Milan is blessed with city parks that are as much a part of the city as famous landmarks, the Duomo, La Scala, Brera Pinacoteca, and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” at Santa Marie delle Grazie.
I discovered Milan’s beautiful parks in October 2012 when I was researching my thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan. I was checking various sites for an apartment or pensione convenient to downtown. The woman who became my researcher said the neighborhood was safe and it was an easy location to get around the city. After my first day, I was exploring the wonders of the park, which is like a mini Central Park with wide paths, mature trees, flower gardens, cafes, children’s area, and benches to sit and people watch.
It became a daily ritual, walking through Parco Sempione, having a meal at restaurants on Piazza Sempione, or hopping on a # 1 or # 19 tram to get around town. Within days, I felt right at home in the neighborhood.
After a day of interviews, meetings, and prowling around the city, I’d return and have dinner at one of the restaurants at Piazza Sempione. Starting around 6 PM, restaurants serve all-you-can-eat buffet, or ‘apertivo,’ with trays of pastas, salads, cheeses, meats, pizza, risotto, seafood, fresh fruit, and breads. All for 8 or 9 Euros. One drink included, a beer, glass of wine, or bottled soda. The food was good, the atmosphere pleasing, and the view terrific . . . and I was five minutes from my apartment.
It’s an amazing bargain. When I visited in October, I thought it was just an end-of-the-tourist season special. But ‘apertivos’ are served every night. No need to spend 40 Euros and more at a fancy restaurant, just come on by Piazza Sempione and grab a plate. Sit outside under an umbrella and watch the people with the background of Arco della Pace.
When I returned this month for related book business, I happily chose the same apartment on Via Melzi d’Eril, a semi-circular street that intersects the wide boulevard Corso Sempione.
Arco della Pace
A cornerstone of the park on Piazza Sempione is the majestic Arco della Pace, a gothic, white-marbled arch inspired by Napoleon when his army occupied Milan and he was crowned King of Italy in 1805. Arco della Pace rests at the base of Corso Sempione, similarly inspired by Napoleon to resemble Paris’ Champs Elysee. The white marble seems to shine in sunlight, with teams of chariots cast in bronze peering from the top, in some kind of Roman gladiator splendor.
Summer evening at Parco Sempione
But it’s not monuments and boulevards that distinguishes Parco Sempione; it’s the many features that draw people into the park for a stroll on shaded paths, along canals, open fields, flowering bushes, or just rest on one of many benches. Look one direction and you see Arco della Pace. Turn the other direction and there’s Castello Sforzesco at the other end.
A creek runs through the park, shaded by tall trees, with carp swimming in pools and ducks paddling under bridges.
On a warm night in early June, I strolled through the park, attracted by the thump thump thumping of amplifiers playing in the park. It was Milan’s first day of summer; a dreadfully chilly and damp spring had lasted longer than usual. The weather brought out those looking for a little exercise, stretching muscles chilled by a long, cold winter, and a chance to run barefoot in the grass.
First time I’d seen this ‘no-impact’ exercise; stretching with rubber ropes. You need someone you trust as your anchor!
The music was loud but with a provocative beat, the crowd was young and frisky, and vendors selling wine and beer were busy.
I asked a few of the young folks if I could take their picture. They seemed to be thrilled to be asked; when you’re having a good time, no reason to keep it a secret.
I’ll return to Parco Sempione in July and August. It’s the kind of place that calls you back with its serenity, the towering trees, the shaded paths, comfortable benches, and the alluring singing of song birds.
A good escape from the buzz of motorinos zipping around Milano’s streets.
I’d rather enjoy Parco Sempione with the ducks.
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In addition to this travel blog, I write international thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels.
I’m currently writing a thriller series based in Milan featuring the anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, as they pursue domestic and international terrorists. I travel to Milan every summer for research, to see my Italian and American friends, and to work with my researcher and translator.
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The second book in the series, No One Sleeps, follows DIGOS agents as they track down a sleeper cell of Muslim terrorists in Milan who have received toxic chemicals from Pakistan to make deadly sarin gas.
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