Parents be warned. If your friendly Milanese landlady shoves chocolates into the hands of your bambinos when you first arrive at your apartment for the week, do immediately check the contents, especially of those that your rather “obsessive about chocolate” toddler stuffs into his mouth before you can actually count how many he has digested. It wasn’t hard to guess later on that these particular chocolates were of the coffee variety (something confirmed to us by his big sister the next morning), when he refused to go to sleep until around 12.30am, a good few hours later. For anyone that actually knows the Toddler in real life, you will know that this is basically unheard of in a child that tends to be around 100 miles per hour during the day, but who sleeps a good solid 12 hours when his head does finally hit the pillow.
And this was how we were introduced to the wonderful neighbourhood of Navigli and its many night owls by the way. Named after the Naviglio Grande Canal, this district is well away from the main tourist hotels of the city, but gaining in popularity constantly thanks to its vibrant streets lined with plenty of decent bars and restaurants. Aperativi is the order of the evening, and the evenings carry on late into the night
We were in Milan for Easter (arriving on the Easter Saturday. If you also happen to be travelling over Easter Weekend, have no fear about everything being closed – everything is very much open for the entire weekend. In fact I am not sure Navigli sleeps at all!). This time of year seems to be when many students graduate in Milan, and as well as the beautiful laurel wreathes they wear (like crowns – much prettier than our mortar boards!), they have huge parties to celebrate – naturally! It’s probable then that you might not want to chose Navigli, or even Milan at all if you are after peace, tranquillity and a bit of serenity – especially at this time of year, but if you enjoy a frenetic, loud and vibrant city (notably this part of it) with lots of amazing food chucked in on top, then do consider booking a visit as soon as possible!
After a few hours of very much interrupted sleep on the Saturday night, we set out bright and early on Easter Sunday (after a last minute Easter Egg hunt around our small apartment (checking all the chocolate contents for coffee twice!)… We happily wandered without any agenda, soaking up some much needed Vitamin D (Spring had definitely not arrived in any form in England at that point!), appreciating the ancient scenery and the masses of magnolia blossom along the way (something that will always remind me of Milan now I think!)…
After an obligatory introduction to the magnificent Duomo some 20 minutes walk from our apartment, we set off down towards the Giardini Pubblici (I don’t think you need help translating that one!) to explore its acres of green space (it’s also home to the Natural History Museum), to make like a local on Easter Sunday. Here, as is typical elsewhere across the globe, Easter is celebrated by feasting and getting together with loved ones, but in Milan a picnic is often on the cards, and if the weather’s cooperating, I can’t think of a nicer place for that!
Those of you with very tiny train enthusiasts might be pleased to hear that along with a carousel and dodgems, there’s also a miniature train in the gardens that takes you on a trundling journey for a good 5 minutes or so. Our miniature train enthusiast enjoyed this hugely (accompanied by his big brother!), until he spotted the vintage models of Snow White and her bearded gnome friends, at which point he decided he would quite like to vacate the train immediately (he’s never been one for facial hair!). Luckily his brother managed to cling on to him and stop any premature disembarkation, but we all felt it necessary for a bit of calmness and maybe some sustenance afterwards, so we ventured across the park to Peperino Milano for some seriously good pizza before venturing on to the Citadel for more promenading (and gelato) afterwards.
Sforza Castle Citadel dates back to the 15th century, and is one of the largest in Europe. It’s been many things during its history, but today it houses many of Milan’s museums and galleries (it was home to many artists, including Leonardo Di Vinci who lived here for years) and quite incredible pieces of art including the The Last Supper. You absolutely have to book tickets to see this a good few months in advance by the way, but as the toddler doesn’t do quiet galleries just yet, we weren’t that sad about not seeing it this visit (or the roof of the Duomo. That’s being saved for next time too!)! All of our brood were happily entertained by the large herd of wild cats that live in and around the Citadel grounds, and having walked for miles (and still digesting quite a large lunch) we were more than happy to sit and relax and watch them torment each other for a while.
Then it was time to make our way back past a few ancient (many of them Roman) relics (as well as the more obvious examples, there are many window and door frames of yesterday incorporated into the buildings today – don’t forget to look up!), before making it back to Navigli.
Our first real day in Milan done, we all slept soundly that night, exhausted from our wanderings (and sleep deprivation), lulled to sleep by the sound of the ongoing graduation celebrations, and the constant beeps from the swarm of vespas outside. If you are going to be sleep deprived, Milan is as good a place as any I guess.
PS. For those of you who might be thinking what there is in Milan for your bambinos to see and do exactly, fear not, there’s more than enough to keep them happily entertained for a serious length of time!!!