DAY 1 of 2 / Chapter 7 of 7 – Italy
Milan 6,5 km
18:30 – Vicolo dei Lavandai
No matter how large or modern a city is, it always has hidden places and stories.They can change our preconceptions and ingrained ideas about life in the city – or even just help us to imagine things differently. Especially if the place has folk stories to tell.
There’s a corner of Milan that’s capable of changing any preconception you have about the city. Do you think it’s just about its fashion, industry, finance and nightlife?
It’s a place in the city, but it will catapult your mind and soul somewhere else entirely.
In the year 1400, 150km of canals were constructed across Milan. Made possible due to the land’s natural valleys,these canals were used to transport goods and for travelling around the city.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, water travel declined in favour of trains and trams. With the arrival of cars, it was completely abandoned.
We’re by one of the canals. In the past it has been a meeting place, a source of inspiration, the backbone of commerce, and now it’s a place that can unite the past with the present.
After many years of renovations, parts of the canals are back to their former glory.
Now, just as they once did, the canals are inspiring artists and poets. Painters sit and capture the scene with their brushes.
Old tenement houses, typical of this part of Milan, are reflected in the water. There are old stone bridges, and feats of hydraulic engineering such as drawbridges, sluices and dams.
Walking between the canals, we’re attracted to Vicolo dei Lavandai (literally: Street of the Washerwomen). It’s a place that has many stories to tell.
In the 1700s, washerwomen used to come here, as they did in the other canals, to wash laundry for families in Milan.
We stop for a moment. It’s completely silent and peaceful. We start to look around and imagine what life here would have once been like.
Women with their backs bent over their laundry, pushing it into the water, soaping and slapping it energetically on a wooden table before wringing it out.
Soap was rare and expensive, so charcoal mixed with boiling water was often used instead. It was poured onto a rag called a ceneracciolo and rubbed onto the dirty laundry.
If that didn’t do it, laundry would be soaked for 24 hours in a mysterious mixture of cow excrement and lye.
Everything looks the same as it once would have. We find it impossible to believe that we’re in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
We walk all the way to the end of Vicolo dei Lavandai, where, to our great surprise, we discover a colourful bakery called Kenny & Victory’s Bakery. It’s full of American cupcakes and treats from all over the world.
It’s an alternative aperitivo for us today!
21:00 – A special bond – Via Messina
We think that Milan has a special bond with something. We can feel it in the air, we can sense it. But we’re not sure what it is exactly. Then, all of a sudden, the sound of scraping metal makes everything clearer. Milan has a special bond with its trams.
That grinding noise was of one of Milan’s 163 historic trams, dating back to 1928, going past.
We decide to go aboard and enjoy a night-time journey through the city. Actually, no. I’m not sure why, but the film Cars suddenly comes to mind, and we start imagining that the trams are people. It’s late, and they will have been trundling around the city all day. They’ll be tired, and want to go to bed.
So we decide to go toone of the city’s four historic trams deposits instead. This is where the trams rest their old wheels every night and depart from every morning, ready to demonstrate their bond with their city through the screech of their metal. They’ve been doing it for the past 90 years. It’s their home. Milan.