Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fashion and a fresco...basically: Milan.

Fall break descended quickly on the Rome campus last Thursday as students scattered across Europe for their 10 day break. With their departure came my own time away from Rome as Lynda and I headed north for a mini-vacay in Milano and Lago di Como. (I'll tackle Lake Como in another post)

I love fashion. I do. I don't consider myself to be a very fashion forward person, mind you, but I do love to look at clothes, shoes, and handbags. I do love to shop and buy clothes, shoes, and handbags, and there's no where in the world better than Milan to do just that. Milan is home to such fashion icons as Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, and so many more! I felt underdressed just walking around in the city. Still, it's a pretty unique city compared to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Milan is a newer, more modern city and lacks that "old world" Italian charm. Yet, it has its own character and its own feel. For one, it's a fairly clean city in my opinion. Yes, there is graffiti from time to time because what city doesn't have graffiti, but it's not like Rome where every surface is covered. It's a polite city. When exiting the metro I was shocked that people stood to the sides to let you exit. That would never happen in Rome!! People crowd in the entrance of a train and it's sometimes challenging to get off before the doors close. I was shocked to see people lined up along the right side of the escalator so that people could pass on the left if they so chose to climb the escalator stairs rather than allow it to carry them up.

We were in Milan for two nights and two and a half days. We didn't have a lot on our itinerary other than try to see DaVinci's The Last Supper fresco, visit the Duomo, see the La Scala opera house, and perhaps purchase some high fashion items at discount prices.

We started our time in Milan by visiting Piazza di Duomo. I was unprepared for what I saw as I ascended the stairs out of the metro. The view before me was breathtaking!! WOW. So much bigger and ornate than I'd expected. Milan's Cathedral is the world's third largest church after St. Peter's in Rome and Seville, Spain's Cathedral. Milan's church is a monstrous Gothic cathedral that seemed to go on forever. We spent some time admiring the architecture and then wandered the city knowing we would be back the next day for a closer look.
We spent the evening walking the calm streets of Milan before settling on a Rick Steve's suggested restaurant for dinner. We were not disappointed by the food and had a lovely first meal in Milano.

We awoke much too early on Saturday as we wanted to try to get seats on a bus tour that included a stop to see DaVinci's famous fresco. In order to see the fresco one must make reservations months in advance, but because we hadn't officially decided to go to Milan until September we were too late. So, we arrived at the ticket office only to be told that the morning's tours were sold out, but that there was space on the afternoon tour. Whew! We paid for our tickets and set out to find some discount designer clothing stores that I'd read about.

We were unable to find the first store we looked for, but we did stumble upon Via Monte Napoleone--Milan's fashion street. As we meandered down the street we came face to face with Stella McCartney's store, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Armani, and more fashion icons. It was overwhelming to be on such a street. There is no way on earth that I would ever be able to afford anything from any of these stores nor do I think I would ever want to buy anything considering that I could put my money to better use.  Besides, we were on the hunt for discount designer goods! 

We made our way to two other shops in different areas of Milan (can I just say how proud I am of Lynda and myself for navigating our way to these stores? They were in the suburbs of Milan and weren't easy to find!), but failed to purchase anything. There wasn't anything that I felt like I HAD to have. 

After shopping we rested with a quick lunch and made our way back to the Duomo to meet up with our tour. The first stop on the tour was DaVinci's Last Supper.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw the fresco, but it certainly wasn't what I saw. The work is beginning to deteriorate after years of abuse and lack of preservation so the religious community that houses the work restricts visitors to groups of 25 people who are allowed to view the work for only 15 minutes at a time. Before you can enter the area the fresco is housed in you must go through 2 detox chambers to remove anything that could harm the painting from your clothes, etc. You'd swear you were entering the secret chambers of the CIA or something given all of the hoops you have to jump through! But, let me tell you this....soooooo worth it!! I was overwhelmed by the sight of the freso. DaVinci's work is genius and moving. The fresco was so much larger than I'd anticipated and richer than I'd imagined. I am so glad we got to see it! I could have stared at it for hours rather than a mere 15 minutes....
No photos are allowed of the this is the best I could do: a shot of the outside of where the fresco is located.

After our visit to the fresco, we re-boarded the bus and headed back to the Duomo where we learned more about it and surrounding structures like the Galleria and La Scala opera house. We went to a museum and passed by Sforza castle. It was a good tour and I appreciated the bus as my feet were beginning to hurt! :)

After the tour concluded, Lynda and I wanted to explore the inside and outside of the cathedral. The interior of the Duomo is massive. The ceilings are ridiculously high and, because it's a gothic cathedral,  the entire sanctuary felt dark and foreboding. We left the interior and headed around the cathedral to take an elevator to the top of the church. For €8 you can take the lift to the very top of the Duomo and see the entire city of Milan and miles beyond. It was incredible to experience the city and the church from that height. To be able to 'explore' the church's architecture up close and personal was a unique and incredible experience. 
Well, after our whirlwind day of sightseeing we decided it would be best if we just grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel. We attempted to find a restaurant near the Duomo, but the only places we found were overpriced restaurants that catered to unknowing tourists. Did we eat at one of these establishments? Nope. We did what any self-respecting American would do in this situation...we ate at McDonald's. Ha!

I really only eat McDonald's when I'm in Europe. There's other and better things I can eat at home, but when I'm here and need an American fix---the golden arches do it every time. Exhausted to the point of delirium, Lynda and I ordered our food and sat down. She got her order ahead of me and found a place to sit at a ledge-type table with high chairs in the overly crowded dining area. When I plopped myself down in hunger, thirst, and tiredness, I found myself looking into the faces of two young men who seemed to be mesmerized by something either on my face or sweater. Then, and this is one of the oddest things that has ever happened to me, one of the guys leans over and offers me one of his french fries. Huh? Who does that? Who offers a complete stranger some food from their plate? Weird! I politely said: "No, thank you." He shrugged, gathered up his stuff, and he and his friend left...leaving Lynda and I in hysterics. Too, too funny!! After dinner, we hobbled back to the metro station, made our way back to our hotel, and crawled in to bed. 
The next morning we slept in, ate breakfast, and went to the train station to wait for our train bound for Lake Como. Milan was a quick trip, but honestly I don't think we needed anymore time there. We saw everything that we'd wanted to see, had a lot of laughs, and had some amazing adventures. Now on to Lake Como.....

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  1. Hi Kristen! I loved reading about your adventure in Milan - what happy memories it brought back!! We only spent two days in Milan but, like you, were surprised by all it had to offer - and I, too, love the Last Supper!! We almost didn't go because a friend told me it wasn't worth it - so glad I didn't listen to her!! Enjoy your trip - travel safe! xo, Nan

  2. Kris
    Thanks for sharing, felt like I was living it with you! I laughed again about the french fry guy and the pics of that duomo are massive! I do disagree that you are not fashionable or a forward in that - so not true! You work it, own it and wear it...I especially LOVE your jewelry style! xo