Friday, August 19, 2011

Milano, Italy

With the leisurely wait for the ferry in Venice, we arrived in Milan at dinnertime. Since our hotel was close to the Duomo and city center, we headed in to see what we could see. The Duomo is a marvelous sight in the setting sun, with its belfries, gables and pinnacles. The white marble lets the sun bask it in a different color at different times of day, and at this point in the evening orange tones softened the sharp points, making it look a bit like a fairy castle. The Duomo is the most impressive structure I saw on our entire trip.

The following day using The Michelin Guide: Italy we explored the area surrounding the Duomo. My second favorite part of Milan was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a covered double arcade formed of two glass-vaulted arcades at right angles. It connects the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Scala with its da Vinci statue. The arcade was named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of united Italy, and was built in between 1865 and 1877. Both the piazzas and the arcades were filled with too-close-for-comfort vendors illegally hawking toys, bracelets, corn to feed the pigeons (it is a sad irony that the pigeons are mostly responsible for the deterioration of the Duomo!) and other junk. This was a much different feeling compared to Verona, where the vendors had more of a “street artist” feeling, and added to the charm of the city experience.

Headed northeast along via Dante past many of the famous stores, eventually we came to Castello Sforzesco, the 14th century castle that used to be the seat and residence of the Duchy of Milan and now houses several of the city's museums and art collections. Beyond the castle is Parco Sempione, which I now regret we didn’t explore further, but at this point in the day it was very hot, and from our vantage point we saw very little shade in the park.

We arrived at Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, a beautiful church that is mostly famous for its proximity to the Cenacolo, the former refectory of the monastery that houses “The Last Supper”  by Leonardo da Vinci. Although we were not able to see the painting that day, we did visit the church and grounds, and took a short break on the square.

Our next stop was Teatro alla Scala, maybe the most famous opera house in the world. From the outside it is pretty plain and unassuming, which is a complete opposite to the interior. From the magnificently plush auditorium (that seats 2,000) to the grand halls, one could imagine the reverberations brought by operas, and luminaries such as Toscanini and Verdi, an appearance by Maria Callas or Pavarotti.

A last tour through and around the Duomo enabled us to see the amazing pillars lining the nave and aisles, as well as get a different perspective of the Gothic cathedral. It was also refreshing to see officials enforcing the dress code for prospective visitors at the entrance, keeping all tank tops, short shorts, etc. outside. If only they would enforce the well-posted no-picture policy inside the church, maybe the absence of all those flashes going off could help preserve the art and interior.

The pigeons didn't expect competition
Our final stop the next morning was Giardini Pubblici, the “urban historical park” right next to our hotel. As we wandered through looking for a playground, we passed pony and carnival rides, ponds with carp larger than my head, and interesting tree species such as redwoods and other American natives. Finally, a playground, and once again Lauris finally got to roam free after a few days of focused tourism.

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