re-souL in Italy (pt. 1 of 5) : Milano

clockwise from top left: view from our B&B in Milan, Trattoria Bella Riva, and the streets of Corso Garabaldi.

If you’re familiar with re-souL, you’re probably aware of our shoe collections, many of which are specialty handmade products that we’ve imported.  We are often asked about how this happens and while it is not as glamorous as you might imagine, we do travel to Italy twice each year, working to select the products that we feature in the shop.  This post is the first in a five part series in which we’ll try to describe our trip, the places we go and the people with which we do business.

Typically, our trips are exhausting and quite brief, in and out of Milan with enough time to accommodate just the travel and to make the events and appointments.  Of course we always make a little time to soak up the city, sample some food and drink, but in the end, we are mostly working.  On this last trip (March, 2012) we were fortunate enough to be able to plan an extended stay, visiting Milan, Florence and also Le Marche region to go visit some of the factories where our products are actually produced.  This not only solidifies our relationships with the vendors, it offers us keen insight to the inner workings of fine shoe-making.

First stop,  Milano!  Milan is a big, beautiful, noisy city.  Magically, we found a quaint, quiet and comfortable B&B in the Naviglio area of Milan.  It is easily our favorite neighborhood, filled with local culture and local people.  The Naviglio (canal) is surrounded by nice places to have a drink, eat, shop for collectables, books, and vintage clothing.  Plus,  it’s a quick walk to Porta Ticinese, another fun area where the young folk hang.  Not your typical fare when you think of Milan (the Duomo, designer shops and crowded squares).   As it was a very rainy night, we settled in to our favorite local cafe (the MAG bar) for a drink and then a low key meal at Trattoria Bella Riva.  With the travel from Seattle, we had already been awake over 24 hours, so it was a short night, we got some much needed sleep so as to hit the town hard on the following day.

clockwise from top left: Fiera Milano lower level, walking between pavillions, Booth of Fionarina, discussing shoes for fall 2012.

Next morning, after a quick breakfast and an easy ride on the Metro red line, “eccoci” we are at the Fiera Milano!  The convention center, designed by architect Massimiliano Fuskas, is a very large modern complex and approximately 3,710,000 square feet.  Lots of ground to cover between all of the halls, so off we go!  We walk the show to visit our favorites of course, but we also shopped the halls to see if we could find some new exciting new gems to bring back to re-souL (we were successful, more on that later).  Up and down the aisles, vendor by vendor, we probably saw 10,000 shoes that first day but by 4pm,  jet lag starts to kick in and the concentration is diminished, so we call it quits and go shop the city instead.

clockwise from top left: 10 Corso Como, the Garden, and the Cafe/Bar.

The subway takes us back to the city center, a change over to the green line and we get off at Moscova.  Corso Garibaldi is a nice street to walk;  blocked off to cars, it’s an easy stroll to peruse the shop windows and stop at a cafe for a pick-me-up.  We usually walk the street until it ends at Piazza 25 Aprile. On the other side of the piazza is Corso Como, a street made popular due to its resident by the same name.  10 Corso Como features a highly curated store with all the very best in designer clothing, shoes, accessories, art books and music.  They have a rotating gallery and a relaxing garden bar/cafe.  Our day is almost complete with a cocktail and soaking in the sights.  We look on as the Milanesi go about their business of entertaining  businessmen,  while the Italian version of “ladies who lunch” end their shopping with an aperitif, making for great people watching.

Later, back in our neighborhood, we met some friends at Cantina della Vetra, just off Ripa di Porta Tichinese.  We are told they have the best and most fresh salumi e burrata in the city, and we’d have to agree.  It’s become a regular destination for us and this time it is an easy walk back to our B&B.

On the third day, feeling a bit more acclimated to the time change, we pack up all of our things, check out of the B&B and headed by subway to the center of Milan.  There we made was some great tactical arrangements for our luggage and met our longtime friend Cristina who has come from her home in Florence to meet with us.  It is difficult to describe how Cristina acts as our facilitator in Italy, it’s complicated at best.  Let’s just say that she makes all the details perfect and we don’t have to worry.  Anyway, on this day we have a couple of big appointments and we made it back to the Fiera Milano to wrap up our work and make some arrangements for the rest of our trip.  As you might guess, we’ve become masters of the Metro (subway) and we bounced all over the city (on time!).

From top left: Outside Statione Centrale, Caldarrosta: selling roasted nuts while listening to The Clash!, waiting for the train.

Finished with our appointments, it’s time to head To Florence!  We had arranged for a train from Stazione Centrale (Milan) and took some time to hit the shops in and around the station.  Stazione Centrale (central station) is grand.  It’s another busy place to observe the locals, their culture and let’s face it, we’re still people watching! The railway system in Italy is very efficient. Trains usually run on time and Florence is less than 2 hours away.

Up next in the Italy Series, Part 2:  Firenze e Marche!

all text and images copyright of re-souL

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