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Milan After the Plane Crash


Arnie Greenberg

I just returned from a changed City of Milan. I had been there on business many times and ranked it very low on my list of favorite Italian cities.

Milan is a very large city spread out over vast distances.  The city was mainly destroyed in 1944-5 and what grew out of the rubble was tasteless and hastily rebuilt. I didn’t see one truly fashionable area with villas of old and landscaping to be proud of.

The newest, most functional set of buildings is about 50 KM out to the northwest. Here, Malpensa airport greets and dispenses vast numbers of international flyers.

The airport replaces linate, which cannot take the volume of traffic and jumbo jets. Linate to the southeast is only 10 KM from the city center. These statistics bring me to the story that made front-page news in countries around the world. In mid April, a small plane, carrying only a Swiss pilot, crashed into the side of the city’s tallest building, the Pirelli Building.

The incident was frightening enough considering the building is only yards from the bustling main railway station and facing a huge square and convergence of streets, always teeming with people.

What made it more frightening to the locals was the instant recall of 9-11 when the world turned a page and faced a new form of terrorism.

My conversation with the staff at my Una Century Hotel proved that the happenings in New York last September are on the minds of people daily, the world over.

Lucia, the desk manager said her knees buckled. The fear among those close by was monumental. The Una Century hotel in only yards from the ill-fated Pirelli building. And even though it was only a single engine plane, the noise, the shattered glass, the ripped out window frames and the screaming sirens that followed, created a panic in the normally peaceful city. For the ten days that I was there I saw gawkers arriving at the train station with their families, pointing out the destruction of a once proud building.

Luckily there were few deaths. But the television cameras rolled and interviews were conducted for days with the bruised building in the background.

I was amazed to walk around the building and see where parts of the plane went right through to the other side. Debris was everywhere. Glass and metal falling twenty-seven stories became a hazard and the police quickly cordoned off the streets.

But the people soon learned to take alternative ways home. The city survived. The building was under repair and life went on. But that was mainly because the people accepted the fact that the Swiss airman had acted alone and weather the accident was caused by technical malfunction or the pilot’s wish to commit suicide became academic.

The fact is that the Milanese accept it as an accident. Life continues but there is a new sense of fear that 9-11 could happen anywhere. Yes, anywhere.

I continued my work in Milan and visited the major venues filled with tourists and merchants selling their wares. The product changes with every visit. Now in the Duomo Square, hawkers sold duck hand puppets.

Business was brisk at 3 Euros each. I revisited that famous Gothic Cathedral and had a wonderful view of the city center from the roof. I walked through the Victor Emmanuel Gallaria with the fashionable eateries and shops.

I watched people placing their heels on a mosaic of a bull and twirling with glee. I discovered that this tradition of placing your heel on the spot where the bull’s testicles would normally be meant that you would one day return to Milan. The tile has been worn through. All that remains is the circular indentation.

I walked through to the square where Leanardo Da Vinci’s statue faces the neoclassical Teatro alla Scala. Unfortunately the great opera house is closed for repairs for two years. Perhaps that is why Leonardo looked so sad. The operas go on, but in another, more modern theatre

I then headed for the rather stark looking ‘Castello Sforzesco’ built centuries ago by the Sforza family that ruled much of Lombardy. The tour buses were lined up as visitors entered and left. It is a testimony to a lost generation but average at best. The exception is the museum that contains one of Michaelangelo’s last sculptures, the Rondanini Pieta.

The visit to the monestary near Santa Maria della Grazie, where the Da Vinci’s mural of the Last Supper is on view was a personal disappointment. Not because of the great work of art but because one can only enter by appointment. Luckily, I had seen it before. Even though it is in a questionable state of repair, when you consider the age and the wartime destruction, it’s a wonder that the great work of art remains at all. When you go, make a reservation.  

The best experience I had was on the tiny passageway streets off the fashionable Monte Napoleone. This is the area Milan is famous for. Especially on the via della Spiga.Here the great designers of fashion have their main outlets. I was Feragamo, Gucci, Gianfranco Ferre, Krizia, Prada and even Tod’s Hogan where the shoes cost a king’s ransom. But it was fun looking and watching the other shoppers. After all one has to be in fashion and the abundance of beautiful women in the area made it all worthwhile. 

Of course, there are ways to shop without paying those prices. Milan has an abundance of markets. Ask at your hotel which ones operate on each day. But remember, they will probably be outside the main city center. 

My last night in Milan was spent with friends at what I think is the city’s best restaurant. The Mediterranea grill Restaurant di Mare is located within walking distance of the station at Piazza Cincinnato, 4 (angle Via S. Gregario). Here you can enjoy the freshest sea food served with special care. The owners, Valerio and Maurizio Stumpo are proud of their establishment and rightly so. 

The warm and modern atmosphere offers authentic cooking based mainly on fresh fish, shellfish and lobsters from their own aquarium. Their menu includes fresh vegetables such as truffles, asparagus and artichokes. The house sauces make the meals memorable and the wine cellar contains over 200 Italian and French vintages. 

The service was impeccable and the personnel friendly to a fault. Don’t worry about the language. Their staff has a working knowledge of English.  

The restaurant is quite sophisticated and their philosophy makes them ready to serve your needs. My sweet tooth was more than satisfied with the ample portion of Tiramissu served with excellent coffee.  

I suggest you make a reservation. Call 29 522 076 Credit cards accepted.

 I walked back to my hotel via the Central Station. People were still looking up at their wounded building. One could feel their loss.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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