Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 8 - Ciao, Bella! More Milan

Today was an excellent sightseeing day - we crammed tons of stuff in our day, but took time to relax, ate some delicious food, then ate some more delicious food, and went back for thirds, found the perfect souvenir, and on top of all of that, the children were amazingly well behaved. You could not ask for more than that.

We started off bright and early with breakfast in the hotel, which we had missed the day before on acccount of me thinking Italy was 6 hours ahead of the US instead of 8. I had a cup of hot chocolate and a croissant and felt tres European. Everything else they offered came in little packages - crackers, pastries, hard waffles, even toast was prepackaged, not fresh. Later, when browsing the many patisseria (pastry shops) we had to wonder why we bothered to eat breakfast at the hotel when there were so many other fantastic places to eat. (Because it's free, that's why.)

Now that we've got the Metro figured out, we were able to get to the Duomo right on time for the bus tour we were scheduled for. To anyone who is intimidated by traveling outside of their comfort zone, let me say this - it takes some trial and error, but don't be intimidated. Yes, you might stand around and look like an idiot (or a tourist) for a little while, but once you figure it out, you get where you want to go effortlessly. It is absolutely worth the trouble to learn. And besides, no one cares that you look stupid. They have work to get to, or they are tourists themselves and probably shouldn't judge. Vacation-karma can really hurt.

We found our tour bus, dropped off the stroller, and headed with the guide into the Duomo. I was surprised by my reaction to the inside of the cathedral. I was so moved by the beauty and majesty of the building that I wanted to cry. Again with the crying! What's with me lately? I'm not a crier by nature, but I couldn't help but think of these people living in the Dark Ages, who wanted nothing more than to know God. I know that there were a lot of horrible things going on in the church at that time, selling absolutions, etc, but I'm thinking of the common man. The one who had no access to scripture, who couldn't read even if he did, and who was taught that the only way to heaven was through a priest he listened to in that building. It wasn't a good life, but is it possible that a building as beautiful as this one could have done something to elevate his thoughts, a little? To give him some hope in a world where there was none? I think that regardless of the intentions of the wealthy family that paid for the cathedral (and who incidentally took as their family crest the symbol of the sun, Christ's symbol, so that every time the sun was included in the decorations, people were reminded of their family), there is beauty in that building, and I can't help but feel uplifted by it.

Duomo is from the Latin "domos" or house. This was intended to be the House of the Lord. It is an interesting thought to someone like me who is LDS and believes that we have been given authority to have the true House of the Lord, in our temples. We believe that the Lord told living prophets to build Him a house, and they've been paid for with the money donated freely from members who receive nothing in return, no promise of forgiveness, just blessings of obedience. The temples mention nothing of the builders, the artists who paint murals on the walls, or the leaders who made the building happen. The only person who receives honor and glory is God the Father and Jesus Christ. It's a little bit different, isn't it?

This is how Zack counteracts against the heat and sun of the day. Nice, but I doubt it will be the new fad.

After the Duomo, we walked through the Galleria again, through the pigeon-kicking park, and into the Teatro Della Scala, or La Scala Opera House. La Scala is famous for its acoustics, and only the best singers were allowed to perform on its stage. Many famous singers and conductors performed here, including Verdi and Toscanini. I'm not a huge opera fan, so I was only mildly interested in La Scala.

The Galleria

Some kind of foyer in La Scala. Zack and I got reprimanded for him putting his shoes on the couch. I should have seen that coming.

Next on our journey was a bus tour of the city, where we drove past some notable sights, including the Milano Centrale railway station (and our hotel), the only skyscraperish building (30 floors, the only building higher than the Duomo), and Sforza Castle. This was another reason to be grateful for a decent metro system - this trip took about half an hour, and I don't think it was on purpose. Like any city, there was a lot of traffic and I'm guessing it was tough to maneuver a bus down some of the old, tiny roads.

Our final stop was the Santa Maria della Grazie church - where Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was painted. It is very badly deteriorated because Da Vinci used the wrong painting technique on the wall, and it started flaking off within a few years of completion. Bummer. I'd sure hate to get this big, massive mural finally done and then get a call to come touch it up again only five years later. They outsourced the job to someone else, probably had the lowest bid, who pretty much painted over with whatever they wanted. They even added a beard on one of the apostles. Someone just finished redoing it yet again, spending like 25 years on it. What do you do when that job is over? Hope that there's another opening for Ridiculously High-Profile Art Restorer?

The painting, despite its flaws, was still amazing. If you had any doubt, all you had to do was turn around - there's another painting by some other guy on the opposite wall. He was a contemporary of da Vinci's and his art was basically total crap. I mean, it was still better than anything I could do, but as the tour guide put it, there's a difference between being a painter and being a genius.

There's no pictures allowed of the actual Last Supper. The above picture is of the church, this is Ryan carrying Darcey.

As with any tourist attraction, the door out of the Last Supper room went right into a gift shop. I'm sure that's the way it was built, back in the day. Here's the way the tour would have gone, 500 years ago: "Now we're walking through the cloisters, this is a working monastery so don't bother the monks, next is the chapel, and here's the monks' dining room with an apt mural of dinner, and over here is the Monastic Gift Shop. Pick up a souvenir robe for the kids, or better yet, just sign them up here for our next Monk's Summer Camp!"

It was pretty cool to see a masterpiece in real life. I kind of think that's what I've liked about this whole trip. Some of the things I've seen in books or travel shows or whatever, but a lot of it just feels like things that would be in a book or a travel show, that's how cool it is. I'm starting to wonder how I could have gone through life for 31 years without realizing the depth of history in this world. It's one thing to read about it, it's another to take a picture of your son sitting on a marble column that is over 600 years old. I have a very deep desire to read a serious amount of history books when I get home. I had no idea how much I didn't know until I saw all this.

After the tour was over, we headed to my new favorite gelatoria and got Zack a cone (vanilla, yes, only vanilla) and Ryan and I had panini. It doesn't even matter what's in them (although it's usually been prosciutto and mozzarella which I adore) they always taste terrific. Then we walked around the piazza and found a bathroom. It was in a bookstore, and we found an Indiana Jones sticker book for Zacky. As we headed back we passed the gelateria again, and this time Ryan got a hazelnut cone and we convinced Zack to try banana instead of vanilla. It tasted like actual bananas!! It was so delicious that Ryan and I kept taking turns "cleaning up" Zack's cone for him. (That's a technique I learned from my mom.) I had a lemon granita instead, which opened us up to a whole nother world of frozen italian treats. Granitas are kind of like high-end slurpees, but with natural tasting flavors, not so artificial as a slurpee. The ice-to-syrup ratio is spot on, and they are served with a straw AND a spoon, not this cheap spoon-straw combo at 7-11.

I love seeing grown men in business suits eating gelato right in the middle of the day. Love it.

We were going to head back to the hotel for a nap, but miraculously, Darcey fell asleep in the stroller and so we decided to walk down to the Sforza Castle. It's quite a hike, made longer by accidentally starting off on the wrong street, in the wrong direction. One nice thing we've learned is that we feel it in our gut when something is wrong. We just kind of know that maybe it's time to recheck the map, and sure enough, we're turned around. It doesn't seem to bother us on sightseeing days, though, because it just means that we've seen more sights. Granted, it's not maybe the sights we were aiming for, but that hardly matters. We passed an accordion player on the street and I had to toss him a coin to thank him for making it sound like Italy.

Darcey slept for about 45 minutes, at which time we parked ourselves on the grass outside the walls of the castle, in the lovely shade. We laid on the grass and relaxed, like the locals who were here on their lunch break, which is normally about 2 hours.

After about an hour, we roused ourselves and went into the castle itself, which meant running the gauntlet of friendship bracelet wielding men. Why couldn't someone have raised the drawbridge and kept them out? One of them mocked me for saying "No, no" and I wanted to go kick him like he was a pigeon, but he was way bigger than me and a little scarier than the pigeons.

The castle was nice, much bigger than Knaresborough, which of course was just a ruins and this is still standing. It was built in the renaissance style, which means much less ornate than the Gothic style which I'm partial to. This was impressive just in it's massiveness, how enormous and imposing it is.

We left and walked back to the Duomo, three granitas later (Ryan liked the strawberry one I bought outside the castle, he had to buy one himself, plus another for me). I had been thinking about what the perfect souvenir from Milan would be. I had bought a cookbook from Bettys Tea House in Harrogate because I enjoyed having tea there so much, and I thought wouldn't it be fun to collect a cookbook from each place we go? But in Milan, all of the books tend to be written in italian, and that wasn't going to work. As we were walking, though, we saw a sign that said, "American Bookstore" or possibly English bookstore, I can't remember. I asked Ryan to pull over so I could run in and ask if they had any italian cook books. He was wary, knowing how I tend to lose track of time in a bookstore, but I promised to be good. I was directed to a whole cookbook section in the back, and on one shelf I found it: the perfect Milan souvenir. A cookbook entitled "Italian Ice Creams" covering gelato, sorbets, granitas, and other things. I wanted to jump up and down, I was so excited! Yum! Yum! Yum! I bought that baby and was out of there in under 5 minutes. I think it's a record.

We headed back to the hotel, totally wiped out from such a long day. We had been on our feet for about eight hours straight, and the kids had been absolute troopers the whole time. I left the family there and hoofed it over to the train station to get our tickets to Switzerland for tomorrow.

We've seen pretty much everything there is to see here, and with the exception of climbing the roof of the Duomo, there's nothing else we want to do. But I still feel sad leaving. Why? I'm not sure. I am surprised that I liked it here so much, because it was probably the place on my list that I was least excited about seeing. I will definitely miss the food, but there is just so much pizza and ice cream that can be eaten before you get an upset stomach (trust me, Zack and I can vouch for that). I think I'm sad just because we've had two pretty wonderful days, we know the area now and are comfortable here, and have some good memories.

Tomorrow's destination holds promise, though. We'll be in an Alpine valley, where farmers take their herds of cow and sheep up to higher ground each summer and make their own cheese from the milk. We'll be in Heidi-land, with lederhosen and yodeling and that crazy alpenhorn from the Ricola commercials. Switzerland is the leg of the trip that Ryan is the most looking forward to, and we'll catch up with the rest of the family there as well. I'm just hoping to have time to grab one more gelato before our train leaves, you know, for the road. And maybe a granita, too.


Michelle said...

Hey Em,

the pictures are absolutely fabulous! Love all the old buildings. Got to say I am a little jealous of you right now -about your being in Europe - not dealing with all the travel chaos.
I wasn't sure if you were getting my emails or not - I have replied to the last few you sent me - so I thought I would post here and say a quick "Hi". Enjoy the rest of your trip and I hope the trip home is better than the one out there. Give me a call after you have recovered from traveling and we can get together soon.


rachel said...

So, if you learn how to make these italian ice creams, will you teach me? I have been craving them ever since reading your blog.
My life seems so mundane right now. We are freezing and wet here, and we go to swimming lessons in the cold and my kids fight all day long and I am already tired of summer. I think you made a good choice in going to Europe. Your blogs have been a nice escape to la la land for me when I can't stand it anymore. Thanks for sharing.