July 6, 2010
Our train to Milan this morning was at 9am and so we had a bit of time to pack, have breakfast and head to the station. I was looking forward to the train journey as we were heading through the Alps and I was expecting some great scenery. As we headed south from Zurich we got some wonderful views of mountain peaks and long, winding valleys and everything was so green and picturesque. Nearer the end of the journey, we wound our way past Lake Lugano and had a brief view of Lake Como as we headed into the town of Como. Just before 1pm, we arrived at the central station in Milan. It had been pleasantly cool in Zurich this morning but by the time we reached Milan it was bloody hot!
Whilst the train journey was easy, the next part was not. It could have been, but it was not! We had to get the bus from the station to the hotel and we had really good directions. The only thing we didn’t have directions on was where to find an ATM and where to buy the bus tickets. We headed outside the station and I saw where the bus left from but without any Euros and without a bus ticket, that snippet of information was next to useless. So we went back inside and finally found an information desk and Elizabeth got directions to an ATM, down in the Metro station. We finally got some money, got two bus tickets and worked our way back up three levels to street level to find the bus. By this time, we’d been around the entire station and I’d lost my bearings so we had to ask where the bus stop was! I was so hot and sweaty by this time I was in no mood for anything but a cold shower! Thankfully, the bus arrived pretty quickly and it only took 20 minutes or so to reach our hotel.
There we got checked in to a nice, double room and I immediately took a nice cold shower. It had taken us forever to get from the station given we had to try and get money but now we were in our room and could relax.
But not for long…
One of the main things we wanted to do in Milan was to see The Last Supper and we’d found out a few days back that tickets for this sell out WAY in advance. We managed to find a tour agency selling a short tour but there was a lack of availability on tour times. We managed to get on a tour for 5pm this evening and so we’d barely reached the room when we were off again. This time, we found the public transport much easier and with one train and one metro, we were right at the site of The Last Supper. We had to wait a bit for the tour to start but eventually our tour guide turned up, got our tickets and we were off!
You are only allowed 15 minutes with the painting as it has become really fragile over time. It was last restored in 1999, a process which had started 20 years earlier. We walked in and it was amazing to see the painting, which was much larger than I had imagined it to be. It was also surprisingly well restored given that many of the articles we’d read in the last week talked about the crumbling wall and how difficult it might be to see it in the future. We’d been undecided about whether to pay extra for a tour but decided it was something we really wanted to do and it would cost us a lot more in the future to get back to Milan! As we were here, we did it and we were both glad we did.
The tour guide was really excellent, too. She explained some of the techniques used by da Vinci to create the masterpiece (which took 4 years) and how it differed from a normal fresco. She also then went on to describe the scene and each of the Disciples reactions to Jesus telling them he was about to be betrayed by someone in the room. She told us of the various hand signs da Vinci used, along with facial expressions, to show the shock they Disciples had and the fact they did not believe what they were hearing. Almost everyone is leant in towards Jesus in the picture, seeking more clarification except Judas, who shows a more stand-offish pose and is pictured almost reaching out towards Jesus. It was really cool to see and she even went on to explain about some of the myths, including reassuring us that the person to Jesus’ right is not a woman and that St Peter does not have three hands!
Once outside, we had a few more minutes looking at a reproduction and there she told us how da Vinci often “signed” his art. As an illegitimate child, his name was often seen as dirty amongst the Italian nobles and as a result they did not want his name signed, like many other artists. After some research, he found out that his name could be translated in Latin to mean “knot” and as a result some of his works contain a knot in them. In The Last Supper, this knot can be found on the far left of the picture at the corner of the tablecloth.
We took a quick walk around the adjoining church before heading to find a little pizzeria for dinner. Being in Italy, we were both looking forward to good pizzas and pastas and this was a good start. We were both feeling quite lethargic, mostly from the heat rather than being that tired, and so we headed back to the hotel where we received our complimentary bottle of red wine and enjoyed it while watching Holland beat Uruguay in the World Cup semi-finals. It is cool knowing the 2 semis are being played in Durban and Cape Town – the two stadiums we went to!
July 7, 2010
Our first full day in Milan was fairly busy. We got breakfast at the hotel (just a croissant, yogurt and coffee) and headed to the supermarket to buy some salads for lunch. We started off at the Duomo, the massive cathedral in central Milan. It is such a huge, ornate building from the outside and inside doesn’t disappoint either. Like all churches, it was pretty dark inside but the architecture was amazing and it was in such great condition. I’m not a huge fan of churches but just the sheer presence of this is over-whelming… and we’ve heard this is nowhere near the biggest we’ll see on our trip!
We also went up to the rooftop for some views over the piazza below as well as some of the city. Not only were the views great but it was also amazing to see the detail of the individual, and main, spires up close. Even though it was really hot up here, it was nice to wander around, find the odd shaded area and enjoy the scenery.
From there we wandered around and stopped briefly at La Scala theatre to take some pictures. It wasn’t quite as grand as I was expecting on the outside but from the shop we got a peak at the interior and it looked quite extravagant.
We continued into the park behind the Castello Sforzesco where we stopped a while in the shade, enjoying our lunch and some tranquility, the park seeming a million miles away from the bustling city. We walked around the Castello briefly after lunch but decided against going in any of the museums there as nothing really stuck out as being of interest to us. The Castello itself though was really awesome. I wasn’t sure what to expect, really, but thought it would be quite a small fortification. The walls and corner towers were really impressive and even though we breezed through quite quickly, it was still interesting to see.
We didn’t have anything much else planned so we had a wander around some of the shops nearby and headed towards the Duomo where we caught the metro back to the hotel. We both just lazed around a while and I must’ve been tired as I couldn’t keep my eyes open and succumbed to a short nap!
In the evening we found a little trattoria called Mamma Olivia just a couple of blocks from our hotel. I ordered a capricciosa pizza and Elizabeth got a spicy pasta dish. The pasta turned up with no sauce but covered in oil and chillis. It looked and tasted really good, despite Elizabeth’s initial reservations! My pizza was good too, better than yesterday in fact although I can probably do with skipping more pizza for a day or two now!
July 8, 2010
We started off today the way all days should start, with a lazy, relaxed morning and breakfast in bed! When we finally left the room we decided to head to the train station and get our tickets for the train tomorrow to Pisa. When we got there we were told there was a train strike and there was only one train before 9pm which would get us to Pisa. We didn’t have any choice but to buy two tickets for that train. We were told that there were no seats on the train but that we could have a ticket anyway. We took the chance, thinking we would at least get on the train and could get a seat for part of the 4 hour journey.
From the station we headed to the stadium in the city, the San Siro, home of AC and Inter Milan. It was a bit of a walk from the closest metro station and Elizabeth had hurt her foot so it wasn’t ideal. Along the way though, we saw the local hippodrome, complete with a statue dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. The statue was of a horse and it was massive and really imposing outside the equally striking complex.
After that we went back into the centre and got off the metro at the Duomo and had a walk around the area a bit more. We also stopped at a sports shop where we bought me an AC Milan shirt, which is to be my birthday present from Elizabeth.
Our final stop for the day was to get some food for lunch and we picked up some lovely bread rolls with some Italian cheeses and salami. It was gone 2pm by this time so we were both starving and back in the room we tucked in! The spicy salami was really good and even though we thought we’d bought too much it turned out to be about right!
After some further lazing around and looking on the internet at some stuff for other places we were going to, we decided to wait a little to head out for dinner, firstly, because we weren’t hungry due to the late lunch and secondly, we hoped to see the Duomo lit up after dark, which is around 10pm at the moment. When we did eat we found a little pizzeria just off the Piazza del Duomo which had awful service but great pizzas. I had pizza for the third night in a row and despite telling Elizabeth I was going for a record of consecutive pizza nights, I reckon I’ve had my fill now! To accompany dinner we ordered a large carafe of the house red and the “large” turned out to be a whole litre of really tasty wine and all for just 6 Euros. This meal was actually cheaper than some others we’ve had despite being slap bang in the touristy centre!
Because of the train strikes, we weren’t sure whether the trains were running back to where our hotel was so we just decided to walk. It was just over a half hour stroll and it felt good to be working off my pizza excesses!