Sunday, February 8, 2015

Milan tourist card options and a couple of principal info sites

Before you leave for Italy, you might want to surf the tourist card sites offering discounts to see which one is best for you (often museum, restaurant and public trasportation discounts are offered, and there just might also be free tickets for the special bus between Malpensa and Milan...the latter is not quite half the cost of the train, but even that--at about E.13.00 one way is reasonable, and the tickets can be bought at the airport). Various options for various time periods are available at various prices, so compare to find the best fit for you.

A word to the wise:...More......

...if you want to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, be sure to look for that as part of the package. Tickets have to be bought weeks, even months, in advance, and go like hot cakes.

Another word to the wise: avoid coming to Milan when there are trade fairs in town. That fills up hotels, and pushes up prices. How to know? Go to the official web site, in English, and look at the calendar for your desired dates. The principal trade fairs to avoid are women's and men's clothing, and the furniture and design fairs.

MILAN PASS (together with Zani Viaggi, who also do bus trips to outlet malls)
I like this one because it includes the Hop On-Hop Off City Sightseeing bus (covered and open) so you can get a better idea quickly of what there is in the city, how far things are from each other, and then decide. Zani Viaggi is also an authorized retailer of official Expo tickets. The web site is available in 80+ languages; if it doesn't open in English, use the pulldown menu in the upper right hand corner.

The offerings seem to be pretty broadly packaged, including options for the Lombard lakes region (don't miss beautiful Como, if you can help it), Rome, Florence and Venice. Go here.

Perhaps the first city card to come out, it seems to have disappeared. I can't find any updated info on it.

Not quite a "pass," it does offer, among other things, a three-hour walking tour that includes Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Go here.

Want to do everything on your own? Buy your official Last Supper tickets, here, through VivaTicket.

More do-it-yourself help? Here's the official Expo web site in English.

Italy's official tourism info source...though it doesn't get the support that it should (and a coordinated effort has faded with the abolition of the Ministry of Italy, for Pete's the early '90s). The site and offices still might be helpful. The site has a map on which you can find their office nearest you (if it's still open...).

The official tourism site of the province of Milan (of which the city of Milan is the capital), this web site is full of great info, especially if you're interested in getting off the beaten track, and getting outside of the metropolis.

The city of Milan's official page, it, too, is FULL of info (including for specialized interests and sectors). You'll have to arm yourself with patience and a magnifying glass. Despite complaints, they have kept the black background... I guess they think it's cool, but it's quite hard to consult, the reading is difficult. The web site address to take you directly to the English version is absurdly long. Go here, and click on the English flag button. You'll get there all the same. You can buy your Expo tickets, here, download free apps with tourist info, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The name has changed a few times, but the idea is the same: to give up-to-date and accurate tourism information. Group tours, whether general or specialized sometimes are offered (for example, a tour of the art nouveau ["Stile Liberty"] architecture in town, or of ancient Roman Milan). Go here to find their info points.

Want a tour of the city? If you want a private tour of the city, there are lots of tour guide associations and private guides whose information is available on the internet. BE FOREWARNED: to be a tour guide in Italy and Europe, it is obligatory to have passed an exam, and to have received a license to operate. This is supposed to help guarantee an acceptable level of service and English, which is obligatory (other languages are available). There are too many to list, here, so here's a link to the oldest association.

And, last, but not least:

Don't forget to surf my blog, "My Milan (Italy)" open since 2010, and my "Art in Milan" (active on Where Milan since 2014) for more great stuff! Come back, and check for new posts!


Friday, February 6, 2015

First time in Italy and worried about eating decently on a budget? Here are some good tips

You're excited. It's the first time you've been to Italy, maybe even outside of your native country, and you're worried about eating on a budget. No problem, here are some basic tips that will get you from the toe to the top of the boot....More...


The bars in Italy (yes, they call them bar...imported foreign words tend to stay singular, even in the plural) are quite different from the bars in the U.S., and maybe in your country, too. Think English pub. Without the cute.

They are places where the whole family can go, where people drop in for a quick espresso (if you must, caffè lungo, caffè americano -- American-style coffee, but, if you want to fit in, don't embarrass yourself by asking for a cappuccino after breakfast time), a quick bite or lunch, and, later, an aperitivo (aperitif, pronounced ah-pair-ah-TEE-vo), and even a Happy Hour, but typically no heavy drinking goes on, here.

What's there to eat?

For breakfast, pasta frolla (a wonderful usually S-shaped sugar cookie) or brioche/cornetti of all kinds (pronounced bree-OSH / kor-NEH-tee): semplice (pronounced SEHM-plee-chaye with the "ch" of "church") with nothing inside, or with cioccolato (chocolate, pronounced cho-ko-LAHH-toe, with the "ch" of "church") or marmellata (different flavors of marmelade, jam; pronounced mar-meh-LAH-tah).

For lunch, there are typically cold sandwiches called panini (pronounced pah-NEE-nee; singular: panino ... instead of "nee" at the end, add "no") with all sorts of stuff inside, toast (UNTOASTED sandwiches on soft white bread), or piadine (plural, pronounced pee-ah-DEE-nay, for the singular add "no" on the end, instead of "nee"): a thick flour tortilla-like thing that is filled with stuff, and then just folded over. They'll ask you if you want it heated on a grill (Da riscaldare?). for yes, and no for, well, no.

If you want it to take-away, say Da portare via (pronounced dah poor-TAR-ay VEE-ah), and they'll put it in a little sack for you. Don't forget your manners: per piacere (please; pronounced pair-pee-ah-CHAIR-ee) and grazie (thanks; pronounced grah-ZEE-aye).

Want something sweet, afterwards? Torta (a kind of heavy flat cake, pronounced TOR-tah) or frutta (fruit, pronounced FRUU-tah) are typical. Or a gelato (pronounced jeh-LAH-toe).

Oh, before we finish the bars...sitting down, even if you take your cup yourself and bus the table yourself...usually adds a Euro or two to the price, so you'll have to get the feel of individual bars before you do it. Servizio a tavola (table service) always costs a few Euros more, and, no, you may not sit down at those very inviting tables under those shady umbrellas without ordering something.


Some bars, or even cafeteria-style restaurants, have pre-prepared cold food that they can reheat in a microwave. In Milan, these typically are pre-prepared or choose-your-own plates of the following: verdura (vegetables, pronounced vair-DUR-ah), patate (potatoes, pronounced pah-TAH-tay), arrosto (roasted beef or veal, pronounced ah-ROH-stoh), cotoletta (veal cutlet, breaded or unbreaded, pronounced koh-toe-LEH-tah), and pasta (PAH-stah). There may also be uova (eggs, pronounced wu-OH-vah, singular irregular: add "voh" instead of "vah").


This is like a half-way stage between a cafeteria and a tavola fredda. It's usually in a bar with more generous seating, and they have a sneeze-guarded area with heated food ready for your choosing; it's not self-service, you'll have to ask for what you want. If you're picky about your food, since it has been kept hot (and usually goes pretty fast, so relatively freshly made...particularly important for avoiding soggy pasta), it usually is a better taste choice than the preceding options.


This is a chain of cafeterias owned by Autogrill (see below). It's one step above the tavole calde because the high turnover keeps some of the typical stuff fairly fresh (although I still recommend avoiding the pizza and pasta, as it's not at its best), while other things are prepared for you right in front of your eyes (for example, very tasty grilled chicken breasts). Salad fixings are fresh, but you'll have to be content with oil and vinegar for dressing (I recommend getting out of the habit of other kinds of dressing that cover up the taste of the salads and add useless calories). Keep an eye on what you put on your tray. It can add up.


An Italian pizza chain belonging to Autogrill (see below). What can I say...bleh. Avoid it. Pizza restaurants are plentiful, the costs are reasonable, and the pizza is MUCH better.


If you are driving in Italy, these "pitstop" places mix bar-tavola fredda-tavola calda-shop (and bathroom amenities) for a break. As you might imagine, it's not the best you'll ever have eaten, but it's the only thing available pretty much, and is certainly better than nothing. Besides Italy, they are in a few European countries and even North America. Want to find out more about them? Here's the website in English.


Before you go, at least look up the stuff you hate, or can't eat, but keep in mind that Italy is just now awakening broadly to vegetariansim or to special dietetic needs. You'll need to be flexible, and explore. That is, after all, what travelling is all about. Even at the table.


Remember, I get no kickbacks of any kind for mentioning restaurants and shops!


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Want a suggestion for Valentine's Day weekend? AgruMi, 14-15 February, Parco Sempione

Here comes the weekend, again. With or without kids, you still could plan something to do. Even better if it is not only fun and interesting, but also beautiful and (shudder) healthy!


...the exhibit and sale of citrus plants has reached its 4th edition, already.

A little bit of history (from where did citrus plants arrive in Europe, and when?), a little bit of natural beauty (the lovely plants themselves and artistic reproductions), a little bit of shopping (got a terrace or balcony? Buy one for home), and--for the kidlets--didactic play time (careful! Reservations are necessary for the kiddie activities, hours slightly different from opening times).

All in Italian, of course, but looking, smelling and tasting are universal, and the wit behind the name is fun, too. In case you don't read Italian, "agrumi" is the Italian word for citrus, while "Mi" is taken, of course, from "Milan."

Take your's Valentine's Day weekend.

Palazzo Appiani, on the via Elvezia side of Parco Sempione, near the Arena
Saturday, February 14th, from noon to 6 P.M.
Sunday, February 15th, from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.
Adults: E. 6.50
Reduced (including FAI members and kids from 4 to 14 years of age): E. 4.00
tel. +39-02.7634.0121


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Feel like being nosey in a homey environment? I've just the thing for you: the Circuit of Historic House Museums

You’ve come to/live in Milan, and already have visited everything in my previous post, well, OK, lots of things in my previous posts.

So, now what?

I’ve just the thing!

The Circuit of Historic Houses in Milan will give you a chance to enjoy three out of the four still hidden gems of Milan, as well as one of its best known museums, so let’s go.

Let’s start at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, where you can buy the Circuit of Historic House Museums card. The card is valid for a year for all four museums, and it costs less than buying the individual entry tickets. For general information in English about the card and...More...

...the circuit, go here.


The best place to start is with the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, and not just because I work there, so I’m partial--I admit it!--but also, objectively speaking, because it’s a time capsule back into a late 19th century aristocratic Milanese home filled with the original collections of Italian Renaissance art and decorative arts, all placed just where the collectors originally wanted the things to be seen. This way, you’ll get a good idea of what traditional Milan was like at the end of the 19th century before you rush to see anything modern … believe me (and this is the art historian in me speaking), you’ll understand "modern" better (and maybe even like it more), if you understand "traditional," first.

Cross the threshold and let the thoughts of Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi accompany you, as you enjoy 15th and 16th century paintings, sculptures and furniture, and imagine the brothers sitting like lordly Renaissance princes in front of crackling fireplaces decorated with early 16th century frescoes. Laugh with the brothers at their sense of humor and, why not?, be a little envious of their good luck to find a Giovanni Bellini, a Giampietrino (one of Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite pupils), a few Zenales, works by other respected artists and a much revered portrait from the workshop of Gentile Bellini, as well as gorgeous majolica, glass, arms, armor, a couple of Rodari sculptures and a beautiful Madonna in Donatello’s "schiacciato" style.

Wander at your own pace. The use of the very good (if I do say so, myself...I helped to write them) audioguides is free of charge with entrance ticket purchase; they are available in English, French and Japanese, as well as Italian. Information cards in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and soon Chinese and Russian are in each room. Guided visits in many be reserved in various languages. The sumptuous rooms of the museum also are available after closing hours for special events.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, together with the other historic house museums, is a great museum to visit, even for people who don’t usually like to go to museums.


Because, since it’s a house, it’s homey, and you can go through it looking for your favorite kind of object, be it majolica, arms & armor, glass, glass, scientific instruments, musical instruments, clocks and whatnots, besides the paintings and can just be nosy, and peek around to see how the people lived.

If you, or someone you know, lives in Milan, don’t forget to sign up to the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum newsletter, available in English, on the web site. It will keep you informed of the museum’s temporary exhibits, concerts, conferences and kids activities.

Remember to buy the Circuit of Historic House Museums of Milan card, here, because it’s cheaper in the end, and lasts a year!

One more thing: the restaurant on the ground floor of the Bagatti Valsecchi mansion (NOT the same management as the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum) is a completely separate entity, so I don’t have any official information for you about it, but I often see people, there, so you might give it a try.

Via Gesù 5 (a few minutes walk from the Duomo, La Scala and San Babila)
MM1-San Babila, MM3-Montenapoleone, Tram 1-Montenapoleone
Handicap access available upon request
Tel. +39-02.7600.6132 (HINT: when making calls within the same city in Italy, it still is necessary to add the city code, in this case, 02)

Next house on the circuit to visit is:


A 10-15 minute walk from the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is the Necchi-Campiglio villa, yes, a countryside style villa in the heart of Milan. Why next on the visit? Because (1) it’s your next step closer to the present in time, and (2) it’s a step toward social change in Italy: from the Bagatti Valsecchi aristocratic mansion to the villa of wealthy, but upper middle-class industrialists. The villa was built in the 1930s and 1940s by one of Italy’s most famous modern architects, Portaluppi (though some of the interior was "updated"--much to my personal chagrin--in the 1950s). Portaluppi’s sun room is my absolute favorite room in the whole house, well, that and the small (by today’s rich standards), but stupendous master bathroom. Set in its own walled garden, the house built for the heirs of the Necchi sewing machine heirs, Gigina and Nedda, and Gigina’s husband, is restful, and has a separately operated caffè.

The house, a FAI-Fondo Ambiente Italiano property, was chosen to house an art collection of the same years, but assembled by a different person. Although not original to the house, it fits in very well.

I have to admit, though, the museum has one serious drawback. You can’t wander at will. You’re obliged to reserve and follow a guided tour of the museum, so you can’t linger and enjoy as you might like. On the other hand, it’s one way to keep you off the furniture!

I’m pretty sure that they have tours in English, but it’s better to check out their web site, and write them an e-mail.

Via Mozart, 14
T +39-02-7634-0121

The next step closer to us in time is the Boschi-Di Stefano Museum.


OK, so, even without the Circuit of Historic Houses of Milan ticket, you could have gotten in for free in this city-owned museum, but the others, no, so go ahead and buy it, it’s still cheaper than buying the three other tickets, separately.

What’s so special about this museum on an upper floor of a nice, but normal condo building? First of all, it takes us one step closer to our own day, stretching from the 1930s up to the 1970s, but it also moves us from upper middle class to the solidly middle class circles. Antonio Boschi was a talented engineer working for the Pirelli company, his wife, Marieda Di Stefano, inherited her family’s interest in art. An artist, herself, she and her husband were passionate about then contemporary art, and so the collection has pieces from their entire married life, all displayed, crammed really, onto the walls of their fairly small condo. Pieces by Milanese artists, or artists working in Milan, were particularly collected, and so that includes the pieces by artists of the world-famous Futurist movement.

It is possible to enjoy the collection on your own, and the website is in English, but if you’re in a group of more than a few people, you’ll need to make reservations ahead of time (that’s normal, though, with pretty much all museums, world-wide).

Via Jan, 15
T +39-02-2024-0568

Finally, we come to the Grand Old Dame, the last museum on the circuit (at least as of the writing of this post): the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.


Once fully a historic house museum, if the truth be told, this (really lovely and rightfully famous) museum really is no longer a historic house museum, in my opinion. Directly bombed during World War II, almost all of the original interiors were destroyed. What remains: the spiral staircase, the small room with the Meissen porcelain and the Algardi sculpture, the Black Room (well, mostly), and (well, mostly) Poldi Pezzoli’s Byzantine-inspired study.

Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli was the son of two noble families, his mother was a Trivulzio. As a young adult he actively participated in Milan’s first (unsuccessful) bid for political freedom from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1848...for which he was exiled for a few years to encourage him to cool off. He took advantage of the forced time away from Milan, and travelled throughout Europe, becoming a passionate collector of art, which he installed in his house, as decoration for himself and—though he confided it only to his lawyer—as a museum for after his death (he died unmarried and without children, so just imagine the surprise of his cousins when the will was opened).

Much of the collections was taken out of Milan during WWII, so it was saved, but, except for the above-mentioned rooms, was installed in the refurbished spaces in the typical set-up of a museum, the principal reason why I don’t think it still can be called a historic house museum, as wonderful as the collections are. Furthermore, Poldi Pezzoli had specified in his will that the museum’s collections should continue to grow and change, and so the museum has been able to acquire lovely pieces, or receive them as donations, that never were part of the original collection.

Whether you do the whole circuit of historic houses, or not, and I hope you do, this museum--with some famous masterpieces and many other works by famous and not-so-famous artists--is well worth the visit.

Via Manzoni, 15
T +39-02-794-889 (yes, the number has only 6 digits…it’s an indication of the age of the phone number; some numbers in Italy even have only 4 digits!)!/en/discover/ (I have to say that I REALLY dislike their website; it’s much too modern, doesn’t evoke the nature of their collections, and is so fragmented, I can’t find stuff easily, but they didn’t ask me, when they planned it, did they?!)

There, a lovely day of charming homey visits to some hidden gems and the Grand Old Dame of Milan, all chronologically arranged so that they make more sense. Did you notice that they're all art and architecture patrons and collectors' houses?

I hope you enjoyed yourself, and that you tell family and friends!

(And don’t forget to visit the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum...but you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?!)
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