Milan so far

The bus from Genoa dropped us off at Milan Linate airport, whence we took a cab to our hotel. There are not all that many hotels in the area of the Duomo (Milan’s cathedral) but ours is reasonably priced and is only a five-minute walk away. Nice hotel, too. (It’s the Ariston, if anyone wants a recommendation.) After all that bland cruise food, we opted for a walk to McDonalds the first night, then enjoyed the chance to sleep without an alarm set.

Milan is cold! It’s up on Northwest Italy, not that far from the Alps (and Austria and Switzerland) so this isn’t surprising, but it’s far colder than Rome, somewhere around freezing. Fortunately we hadn’t packed our winter coats away, so we were ready for it. We ate the very good hotel breakfast, then spent our first morning trying to find a Fed Ex or UPS office to deal with our luggage problem. We finally found one (just around the corner from the hotel, after we’d walked much farther the other way) and posted one full suitcase off home (actually to work). Between the extra-weight charge from KLM and the cost to ship it home, it ended up costing us about half as much as one of our cruise fares. Quite a bit for a “learning experience”! Lesson to learn: KLM allows only 20 kg per person for flights within Europe. Don’t listen to what their website says.

The afternoon was more enjoyable. We visited the Duomo, which is second in size only to St. Peter’s in Rome. It is huge, and the stained glass is definitely worth seeing, but the realy incredible part is the roof. We wondered if it was built only for the glory of God or if the designers were secretly hoping for other humans to aprociate it as well. You can walk up or take an elevator (we’re still ill – we took the lift) and then can walk over most of the roof. There are more spires than anywhere I’ve been since Bryce Canyon, only here if you lost a cow you’d promptly forget all about her in marveling at the statues, an entirely unique one on each spire. There are fretwork and spirals and carving; the whole thing suggests a fountain in stone somehow shaped into representations of every character in the Bible and mythology. It reduced Mark Twain to awed gibbering, so it’s not shocking if I can’t find fitting words.
At the heart of Milan are a great cathedral, a great museum, and a great shopping center, which probably says a lot about the city. We left the museum for another day, and explored the Vittorio Emmanuel shopping arcade, appreciating both its famous floor mosaics and the tasty food in one of its cafés. We also had espresso (decaf) since that seemed to be a specialty, and a tiramisu that was very different and even better than the American version – mostly custard, with just a bit of cake soaked in something alcoholic at the bottom. (I also took a brief look in the Prada store and a few others.) After that we looked at the outside of La Scala opera house, then went back to the hotel to nap. Dinner was pizza not far form the hotel, once again with actual flavor. (Have I mentioned that we really didn’t enjoy the cruise food??)

This morning it took me a while to get going due to some of the less pleasant manifestations of the ending of my cold, so we decided to skip walking around the area of the designer stores (I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to afford anything anyway.) We stood in line for tickets to the Palazzo Reale museum, but didn’t buy them after finding out that the Museo Duomo, the part we’d been most interested in, wasn’t open. Instead, we walked to the Castello Sforesco, which is notable for both its architecture and the museums (plural) it contains. The castle itself was begun in the 1300s, and fortunately the museum has respected its home and not transformed it too much. There are still frescoes on some of the ceilings, including one by Leonardo, who was also the primary architect of the castle at one point. The castle’s collections are vast; as we did at the Vatican, we made a point of seeing only the parts we most wanted to view. We’re feeling a bit overloaded on Egyptian and other antiquities, so instead we began with the Museum of “Ancient Art”, which here means mostly medieval and Renaissance items. This was well worth seeing and finished on a high note with Michelangelo’s last unfinished Pieta. We also visited the furniture, decorative arts, and musical instrument sections, also well worth seeing, We never did get figure out how to get to the Treasury Room, but by then we were tired and hungry so we found a nearby restaurant, then turned back to the hotel. We’ll go eat some more in a couple of hours, then tomorrow probably go see yet another ancient church (or possibly cathedral, not sure) before heading off to the airport.

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