Image Alt

Peepers, Pedicures, Plays & Police in Milan

Duomo di Milano

Peepers, Pedicures, Plays & Police in Milan

Milano is the city where we got to learn to live in Europe, not just be visitors. And once we moved out of the tourism realm, we realized many Milanese people know slightly more English than we do Italian. Which isn’t much. 

Jackie modeling new glasses.
Loving my fancy new Milano specs!


My glasses got scratched on our way here, which resulted in some pretty bad headaches. Sidenote: The pharmacist in Geneva gave us Panadol, which is a game-changer. This gave us a chance to actually shop in Milan, which we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do with the whole living out of suitcases thing. Through the attentiveness of my eye doctor in Reno, Dr. David Leonard, we were able to get my prescription to Redaelli Ottici Optometristi. The optometrist and optician there knew enough English between them to make up for our reliance on “ciao” and “grazie” to communicate. I got my glasses fixed, while also getting some fancy new Milano specs so I would have back-ups. 

Toes from Italy.


It was also time for our monthly pedicures, though that one was kind of dicey, as I read Mar as March not Martedì (Tuesday) and we showed up a day late for our appointment. Since the nail techs spoke no English, we communicated our apology through hand gestures, Google Translate and a bag of croissants. And we ended up with some lovely Italian flag toes to commemorate our time in Italy.


Clay standing in front of a sign for Beauty & The Beast.
We enjoyed hearing the story of
La Bella e la Bestia in Milan.

By the time we arrived in Milan, it had been months since we’d seen any live performances so we knew it was time. Conveniently enough, the Teatro Arcimboldi, around the corner from our flat, was showing Beauty & The Beast, a story we already know so it didn’t matter that we didn’t know Italian. It was fun hanging out at the matinee with crowds of families with little girls in princess costumes, listening to that beautiful language on stage and in the audience. 


This one required a whole post all on its own. Click here to find out how we were Keyser Sözed by a little old woman in a Starbucks. It’s good this experience happened early in our adventure as it has given us new insight into how to protect ourselves. And the visit to the police station allowed Clay a chance to run in a new neighborhood, so there was that. 

Now on to what you’re more likely here for — exploring Milan. 

But first a little history

Italy’s history is very complicated so we’re going to go to a source we can understand,, which shares: “Italy’s first societies emerged around 1200 B.C. Around 800 B.C. Greeks settled in the south and Etruscans arose in central Italy. By the sixth century B.C., the Etruscans had created a group of states called Etruria. Meanwhile, Latin and Sabine people south of Etruria merged to form a strong city-state called Rome. In the 12th century, Italian city-states began to rise again and grow rich on trade. But Italy remained a patchwork of territories, some of which were controlled by foreign dynasties. Beginning in 1859, an uprising forced the foreigners out, and in 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed.” 

It wasn’t until after World War II — June 2, 1947 — that Italy was officially declared a Republic. So yeah, America has been a country for longer than Italy. Officially. 

A Journalist & Her Dog

We learned all that from our guide, Ruth, who we found on Airbnb Experiences. While I have a journalism background, we were drawn to her “Tour with a Journalist and her Dog” mostly because of the dog. And Spank was just as delightful as we had hoped. 

So was Ruth, fourth generation Milanese, who taught us all kinds of things about Italian history and Milano.

We started by walking around the Duomo di Milano, a structure that is literally breath-taking. Every single time we came out of the Metro and saw it, we had to stop and breathe it in. Every single time. This is the first manmade structure I’ve ever seen that cannot be experienced through photography. You have to see it in person to appreciate it. shares just some of why it’s so overwhelming: “It covers a surface of 109,641 square feet and an entire city block; and includes 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures.” 

Duomo di Milano exterior view
You can get to the top of the Duomo by stairs or elevator (which we opted for), but there’s only one way down — lots and lots of stairs.

We had a chance to get to the top and experience even more magnificence. If you visit the Duomo, you must do that. You might even luck into non-line time like we did, mid-day on a Wednesday. 

Ruth explained that it took more than 600 years to complete, with the final push to get it done coming from Napoleon, who lit a fire under the workers by demanding to be crowned King of Italy there. Didn’t know Napoleon was also King of Italy? Me neither. One more benefit of travel. 

The entire building is made of marble, something that is not found naturally in Milan. Ruth explained they transported it there from the quarries of Candoglia by building a series of canals and shipping it by boats. Later, they realized they needed streets and filled in most of the canals, so if you want to see canals, you have to visit the Navigli District in southern Milan. We didn’t go there because we were going to Venice next, but it sounds like a very cool artist district.  

Many people know Milan for the shopping, and it is a shopper’s paradise. At the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Rinascente Milano, you can find whatever you’re looking for (as long as it’s expensive), from Prada and Chanel to Gucci and Louis Vuitton. We weren’t there to shop, due to the aforementioned living out of a suitcase thing, but it was fun being downtown during Fashion Week and seeing not only some pretty high-end photo shoots in front of the Duomo, but also lots of very fashionable people out and about. I have no idea if that’s how people normally dress in Milano, but we were very impressed (especially Clay) while we were there.

Our Man, Leonardo 

Leonardo da Vinci is considered the planner of Milan and the canals are part of that. shares: “Leonardo arrived in Milan in 1482 and was later recruited by Ludovico Sforza, who gave him the task of researching a system that could make the navigation between Lake Como and Milan possible. He designed a system of levees that aimed to make the distance navigable by solving the problem of altitude differences between the two places.”  

Ruth let us know that Leonardo is his full name as Da Vinci simply means “from Vinci.”

We’re going to try really hard not to be insufferable about this the next time someone mentions Leonardo da Vinci to us. “Well, actually…”

Born in Vinci, he spent most of his early life in Florence, before moving to Milan, where he lived from 1482 to 1499 under the patronage of Duke Ludovico Sforza. And his influence can be seen everywhere throughout the city. 

The Museum of Science shares: “From 1485 to 1490, Leonardo produced studies on many subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, municipal construction, canals and architecture (designing everything from churches to fortresses). His studies from this period contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war vehicles, various combat devices, and even submarines. Also during this period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies.” Slacker. 

Leonardo’s influence can be felt everywhere in Milan.

In front of the Duomo is the Monumento a Leonardo da Vinci, with reliefs illustrating four areas he is known for — anatomy, engineering, painting and architecture — as well as four of his pupils.

We didn’t go to the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, as we’re planning to visit the one in Florence, but now that I’m writing this, I feel like that might have been a mistake. shares: “Found in a 16th century monastery, this is one of the most important museums of science and technology in the world. Its collections, featuring cars, aircraft, ships, scooters, trains, reconstructions of ancient workshops for metalworking, clock-making right through to electronics, textiles and astronomy, explore the relationship between men and machines starting from the ingenious inventions of Leonardo.” 

How’s it hanging Napoleon?

The artistic heart

Ruth also took us to the Brera District, considered the artistic heart of the city. It is home to Accademia di Belle Arti and the Teatro Alla Scala, which is evidently the place to be, with opening night tickets starting at 1,200 euro. 

We also visited the Pinacoteca di Brera, which shares, “Built by the great architect Giuseppe Piermarini, the Pinacoteca is housed within the walls of an ancient fourteenth-century convent that once belonged to the religious Order of the Humiliati and was commissioned by Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria. The collections include artworks ranging from the fourth millennium B.C. to the twentieth century, with an obvious focus on Italian painting.” 

We were most impressed with the statue of Napoleon in his Mars (yes, the god) incarnation. No ego there. 

a castle & a moat

Grass formerly known as a moat.

Last on our tour with Ruth and Spank was Castello Sforzesco, one of the largest castles in Europe. This impressive complex has been a residence, fortress and military barrack, and now it’s home to museums and other cultural institutions. Except for the museums, it’s free to explore so you can stand in the same courtyards, looking at the same moats that royals once did. Leonardo also worked here under the patronage of Ludovico il Moro.

Arch of Peace with a statue of horses on top
I wasn’t sad to learn about Napoleon
finally losing.

Located right outside the front entrance gate is the Monumento a Giuseppe Garibaldi, who contributed to the unification of Italy and is considered to be one of the greatest generals of modern times. We’re seeing statues of him everywhere (I’m sitting on Garibaldi Street in Venice writing this), and we’re not sure Napoleon would approve of all this love for someone else.

This might be one of the best lines I’ve ever read about a war hero, from, “After a failed insurrection, he fled to South America, where he took part in some civil wars and where he met and married his wife, Anita.”

Though visitors no longer have to defend themselves from advancing armies, you do have to be on guard from the hustlers “giving” you roses or friendship bracelets and then demanding payment. Leave your passports at home and keep your wallets and phones in your front pockets. 

Clay got some great footage of the castle on one of his runs

Down the road from the castle is the cousin of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, though this one was renamed Arco della Pace (the Arch of Peace) after Napoleon (finally) lost. shares, “The arch was originally intended to document Napoleon’s victories, but construction was abandoned when the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy was conquered by the Austrian Empire.”

Real Italian Cooking

We took a break from all the art and history to take a cooking class, “The Secrets to Learn Pasta & Tiramisu” in Bruna’s beautiful historic home, taught by her grandson, Marco. I found the class for Clay, so he could learn how to cook more amazing recipes for us, because I’m a giver like that. He convinced me to go with him and I’m really glad I did. Sidenote: Take these classes! It is so much fun learning from locals in their homes.

I’m guessing many of you already know that pasta is just flour and egg, but that was news to me. We learned how to make dough, which magically transformed into tagliatelle and ravioli. I also found out that I didn’t used to like tiramisu before because I hadn’t had it with the right kind of mascarpone cheese. Now I not only know how to make tiramisu, but I love it and will eat it at all of our stops in Italy. Once again, I’m grateful for all the walking. Our delicious homemade meal also came with wine and limoncello, made from the lemons growing on Bruna’s patio. 

Tiramisu translates to “Cheer me up.”

Not that I don’t love spending every minute of every day with Clay, but it was nice meeting new people in this class. In addition to Marco and his cousin/helper Mina, we got to spend time with a couple from Australia, a woman from London celebrating her birthday and an Italian teacher from France, in addition to three young students on holiday from their school in Scotland. 

There’s a good chance we’ll take a cooking class in every new country we visit now, though it would be difficult to top that one. 

The Last Supper painted on the wall of a church.
Because of the Last Supper, 13 is considered an unlucky number for dinner parties in Italy. So they’ll invite one more or disinvite someone to keep the number lucky.

Enjoying one Last Supper in Milan

Something else I didn’t know is that Leonardo actually painted the Last Supper on the wall of the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. So if you want to see it, you have to go there — there will be no loaning of this masterpiece to other museums.

The Last Supper, which was painted between 1495 and 1497, is obviously extremely fragile, so air quality and other environmental factors are carefully monitored, and only 35 people are allowed to see it for 15 minutes at a time. Though that does require buying tickets in advance (plan well for this one), it’s lovely to be able to experience it in that environment. Our tour was an hour total, giving our guide, Lorenzo, time to explain the backstory of this masterpiece before we went in, as you’re encouraged to whisper while in the sacred place where it’s housed. 

Lorenzo also let us know that this painting is the Italian version of the Last Supper, as it’s told in the second language for most Italians — body. 

Honestly, it’s worth visiting Milano just for this. If it’s going to be awhile before you can get there though, you can learn more about the Last Supper here.

More Art Everywhere

Though we didn’t enjoy the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour in Milan as much as we do other places, it did give us a chance to see even more art than we had already experienced, including: 

Giant statue of a middle finger.
We love this one cuz we’re still in 8th grade.
Giant dome
Not all of the art in Milan is historic, though this does pre-date the original Star Wars.
  • The Fountain of San Francesco, located in Piazza Sant ‘Angelo. It’s only 100 years old and features a statue of St. Francis of Assisi feeding bronze birds, though it is also a lovely place for real birds to hang out. This isn’t the only connection to San Francisco, as Milano donated one of its trolley cars to the City by the Bay.
  • We loved L.O.V.E., which is the acronym for Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità (Freedom, Hatred, Revenge, Eternity) and is symbolized by a finger that most of us will recognize. 
  • Located in Piazza Meda, the Grande Disco would fit perfectly in any of the Star Wars films. It was created by Arnoldo Pomodoro in 1972.

As I’m not a fashionista (obviously), I did not expect to love Milan, but I had no idea how many things there are there to love. If you’re anywhere near it, we would highly recommend stopping by for at least a couple of days. Just keep your belongings close.  

If you’re planning a visit, consider downloading our Milano Scavenger Hunt to explore the sites!

TL;DR for Milan
Duomo de Milano

The Last Supper 

Musée de Leonardo

Jackie Shelton, APR, is a strategic communications veteran who, after 30 years still has a hard time focusing on one particular aspect, so she has stopped trying.


  • Heather Cleymaet
    March 13, 2023

    I very much enjoyed the Milan post. It felt like taking a quick trip to Italy on this dreary Monday morning. And I learned some new history about The Duomo, Napoleon, and Leonardo. Thank you.


Post a Comment

Follow us on