Alexandra’s Travels…

...Milan is ugly

The Bulletin Newspaper
Alexandra Wuzyk

In Dombodosso, Italy, just across the border from Switzerland, I ask the couple I’m hitchhiking with to drop me off at the train station. I get into a carriage – dirt cheap – and cuddle with my backpack, cluck-a-la-clackclack cluck-a-la-clacklack. The short distance to Milano takes hours.
I arrive as the sun sets. As always in a new city, I’m instantaneously lost. I circle an area of dirty old buildings around the station – obviously not the central station. I walk until I find a starbucks and dissolve onto the couch, stealing their wifi and a plug point. I look up a hostel address and some dingy buses get me there. I hit the buzzer and the door opens – Oh, no, that’s definitely a strip club – OH, the hostel is upstairs? Oh I see. Yes. Thank you.
I talk to a rather angry old man at the desk. He’s skinny, with a caramel complexion, spectacles and cigarette between his lips. Apparently working 24 hour shifts – he has a bed behind the desk – littered with the filthy debris that accumulates from eating, working and sleeping in one space. He moves with energetic, wide gestures, breaking into a litany about inconsiderate guests; how messy they are, don’t want to pay for the wash machine, how they come (like I just did) without a booking at all hours of the night. He barks out these reprimands in broken english, interspersed with rhythmic Italian muttering.
The next morning an Irish girl from the hostel joins me in a walk around the neighbourhood. Its dingy, dirty, mostly comprised of old apartment buildings. We take the metro into the old city center where we things are more promising; there’s far more architectural interest here, but many buildings are under maintained, and weren’t that tastefully designed to start with.
We walk into a wide plaza and gasp – because, the cathedral is absolutely magnificent. It’s a massive, jaw dropping structure covered from top to bottom in ornate, gothic, sculptural detail. I can easily believe that the Duomo took nearly six centuries to construct – and it’s now commemorated by crowds of selfie snapping tourists.
We continue to the shopping district which is decidedly stylish. Wide cobblestone streets are lined by cafes with extravagant displays of gelato ice creams, golden plates and gold-embossed cursive lettering. Big glass windows show the latest of Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Prada, Versace and Ferraris and Bugattis line the streets. There are some cracks in the facade though – the crowd is touristy, americans with socks and sandals. I don’t see the level of taste and elegance you might expect from one of the fashion capitals of the world.
I leave the hostel the next day in favour of a couchsurfing host; As always, an interesting surprise; he’s a refugee from Iran, studying architecture in Milan, fluent in Italian. His ideas are very open minded and western, but his cultural background is intensely different;and so the conversation flows freely. He has beautiful clean apartment, which he shares with a Chinese girl, and he has glorious air-conditioning. I don’t bother exploring in the stuffy, humid, heat so I lie on the couch watching netflix all day – and, with all the recent discomforts, doing nothing like this feels like the height of luxury.
We spend some time together in the evening – We get aperitivos – which is theoretically a cocktail and some light snacks – but they take the food here seriously; they offer a massive buffet of spectacularly delicious food; seafood, vegetable dishes, potatoes, salads, dishes I’ve never seen before – and so I try to taste everything. I leave having had a bit more than a ‘light snack’ – everything is just so so so good. We go to a canal area and which is packed with people and light, creating a lively atmosphere in the evening. We drink in different bars, slowly covering the length of the canal, and some time in the early morning we catch the tram back and sleep late into the next day – and I pack for my flight.
I like Milan, because, while I don’t think it’s beautiful – except in one or two odd patches – it’s real. It’s a working italian city, with huge grey post-war apartment blocks, decrepit public transport, office blocks, warehouses, business centers. This is a place where normal people live, and work and make money – and the streets are dirty and the buildings are ugly, but its a city, not a decoration.


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