I'm not trying to be funny though. Milan is not a terrible city to live in, but it does have its downsides. It's overcrowded, flats are small and expensive (the three of us live in a one-bedroom flat), noise and traffic are ever-present, and smog levels are often dangerously high.
Granted, the historical centre is impressive. It's the kind of place that has an enormous amount to offer for students and young professionals: architecture, shopping, art galleries, restaurants and bars trying to out-gimmick eachother, furniture design fairs, concerts.
As a family with a small child, however? A little trickier. Even the Milanese themselves think so: they escape. In winter they go skiing, in spring they go to the Ligurian coast. Many people have second homes for the purpose of escaping and on Friday evening the big stations are awash with about-to-be escapees and their little wheelie suitcases. In summer they leave for Puglia, Sicily or Sardinia in droves, turning Milan into a baking-hot ghost town.
Who, then, are we to do differently? When in Rome/Milan, and all that...
During our first, pre-Bean years we went somewhere new as often as we could afford. We didn't (and don't) have a car, but the Italian rail network is extensive and reasonably priced. You can even *gasp* rock up on the day to buy a ticket and not feel like you should have taken out a bank loan first (though you can of course book in advance and get better prices for long-distance travel).
So this, to me, is how Milan comes into its own. We're within an hour or so of the big lakes. Two hours down to the coast or up to decent ski-slopes. Two hours from Verona, two-and-a-half from Venice. Three by fast train to Rome (six by slow-train). It's fabulous. It's fun. It makes for perfect facebook fodder.
Since the Bean's arrival we've been able to get out of the city far less frequently, and for various reasons we've been pretty much quarantined since September. But no longer: Spring has finally sprung so last Sunday we slung the Bean on a train and went to Parco Monza (of Formula 1 fame), and this weekend we hired a car and drove up to a farm north of Bergamo (for which I have no photo-evidence aaaaaargh).
This. This is what expat life is all about. We may live in a shoebox during the week. We may not own a swanky apartment by Lake Como, or even our own car. But we can turn a weekend in the Alps into an ordinary activity in our own way. And that, dear readers, is pretty damn cool.