Ciao Italia, Part II

March 8, 2009

So this has been a long time coming I realize!!!!

It seems I left off with a ramble about Italian food… which I still cannot say enough about.  Onto Saturday though!  We woke up bright and early to hop on the metro downtown to catch the bus for our tour.  I found this particular tour company through a general tourist website, Viator.  We were fantastically pleased with the experience and in fact as soon as I finish this blog entry I’m going to book my tour for cairo through the same company.

The tour started off at the 14th century Forza family castle.  They were one of the ruling families of Milan for a longgg time and the castle has a great history of  being taken over (most notably by Napoleon who wanted to tear it down.  Shocker.)

Forza Castle

Forza Castle

After the castle we got back on our lovely bus and got over the Santa Maria Della Grazia which is the church next to the building that houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo in Italian). Now not only was I as sucked in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as everyone else, but four years of high school Italian made me a basic fanatic of this famous painting and Da Vinci himself. Somehow through all these years though, I never learned that it was actually HUMONGOUS.

But first, to observe Il Cenacolo you have to make reservations several weeks in advance (unless you do what we did and go through a tour company that has a certain amount of spots they purchase every month anyways.) Only 25 people are allowed in at a time for 16 minute intervals for eight hours every day of the week. If you think about how every shift is filled pretty much 360 days a year that is a LOT of people.

In order to get into the room that houses the painting, we passed through a series of three rooms that supposedly helped clean dust off our clothing. When we finally were allowed to enter, our guide had us stand back about 30 feet away from the wall to observe it from afar. After five minutes she finally allowed us to go as close as possible (which was about five feet away) and Deirdre, Jenna and I didn’t move from that spot until the guard yelled at us that our time was up. I have seen famous art before. But no piece, not the Mona Lisa, not Van Gogh’s masterpieces, not Monet’s water lilies, has ever affected me the way this one did. I could not keep my eyes off it.

The painting itself underwent a major restoration only a few years ago that removed all the paint that had been added years before by artists who wanted it maintain its brightness.  No wonder it has suffered so much damage, our guide informed us that Napoleon used this room (that was originally a cafeteria for monks- hence the ‘supper’ theme of the painting) as a STABLE FOR HIS HORSES.  The art fanatics were shocked to find that under all the layers of other artists’ paint- there were actually different facial expressions on several of the disciples than originally thought.  Another interesting fact, the monastery in which the painting is housed was actually severely damaged by bombs during WWII, if one of those bombs had hit a dozen feet to the left and this painting would have been completely destroyed.

After peeling ourselves away from the Jesus and his disciples (after several angry grunts from the guard on duty) we wandered through Santa Maria Della Grazia.  I was so moved after my moment with Da Vinci I even let myself drop 50 cents and light a candle in the church (which, if you know anything about me, is not so much my style.)  We spent far too long in the church, admiring the frescoes and altars, we almost missed the tour bus as it was getting ready to leave.

Our next stop was La Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world.  Though the outside was less than impressive, the inside, with its red velvet floor-to-ceiling walls with gold decorations, was magnificent.  Someday I hope I can see an opera there (standing room only is only ten euros if you get there early enough! not bad eh?)

Afterward we walked outside through the Vittorio Emmanuel Galleria (the most famous shopping plaza in Milan) to get to the Duomo.  Inside the Galleria the four anchor windows were Armani, Prada, some famous shoe store, and MCDONALDS.  Oy vey.  Sometimes I am still embarrassed to be American.

Our tour then took us through the Duomo, which was just as spectacular on the inside as it was on the outside.  We even got a ‘backstage pass’ that took us behind the altar to the 30 feet high stained glass windows that normal tourists can only see from a distance.  The Duomo has 52 columns in it (one for each week of the year!) and is the largest cathedral in the world made entirely of marble.  Our tour ended outside of the Duomo where Carnival parade preparations were being made (aka kids in amazing costumes, balloons everywhere, confetti and silly string being sold at every street corner).  At one point we hesitated in our search for the pizza place our tour guide recommended us and Jenna was sprayed with shaving cream by some complete strangers.  They of course used the excuse to talk to us then (four boys of course- do they ever grow out of the push-on-the-playground mentality?!?!) which proved to be difficult with our language barrier, thankfully.

We spent the rest of the afternoon gorging on pizza and shopping.  We watched the parade pass by from the second floor of H&M (avoiding more shaving cream!) and that night we dined accidentally in a super nice AMAZING restaurant where we of course at too much and spent too much money.

Sunday morning we let ourselves sleep in a little more and then we ventured back to the Duomo to make the trek to the top.  After my awful memories from climbing the Duomo in Florence (after 6 weeks of getting fat in Paris)- this climb was surprisingly easy.  We took UNBELIEVABLE pictures that I will upload as soon as my internet speeds up and it was amazing to get to see the detail of the sculptures that cover THE ENTIRE BUILDING.

That night we ate in style again and went to sleep early to make our flight the next morning.  I can’t say enough about how refreshing Italy was ((especially the lack of smoke)- but it was good to come home. I can’t believe I call an amazing place like Greece home.

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