I am an American. This is not a secret. I had no idea what to do in Milan, so in good old American fashion, I did it like a tourist. Read on to find out how you, too, can do Milan the tourist-y way!
Alright, straight off the bat, let’s not get it twisted here: if you’re looking for some kind of authentic, indie, off-the-beaten path experience in Milan, Italy, this isn’t the place to look. Despite my plans to study in Italy for two years, I am a real American that speaks broken Italian and decided to do Milan the tourist way. So read on for where I went, what kinds of tours I took, and what mistakes I made along the way (because there were mistakes – don’t worry).
1. Bus Tours Are Your Friend
First off – if you have no idea what you’re doing, two words: bus tour!! At this point in my European adventure, I am no stranger to bus tours – if you read my Tour of Austria post (which features a nifty vlog, BTW), you’ll know that I actually went on a 4-hour Sound of Music Tour. Excessive? Maybe. Necessary? Yes.
Bus tours make things a hell of a lot easier when you’re new to a city because they literally tell you what to do and where to go. They also (obviously) give you a way to get there. One thing I’ve learned about running around Europe is that you should never take reliable transportation for granted.
Ever see those red double decker buses, often associated with London (al la What A Girl Wants)? Well, Milan has them too! Milano Centrale, the city’s main (I think?) train station, has a little tourist office where you can purchase tickets for what they call the “open bus” by a company called City Sightseeing Milano. You can get a one-day ticket or a 48-hour ticket, depending on how long you decide to stay in the city. We opted for the one-day ticket, which was €22 per person for an adult ticket.
When you buy your ticket, you also get a nifty little map (click here to open it in .pdf form from the website!) Something I didn’t know then, but actually just found out in real time (aka now), is that they also have a more interactive map on Google Maps as seen below (click here to access it) that would have been really useful when I was in Milan.
Basically, the way this bus works is that there are three different colored lines with each taking you to a different part of the city. Some lines “intersect” and you can get off one color at a stop and hop on another color, while others exclusively go to a certain site. This is all detailed in the little map thing they give you, which we apparently didn’t bother to read, because…
Mistake #1: We ended up waiting at Milano Centrale for a red line for about 30 minutes before realizing that a red line wasn’t coming… make sure you check to see what color stop you’re actually at. *face palm*
Something that’s also pretty cool about this bus tour (other than the fact that it makes you feel like the Italian version of Amanda Bynes, another What A Girl Wants reference) is that the tour is “guided,” aka they give you some flashy red headphones and you can plug them into a little box by your seat and get the history of the buildings and sites you see as you drive by. There are a variety of different languages, so if you choose English like me, you’ll get to hear a nice British lady talk about the history of some palazzo
while you’re too distracted by all the makeup stores lining the streets to pay attention.
2. Do Some Research Beforehand (Maybe)
As they say – hindsight is 20/20. I think I would have gotten a lot more from this trip if I had actually done some research on a few of the sites. The bus tour was definitely helpful, but since we didn’t do a guided walking tour (they tend to be a lot more expensive), we were kind of on our own once we stepped foot off the bus.
Mistake #2: We didn’t spin around on the floor in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II because we didn’t know what the hell was going on!!
So Milan has this magical place called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world (actually learned that in an Italian class in high school – who said high school languages classes were a joke??). It’s full of stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton, aka things I’ll never be able to afford, and has this curious mosaic on the floor that people apparently like to spin around on.
When we first saw people doing this, we had no idea why. There was a huge tour group surrounding the floor, which had a little groove in it. People would put their heel in the groove and literally just spin around on it.
After getting back, I looked it up, and realized we had lost out on a bit of luck. According to Virtual Tourist, the hole is actually on *ahem* the bull’s genitals *snicker*, and there’s a local tradition where sticking your right heel in the hole and spinning around three times (unclear as to which direction you have to turn, if there’s a specific one) brings you luck.
There actually seems to be some debate going on in the same forum as to if this is true or not. One person states that “Bull Squeezing” (which is apparently what this is called… ok) is a fake tradition only done by tourists and you’ll never see a true local doing this. Another person states that this is actually done to make wishes come true and if you make a full turn with one foot, you’ll get your wish. Yet another person says that a full turn on your heel will “make your sex life and potential higher.” Well, ok.
What do I think? Why are you even asking me – American, remember? If you really want my opinion, I say there’s really nothing to lose. Other than looking like a tourist, which I look like anyway, there’s no harm in squeezing this poor fella’s balls. RIP.
3. Don’t Be Offended If You’re Underdressed
This kind of related to the whole “do your research thing.” Although you’ll generally feel like a schlump standing next to an Italian because they’re always so well dressed, by “underdressed,” I’m literally talking about not wearing enough clothes.
It was really hot when I was in Milan so I was wearing a romper in true summer fashion. When I tried to get into the Duomo (which is beautiful, btw, highly recommend checking it out)…
Mistake #3: I was turned down at the Duomo because my romper wasn’t knee-length and my shoulders were showing.
Italy has a lot of churches. Churches generally have a pretty conservative environment. My romper wasn’t conservative. Whoops!
So, yes, I was told by the man checking the tickets that my romper wasn’t appropriate for entering the church. Luckily, they kind of anticipate this, and you can buy a “cover up” for €2 at the same place you buy your tickets in the Piazza Del Duomo.
As you can see, this cover up was super fashionable – so fashionable, that it was a little bit embarrassing to wear, but once I saw that everybody and their mother (literally) was wearing one, I felt a little bit better.
I even saw some guys rocking this latest trend from Milan, so this flimsy paper towel-feeling kimono that kind of reminds me of the cape they put on you when you’re getting your hair cut isn’t all that bad. When you see it on the runway this year, think of me.
And that’s all I have so far if you want to embrace your tourist status in Milan. It’s not that bad being a tourist, I promise.
BTW, if you’re not already following me on YouTube, you should definitely check it out because I may or may not (I will) have a travel vlog going up soon *wink wink*