Arrival in Milan

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Another day, another cathedral: Milan Cathedral, begun in 1386; façade finished (on Napoleon’s order) in 1813; last gate inaugurated 1965. It’s an odd mixture of Baroque and OTT Gothic.

Breakfast in French, lunch in German and dinner in Italian . . . get me!

Based on my experience of British trains at weekends, I was expecting an unpleasantly crowded journey. The Gare de Lyon was certainly busy at 7.15, but hardly anyone was catching “my” Zürich train and I travelled in peace. Zürich was very cold (and, unlike England, everyone was dressed for it), but my hopes of a winter wonderland journey through the Alps were unfulfilled. (Although, if the weather forecast is correct, I may need a snow plough for my return journey.)

It’s milder in Milan and the sun sets later than home, so I checked in and quickly headed to the cathedral. Despite having changed trains in Milan countless times, I’ve never gone beyond the station area and was curious to see more. Initial impressions: monumentalism and giganticism.

So now I have finally seen the Duomo with its eclectic façade in glowing marble, and the 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade (eat your heart out, Leeds). The juxtaposition of the two and the fact that I walked through this temple of consumerism to reach the religious one are just bizarre.

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Central dome of the gallery. Built 1865-77 by Giuseppe Mengoni, who was killed by falling off the roof.

It’s a magnificent building, but it does have decorative elements which would take an awful lot of explanation to anyone not brought up amongst the traditions. (Rather like the Albert Memorial.)

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I seem to have arrived in Milan at a very particular time. It’s fashion week; I have no idea if this means that there are more stylish people around than usual, but I have noticed quite a few women in shoes so high that negotiating the grilles and pavé of this city must be hazardous. The crowds around shops like Prada are a nuisance to get through; again, I don’t know if that’s usual or down to fashion week.

And then there are national elections next week. La Lega were packing their stalls away after a rally as I arrived at the cathedral. It all looked perfectly peaceful, but I have no idea what happened earlier in the day.

My hotel is opposite the station, of which I have a wonderful view:

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but six floors below me are vagrants and migrants bedding down in the stoas. It’s all a bit Happy End.

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