If you have only one city to visit in Italy, go to Rome or Venice or even Florence but not Milan. Milan is the financial and economic center of Italy and while it has a couple of sights--the Duomo, the castella, La Scala threatre, some museums--it doesn't have much else for the typical tourist. When I was little, Milan = leather shoes and bags. However, don't expect so much from Milan as a shopping paradise because the world is globalized and whatever big brands you can get in Milan, you can get in Hong Kong or Japan. However, for home-made leather goods and locally designed items, Milan is a treasure trove although if you are used to Jimmy Choos and Louboutins, you'd be disappointed because unless you shop in big departmental stores, the shoes in small stores are of lower range and of brands that you probably haven't heard of. I noted a few things about Italian shoes. First, most shoes don't come in half sizes. Second, the shoes have very smooth soles, probably because slippery conditions are not a problem with the streets all being cobble stone.
If you intend to get handbags in Italy, the tax refund is 12%, pretty much, but you better be early at the airport because the tax refund process is set up to frustrate travellers. If you are hand-carrying your new bags, and you should, you need to go to the check-in counter and get your boarding pass, plus tag your check-in bags at the same counter. You can check the bags in but if you have some goods in your check-in bags, such as clothes which you are getting tax refund for, you need to carry both the check-in bags and the carry-on bags to the tax refund counter at some obscure part of the airport (to the right) where you line up to get your tax refund receipts chopped after the officer has checked goods in the check-in bag, then drop your checked-in bags on the conveyor belt, and then, if you want cash refund, or if you have carry-on bags, you need to go downstairs and line up again to have your carry-on bags checked to make sure you really have what you bought with you and the receipts chopped, then line up and get the refund in cash if it's less than 1000 euros. If it's more than that amount, they will credit to your account.
Things to make sure for tax refund are 1) for any purchase euros 154.95 and above, the store has to fill out a tax refund form for you. You must have your passport with you. Some stores don't tell you but you must ask them for the refund slip. You can accumulate purchases from one store at one time for tax refund. 2) you have to pack your bags such that you can show the goods you are getting refunds for. The Arab guy in front of me was crushed when he found that he had to do that; he had checked in everything. 3) be about 3 hours early to the airport. A couple from Sydney who lined up behind me must've missed the flight because I didn't see them on the plane. What Yi did was rather clever: I lined up to get the bags checked and forms chopped while she lined up at the cash refund line (which was very long) so that I can pass the chopped forms to her.
Just plastic? These were designer kitchenware, expensive and one-of-a kind.
Olive oil. The best EVOO I ate was at Abiko. The flavor of good olive oil is almost like freshly-cut grass, but not grass I supposed, more like like freshly cut olive leaves.
This cake shop was about 15 minutes from our apartment and the cupcakes were divine but expensive for us, about euros 4 each.
Looks like a postcard, doesn't it? Yi sprained her ankle slightly when she got excited seeing a pug. We sat in the cafe and got some ice for her ankle. Italians are very nice and helpful, almost inquisitive about us, asking where we are from and so on, and I can't help but wonder if it's because there are so few Asians in Milan!
Because we were going for dinner, we didn't even buy any of their cakes. How terrible of us!
This is the Navigli area, where there are bars on both sides of the canal. All the bars serve apperitivos, inexpensive buffets, from about 4 pm. Because Milan is the most expensive city in Italy, apperitivos, which originated from Milan, are very welcomed by struggling students (and travellers). Most apperitivos cost from 5 to 9 euros, with one free drink, and the food is usually pasta, pizzas, salads and some cured meat.
Maya supposedly is the best and most popular apperitivo bar so that's where we had dinner. It was pretty good for 9 euros each, including one alcoholic drink.