Milan is full of museums, upmarket restaurants and classy boutiques run by dedicated fashionistas and artisans – a vibrant thriving city. The problem is, they’re all on holiday.
Like many cities in Italy, Milan shuts down for almost all of August. This protracted vacation is centred around the Catholic festival of Ferragosto on August 15.
For most of the year, Milan has 1,200,000 residents; during Ferragosto – a large chunk of August – the population drops to just 400,000 people. As a result, Milan is left an industrial city with little need to cater for tourists during the hot summer months.
The tourism hub of Milan is the grand cathedral, Duomo – a gothic masterpiece over 600 years old. Inside, visitors will find every surface adorned with pictures of saints and the rooftops a forest of tiny marble busts (each with the same haircut).
Also fascinating are the cathedral guards on ‘prude-patrol’ at the entrance, stringent about banning all sexiness from their cathedral (denying entrance to people in hot pants, with exposed shoulders, or a vague understanding of the word ‘twerk’).
No trip to Milan is complete without getting lost in the vibrant side streets, except in August the streets are deserted. Many museums and attractions are shut, as are most restaurants and cafes. Finding dinner is challenging for the tourist unwilling to pick up half-empty crisp packets from litter bins. The city is a ghost town, inhabited only by desperately bored tourists, usually starving, hovering around the Duomo like wasps around the last rotten apple of summer.
Milan boasts a thriving criminal sub-culture. Ubiquitous in Milan are packs of men offering ‘free’ bracelets, dangling them like a fishing line. When a gullible tourist bites, they tie the knot tight and demand 10 euros for the bit of string. They constitute about 300,000 of the city’s 400,000 summer population.
Short rail journeys from Milan, to places such as Lakes Garda and Como, offer a much more tourist friendly experience. With ample food, attractions and ice cream, the lakes are the Italy you thought you were visiting. Como and Garda are not ‘must-sees’, but they should be your escape plan. Italian railways are extremely cheap, and even if you don’t buy a ticket all the conductors are all on their holidays – at the lakes.
If you must to go to Milan in August – if you’re kidnapped and bundled into a suitcase bound for Malpensa airport – go to the Duomo and then get on a train. If you are given a choice, don’t go to Milan. During August, Milan doesn’t want you.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons