Have we mentioned how weird it can feel for North Americans to travel in Europe? Driving between countries is nothing. No official border crossing, no line up, nobody there to stop you, no delay. No need to declare anything to anyone. That’s travel heaven! Flying in the European Union is just as easy. It’s like flying domestic anywhere! No customs! And with really cheap flights to a lot of European destinations, it’s no wonder why Europeans are so well travelled. They jump on a plane, like we’d jump on a bus or in our car, to get to places for the weekend. I envy them for that.
But our faithful ground-based blue Citron, oops, Citroën is the transportation mode of choice for our European journey. We left Chamonix and France behind on November 6th after two fun days spent exploring the small alpine village, wishing we could snowboard down some of the amazing looking peaks, but alas, tis is not the season…
After an interminable tunnel under Mont-Blanc (~11 km and more than 40 Euros later…), we popped over into a new country: Italy! We crossed several more tunnels on the Italian side. We seriously must have crossed over 40 km of tunnels in the Alps. A few hours drive and another toll road later, we were in Milan, or as they call it here, Milano, our first Italian destination. I had a brief taste of the city in 2017, during my big birthday treat: Mamboland Milano. Salsa fanatics reading this will understand. After 3 days of intense training and dancing, I had only had the briefest glimpse of the city and what it had to offer, so I just needed to visit it again and explore with the family this time.
We somewhat arbitrarily decided to stay in the Navigli district, in an Airbnb (probably no. ~12(?) since we’ve started our trip), a cool loft a few steps from a canal. It turned out to be quite a good choice. I had no idea that Milan even had canals. They were built to help bring materials into the city centre by boat. They say Leonardo Da Vinci himself likely helped improve the canal design when he was in Milan. It is no Venice (no gondolas) but we saw people rowing and kayaking on the canals in the dark with head lamps at night. The streets bordering the canals in the Navigli district are lined with many cool bars, restaurants and shops. Mid-afternoon, things are fairly quiet, but they pick up come 6 pm for “Apperitivo” time. Apperitivo is essentially Happy Hour where you buy a drink and you get food included. So for somewhere from 5 to 15 Euros depending on the place, you can get a drink and munchies at your table or a buffet to choose from which really could fill you up. But this is what Italians do BEFORE they have dinner which is usually quite a bit later.
We opted for just going for dinner with the girls on our first night in Milan. We headed on foot to a nearby restaurant named Taglio that had good reviews and we were bracing for finding a line-up or a place supposedly reserved but seemingly empty… We were almost concerned when we found the place completely empty at the time AND not reserved! Not only were we able to get in the first restaurant of our choice, but Maxine rapidly (like only kids can) spotted a shelving unit full of toys! What a pleasant surprise! It made the wait so much easier! We tried a few local specialties there and had a pretty good meal. We were off to a good start.
What to do in Milan with (or without) kids
We stayed in Milan 5 days in total. The weather was calling for rain on most days so we mostly looked for things to visit indoors. However, the weather was mostly dry with some sprinkles here and there so we certainly spent a lot of time outside too and walked and saw a lot on foot. I think we’ve averaged about 8 km of walking per day. Let’s face it, trying to accomplish this feat with our children in nature would have simply been unthinkable! So with a pretty easy public transportation system to navigate and cooperating children, we were able to see quite a bit. Here are a few of the highlights of our stay:
- Science and Technology Museum Leonardo da Vinci. This is a place I had wanted to visit on my previous trip to Milan but had not been able to. The place is massive and includes several buildings and floors. Plan to spend most of your day there if you want to see it all. We spent about 4 hours, and that’s speed walking through a lot of it, and did not even get to some of the sections. Lots of really interesting exhibits, mostly in Italian, but you get the gist of what most things are. There are quite a few interactive displays, games and videos to keep the kids engaged. There is a whole room full of paintings and inventions from Leonardo Da Vinci that were based on his drawings. Topics of the exhibits are broad and range from agrology to space exploration, with transportation as a big focus of an outdoor area and large buildings containing everything that moves including trains, planes, helicopters, boats, even a submarine! For 35 Euros for all of us, that was a worthwhile visit.
- Duomo. That’s the giant gothic church, symbol of Milan, in the heart of the city. Hard to miss. We did not visit the inside nor go on the roof but that is apparently something worthwhile doing for the view and to get a closer look at all those creepy little creatures adorning the church’s roof. I enjoyed seeing and admiring it every time we’d pop over in the area, especially at night with all the lights. Beware of the rose sellers. One “gave” roses to the girls but then of course wanted money… An opportunity to teach something about “gifts” offered to the girls…
- Just walk around! So many shops, gelato places and picturesque buildings and streets. Milan is a European fashion mecca so if you have time, money and room in your luggage (unlike us), plan on shopping!
- Castello Sforzesco. The castle is located in central Milan and houses a number of museums featuring various collections of artworks, furniture, armours and weapons and even musical instruments. For 5 Euros per adult (free for kids), we were able to visit a number of them. Not a bad way to spend a few hours on a rainy day. I would also imagine the gardens would be quite pretty in the summer.
- Natural History Museum. Put a bunch of stuffed animals, bugs, fossils and dinosaur replicas under the same roof and you generally have a winner with kids. Most of the info is in Italian only but with kids, who has time to read anything anyways? Again, 5 Euros per adult and free for kids. I like this free-for-kid thing they seem to have for a lot of attractions and museums in Europe.
- Apperitivo. Ok, I have to admit that we did this the cheap way and probably did not get the greatest experience possible. I took the family to a hostel called Ostello Bello on a cute street across from the place where I stayed in 2017. During my previous stay, I went for a drink there while waiting for my roommates. I had unintentionally stumbled upon Apperitivo. I had no idea what that was at the time, and, after paying for my 4 Euro glass of wine, was a bit skeptical and pleasantly surprised with the buffet that was “included”. What? Free food??! So I just took the family there for a quick one. A drink and plate of pasta and bread later and that was basically dinner. After walking around all day, that was perfect timing and amount for the kids!
- Salsa! Ok, that one is NOT a family activity that we all enjoy but I could not help mentioning it. If you did not know, I am a big salsa fan, not only the edible variety, and Milan is a hot bed of salsa superstars. If you are into salsa dancing at all, depending on your preferred style, you would be remiss to pass on an opportunity to take classes at the schools of world famous instructors such as Adolfo Indacochea (Latin Soul Dancers (LSD) Milano) or at Sosa Academy, Tropical Gem’s school. It was a bit of a drive to Rho but I took 2 back-to-back classes at LSD’s new studio and left extremely sweaty, inspired and content. That’s the kind of lessons that salseros fly all over the world to various salsa congresses to take. I just wish I could teleport myself there weekly… More on salsa around the world in a future blog.
The rest of our time, we managed to fill with crafts, school stuff, cooking some yummy Italian meals, eating, drinking wine and even getting a foot massage!
So this wraps up Milan. After our fill of cityscape, we were looking forward to experiencing the beautiful countryside so we hopped in the car and headed southeast towards southern Tuscany and the coast. Maybe we’d even find a horse or two for the girls to ride somewhere along the way and a bottle of wine…
M., Manager of Lodging, Food and Entertainment