I was lost in a city unlike any other I’d ever been to before, a city in which high fashion is a religion and even homeless people dress better than I do.
I was in Milan and I was not enjoying myself.
If travel is about leaving your comfort zone in pursuit of a new and unique perspective on life, then that’s exactly what I got in Milan, Italy’s capital of fashion and glamour.
Wandering around in my shorts and t-shirt, jandals flip-flopping on my feet, I wasn’t marvelling so much at the wonderful Italian architecture as I was at the city’s funky bars and cafes, outside of which seemingly hundreds of models were sipping on espresso.
I was a stranger in a strange land, an unfashionable traveller in one of the world’s foremost capitals of fashion and style. And I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
All style and no substance – or just an acquired taste? Surely there had to be more to Milan than fashion?
If Milan was a film it would be A Single Man, the 2009 Academy Award-winning film directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, and if it was a pop singer it would probably be Lady Gaga.
That’s not to say that it’s necessarily bad – just that it was never meant for me.
I’d be happier taking my chances on the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City than take a stroll through Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, cracking my neck to look up at just another impressive European cathedral – as spectacular as it undoubtedly is (pictured above).
And I’d far rather explore Naples in southern Italy, a city not known for giving a great first impression, but one that’s rich in colour and fiery Italian passion.
The food in Milan is excellent, of course – as is the shopping. One could easily lose his or her head in a whirlwind of pizza and pasta, new season collections and elegant shop displays. Indeed, Milan could very well be Disneyland for some people.
Surprisingly, for a place that puts fashion on a pedestal Milan certainly isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing city in Italy; in fact, of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples only the latter would be an uglier city than Milan.
Shops and cathedrals abound but Milan is remarkably lacking in greenery, trees and grass seemingly eschewed in favour of stone and concrete.
It’s a city of fashion, then, but it’s not the most fashionable city in all of Italy – at least where this traveller is concerned. It may not have been my favourite flavour of gelato but it may well be yours.
Interestingly, the Italians have a proverb that says “Rome is like a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful but discovered in time”.
They might have a point.