Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Three days in Milan with kids

Milan is not a popular tourist destination in the summer. Families who go to Italy generally privilege the "classics": Venice, Florence, Rome. Even the "milanesi" like me (read: Italians from Milan) leave the city for the seaside, so that Milan becomes an increasingly deserted landscape as July goes by, and eventually shuts down completely in August. Why do the locals jump ship? Well, the answer is easy: Milan is hot in the summer and, as it is the case in most European cities, air conditioning in private homes is not very common. An additional reason is that Italian parents deeply believe in the beneficial effects of beach vacations for kids, and they will bend over backwards to ensure that they have even a short one.

Yet, there are a couple of reasons why you may want to consider stopping in Milan for a few days during the summer. First, even though the city is underpopulated, all businesses and services are open until the end of July. In fact, in certain instances, stores are open on more convenient schedules to accommodate for the tourists. Second, because the city is underpopulated, you will not have to fight your way into most museums and attractions. Last but not least, the fashionable mom should not miss the summer sales, which normally run until the end of July. No other city besides Rome will have the same selection of merchandise as Milan does, but in Milan it will be easier to shop because of the smaller amount of people around. In addition, fall styles, which are not available in North America before late August, will already be in stores.

What to do then if you pass by Milan in the summer? We were incredibly lucky that a family of close friends from Canada stayed with us right when we arrived in Milan, so I can give you a concrete example of what we did with our kids (two toddlers and an infant).

WHAT TO WEAR. Before I begin, let me give you some advice about what to wear. As I mentioned, Milan is hot in the summer so your goal should be to wear the smallest and lightest amount of clothing as possible. I personally choose light dresses in neutral colors (the only time of the year when I transgress my rule of not wearing white when my son is around), and I try to avoid linen because I do not like the fact that is gets crinkled so easily. If you are planning to walk around, with kids on top of anything, you will also need comfortable shoes. Every year a buy a mid-priced pair of sandals that I wear to the ground until the end of the season, and then throw out. I also always have a pair of closed-toe shoes (ballerinas or sneakers) that I use in the evenings to prevent bug bites (see my mosquito warning at the end of this post). Finally, since most air-conditioned places do not keep their temperature very low, during the day you will not need a sweater, but you may want to have one for the evening.

TRANSPORTATION. The easiest way to get around town is public transportation. I find that what is particularly fun for kids is to take the tram -- my son could ride on it for hours without getting bored. If you ask the conductor, he will also show the kids how the tram works.

ACTIVITIES. Milan has many beautiful museums, but they are generally a bit boring for toddlers. There are a couple of things though that they, and you, may enjoy. The first is Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Beware here that getting tickets is not easy: they can only be reserved online, or through a local 800 number. We were able to get tickets at the last minute and our two toddlers loved it. The second is the Museum of Natural History. If compared to its North American counterparts it stands little chance, but it is still nice and it offers an air-conditioned refuge from the heat. More importantly, it is located inside one of Milan's nicest park (formerly the zoo), which I strongly recommend you to go to. If you are lucky you may bump into the "carabinieri a cavallo" (policemen on horses), which kids always love.

SHOPPING. To avoid dragging your little ones around shopping for too long, I suggest you to go to "il centro" (the city centre) and to stop at La Rinascente, Milan's highest-end department store, which is located right next to the Duomo. Its seven floors offer a very good selection, which ranges from luxury to mid-price labels (most of whom you will probably not know, but that offer a good price-quality ratio). On the top floor, there is also a beautiful terrace with a few restaurants that overlook the top of the Duomo (you should try a "burrata" at the mozzarella bar or a "risotto milanese" at the restaurant). If your husband has come along, you could suggest that he and the kids go to visit the nearby Ferrari flagship store, where he will surely be entertained and the kids can have their picture taken inside a real Formula 1 car. At the same time, you'll have some shopping time alone: a win-win situation! A couple of things may be disappointing though, at La Rinascente as in any other store. Since the sales start at the beginning if July, markdowns at this time of the year are only around 30% off, whereas the summer sales in the US are approaching consolidation at 70-80% off. In addition, stuff in euros is expensive, even though comparable items are still cheaper. For instance, my husband got a pair of Tod's moccasins at 210€ (down from 290€), which would probably sell for 400-500$ in Canada or the US.

La Rinascente's top floor bar overlooking the Duomo 

CHANGING FACILITIES. Since we had an infant with us, the obvious issue of changing diapers while were at the city centre came up. Café, restaurants and stores in this area are badly equipped for this situation though. What we did, and I would recommend, was to stop by at the Chicco store, which has convenient and clean facilities (even a breastfeeding room, if you would need one). While we were there, we also stocked up on mosquito repellent, one of the best I have ever found.

SHORT TRIPS. We decided to spend one of the three days our friends were in town to go to the Como lake. We took the train to the city of Como, which is only an hour away, and we had lunch there. Then we got an hop-on hop-off boat tour of the lake, and we stopped in the cute town of Cernobbio for gelato. The kids loved it!

WARNING! One important precaution if you go to Milan in the summer. There are a lot of mosquitoes, so you need to adequately protect yourself and, especially, your kids. I thus advise you to stop by any pharmacy and ask for mosquito repellent made by Chicco, which is really delicate and appropriate even for newborns. In the evenings, it is also best to have arms and legs covered, and to cover strollers where babies are sleeping.

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