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12 May 2020 - Day 31 –Milan

While I got to bed late, I was still up at 7, closed up the suitcase and headed out to the train station so that I could catch the direct train to Milan at 8:10.

A forty minute ride, I was walking out the southwest (main) entrance at 9 and at the Hotel Flora within 10 minutes after crossing the Piazza Duca d’Aosta. Not even 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, I had no expectations other than to leave my roller. I was asked to sit on the green striped couch in the reception area. After checking out a guest, he had me register, and sent me to room 324.

Moving the desk chair, I had room to leave the bag open. I hung up both jackets and grabbed the yellow slicker, as there had been a shower on the train ride from Como. I contemplated carrying the foldable umbrella, but the weather wasn’t supposed to be that bad. Collecting my Duomo lift pass/tour ticket and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana admission and putting them into my rucksack with the journal and camera spares, I pulled the slicker over all of it and headed out the door.

My cathedral pass was good to start at noon, and the museum at 3:30, so I had time to explore. In addition to the Duomo, Cattedrale di S. Maria Nascente Duomo di Milano, there are 9 basilicas I could see. Pulling up a Google Map printout, it seemed wiser to start with the two to the north and see how my time was doing. Out to the Piazza, I turned to walk southwest on Via Vittor Pisani, walking to the start of the Repubblica park where I turned right on Viale della Liberazione. I was heading towards the Piazza Gae Auleti, a tourist attraction because there were many modern architecture examples there.

Basilica Santuario Sant'Antonio di Padova from the outside is gray and rose with a square brick bell tower. The capital and columns are red marble, while pink stucco has been applied as highlights. Three wooden doors provide entry, with reflective stained-glass windows above them. Inside is fairly dark, with heavy use of the red marble in the columns and arches. There are side chapels on both sides, but a single nave without transepts. Two altars in the sanctuary front a display of a gold cross on red. The vault ceiling is a huge fresco of Saint Anthony of Padua.

Deciding to skip the Basilica of St Mary of Lourdes, I set out to cross Chinatown and check out the Arco della Pace, a triumphal arch in a rotary. At its summit, a charioteer advances with five stomping horses. The frieze work on each side is excellent. Very close by is the Basilica Parrocchiale del Corpus Domini.

The façade is bland and (to me) unattractive. With an aged brick wall, the central door panels with depictions of the apostles is the only highlight. A dark interior, red marble is used in the columns and arches, and the murals in the dome ceiling of the apse and the nave continue the use of this Burgundian red.

To move towards the cathedral, I walked through the Parco Sempione, with lawns and gardens as well as the Castello Sforzesco. The Branca Tower was impressive, but there was a significant queue despite it being a cloudy day with occasional drizzle or brief shower. The “Teatro Continuo” di Alberto Buri was an open-air stage with fixed wings surrounded by grass fields. Beyond was the Castello Sforzesco and the Torre Castellana. Crossing on the Bridge of the Little Mermaids, turtles lined the ponds edge. Coming behind the Filarete Tower, the Fontana de Piazza Castello was putting on a good show as a shower threatened.

There was still time to get to the Basilica di San Carlo al Corso and then get to the Duomo at noon. Basically I was following the M1 subway line, but on surface streets for a kilometer and a half. My walk took me past the cathedral, passing to the north, and the weather held until just as I came to the plaza in front of the basilica. Pulling my hood up and tucking my camera into my armpit, I scooted through the columns and stood on the porch.

This basilica is round with a high oxidized-green topped dome over the crossing. The small curved apse is at the north end, but up 5 steps. The high altar is magnificent with a marble ciborium (canopy supported by columns,) also called a baldachino. The large dome’s interior is a marvel of geometric tiling. Six side chapels in archways honor saints, and statues ring the base of the dome. Built in 1847 after a cholera epidemic to honor the former archbishop of Milan, Saint Charles Borromeo.

It was time to head to il Duomo di Milano. Probably among the top ten cathedrals photographed in the world, the western façade of white Candoglia marble rising 108 meters above the broad piazza in front. With a façade of 10 spires set above columns of carved ornamentation and statuary, it has long been on my bucket list, particularly after reading the chapter in Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. Cattedrale di S. Maria Nascente Duomo di Milano, its official name, honors the birth of the Virgin Mary. It is the largest church (interior area) in Italy, second largest in Europe (St Peter’s in Rome) and fourth largest in the world (national shrines in Washington DC USA and Aparecida, Brazil). Of course, this tabulation factors in various features, and ranking is controversial.

Turning to the controller, I showed my Duomo Pass with lift. I was assigned to the 12:30 English tour, to last 90-minutes. Then I would be allowed to use the lift to the roof. My museum/library tour was at 3:30, and was within a 10-minute walk. It would all work out. The tour group was large, almost 20, mainly from English-speaking countries, with a mean age of 55, I’d guess. Our guide was an Italian gentleman near retirement age, who spoke clearly with enough volume to command attention. He walked us outside first, as the sky had almost cleared a little bit, to talk about the façade. Back inside, we walked down the right double side aisles (there are 5 in total), pointing out the chapels, statues, artwork as we walked to the transept. At the south transept, which also has aisles, we looked across the crossing to compare windows and reredos of the altars at the ends.

He took us up as close as we could get to the high altar, and I spotted the cathedra off to the left, opposite an organ console. Descending to the crypt, we saw some of the ancient foundation stones, and our guide left us to view an 18-minute extract of the Zeffirelli film The Passion of Christ.

Back to the main level, I found the queue for the lift and joined it, and was soon up on the roof of the cathedral. My preference is to climb, but it didn’t seem an option – I feel you should earn your views. The spires and barriers along the walkway edge were finely carved, marvels of craftmanship. The views through these carvings out onto the city were good, as the weather did limit how far we could view. After about 45-minutes, I rode back down and spent a little time in the gift shop, particularly checking for a new cross, but nothing intrigued me. I like my Cathar cross (Crusaders/Jerusalem) that I got in Carcassonne.

Heading across the piazza, I did stop several times to spin and look back at the cathedral. What an awesome sight! McDonalds and KFC were along my route, but I waited and stopped in at Passerini Bar Caffetteria to get a panini and vino bianco to tide me over until dinner. Half a block on, I stood at the gate for the Biblioteca Pinacoteca Accademia Ambrosiana.

A library, academy and art gallery, it was established in 1607 with the donation of the collection of Cardinal Borromeo. It has been added to, with Renaissance sculpture, stained-glass, paintings and drawings of da Vinci, oils by titian and Caravaggio, and many other masterpieces by European artists. My ticket was for a guided tour, so our group of 8 was focused on a journey through the 15th through 17th century masterpieces in the collection, then on to a focus on Leonardo da Vinci, and ending in the crypt of the adjoining church.

We moved through all three levels of the building before heading to the church basement.

After an hour and a half, my brain was saturated, and, while I enjoyed my visit and was glad I’d made a point to include it in my plans, I am a bit worried about some of my future museum visits. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it this weekend. The weather had continued to hold off, and I still had some energy, so I decided to head west towards the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. About a kilometer, it took about 20 minutes, passing the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.

St Ambrose Basilica is a brick structure with a pair of square brick bell towers. Entrance through an iron gate, the flagstone walkway passes by arch-covered colonnades. Entering the central doorway, the nave is bright with whitewashed stucco walls highlighted with red bricks, with your eyes drawn to the apse end where a baldachino sits under a half dome and above the main altar. The top is white marble, with the four supporting columns in a red-porphyry marble. An interesting note, a hall and a library at UCLA are modelled on this building.

On a roll, I was 10 minutes away from Santa Maria della Grazie, another notable basilica. With a brick cladding, the apse end is topped by an impressive dome made by Bramante. The three aisles are separated by marble columns supporting rounded arches, with most surfaces in a warm, soft beige. Circular openings in the walls and dome allow natural light to enter the nave. The da Vinci mural of The Last Supper isn’t viewable, as it is in the convent refectory.

Ready finally to quit for the day, I checked with Google Maps. Just under 4 kilometers, or an hour walk through the Castello and San Marco districts, or a ten minute ride on the Metro with ten minutes of walking. .Deciding to brave 6pm transit, I headed for the Castello Sforzesco where I’d been earlier, descended into the ground and got a 15€ card and joined the folks on the #2 line. Five stops later I got off at the central train station, and knew how to get to the hotel. Very easy and comfortable.

Noting that there was a lounge on the street level, I collected my key and headed to my room. Shedding the yellow parka, I freshened up, plugged in the phone and started charging a battery. I grabbed my journal and camera and went back downstairs to the bar. With a Campari and soda, I settled at a small table and began recording my memories of the day as I referred to the pictures I’d taken. After a second drink, I was relaxed and done, so went back to the room to spend a half hour writing the beginning of this post.

After the big complex dinner in Como last night, I wanted to keep it somewhat simple. I headed out of the hotel just wandereing, looking at menus in windows, waiting for something to appeal. I wasn’t having much luck, so finally walked into Hosteria della Musica alla Ferrovia.

Sort of campy, sort of art deco, there were enough people eating to recommend it. I asked for a sparkler from Franciacorta to start as I scanned the menu. I started with clams and pasta, getting a glass of the house white, a Lugana Trebianno with my dish. A puntanesca pizza was simple enough, just gravy and black olives, which went well with the glass of Sforzato di Valellina, a Nebbiolo. I even opted for a dessert. A cold pistachio torta made with gelato, drizzled with dark chocolate, it was a final light touch on a simple evening meal.

Back to the hotel, I collected a Grappa di Lombardia at the bar before I picked up my key and then headed upstairs. Firing up the netbook again, I downloaded the camera chip and went back to this post. Slowly sipping my firewater, I picked a few pictures out to accompany this narrative. Once I upload the text and then paste in the pictures, I’ll settle down for the night. A later start tomorrow, I get buffet breakfast with my room!

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