So it turns out 4 hours sitting on a train in First Class can also numb the bum. But the view are so much more impressive than flying. We saw some beautiful countryside between Geneva and Milan. The housing changed a lot. I was so surprised to see single dwelling homes as we passed through one settlement to another. The weather was still grey and it would rain off and on. I was forever hopeful that we would arrive in Milan to the promised 25 degrees, and sunshine. I was not disappointed.
We arrived at 5:35pm and to reach our apartment required us to swap Metro lines. All up it took 45 minutes for us to leave Milan Centrale and arrive at our location.
Chiara, our hostess, had gone to France for a photo shoot and her Mum met us. She was such a lovely lady. She had broken her ankle and was tottering around using a crutch, she was flitting here and there (Chiara’s apartment is right next door) trying to find the keys that the previous occupants were to have left. In the end she gave us her own keys. The apartment is in a complex that is also used by businesses. The NASDAQ is one of the businesses in the same complex. And since we were here on a Friday, it got relatively lively outside when the business day started. No sleep in for us.
Friday night we walked quite a way up the main street to find Portobello, a Pizza Restaurant that had rave reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor. The place was buzzing. There was only one lady serving all of the tables in our section of the building. I was trying to count and came up with over 30 customers. She was actually running.
We didn’t know what you were supposed to do with requesting the bill. Everywhere else we’ve had to request it. Because she was so busy it took an age before Mr Fussy could grab her attention, and then I think it was roughly 30 minutes before she returned with the bill. All the while it was getting hotter and hotter inside. I really thought I might pass out. We left the money on the table and were about to leave when we saw that other people were at the front counter paying. Mr Fussy had to return for the bill and money and then wait his turn to make the payment. I was very glad to be outside in the cooler air, though it was still 28degrees at 10pm. On our way back to the apartment we stopped at a restaurant that had Gelato in the front of their shop. This was our first Gelato and it did not disappoint.
This morning (Friday) we went for a stroll to fill in time before Sara, our guide, arrived to collect us for 10:45am. We found the Ferrari store quite by accident and only had around 15 minutes to have a look around. We still came away with some t-shirts. Sales are on here in Milan too. Everything was discounted. Score!
Sara was a wonderful guide, she had studied History at University and then studied for one more year to sit her exams to become a Guide of Art and History. I asked what would happen if you didn’t pass. She explained you would have to wait one more year since the exams occur only once a year.
We started out the tour at the Duomo and Sara explained in great detail how it was built, the materials, the employees, the length of time, the owners, the number of statutes, the Saints and the Gargoyles. It was so interesting. The church is the very centre of Milan, and Milan got its name because it is the middle land, right in the middle between the alps and the lake. There was previously a church on the site but it was torn down to build the new church. If you look at the pavement of the existing church you’ll see that it is etched out to show where the original church stood. It took over 300 years to complete the church with more than 7000 workers working at one time. The owner built the church mostly so that he could gain favour with the people and therefore bought his status and rights in the city. Despite being devious, the plan did work. He even bought the hill that all the marble came from, then had canals built so the marble could be shipped since it was both heavy and delicate. The stain glass told stories. You read them from bottom to top. Perhaps this is the usual way, but we didn’t know before now that each told a story and how you read it.
Sara wanted to know if we wanted to go inside (it’s free, but 2 euro if you want to take photos) but we said we would return. We were also going to go and walk the stairs to the top, as well as have a drink at the restaurant in the department store that looked back over to the church. It would give us a nice view from the outside. The church is absolutely enormous, the biggest church I’ve seen with my own eyes.
Our next stop was the Campari bar, this is still the original building, still owned by the Campari family. Sara had an espresso while Mr Fussy and I downed a cold water. We looked at all the original mosaic workings on the walls. Just stunning.
The Campari bar is at the opening of the Galleria Emanuele Vitoria II, and what an equally stunning gallery it is. Sadly this place had been bombed and the octagon was destroyed and was quickly rebuilt. This is the first place to have received electricity.
Onto the Art and Music museum it was. We went inside (we got a discount since our entry was with a guided tour). All sorts of famous composers wrote music in and for this place. Sara explained the social importance of having a family box in the theatre. This was like a second home for the family. They would come here to play cards each night, or bet, or look for a wife. And it was a social status. The higher up your box was and the closer it was to the Royal box, the more wealthy you were.
We learnt lots of staff about Neo Classical and Art Nouveau, but I can’t tell which bits related to what now. I recall the theatre was originally wooden and destroyed one night by a fire. The Austrian Queen was in Milan at the time and wanted it rebuilt, but out of stone. She commissioned her architect at the time and he along with some other chap built it to what it is today. Sara also explained that there were two men (I know they’re well-known and famous but I don’t remember their names either!) left in their wills for royalties to be used for the upkeep of another building that is used for budding musicians to go and play. And people do.
We left the art and music museum for the fortress, I knew Mr Fussy would be very interested in this. And this is another amazing site. We got to see that there are two moats and drawbridges. They ended up building a palace within the fortress. The Duke at the time then had Leonard da Vinci working for him for 22 years, he was the first artist that was paid a salary rather than paid a one-off fee for a piece of art. Because Leonardo had all this time he was able to study more the human form and engineering, he even studied audiology. What an extremely clever man he was, and well ahead of his time. I had no idea he actually started out as an engineer. It was in the Palace that he had his four students who were learning under him.
Our last stop was the Santa Maria delle Grazie where The Last Supper is. Sara was explaining that Leonardo was meant to paint a fresco painting. Fresco paintings are done when the walls are still wet and the paint is applied while wet so that when the walls dry the paint is absorbed into the walls. But Leonardo didn’t want to rush his painting. And rush he did not. It took him 3 years while the other fellow who stated painting fresco at the same time, took 3 months to complete his (opposite) side of the wall. Because Leonardo didn’t paint fresco, the paint began to chip off after 20 years and therefore the painting itself was being lost. A lot has been done to restore it. They only allow 30 people to enter the room at one time, and you have to pass through two sets of doors that close behind you to contain you into an ante type room. This is to reduce the amount of humidity that is introduced into the room as it’s the humidity that is destroying the painting.
Sara went on to explain about the building itself, and again the bombing destroying the wall, and why Leonardo had been asked to paint The Last Supper, and that the Duke had intended for his whole family to be buried in this church. Then Sara went on to explain about The Last Supper painting itself. What a fabulous story about why this scene was painted, about the arrangement of the disciples, about how Leonardo wanted to capture expressions and reactions to Jesus having just told the disciples that one amongst them was going to betray him. The interactions, the poses, the activity that is portrayed in this painting meant nothing to me, I never saw what was actually being depicted, nor did I really understand what The Last Supper was really about, well not this moment of it.
Needless to say I’m thoroughly impressed with Sara’s knowledge and how she explained all of this to us, given English is not her native language.
You’re not allowed to take photos of the painting, but outside they have a large photo of the painting, and you can photograph that.
Once we had completed our tour with Sara, and getting a few recommendations for restaurants, we headed back to the apartment to change. At this point I had been wearing a summer dress with a very light cardigan type top, but with our tour completed and the weather now 30 degrees I wanted to wear cooler clothes.
All changed we headed back to the Ferrari store. We stopped and looked at a child who was in the Ferrari simulator, this is what we imagine Mr Fussy’s simulation at the Ferrari Museum to be. It pretty much looks like a video game, but you’re inside the F1 car. Whether or not you’re changing gears I’m unsure, it didn’t appear to be the case.
Several more items were purchased, enough so that they completed the documentation to claim the tax back. We weren’t really travelling to buy things as such, we have some room in our bags, not a lot, but some, it’s more the weight that is proving to be the concern.
Having again returned to the apartment to drop off the new purchases we decided to head to a Kitchen store, then as we were walking past the church I realised that time and knew we didn’t have much time to look inside. It was actually a fairly easy decision to forgo the kitchen shop to visit the inside of the church. There was no queue which was fantastic, but then I realised that my singlet top wouldn’t allow me access to the church. It was close to 6:30pm at the time and the church closes at 7pm. We dashed across the street to the department store hoping I could quickly pick up a t-shirt. The women’s floor was full of designer clothes and none that I wanted, or wanted to pay for in order to get the right type of attire. We went down one floor, found something that I did like, and didn’t mind paying for. The lady took the tags off and I slipped the top on and out the door we went to the church. We arrived only to find the police now preventing any further entry, it was 6:40pm. Had I known it would re-open at 7am the following morning I would have saved the dash to the store for a top and just headed onto the kitchen shop. This all adds to the adventure of travel.
Since entry into the church was off the agenda for that day and we wouldn’t have time to reach the kitchen shop before it closed, we decided to ascend the stairs to get a closer view of the church. The detail and craftsmanship in the carving of the saints, the gargoyles and arches left me breathless. I didn’t think we had reached as high as we were allowed to go and as we moved around the perimeter we found where you could climb more stairs to reach the top.
At this point I couldn’t look up as I was walking. It’s Mr Fussy that is adverse to heights, but I, for some reason, have a problem with stairs. My brain either thinks I’m ahead of where I am or something else doesn’t quite compute because I often find myself taking a step that is the wrong distance for the actual step. Needless to say I was very focused on where I was putting my feet. But it gave me a glimpse of how worn some of the stairs were. Some were very sharp edged still and I wondered if perhaps they had been recently (I’m not sure what recent means in these parts though, could be decades) replaced.
When we reached the very top we were restricted in where we could move to. The church is under constant repair and more than half of the top was sectioned off. Up here we really had a much closer view of the sculpting, and a really good view across Milan. It’s much more expansive than what I had expected.
Next up was the 7th floor of the department store to take in a different view of the church. We had very expensive non-alcoholic drinks, but it came with very decent bar snacks. This is normal for many bars in Milan (perhaps it’s a trend that spans further than Milan). You can get a drink and the bar snacks will keep coming. Chiara had also mentioned this in her welcome booklet but we couldn’t quite believe it was the custom. At first Mr Fussy was hesitant thinking that we would be charged if we ate, but I looked it up online while we were sitting there and true enough, it’s norm. So I tucked in at least, Mr Fussy wasn’t so sure the Buffalo mozzarella was his cup of tea, even though he sandwiched it between basil leaves. I thought it was mild in flavour but still nice. Perhaps it was the sensation of chewing that added to his overall experience.
After having taken a few photos of the view, which was directly at a big stained glass window we headed back down and this time to find yet another highly spoken of Gelato shop. We were not disappointed. In fact we’d rate this to be the best of the three places we had stopped at, though only two were highly recommended, the one on Thursday evening we just happened across, though it had the nicest strawberry gelato we’d tried.
We were done. My feet were so sore, I was hopping from one foot to the other prompting Mr Fussy to ask if I was desparate for the toilet. Oh, talking of. When we were in the Ferrari store we’d spotted a very plush red dressing gown. While Mr Fussy was busy trying on a t-shirt I asked the assistant if they were unisex and whether he had a size small. But the assistant didn’t understand what I was asking. I found the dressing gown and he said “Bath Robe”. So there you go, dressing gown does not translate in English well.
This morning (it’s now Saturday) we got up extra early so that we could reach the church for when it opened. We were a little late for 7am but it was so nice wandering down there when the streets were so quiet. There also wasn’t a queue, clearly it’s too early for the tourists, or they weren’t on a deadline today like we were. I guess the inside was not as impressive to me as the outside of the church. While there were massive columns and beautiful stain glass windows, the outside really was the more spectacular. But for all that I’m glad we got to see the inside, even though we weren’t permitted to go right into the centre, to where the alter was situated.
We splashed out today and got a taxi to the central train station. It cost less than 10 Euros so not a huge amount of money (though it’s only 3km away). It saved us having to haul two large, heavy suitcases down the stairs at the Metro, having to navigate to changing lines and making sure we were headed in the right direction, and then having to work our way out of the metro to arrive in the main train station.
What an impressive building the train station is. I was in awe when we first arrived from Geneva and had said on our way back we’d have to stop so I could get some photos. And so I did. What a grand station.
And now we are seated on the train, travelling to Modena. First class on a regional train is different to first class on an International train. We are in little compartments that seat 6 people. There is a walk way outside. There aren’t any luggage compartments to speak of. Your luggage is placed on large racks above your head. There isn’t enough space for both of our big bags as well as the other travellers. My bag sits outside our compartment, eating into valuable walk way space outside. But there’s no other way.
While we were seated waiting to depart a man poked his head into the compartment and started a very long speech, o
course we could not understand him but one of the others in our compartment explained what he was saying after he’d left. He was explaining that he was trying to get his family on the train but did not have enough money to buy a ticket for all of them. He was asking for money so he could buy the ticket he needed. The other two couples gave money, but since we did not understand the situation we did nothing but look blankly at each other. I did explain I only understood English, so we were excused from providing some monetary assistance.
Our train will make several stops along the way, but after 2 hours we will arrive at Modena, with just a very short 5 minute walk to reach our hotel, the first hotel in Europe.
My final impressions of Milan. I love the city. I wish we had more time here to discover more of the history and notable buildings. It is clean, very few homeless people, the tourists are not too overbearing, and it still has a modern feel to it. I wish we had cut our Paris stint short by a day and used it in Milan. We really only touched on a few things and I know there is more to be discovered, like seeing the man-made canals. I’m pretty sure we’ll return one day. Mr Fussy was equally impressed.
Final little summary of other things I’ve just remembered (we’re in Modena at the mo)
Sara said that when at university you tend to eat out 5 nights a week. She now has a family and lives further out of the city and they don’t eat out.
Cars aren’t generally allowed in the main centre of Milan. There’s a charge you have to pay to have your vehicle in there.
Taxis can’t be hailed, you have to go to an official taxi rank.
One of the gelato places we went to, you had to pay first. A ticket was then given to you and you waited until your number was called.
Talking of tickets, the same is done at the Post Office. You make your selection A, P or C (P being postal) and then you wait until your number is called. The good thing about this system is they provided chairs. So you could sit down rather than have to keep a place in line. Given how fast they work (s l o w), the opportunity to sit is welcomed.
And talking of the post office. When it was finally our turn, I wanted to pay for the postage of one item, and then buy 4 more stamps to all go to the same place. The lady that served us (and I really did feel sorry for people that had to deal with us, I kept thinking that amongst their peers they must be saying how they lucked out getting the English speaking tourists) didn’t speak English, and I’m not sure she really understood it. After I made my request she looked around and spoke (I have no idea), but a young lady came forward and she became our interpreter. What a lovely gesture. She didn’t have to, and I suspect if there was a line no one would be willing to lose their place to help the tourists. We still battled a little bit, the final number of stamps is where things got a little rough, the idea that we wanted 5 in total, one for the item I’d brought to them, and 4 for “later”.
Also, and we found this in Paris, there are different pictures on the same value stamp and they want to know which picture stamp you want. In Paris I deliberately picked the Giraffe. I was sending Yvonne a post card (as I have for every place we’ve visited) and Giraffes are her thing.
The term Espresso (for Coffee) means, as you might imagine, quick. When we went into the Campari Bar the drinks were ordered and paid for, then Sara went to the bar and basically hung onto it while she downed her coffee. We noticed other people milling about the bar drinking then immediately leaving. If you go and sit to drink, then there’s a service fee added.