From my flat in Milan, I can get to the metro by turning right at the corner of my block. I avoid the eyes of the shady men who hang around my street and step carefully among the rubbish on a dusty, smelly street to arrive at the metro, where battered looking grey carriages rattle through the tunnels in the belly of the city. If I get off at the Porta Garibaldi station, I can walk along underground corridors in a station where few of the ticket machines work and the office isn't open on a Sunday and get on a graffiti covered train to Monza, ten minutes ride from Milan.
Things are different in Monza. Outside the station, the streets look a little bit scruffy, but if you follow the main road you soon arrive at a pedestrianised high street with expensive shops, flowers, and a fountain that sparkles in the summer sun. On a Sunday, people stand around outside the beautiful churches in expensive looking designer clothes (I find this weird) and drink post-communion coffee on the terrace of a bar.
If you keep walking, the atmosphere changes. There are people, many people, and especially families on bikes. After a while, you realise that most of them are going in the same direction. If you go with the Sunday afternoon flow, you will find yourself in the Parco di Monza.
The park is a proper Sunday afternoon place. It has a large villa with landscaped gardens, statues and a lake, where you can take a leisurely stroll. Further out, it becomes wilder, with forest trails where people go running. There are some wide roads and tarmac paths which are perfect for gentle cycling or rollerblading. Further out still, there are pony rides, bike hire and fields where people have barbecues.
I went there one Sunday and spent three wonderful hours wandering, rollerblading and reading under the trees.
Then I went back to the station and got a nasty surprise. Even in Monza, the ticket office was closed and none of the ticket machines were working. I guess it's not so far from Milan after all.