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Where in the world is the Balcony Garden?

Posted Nov 21 2008 3:08pm
Jodi ofBloomingwriterset everyone some geography homework - a post on the place where you live. The homework was to be ready for the end of February - and guess who had to ask for an extension? Well, it was a short month, wasn't it? Not fair.

But this morning, with the excuse that I had to go to the Consulate and get my passport renewed, I zapped round town taking photos. So here goes ...

Milanis in the north of Italy, in the Region ofLombardy. Go north and after about a forty minute drive, you're atLake Como(drop in and say hello to George Clooney while you're there)and the border with Switzerland. Well, forty minutes if the motorway isn't blocked with traffic, that is.

It's an industrial area, with fashion and design (especially furniture design and production) playing an important role in the economy. There was tradionally a lot of heavy industry, but like in much of the rest of the Europe, this is no longer an option. In its place, the local government is trying to promote the area as a centre for bio-technology and the service sector.

The climate is appalling - cold and foggy all winter and hot and humid all summer. Spring and autumn are definitely the best periods.

If you look at your guidebook, you'll probably see that it advises you to spend half a day in Milan - but only if you happen to be passing through on your way to somewhere more interesting. Milan is the commercial centre of Italy and has little in the way of tourist attractions. The exceptions are Da Vinci'sThe Last Supper(recently restored, well worth seeing, but you have tobookmonths in advance) and the cathedral, one of the most amazing pieces of Gothic architecture in the world. It's nothing special inside, but go up on the roof and wander around looking at the hundreds of carved gargoyles and other features which make it, in my experience at least, unique.

See the arch on the left of the Cathedral Square? That's the famous 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Lined with classy shops, restaurants and cafés (oh, and a McDonalds, which provoked considerable public consternation when it opened a few years ago) the Gallery is perhaps the real centre of Milan, and a place to see and be seen. When in Rome, do as the Romans do – when in Milan, sit and have a coffee in the Galleria. But only if you have an extremely healthy bank balance.

Built between 1865 and 1877, the Gallery is built in the form of a cross. The centre is covered by a 164 ft high glass dome, from which the architect, Giuseppe Mengoni, fell to his death only two days before the gallery was officially opened by the King, Vittorio Emanuele II.

Just to one side of the centre, you’ll notice a mosaic of a bull in the marble floor. Look closely and you’ll see that a certain part of his anatomy has been worn away – and you’ll probably see a little crowd of people queuing up to stand there on one leg and twizzle around three times. Try it - it’s supposed to bring you luck. (Perhaps someone should have told that to Mengoni).

At the other end of the Galleria you'll find yourself in Piazza della Scala, looking at the opera house - this time far more impressiveinsidethan out. The gentlemen on the left of the photo with a pigeon on his head is Da Vinci.

Still in the centre you might want to nip up to the castle (that's it at the end of the road) or walk along the pedestrian shopping area ofCorso Vittorio Emanueleto Piazza San Babila, where you'll notice an odd pineapple looking thing, a fountain and a few bushes topiarised into humps. You've got it haven't you? It's a representation of Lombardy - the mountains, the lakes and the hills.

And from there it's only a short walk to the shopping streets ofVia MontenapoleoneandVia della Spiga. I know, I know - it's hard to choose between Valentino, Prada and Armani, but remember ... you've only got half a day, and there's still the old area of the Brera to visit. There you'll find the main art gallery of Milan, thePinacoteca di Brera, which is home to several paintings well worth seeing, including Mantegna's Lamentation...

Wandering around, you will see some interesting architecture - like the Central Station or the Law Courts (above) both typical of the Fascist period. But mainly Milan is a city of apartment and office blocks, mostly ugly ones. There are 7,000 inhabitants for every square kilometre, and about 1.3m in all. Which means building piled upon building, chaotic traffic, almost no green spaces and dreadful pollution. In theory you can seethe Alps from Milan. In practice it only happens a few times a year, when there's been a particularly strong wind.

We're lucky - we do at least have a strip of garden between us and the next block ....

... other people have to be more creative. This garden is eight storeys up.

Milan doesn't have a river, so there's not even that to break up the monotony. There are some canals, though most have now been covered up, and I'm lucky enough to live right by one of them - theMartesana. Along the Martesana is one of the few cycle paths in the city, and it takes you right out into the country.

So what's good about Milan? Not a lot.. The health service is excellent, and the transport system works extremely well, but that's about all I can think of. Not, of course, that the average Milanese would dream of leaving their car at home and taking the bus. But with four metro lines and an overground system of buses and trams, it's very easy, and very cheap, to get around. The trams come in various shapes and sizes from the old ones - which are slow, rattly boneshakers, freezing cold in winter and stifling in summer but with loads of character - to the new ones - supposedly high-speed, but actually not as they're always stuck behind the old ones. Not much character at all, though they have sweet little noses, but they do have heating and air-conditioning.

In case you haven't worked it out yet, I don't like the place. But then I don't like cities. Full stop. Unfortunately, my husband does ...

OK, that's enough. My homework was late Jodi, but I wrote more to make up. Can I have an "A" please ? :)

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