What it’s like to visit Milan right now

The fifth and final installment in my train journey from southern Switzerland to northern Italy. See parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 here.

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In front of the Duomo of Milan, August 2020.

It was a privilege to be back in Milan. I first visited Milan around this time last year, a trip that I distinctly remember as sunny, breezy, carefree, and full of light and joy. This time — well, things are a bit different.

Where I stayed

Since I had an early train to catch, I stayed near Milano Centrale this time instead of the more vibrant shopping district and historical center. I booked a double room at the Spice Hotel, which was surprisingly inexpensive at almost 40% cheaper than my last hotel stay in Milan. It was only a five-minute walk from the train station.

Out of all the hotels that I’ve stayed at this summer, this one ranked highest in terms of the number of precautions taken. This was the sign that greeted me at the hotel entrance.

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Lots of barriers and signs leading up to the front desk, which was protected by plexiglass.
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A pleasant surprise: the room opened up to a balcony, which was too small to accommodate chairs but enough to stand on. Ideal for someone who needs fresh air.

Walking around Milan

The train station is about a 30-minute walk from downtown Milan. It’s a pretty easy walk and doesn’t take you through any seedy neighborhoods, but one thing jumped out to me: while I was walking around, I got catcalled four times, which almost never happens. Someone near the train station yelled “Ciao ching ching!” at me, while another person near the Duomo called out, “Ciao Korean!”

How are you supposed to respond when this happens? My body’s natural fight-or-flight instinct is to pretend not to hear and walk faster, so by the time my brain has processed this information and determined it to be both sexist and racist, I am already far away from the instigator. One day I would love to react coolly in the moment with a middle finger, but you never know whether it’s safe or not.

The streets were surprisingly empty on a Wednesday afternoon.

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One of the shopping districts was deserted.
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The world-famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, just next to the Duomo. Some foot traffic, but rather sparse. In front of each restaurant, smartly dressed servers waited patiently for patrons.

 

And here was the Duomo itself. Much less crowded compared to last year.

 

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Last year, at the back of the Duomo.

I took a photo of the same location for comparison.

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Metro station, August 2019.
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The same station in August 2020.
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One thing that remains a constant throughout all this: Chinese consumers lining up outside a Louis Vuitton shop.
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But otherwise the luxury shops were pretty deserted.

In the evening, I caught the metro back to the train station, something I had also done the previous year. It was rush hour, yet the cars were not at all close to full. Every two seats were blocked out in an attempt at physical distancing.

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I ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant near the train station. It was, once again, nearly deserted: there were only two other patrons in the restaurant, though multiple people did stop by to pick up delivery orders.

The next morning I had breakfast at a nearby cafe. Due to COVID they no longer offered copies of the menu — you told the waiter/barista/cashier what you wanted to eat, and he told you whether they could make it or not. (I had a cheese omelette.) I also had the best cafe latte of my life here. Highly recommend!

My last stop was at a Carrefour Express to grab a snack for my train trip home. It is WILD how Carrefours differ across countries. They were selling white paint with the Pope’s picture on it.

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Also got some authentic Italian coffee for my moka pot!

Back to Geneva

Just before our train crossed back into Switzerland, a pair of Swiss police came onboard. I had assumed that they were there to check everyone’s passports — the same thing had happened when I came back from Austria — but instead they made a beeline for the guy sitting a few seats away from me. Where was he from? France. Where was he going? France. Did he have a passport? Yes.

After they cleared him, the police exited the train, leaving the rest of us unchecked. I wasn’t sure if he had been “randomly selected” or not; the guy was brown and spoke French with a foreign accent, so it was a possibility.

In addition to passing back through the lovely Lugano and Bellinzona, our train also went through the Gotthard Base Tunnel — the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world! It is 57.09 km (35.5 mi) long and takes approximately 20 minutes to pass through. We had steady signal the entire time.

Truly stunning views along the way….

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