Magnificent Milano

Our trip to Milan wasn’t intentional.  We werefortunate enough to be able to fly using points this time around (yay points!), but sometimes that means a need for flexibility when booking.  In this case, there wasn’t an available flight from Rome back to Paris, but there was, however, a flight from Milan back to Paris.  So we decided to seize the opportunity to spend a day in Milan before leaving Italy.  We generally try to abide by a 3 night rule when we travel.  It’s hard to get to know any place if you don’t spent 3 nights there (or at least 2, with a full day in the middle), but this time we did not adhere to our rule, and just had a brief 34 hours in Milan.  We left Rome by train at 11:00 in the morning.  Ray went and bought us a couple of Porchetta sandwiches for the ride, and we navigated our way through the rather unenjoyable Roma Termini station (no where to sit, super crowded, lack of food options) until we found our cozy seats on the train.  I had heard nightmares about Italian rail, but our train left on time, and arrived on time – so I call that “exceeding expectations.”  As an added bonus, the train was both was comfortable, and the views of the Tuscan country side were splendid.

We booked a hotel near the trail station – a 5 minute walk away.  It was a gorgeous hotel – the kind we normally couldn’t afford – but we lucked out and caught the right deal at the right time.  Our room was the largest we’ve had in Europe, and the hotel was gorgeous.  At night it was light up all festive for the season.  It had a roof top bar with beautiful views, a scrumptious breakfast (and great cappuccino), and a comfortable bed that afforded us 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

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After a new minutes to unwind, we set out to navigate our way to the Santa Maria delle Grazie – the church that contains Leonardo da Vinci’s famous The Last Supper (one of the most famous paintings in the world). Getting tickets for a viewing of this piece (in 15 minute intervals) is tricky.  They limit human exposure, due to the delicate nature of the piece.  We missed out on getting them on the website (they sell out FAST), so instead of spending 8 euros, we had to spend 25 to buy them through a third party.  This is common with in demand monuments, though I’m usually pretty good about knowing how to get the tickets.  But I was busy at work, and missed the sale by 2 days and they were all gone.  Given our limited visit to Milan (and it being a place we didn’t imagine visiting again for some time), it was worth the extra few dollars to ensure we saw what we came to see.  That’s the thing about travel – you need to travel smart.  There are a lot of ways to same money on flights and hotels and even foods.  If there is a way to get the best for my money on attractions, I will.  But push come to shove, I try never to skimp on that attractions.  They were the point of the travel.  The experiences you want, you should not be afraid to pay for.  If you can find a way to do that for cheaper – awesome.  But I came all the way to Milan, and wouldn’t let 17 euros come between me and da Vinci.

da Vinci was hired by the Sforza family (who’s finger prints are all over Milan) to paint this image of Christ’s last supper with the disciplines, as depicted in the gospels.  Instead of doing this as a fresco, he described to use tempera, and paint on the wall – so he could embed more emotion, shadow, and depth to the image.  However, tempera doesn’t have the same durability as a fresco, so over the last 500 or so years, much of the original painting has deteriorated.  They have fixed it up and tried to preserve it the best they can, but it wasn’t easy.  While tempera was part of the problem, so was the wall he chose to paint on – the one over the kitchen – full of moisture and steam.  So the painting was doomed to begin with.  Though it has been restored as much as possible, it is sad that it isn’t in the condition da Vinci originally painted it in.  To protect what remains, the room is sealed and temperature/moisture controlled.  You go through a series of vacuum sealed doors in small groups for 15 minute intervals, and out a similar set of doors.  There isn’t another museum – it is one painting in one church.  But there is no need for more than that – it’s tremendous.

After we left the Santa Maria delle Grazie we headed towards the Piazza Duomo – the square in front of the Duomo di Milano (Milan’s Cathedral).  Because it was just after Christmas, the Christmas market was still in full bloom, surrounding the church with Christmas treats, street eats and stalls of of sweets.  Milan is a beautiful city by night, with the Cathedral lit up, the Christmas lights adorning the German style booths, and of course the crystal tree sparkling at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.

The Galleria is one spectacular place – to look that is.  The architecture is stunning, and building feels like the shopping more for royalty.  And it might as well be.  The main square has two Prada stores opposite a Versace and Gucci, which is right next to one of two Louis Vuitton’s.  Established in 1877, it’s one of the most spectacular malls in Italy (and Europe maybe).  We didn’t go into any stores or even consider buying anything.  Milan is definitly for the fashion lovers – and they can have it.  I’ll stick with the architecture and friendly people.

After we finished taking in the Milano post-Christmas well-lit grand and glorious sites, we headed back to the hotel, in search of sustenance and sleep.  We found this awesome restaurant –  Osteria Fara.  This was the highest quality service we had in all of Italy.  It was the first restaurant we ate at where it felt like they were interested in serving us with kindness.  The waiter was funny and went out of his way to make our meal enjoyable.  The Bruschetta was wonderful, and Ray enjoyed the local Risotto Milanese and an Artichoke Salad.  I had a bolognese.  In Canada we have certain foods we lump together as “Italian” food.  But in Italy, the kind of Italian food you have changes by region.  You cannot get a Bolognese in Rome, or a Carbonara in Milan.  Dishes are considered regional.  If you go to a restaurant that serves a dish out of the region, it’s likely designed for tourists who don’t know any better.  If you come across this – RUN.  DO NOT EAT THERE.  Osteria Fara was a little gem.  It felt like the perfect date night to a perfect excursion.

After a great dinner and a great night sleep, we woke to a great breakfast at the hotel, before heading out.  Our flight was scheduled to depart at 10 PM, so we still have the whole day ahead of us.  After breakfast we headed out to hunt down a couple foodie and gift items – such as gnocchi paddles and Fabriano paper.  We ended back up at Piazza Duomo, for our second round with the street foodL Porchetta sandwiches and Italian pastries.  Sorry Italy – but you really aren’t winning at the pastry game.  But I’ll forgive you, because, gelato.

The sad part of a late flight is the timing.  Am I rushing? Am I moving to slow? Will I make the bus?  It didn’t make for a relaxing day.  We wandered long enough and far enough to get a sense for modern Milan.  Our time there was lovely, but I’m not sure we will be back again any time soon.  So we bid farewell to high fashion and Italian food.  Until we meet again Italia.

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