Our destination is a city that once upon a time was the capital of the Western Roman Empire and home of the Pope, which probably is the reason why the "one way" street signs look like this there:
Were we right? Let's see.
The first thing we do is to turn on our GPS and use multi-billion dollar military defense satellites to hunt down small plastic boxes filled with trinkets and toys. We're going geocaching. Look it up at geocaching.com if you're interested.
While we won't find any proper treasures inside the geocaches, the places where they are hidden are often well worth the visit. Even in busy and noisy cities you'll often end up in a tranquil oasis, where suspicious and frantic searches for camouflaged Tupperware won't attract as much attention as it would have near an embassy or the parliament.
Our first stop is a charming park that until twenty years used to be a zoo where all the animals suffered in bad conditions. In this pond they may have kept their crocodiles and sea monsters, for all we know.
The next cache brings us to a forgotten shrine to celebrities. Outside an anonymous office building that used to house an Italian gossip magazine a number of famous people, mainly from the 1990's, have left their hand prints and signature in the concrete pavement. Now the magazine is no more, and most of the names here can also be found on headstones in cemeteries all over the world. At least I learned that I have larger hands than Shannen Doherty. Imagine that!
This is what the Milano Stock Exchange looks like. It's an impressive building, but all attention here is stolen by the large sculpture in the middle of the square. It's made by a famous Italian contemporary artist, who donated the sculpture to the city on one condition: The sculpture must be kept at exactly this location for a while. Does it symbolize that the people inside the stock exchange are flipping the finger to the rest of the world with all their financial wizardry? Not at all, says the artist smugly.
Midwinter Milan is often a fairly foggy spot. The days look grey and sad, but that just gives the evenings an opportunity to look particularly inviting under artificial lighting in the parks.
Enough about exploring Milan. Let's talk about what we didn't come for: SHOPPING!
This is what a typical Milan boutique looks like. There are few or none customers inside. The only people there are employees on watch, waiting for a brave soul to enter the premises. If someone should be unfortunate enough to do so, they will immediately be attacked by the sales people, and they won't release their victim until every piece of plastic he or she is carrying has been used to its limits.
To lure in customers, the most blingy products in the shop have been put on display as nicely as possible, and a small, hand-written note in the corner reveals the crazy prices of everything in the window. Except this Christmas tree, which isn't for sale. Actually, I'm not sure there's a Christmas tree there. It may well be just a huge pile of Christmas decorations. That's what it looks like close-up, at least.
Milan is famous for its cathedral. It's great in every way, but it just doesn't cut it when you compare the lavishness with what you find just next door, at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping center. You could easily walk your elephant here, even if it was carried on a shield by four giant turtles. You're looking at the center of the place, with an incredibly high ceiling, and one of four long arms of posh shops stretching out to the surrounding streets.
This year, Dolce Gabbana is trying out an alternative Christmas market. They've mixed their bling-bling purses and shoes with walnuts and dades. Strange idea. I don't see anyone buying anything here.
At Vivienne Westwood's, they're going for a more traditional style, making everything glittering and sparkly. I wonder what the label says about how this garment should be cleaned? Maybe you can just use baking soda and tooth paste, like you would do with your silverware?
Ah! At last, an honest shop owner. He couldn't be bothered to wait any longer for the customers who never appeared, so he went off to get a bit of an artificial tan. Lots of people in Milan do this. I kept meeting fake-tanned people with lots of make-up and wearing the weirdest of garments. First I thought it was just a guy that followed me around, but soon I realized that it was just a bunch of people living up to the exact same fashion ideals.
Of all places in the world, you would think that in the city of Leonardo da Vinci himself, they would manage to spell the name Mona Lisa correctly (the English name for his painting, La Gioconda/La Joconde), but they don't. What they are quite capable of, however, is to build a shop window that is really, really scary. I wouldn't want to meet this doll in a dark alley, or anywhere else, for that matter.
Oooh, a most feminine shoe store. I bet their customers love it, but it doesn't look very practical. "Could you get me that pink box up there?"
In the Marisa boutique they have figured out, correctly, that for a Christmas display, you need to add some snow or ice. Unfortunately, they could only get ice cream cones, with no ice. Oh well.
When a shop looks like this, you know that you should have saved up for a long, long time before you enter. It reminds me of an old science fiction TV series, although I'm not quite sure why, or if that was the intention of the genius behind this.
If you want to buy incredibly expensive clothes to your kids, that just maybe will last until next Christmas before they're too small to fit them any more, I heartily recommend Miss Blumarine. Here you can go broke forever in less than ten minutes!
Another scary Christmas scene from the fashion shops of Milan. With the price tag these garments carry, I should think that a large box of detergents is included in the price. That, or you must make sure that your children never actually wear these shockingly white children's clothes.
I'm not sure, but I think this dummy is trying to sell us a pair of gloves.
This one I get! It's what you'll look like if you buy these amazingly dorky glasses and hats and you still end up in a queue to get inside the after-ski disco in some god-forsaken remote valley where the rich choose to mix with the ski-hobos.
Another example of fashion with no brains. The socks are a bit long, I think, but apart from that, I'm sure lots of people would love to wear this when they go out this winter!
It's in the middle of the winter, and the fog will lie thick in the valley for the next few months, you say? Not to worry, this is an excellent time to sell sunglasses! They're sickly expensive, too. They cost almost more than you'll be charged to see a 3D movie at the cinema these days. On the other hand, they also almost look better than the glasses you'll need to wear to see that movie.
Here Prada attempts to move the attention away from the shocking price tag nearby, by putting a group of rock band trolls inside one of their croco-handbags. Maybe it works.
Enough fog and fashion, we declare as we head for the train station. An hour or so later we're in a different world. Lugano, just across the border to Switzerland, looks really, really good on a sunny Sunday in December. Our best day in Milan is the one where we leave the city on a day trip, that's for sure.
To put people in a wintery, Christmas-y mood, a small skating rink has been put up in the town square in Lugano. This old man hurt his thumb as he was building a new house for little Bardot. While waiting for his thumb to return to a functional state, they've gone down to the town square to dream about the good old days, when he, too, was young and an able skater.
In Lugano they have ice both in a rink and in cones. The latter they even do well. Which isn't surprising at all. Lugano is in the Ticino district, which is a part of Switzerland that is a lot more Italian than Swiss. You can speak German here, if you want to, but life here is lived in Italian.
Even if you can guess the nationality of this colourful tourist, there's still no price for you.
Walking along the waterfront in Lugano is a treat. The view of the lake is stunning and it's amusing to see all the escapees from Milan out walking and showing off their hilarious outfits.
The Swiss are quite eager to build enormous water fountains. I'm not sure what they're compensating for.
Ah, the luxury of walking surrounded by autumn colours as late as in early December. Lugano looks both Swiss-style well-kept and at the same time quite Italian. It's a mix that works well for me.
A swan couple practicing the art of forming a heart through the shape of their necks. They're getting there.
I don't blame the parents at this playground for turning a bit suspicious when two foreigners turn up carrying mysterious gadgets that they keep looking at while obviously searching for something in all kinds of strange places. We still avoid being arrested, this time.
When the sun sets, we get on the train back to Milan. When the train station here opened in 1931, it was the largest in the world, and it still feels like it's just a few numbers too large when you're in it. That's what you get when Mussolini decides that his brand new train station should match his ambitions for his fascist empire. The empire disappeared, fortunately, and the train station was left behind, also fortunately.
There's just time for another round of non-shopping in Milan before we leave. This is the ugliest snowman I could find.
And this is the ugliest earrings I could find. Who on Earth wants to walk around with golden skeletons dangling from their ears? I'm only guessing, but I think there's potentially a sad Christmas gift opening here.
I was not impressed by the range of hiking shoes for sale in Milan.
Great hat! It's perfect if you're going to the jungle and you want to see colibris up-close.
There's nothing like walking around with blue crystals on your toes. These should improve your odds for catching a dwarf on his night out, I'm sure!
You can always dream.
The clothes shops are apparently not the only robbers in Milan. But even the other kind of robbers are very fashionably dressed in this city.
I suppose we should add a photo of the cathedral, Duomo di Milano. It took them, after all, almost six hundred years to complete it. It would have gone faster if they had possessed as useful tools for building cathedrals with back then, as they have these days just to decorate the Christmas tree.
That's it. Now we can get on the plane enjoy the view of the Alps and Europe while we fly home to wait for our next departure.
Our next trip will be a quick dash across the water to Denmark, in order to survive the Norwegian butter crisis. But do not feel bad for me. Right after that I'm going to Northern Norway to celebrate Christmas and get fat, and right after that I'll head for Malaysia. Life is good.
Happy holidays, everyone! #8D)