App Review: VisitMilano

You’re new to the city and want to see all the best tourist attractions as you settle in to your daily life. Or you’ve already been in Milan for a few weeks but you need a little help navigating your new city. Or you’ve been here months but you want to take advantage of the many events happening around town. Or you’re practically a local but you have friends or family coming to visit, ready to see all the sights.

You could surf the web for all this info, sometimes running into roadblocks if you don’t speak Italian. And right here on MilanoZine, we have a quick guide to sightseeing in Milan, which we highly recommend!

Main menuBut now there’s a one-stop solution to all these scenarios: VisitMilano. It’s the official tourism app that was recently released by the city of Milan.

Main Functions
The VisitMilano app is available for Android and iPhone – we reviewed the Android version. The main screen has several of the main features you can scroll through, with the @turismomilano Twitter feed at the bottom (with tweets in both English and Italian). You can access the menu (as seen in the screenshot) from the upper left-hand corner.

One event in this sectionThe app’s most important functions include:

  • Events: Info on events in the city
  • Attractions: Top tourist spots
  • Itineraries: Several different topic-based itineraries
  • Getting Around: Information on public transport and purchasing tickets

The other sections on the app’s main menu don’t seem to be very helpful: The “Favorites” section is simply a questionnaire, in Italian, about who you are; “Creative Milan” had just 5 design-related events and exhibits; “Chosen for you” only listed one random exhibit on my phone (even after I updated the info in the “Favorites” section); the “Milan for you” section allows you answer a questionnaire about the app and send pictures and information to Turismo Milano; and of course the Credits provides info on who developed the app.

Map view of eventsEvents and Attractions
These two sections are the backbone of the app, with lots of useful info for both tourists and longer-term residents. Events and attractions are available both as a list and on a handy map of the city, so you can get an idea of where they’re located. There are descriptions of each item, but, in our opinion, the English text could be improved upon. However, descriptions are good enough for users to understand and learn more about the city.

Both sections are divided into various categories based on your interests. Events can be searched by date and can also be saved to your phone’s calendar. Another cool feature is that some events and attractions are located outside the city, in case you’re interested in taking a day trip.

One area with room for improvement is there is no location-based list functions: that is, events and attractions can’t be listed based on your location, as is available in other apps (e.g. TripAdvisor and Swarm).

Itineraries
The app has a good selection of itineraries for various kinds of tourists. Whatever your interests, from fashion and design, to history and art to food and sports, there’s a cool itinerary for you. And, again, locations outside the city center are often included.

Menu for Getting AroundGetting Around Features
In the Getting Around section, you can purchase tickets for public transport, find out the best way to get from point A to point B (Trip planner), get info on bike sharing and parking. The “Public transport” section is supposed to give you info on the closest stop to a certain location, but it wasn’t working when I tried it (it kept pointing me to Piazza Fontana regardless of what address I inserted).

The purchase tickets functions seems to work. If you want to buy tickets, you’ll be charged using mobile phone credit (tickets can be scanned directly from your phone). Your phone can then be scanned as you go through the turnstiles to get on the subway.

Map of itineraryTrip planner can be pretty helpful to someone who’s not familiar with the city. However, it’s not very user-friendly because it just shows you a map, with no written instructions on what tram or subway to take and which direction (as you can see in the screenshot). And it can be confusing because you need to use a specific address (i.e. Piazza del Duomo, Milan) instead of a landmark like “Duomo” when you search.

The Bike sharing function works well: you’ll see where the bike stands are located and how many bikes are available at each location. It will also show you how to get to a specific bike stand, if necessary.

 

Data Usage
If you’re worried about international roaming charges, no need for concern: this app is not a data hog (though we always suggest using local WiFi whenever possible when traveling abroad!). And on our Android phone, it only takes up about 34MB of memory.

Pros
Lots of info on events, attractions and several good itineraries for travelers. The bike sharing and purchasing tickets for public transport sections can be handy.

Cons
The English used in descriptions for events and attractions is not the best. Some functions, like the Trip Planner and Chosen for You sections, need improvement.

In Short
A good app for newcomers to Milan, but let’s hope for updates soon to fix the various problems we found!

Leonardo’s Vineyard in Milano

The Renaissance master tends his garden, examining the plump grapes just before harvest. Later, while taking a break from painting the Last Supper, he oversees the winemaking process as his workers press the grapes and ferment and age the juice and pulp.  After it has been aged, he tastes the finished product and enjoys what his very own vineyard has produced.

Gate and vineyardThis is the image that a trip to La Vigna di Leonardo evokes. Experience a tour of the Renaissance villa where Leonardo Da Vinci stayed while in Milan. Then wander around the villa’s beautiful courtyard, including a small vineyard that once belonged to Leonardo himself.

This unique museum opened last year, just in time for the Expo. Leonardo’s vineyard was destroyed during WWII, but researchers recently started working on identifying the variety of grape that had been planted there. After testing the soil, the same vines were replanted in the same location as the original vineyard.

Stone well in green settingSo, if you’re curious about the Renaissance painter’s life when he lived in Milan, first go see the Last Supper. Then go to La Vigna di Leonardo.

La Vigna di Leonardo
Corso Magenta 65
+39 02 4816150
Admission: €10 full price; €8 students
Opening times: Mon-Sat 9am-6pm (last tour starts at 5:30pm)

GETTING THERE
Metro: MM1/MM2 Cadorna, MM1 Conciliazione, MM2 S. Ambrogio
Train: FNM Stazione Cadorna
Tram: 16 e 19
Bus: 18, 50, 58, 94

Of Bulls and Mice

Probably few spots in Milano are more well-known than Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, especially to tourists. Linking two of the most famed places in the city, piazza Duomo and piazza della Scala, this sophisticated gallery is an iconic passage itself, with its eclectic decorations, tiled floor and the bright dome arching over the central octagon.

Designed by at-the-time young architect Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1877, the gallery was inspired by those great iron buildings – like the Crystal Palace in London – that embodied the most recent technological achievements and a widespread, unwavering faith in the industrial progress. Its dome, in turn, would inspire Gustave Eiffel a few years later for his own architectural work.

As soon as it came into existence, the gallery became “il salotto di Milano” (‘Milano’s salon’), with all its caffè – Caffè Biffi opened the first, soon followed by Caffè Campari (today Zucca in Galleria) – and the many luxury shops, restaurants, and a hotel. People would gather there to discuss politics in the newborn Italy, even heatedly: and many intellectuals and artists, like Giuseppe Verdi, King Umberto I or Carlo Carrà, were regulars at those caffè.

An unorthodox lucky charm

There’s a very peculiar tradition regarding Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.

If you get to the ottagono, the gallery’s central area where its two branches meet, and stroll around it looking at the floor, you’ll notice five coats of arms. The central one belongs to Casa Savoia, the reigning family back when Italy was a monarchy (that is, up until 1946 when the people, via referendum, chose the republic instead); the other ones, in a circle around it, are the crests of the four cities that have been, at various times, capitals of Italy. In order: Milano (in the Napoleonic era), Torino, Firenze and Roma (under the Savoias).

You see Turin’s? The one with a rampant bull? Maybe you can’t properly make out the crest because there are so many people around it—and someone’s circling strangely around their own right heel, it looks dumb…

Get closer. Their heel’s actually on the bull’s lower region, and you’ll notice that person’s turning around exactly for three times.

Still puzzled? Just follow the example. It’s good luck. 🙂

The allegories

After you’ve secured your fate, have another stroll around the ottagono, only this time with your nose up in the air.

You’ll see paintings alternate with the arches under the dome. Those four frescoes are the so-called allegories. An allegory is like a symbol, where certain images represent an idea, a concept that you understand through a rational interpretation. In this case, they represent four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

Aren’t they beautiful?

There were also four other allegories by the two short entrances, representing the Human Activities: Science, Industry, Art and Agriculture. They’re no longer at their place, though—today they can be found at the GAM (Modern Art Gallery).

A mouse at the speed of light – Meet the ‘rattin’

Now keep your nose up. Have you ever wondered how the dome was lit when there was no electricity?

You’d be amazed to know the job was done by a mouse. Rattin (the dialectal for tiny mouse) was in facts its name.

It was not a real one, though. At the beginning, lighting in the galleria was still provided by round gas lamps (that are still visible today, between a shop window and another), often with the addition of hanging chandeliers. But this was only in the very gallery, alongside shops and cafes.

How the dome was lit was another matter.

For that, architect Mengoni found a brilliant solution. At the base of the dome was a series of jets to burn with an open flame. To set them on fire, he built like a mini-rail where a spring-loaded device would run, soaked in some inflammable liquid, lighting up the jets as it passed. Ever since its first appearance, this mechanism awoke the Milanese’s admiration, and stories are told about how people would gather at lighting time just to see the little thing run around—just like a tiny mouse. 🙂

More on the gallery can be found in Italian over at Vecchia Milano (here and here). Also, don’t miss the coolness of a HD virtual visit at the ottagono!

Venice in a Day!

Venice is one the most beautiful cities in the world and I recommend all Bocconians to visit it! However, we do not have much time to allocate, so we must be very efficient in our Venice tour. I will therefore give you the best schedule to enjoy the city in exactly 8 hours!

1) 7:05am Pick a day and buy you train tickets! I would recommend you take the Milano Centrale – Venezia Santa Lucia 7:05am train for the outward journey. You will be in Venice at 9:40am. Check the Trenitalia website for info on specials and student discounts. Price: €18-€30.00. Time: 2h35min.

2) 9:40am Visit the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute and the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Buy a 1-day vaporetto ticket from ticket machine for €20 (more info on the Venice transport website). Get on the shuttle line 1 at pier “Ferrovia” and get off at pier “Salute” (shuttle time: 35min). Price for basilica: free. Price for Guggenheim museum: €9 for students.

3) 11:30am Stroll around Piazza San Marco, visit the Basilica San Marco and climb up the Campanile. Take vaporetto line 1 from “Salute” to “San Marco Giardinetti” and you are now in Piazza San Marco! Time at Basilica: 20min. Price of Campanile entrance: €8. Time at Campanile: 20min.

4) 12:45pm Have lunch! Wander around the streets a little bit and avoid the tourist traps in Piazza San Marco, they can be super-pricey!

5) 1:45pm Visit the Palazzo Ducale! Price: €11 for students. Time: 1h.

6) 3:15pm Browse one of the exhibits showcased at the Palazzo Grassi Museum and have a cup of coffee at the museum bar. Take line 3 at “San Marco Giardinetti” and get off at “San Samuele”. You are facing the Palazzo, enjoy! Museum price: €10. Time: 1h.

7) 5:00pm Discover the furnaces of the legendary island of Murano! Take the shuttle back to “Ferrovia” from “San Samuele” using line 2. Then the orange line called “DM” at “Ferrovia” and get off the shuttle at “Murano Colonna.”

8 ) 6:15pm Have an early dinner one of the many typical trattorias or restaurants on Strada Nova. To get back to Venice from Murano take the DM shuttle the other way around and get off at pier “Ferrovia.” Then walk 15 minutes to get from the pier to Strada Nova.

9) 7:30pm You are back at the station Venezia San Lucia and you should be on train back to Milano leaving at 7:50pm, the last train of the day!

I hope you all enjoy you tour of Venice as much as I did with my friends. I know it’s a tight schedule but this is the most efficient way to have a great trip and and visit the best places of the city!

Protip: Prices, opening hours for museums/monuments and shuttle schedules may be subjected to changes so I advise you make sure the above-mentioned places are open.

Top 20 Reasons to Study Abroad in Italy

One of the most frequently-asked question you’re asked before you leave for your study abroad program is, “So, why did you choose that particular country to study abroad?” Your response is usually, “Well, that university had just the right program for my academic interests, it was the perfect fit! And I’ll be able to study exactly what I’m interested in and get the experience I need for my future studies and career.”

But we all know the truth: your decision to study in Italy was probably based in part on reasons other than your education! You’re aware that you won’t be spending the whole time in the classroom. And there are lots of aspects to living in a foreign country that you thought about before deciding which place was right for you.

These are the top 20 reasons to study abroad in Italy, the allure of the bel paese:

Lifestyle

1. Italy is famous for la dolce vita: that means making the most of the little things in life, not sweating the “small stuff” and just enjoying yourself!

2. You love the sound of the melodic Italian language. Living and studying in Italy means you’ll be hearing the dulcet tones of the language every day.

3. You’ve always been curious why Italian people are always using their hands when they talk and you want to find out what all those different hand gestures mean.

Festive Ape Piaggio 4. And you don’t really know the rules of cheek kissing: is it one kiss or two? Or three? When you meet someone, when saying good-bye? Part of your informal education in Italy will include the art of the friendly kiss!

5. The cool confidence of the country’s soccer players was palpable at this year’s World Cup (even if the Azzurri team didn’t get very far in the championship!). And if you’re a fan of the game, the culture surrounding calcio in Italy is pretty serious. There are so many the great teams in the Serie A league to cheer for: Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Juventus, Fiorentina…

6. Small city cars and scooters are all over Italy! Vespas, Ape Piaggios, Fiat 500s, Minis, Smarts… And the vintage models are the best! Why not take a drive when you’re studying abroad?

7. Not to mention all the super-sleek and fast sports cars. Italy is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Abarth and Ducati motorcycles.

8. You might have gotten a taste of Italy from classic neorealist cinema: think a young Sophia Loren in black and white. You need to find out if that version of the country still exists somewhere.

9. And you know that Italy is famous for amazing fashion and design. Even if you don’t go to any fashion shows or the annual Salone del Mobile in Milano, you can still soak in the easy but fabulous style of the Italians around you.

Italian seaside town at nightTravel

10. The weather: most of the country has a nice, mild Mediterranean climate, not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer. When it is cold, skiing is usually an option. And when it is hot, the beach is usually only a short trip away!

11. Lots of famous art and culture from the Renaissance was produced right here in Italy. That means the museums all over the country are bursting with masterpieces!

12. Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, Sicily… There are so many tourist destinations, it’s hard to choose where to start!

13. With 7,600km of coastline, Italy has been ranked the 14th country in the world for length of coastline. And much of that is covered in beautiful beaches, perfect for people watching, getting a great tan and swimming in the Mediterranean. You have to experience it for yourself.

Food and Drink

14. Italy is serious about its pasta. And each of the scores of shapes has a specific traditional sauce to go with it. You need to learn more about all those recipes and especially how they taste!

15. Italy’s famous for so many delicious delicacies: tiramisù, varied pastries, as well as so many kinds of cheese, prosciutto, truffles, olive oil…

16. Lots of Italians take part in the pre-dinner ritual of taking a moment to relax over drinks with friends, usually with a snack or maybe a buffet. When you’re studying abroad, you have to learn more about the Italian tradition of the aperitivo! Try a Negroni, a Bellini, a Spritz, or just a beer, a glass of wine or a soft drink.

Bocconi students tasting wine17. Espresso! And of course caffè macchiato, latte macchiato, caffè lungo, caffè corretto, cappuccino, marocchino, orzo in tazza grande, cioccolata, decaffeinato, however you like it!

18. Because what better way to learn about wine varietals, vintages, aromas and tastes than a Tuscan vineyard? Wine is produced just about everywhere in Italy and each region has its own specialty.

19. Italy invented possibly one of the most perfect foods in the world: pizza! While you’re studying abroad here, you can visit Naples and try the original pizza margherita. Or just enjoy anything your local pizzeria serves up, it’s all wonderful!

20. Italy is also home to the best form of ice cream on the planet. Gelato is served in a variety of traditional and innovative flavors all across the peninsula. During your program you can take your time trying them all!

Take a Day Trip to Como

Even though we do love living in Milan, there are weeks where everyone needs a break from city life. The best part about living in a geographically central city such as Milan is that there are ample opportunities to go to nearby places in Europe for a visit. Most of the big European cities are not more than an hour and a half away by flight, and budget airlines have made travelling much cheaper these days. However, if you do want to take a short break from Milan and still not go too far away, fear not, Italy itself has some amazing little towns that you can visit just in the course of a day.

The town of Como is a perfect getaway for a weekend day trip. Situated on the banks of Lago di Como and encircled by the Alps on three sides, this picturesque town exudes Italian small town charm. Como is famous not only because of the various celebrities that own villas there (eg. George Clooney) but also for its laid back atmosphere, rich cultural history and of course, the lakeside view.

A few suggestions about what you can do in Como in the course of a day:

  1. Walk through the historical city center area and visit the Duomo (the main Cathedral), which is commonly described as the last Gothic cathedral built in Italy. There are several other medieval churches and structures along the way that merit attention as well.
  2. Stroll through the scenic path by the lake, and you can even take a short boat or a ferry ride around the Lago di Como.
  3. At the end of the path by the lake, there is a beautiful public garden that is worth visiting, which also has the famous the neoclassical structure of the Tempio Voltiano and the Volta Museum (incidentally Como was the birthplace of the famous Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, known universally for designing the first electric cell circuit).
  4. If you have some more time, you can take the funicular railway to the tiny village of Brunate, which has about 1800 inhabitants. The view of the lake from top of the mountain is exquisite and is 715 meters above sea level. For those of you interested in hiking, there are a lot of scenic hiking paths on the mountain as well.

For more information about Como, visit their official tourism website over here.

Como is well connected from Milan and is just an hour away from the city by train. Trains to Como leave frequently every day from the Stazione Centrale of Milan, as well as Cadorna, and stop right downtown, near the lake (the Como Lago stop). For more information on train schedules, have a look at the Trenitalia and Le Nord websites.