprising Parco di Monza was a very pleasant park with a beautiful rose garden. On the second evening we visited Naviglio Paves though it was raining it was still a very unforgettable visit.
Breakfast & Morning Walk
Our hotel “Chambres d’Hotes La Moraine Enchantee” served breakfast as part of our stay package. Breakfast was nice and simple and coffee was very good. Our host was very warm and friendly, he took the time to pointed out the various items on the breakfast table and told us that they were all freshly made using local produces.
Our host told us that behind his house there was a natural reserve, “Riserva Naturale de Gargantua”, and it a great place for a panoramic view of the surrounding.
The walk to the peak of the reserve was not very strenuous just nice for a after breakfast walk. The trek was very obvious with a gradual slope and some occasional steep steps. It was a loop and we went up using the left branch and came down on the right.
At the peak was a ridge where we could walk from one end to the other. There was a huge wooden cross on the northern end. On the peak was a 360° view of the entire region. We saw many towns in the plain/valley to the northern and western sides of the ridge and vine yards on the eastern side.
The houses in the towns below looked like tiny lego blocks, we could see churches, houses and even apartments. On the eastern sides we saw rows of “vines” on the hill slope. Are they vines or some other fruit trees we could not tell, but we liked the neat rows and line pattern they made. There was so much greenery in the this vast area that stretched on and on till the far away mountains.
On our way to Milan
At about 10.30 am we left Aosta for Milan. After about an hour of driving we stopped at a highway service area for a break. The service area had toilets, petrol pump and a cafe selling food, drinks and all sorts of “tidbits”.
We ordered two cups of cafe latte and had a great time browsing the items, drinking our cafe and taking a break at our first “Italy Highway Coffee Break”. The cafe latte was only €1.30 a cup which was rather inexpensive and about half the price we would have to pay back home.
Milan Duomo Cathedral
Milan Duomo Cathedral was in the ZTL zone, which was basically off limit to cars of non residents. So it would be more practical to travel to the cathedral using public transport. From our hotel we took a train to Milan Duomo Cathedral, we had two choices of train stations, Istria or Sondrio. Our hotel receptionist directed us to Sondrio station which was a 1.6 km walk away but we decided to walk to Istria station which was only a kilometre away. The shorter road cut through a residential estate which was sunny and bright at 4 pm in the afternoon. We felt that when we returned at night we should not take this shorter road as it would surely be very quiet. The longer route ran along the main roads would be a safer choice.
Our train ticket was €1.50 per person for one way. We took train (#5) starting at Istria station, changed to another train (#3) at Sondrio station to reach Duomo station. At Duomo station, the moment we walked up the stair of the station we came face to face with the grand sight of the towering Duomo. At 4pm, the square infront of the cathedral were packed with people, tourists and locals.
We walked near to the cathedral and saw several queues. We were searching for the queue to purchase tickets to go up to the cathedral roof terrace. We saw some signs that pointed to the right side of the cathedral where we could get our tickets at the cathedral museum. Upon entering the museum we walked toward a counter and was given a queue number and was directed to a larger room on the left. There we saw several counters manned by staff selling tickets. We would have to wait till our queue number was displayed on a electronic board before approaching a counter to be served by a staff.
On the left side of the counters we saw one short queue leading to several self serving ticketing machines. Great! We were going for self service! We easily bought our Duomo Terrace tickets from the self service Ticket Machine. The machines had English Language option so picking, buying and paying tickets were a breeze.
Buying ticket was easy but finding the right queue to get up to the roof terrace was not so obvious. We joined a short queue that lead to an elevator but when we reached the front of the queue we were told that the queue was for customers with “express” ticket. We left and walked to the opposite side of the cathedral where there was another elevator. The queue on this side was longer but we only waited 15 minutes before we took the elevator up to the terrace. After we exited the elevator we still had to walk through corridors and stairs to arrive near the lower level of the roof.
There were many people on the terrace. The weather was not good, it started drizzling. There were no suitable places to hide from the rain as most of the roof structures were vertical columns and did not serve as good shelters. We had just reached the roof and did not want to leave so soon, we had yet to explore enough or see enough!
The drizzle got heavier and then lighter and then heavier, we pulled out our umbrella and tried to pressed our body against as close to the vertical structures as possible. We kept wondering if the security guards were coming to herd us down the roof, luckily none came. The rain finally gave way and the sun came out.
There were maintenance work being done on the roof, so half of the roof top was barricaded. Here and there we saw scaldfolds, some were still up while other were down and stacked up on the floor. I was thinking that it would be great if we were here when all the maintenance work was done, then we would be able to see the entire roof. Unfortunately when would such time be? By the time one sector was maintenance it would be time to maintenance another sector.
Dinner at Milan
Since we were in Milan we thought we definitely had to eat some great tasting Italian food at the mall (Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II). It was not easy to know which restaurant to go so we went into one that looked “nice”, La Locanda del Gatto Rosso>
Dinner was a simple affair of a pizza and a plate of “green” rivoli. Both tasted fine though not fantastic, they were something that we could easily get in Singapore. Italian dishes in Singapore had came a long way since it became popular decades ago.
After the meal we paid and left and was all excited about going for a “must eat” ice cream. It was only when we were 20 meters from the restaurant that the total bill of our dinner sunk in. Unfortunately in our hurry I had misplaced my reciept. From our memory of the menu, the Pizza and Rivoli added up to €22 which was okay, but our total bill had an extra €14 that we could not account for. It looked like the additional €14 was for the bread that we did not asked for as we thought it came with the meal and service charges for two.
Ice Cream at Milan
While eating our dinner we were surfing the internet for good Italian desert, we found one “must eat” ice cream, “cioccolat taliani” and it was just round the corner! We walked not more than a 50 m from our dinner place and found the ice cream shop just next to a McDonald. There was a long queue that snaked all the way out of the store into the alley. I was in the queue for about 25 minutes before I got my turn to order. I went for a safe choice a “Chocolate Delight”. It was very chocolatey rich which was the nice part unfortunately the bad part it was too sweet. The cost of the icecream was €5.
Milan at Night
After dinner and desert the time was just right to see Milan Duomo at nightfall. The sun had set and the whole sky turned intensely blue and the lighting around the duomo “golden” up the structure. Night or day the Milan Duomo looked majestic!
Plan for the 2nd day in Milan
On the first day in Milan we had already completed two of our three “must-visit” Milan places (Milan Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II and Naviglio Pavese). We only intended to visit Naviglio Pavese in the evening as it would be the best time to see the canal, this left us with “nothing” to do the entire second morning/afternoon. So we decided to do what a local would do on a “free” day – visit a Park! We randomly picked “Parco De Monza”.
Parco di Monza
There were many public parks in Milan and we purposely chose one that was going away from the Milan central so that we could definitely avoid Milan ZTL. Park Monza sounded interesting so we drove northward taking about 30 minutes to reach the park. We found one of its entrances easily along Viale Regina Margherita near Villa de Reale Monza and parked our car at a huge carpark near the entrance. Surprising parking was not free, €2.50 per entry.
On the way into Villa Reale di Monza, which was one of the entrances into the park we were sidetracked by a beautiful rose garden “Roseto Niso Fumagalli” the roses were in full bloom, there were red, pink, white, yellow roses in lighter and darker shades. This garden housed about 4000 species of roses. Unfortunately we were not rose experts we could only appreciate the different species through their variation in colours, shades and complexity of the petals formation.
Roseta Niso Fumagalli
Villa Reale Monza meant Royal Palace of Monza, so that would make the rose garden a palace garden. The palace was restored under a plan to use the complex for cultural purposes.
At the front of the palace was a huge fountain. We entered the palace from the front going down some steps that brought us into a big hall which housed a huge cafe. Crossing the cafe we came out on the other side of the villa that faced a gigantic garden.
It was a lovely garden that stretched on and on. We walked as far as we could before turning back and I believed we had not walk more than a sixth of its length. The weather was so nice and cold that we could not resist but follow the locals and pulled out our ground sheet (it was actually my green poncho raincoat) and lied down on the green grass and had a short nap. After the nap we were back into the palace cafe to have some coffee, cakes and icecreams.
Passing the morning out relaxing at the park and having coffee was a pleasant and relaxing way to spend some free time. Italy was a coffee drinking country and surprising a cup coffee like cafe latte or capuccino were rather inexpensive. Good of us!
We wanted to visit Naviglio Pavese near sunset timing as we read that the place would be lovely at night. Even before we left our hotel a drizzle had already started. Though it was wet and cold we had to visit Naviglio Pavese as this was our very last evening in Milan so it was then or never.
Getting to Naviglio Pavese was pretty easy, though it was possible to take a direct road that crossed through Milan centre it would be an expensive route as Milan center was in the ZTL zone and unauthorised car (non resident car) would face a heftly fine in the region of €100.
We drove on the outer ring roads to get to Naviglio Pavese. It was still raining when we arrived and we had a very hard time looking for empty carpark lots. There were no white color lots (free) to be seen anywhere near Naviglio Pavese. There were blue lots (for a fee) but every one we passed was taken up. As we drove on we were getting further and further away from Naviglio Pavese and on a raining day it would be very unpleasant to walk a long distance to Naviglio Pavese.
We used google map to identify several carparks close to Naviglio Pavesea. Navigating to these carparks in the rain, under heavy traffic condition and the restrictive “one way” streets were a challenge. We spent more than an hour looping around until we found ” Navigli Parking” for €5 an hour.
Though the carpark fee was high we were glad that it was just 300 metres from the start/end of the Naviglio canals. Despite the rain there were many visitors walking on both the paved banks of the canal.
There were sightseeing boats on the canal but due to the rain there were not in operation. As the night fell, the lights came up and the whole place looked even more beautiful. The rain had wetted the pavement and added a layer of golden shine reflecting the warm lights from the street lamps and building.
The building on both sides of the canals were filled with shops, restaurants, cafe and bars. It was a very “happening” place where youngs and olds chilled out for a relaxing evening. This place would surely be even more crowded if there was no rain.
Accomodation for two nights
We had booked two nights at IH Hotels Milano Gioia at Booking.com for €122.6. We selected this hotel because it was definitely outside Milan ZTL (restricted zone). We read so much about the heftly fine that violators had to pay that we booked our hotel far away from ZTL so that there would not be a chance that we accidentally get into a ZTL zone. The hotel also had an important facility which was onsite (secured) free parking.
The hotel was nice, big and had a bright reception area, it also had a big outdoor deck for guests to rest and relax. Our room was very clean, fresh and cosy. The bathroom was spacious and we loved the hot strong shower.
There were two stations near the hotel, one was Istria Station (1 km) and the other Sondrio Station (1.6 km). The walk was fine when we were on the way to Milan Duomo as we were still fresh and energetic. After the Milan Duomo visit it was late and dark so we decided not to go back to our hotel using Istria Station as the 1 km walk was through a quiet route. We took the train and exited at Sondrio Station and the route to our hotel was through a main busy road. The only issue was that we were tired and 1.6km seemed too long.