Milan, a place where stuff happens
Prada Foundation, Brera Gallery, the Museum of Cultures and more
by Chiara Assi
When you first set foot in Milan, you feel it immediately: there is an impalpable yet very strong energy buzzing through the air, a feeling of anticipation, a sense of excitement. Everywhere you turn, you can see it: this is a place where stuff happens. There is little time to contemplate: the city itself pushes you to act, to be part of the frenetic activity, to explore. Even more so if you are into modern art, fashion, and the latest trends in gastronomy, this is the place where you want to be.
And although one weekend isn’t enough to fully explore and grasp this complex city, it surely is a good start: and I guarantee that you will want to go back for more. During the three days I spent in the city I used the Drive Now Car sharing service – and I highly recommend it to those who want to explore the city: you basically have access to Mini Coopers and BMWs Series1 parked all over Milan, and you can drive them where you need to be, including the congestion area. And as much as staying downtown right next to the Duomo might sound exciting, I opted for a different solution: Hotel Lombardia, close to the shopping district of Corso Buenos Aires and the University of Milan, offers great accommodation in an area that is far from being congested and extremely well connected with public transportation (the subway red line stops at Lorento, the green at Piola).
Finding the right words to describe Fondazione Prada is difficult, if not impossible. Much more than a museum of modern and contemporary art, this space is so avant-garde, so different from what you expect, it really transcends the concept of a regular exhibition, and I can only describe it as an incredible experience. The stark, modern beauty of the building, located in an ex industrial area in the South of Milan, is almost intimidating and definitely mind-blowing: but that is only the beginning and, as you walk from room to room, the sense of awe grows exponentially.
As I viewed the controversial works by American artist William Copley, I realized how little I actually know about many incredible contemporary artists: his paintings may look bright and rather innocent at first glance, but when you look at them closely, you discover a tormented world made of often obscene dreams and fantasies. Betye Saar’s “Uneasy Dancer” was also very interesting, and again I felt the unsettling feeling of looking at something that was cheery only at first glance, and had a much darker, hidden meaning. And last, but not least, Edward Kienholz’s installations literally gave me goosebumps: dark and sometimes downright morbid, his works are not for the fainted hearted, as they gravitate around themes such as racial assault and abuse, violent deaths and rape.
Fondazione Prada is also home to Bar Luce, a lovely retro café with a jukebox, vintage pinball machines and a great espresso: perfect to meditate and ponder after viewing the exhibits.
Pinacoteca di Brera
On a completely different note, the Pinacoteca di Brera is a classic, almost iconic I would say, gallery in Milan, one everyone should visit while meandering the artsy, bohemian neighborhood of Brera. The 38 halls of the gallery are filled with masterpieces by artists like Raffaello, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, among the others: each room has so much to see, and most of all so much to take in, it takes hours to properly visit the whole gallery. Yet, it’s definitely worth to take your time, sit on a chair, and stare at the paintings you instinctively feel connect to until your vision blurs and you get lost in the colors and atmospheres on the canvases.
Outside the Pinacoteca, the neighborhood of Brera is a work of art itself: in the beginning of the 1900s it was a red light district, dotted with brothels and seedy taverns, but today, with its narrow cobblestone alleys and pretty courtyards, it has become an attraction and the perfect place to grab a bite or a drink. Steer clear of the tourist traps offering pizzas and menus in 8 different languages: for a solid Tuscan meal, opt for La Torre di Pisa, a trattoria that has been open since the 1950s, or for something quirky and different try Temakinho, the Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant that has been the talk of the town for a while. And for a cocktail, nothing beats Bar Jamaica: their Martinis are so perfect, they would be James Bond approved. The bar has been open since 1911 and a never ending list of writers, artists, politicians, actors and other VIPs have frequented the place ever since then, making it an important part of the history of the city.
Not the most famous of palaces in Milan, Palazzo Morando should be visited for two reasons: the first is the museum of fashion and costumes hosted on the first floor of the palace, the second is that the palace itself is beautiful and home to a series of incredible paintings of Milan as it used to be in the past centuries – a real treat for history buffs like me. Palazzo Morando is located in the Quadrilatero della Moda, the fashion district, so while there, you can window shop and check out flagship stores such as Armani, Valentino and the likes. One can dream, right?
Moving to a very different part of town, Via Tortona and its surroundings are famous for being the place to be during the famous Salone del Mobile, Milan’s out-of-this-world design week. And while during that particular week the neighborhood is packed and somewhat challenging to enjoy, on a regular weekend it still oozes chicness and modernity, but it’s much easier to navigate. It makes perfect sense that MUDEC, the museum of world cultures, would find its permanent home here, as the neighborhood perfectly symbolizes the international soul of Milan. The building, impressive and futuristic, houses more than 7000 pieces dating from the 1500s to the 1900s and hailing from, literally, all over the world: I strongly recommend a guided visit, which not only gives you a much better insight into the art and culture of populations we know very little about, but also gives you access to the museum’s deposit, where you can see much more than what is showcased in the halls.
MUDEC is a stone’s throw away from the Navigli, one of the neighborhoods that are most famous for being the heart of the movida in Milan. Stop after 6 p.m. at any of the bars in the area and order an aperitivo: with your drink of choice you will gain access to some of the most incredible buffets of free food you will ever see – after you are done, you won’t be needing dinner!
Another great classic in Milan, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, nestled in the oldest part of the city close to the Duomo, is another must-do for art buffs: from Botticelli to Tiziano, you will be in awe at some of the masterpieces displayed in its halls. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana, part of the museum, is even more incredible, as there you can see the Codice Atlantico by Leonardo Da Vinci, which is, itself, worth the trip and the cost of the museum ticket. Once you leave the Pinacoteca, the narrow streets around Via Torino are perfect for wandering, discovering and getting wonderfully lost. Just walk around and let the city surprise you: you will forever fall in love it.