Highlights of Milan in Six Hours or Less

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August 9th 2013
Published: June 22nd 2017
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Geo: 45.4637, 9.18813

We left our hotel for another ride on the efficient Metro system (from Centrale F.S. train station to Duomo we've got it down). The morning was much cooler and less humid as we waited for our Autostradale bus and walking tour. We found ourselves in an international group, including people for Kuwait, Dubai, Austria, Florida, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Germany, and us. Everyone was able to make sense of the tour in English.

The tour started with an orientation to the Duomo area (Duomo is the third or fourth largest cathedral in Christendom depending on who you listen to). We would come come back to this site later for a more detailed exploration. We then walked into the Galleria, dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II, the king who successfully unified Italy in 1861. The Galleria was completed in the 1870s. Most Italian cities re-did a part of themselves to honor the unification. The high end market houses today's most well known and expensive brands. We walked by Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and Mercedes-Benz stores. Milan is the fashion and financial capital of Italy and this couldn't have been more apparent than in the Galleria.

Next we were off to La Scala, Milan's well-known opera house. Once private, it became a public house in 1912 and we stood in a lobby that opened during that year. Closed in August for a month-long cleaning project (as many things are in Milan), the opera was undergoing some maintenance and chandelier-cleaning. The chandelier was dubbed "the Monster" as it took one woman an entire month of work to clean. We were able to see the auditorium from box level. In prior years, each "box" was decorated and individualized by a wealthy family. Our guide said that many were all about image and went there "to see and be seen" and could care little about what was happening onstage. After 1912, all of the boxes were standardized.

After the opera, we had to wait a bit because our bus driver had been pulled over by the Italian police for a "papers check." Apparently he checked out okay. The lady from Florida was irate for about 20 minutes, but we got over the brief delay without much ado.

We stopped at Sforza Castle, which was a proper lead-in to the Last Supper. This castle was the home of the famous Sforza family, which ruled Milan during a "time of peace." Leonardo da Vinci lived with them for 20 years and was granted a vineyard in exchange for painting the Last Supper. Their intention was to be entombed in the monastery, but unfortunately they were taken during an invasion by the French in 1512 and died in a French prison.

It was then off to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie to view Leonardo's famous Last Supper. We had to pass through three climate controlled rooms to reduce our humidity before being allowed into the room that once served as a refectory (cafeteria) for the monks. We were taken aback by the use of perspective and by the amazing restoration job that took 21 years to return the Last Supper to much of its original glory. As we walked backward from the work, we were taken aback at how Leonardo's use of perspective emerged. Three dimensions showed with greater depth and clarity with each step backward. It felt like the painting (and the people in it) were a part of the room we were visiting.

The bus took us back to Duomo. We had a panini lunch in the swanky La Rinascente department store (reborn after WWII bombings). After some food in our stomachs, we were able to spend time working our way through the interior of the imposing Duomo. It took awhile for our eyes to adjust to the dark interior, but soon we were able to appreciate the magnificence of the structure that took roughly 500 years to complete. The edifice was designed to hold 40,000 occupants (the entire population of Milan at its start) and intentionally used the Gothic style to impress Northern Europeans. Milan was about the bling as far back as the 1300s.

There was a particularly gruesome statue of St. Bartolomeo, who had been martyred by the Romans by being skinned alive. The statue featured his skinned self holding his entire skin over his shoulder (from head to toes). The statue was anatomically correct below skin level. Its artist, a student of Leonardo, had clearly participated in dissections to obtain his understanding of musculature, a practice forbidden by the church at that time.

Soon, we were outside to find a much warmer, brighter day and hopped aboard an elevator conducted by none other than a short Italian man who was obsessed with being John Travolta's twin, right down to the sideburns and disco gestures. Once again, Jake was scrutinized by security for having a supposed knife in his backpack full of espresso and other souvenirs. No worries. Darn nail clippers.

The roof of the Duomo was actually covered in marble! This amazed us to no end. What weight, and at such great height, put into place before cranes, modern machinery, or electricity. It offered a spectacular view of the detailed stone carvings, even of a pigeon, mounted at a height that nobody could have been expected to see up close in the 16th century. It was like a Gothic fancy wedding cake. No wonder it took 500 years to complete.

After another hot afternoon, we came back to the hotel for a little relaxation before heading out to our own last supper in Milan at a neighborhood restaurant that was getting ready to close for vacation the next day. We enjoyed their dinner and free wi-fi along with each others' company.

Tomorrow we pack up and head off to our final Italian city, Florence (Firenze). Ciao!

p.s. The wifi at Hotel Florida doesn't allow uploads. We'd love to share with you our picture of an advertisement for Krappucino, but you'll just have to find it on Facebook or wait until we get better wifi in Florence.


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