13 May 2020 - Day 32 –Milan


Ah! The luxury of sleeping in until 8:30. After cleaning up, (which for me includes straightening out the bed, which I do everywhere, even when I’m checking out) I headed down to the breakfast room and perused the buffet. Cereal, (mass market) pastry, bread, sliced cheese and cold cuts, fruit, yogurt and hard-boiled eggs. I ran a split baguette through the toaster, peeled and sliced an egg and added two slices of cheese, and had a banana and OJ. The coffee machine looked unreliable to produce a drinkable cup of joe.


After brushing my teeth and slipping my rucksack under my yellow parka, I put my camera in my armpit and slipped the flooding umbrella into a pocket. Ready for whatever unpleasant weather might get thrown at me. Out the door, I headed back to the Duomo Piazza for a rendezvous at 10 with FreeTour.com. I’d booked their “English Free Tour with Certified Guides”, which would run in any weather. I just didn’t expect the guides to be standing around in yellow t-shirts, per the confirmation. As I got to the plaza, there were 4 yellow umbrellas with younger folks in yellow windbreakers. I fit right in with the parka.


We gathered a group of 5, and our guide Marco brought along a colleague who was learning this tour. The two other couples were from York (England) and Dundee (Scotland), so they were used to this weather. Cooler, probably low 50’s, and breezy. Marco and Juliette began by discussing the cathedral across the plaza, mixing in a bit of historic scandal with a stream of chronological data. It was not a day to see the gold statue of the Virgin Mary on top, a usual fair-weather indicator for the Milanese.


After the introduction of the cathedral and its plaza, we headed off to San Satiro, a 5th century church: Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Church of St Mary by the shrine of St Satyrus). Most significant about the gilded interior is that this is one of the first use of trompe l'oeil. The choir was foreshortened due a road at the rear, so the fresco provided he illusion of depth. We had to walk around the block to see the old bell tower.

Marco advised us that we’d have a short walk as we headed to “Università Statale”, the University of Studies of Milan; UniMi is one of the larger institutions of higher education in Europe. Shops at street level ran on either side as we headed southeast. When we T’d into Via Festa dei Perdono, we were blocked by a massive building faced in red brick, the University’s ten schools.

Entering through the Ca’ Grande, a grand quadrangle opened before us. About the manicured lawn were whimsical sculptures, although we tended to stay in the covered arcade with its elegant columns and arches. The student population numbers more than 60,000, about 60% undergraduate.

Exiting through the Ca’ Grande, we walked along the university building’s outer wall to the Piazza Santo Stefano, with its basilica, to focus on the neighboring sanctuary of San Bernardino alle Ossa.

A 13th century church, it has an ossuary in a small shrine with frescoes framed by bones and skulls. Octagonal in shape and Baroque in style, the allegorical fresco on the ceiling belies the morbidity of the walls. I’d seen ossuaries before, where bones had been included in the design ornamentation in Portugal, but this was much more to the extreme. Now I guess I need to visit the catacombs in Rome and Paris?

Leaving the church, we walked via the Piazza Fontana in back of the cathedral to the Piazza San Fedele between the Palazzo Marino and the Leonardo 3 Museum.


Marco spoke highly of both, recommending a return to both. The Palazzo is the city hall; the museum entry is located off the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an indoor arcade connecting city hall to the cathedral. We hung out for a few minutes in the arcade during a brief shower. We were in the neighborhood of the opera house, La Scala, to which I later returned.

We were heading to the Parco Sempione and the Sforzesco Castle. While I’d been in the park twice yesterday, I didn’t know the significance of this large citadel. Standing in the middle of the yard, Marco explained how the ruling family, the Sforza, had rebuilt the castle as a private residence from which to defend against aggressors.

Bramante and da Vinci, among numerous artists, contributed to the ambiance of the living spaces. Both the French and Spanish in their turn of ruling Milan had used this as their base. It now houses several civic museums, collections and the Trivulziana Library, home of the Codex Trivulzianus manuscript of da Vinci.

Returning out the Torre del Filarete, we circled the Largo Cairoli, which took us by the edge of the Largo Maria Callas, a trapezoid-shaped park full of trees. As we strolled down the Via Dante, a major commercial pedestrian concourse, most of the major name-brand stores had a presence.

Our goal was Merchants Square, a medieval plaza vetting musical performers, vendors on market days, and restaurants in the evenings. With a few tales of crimes and tricks dating back half a millennium, Marco ended the tour.

Nearly 1pm, I proposed lunch to the Brits, as the two guides had to head back to regroup before their afternoon tour in Spanish. With the weather still threatening, we headed the two blocks to the south end of the Galleria. Gordon, the Yorkshire man, spotted the Terrazza Aperol, which looked busy but had spots available, so we headed in. Two orders of lasagna; two salads, one with chicken the other tuna, and I had a bowl of a bean soup with shrimp and pureed potatoes. Calling the Italian beer piss, we settled on two bottles of water. Both couples were curious about my trip, which then led to a discussion of last year’s trip in Britain. Surprised at my taking 9 weeks to see their countries, they invited me back to the north to see it with a native. And we did decide that there are four countries in the UK, and that each should be counted separately.

Parting, as they were heading to Varese for the night, I started walking up the Galleria Victor Emanuele II towards the da Vinci Museum. I spotted a teepee advertising the Highline Galleria, proposing great views of Milan.

While the weather was miserable, there was a “weather discount” so I decided to check it out. Taking a lift to the top of the arcade’s glass ceiling, steel gridwork had been laid out with barrier fencing allowing he observer to walk about the rooftops of the various buildings which made up he arcade. The Duomo rooftop was visible to the south, and walking towards it, one was able to overlook the great plaza in front. Visibility was probably limited to a mile or so, but the rain haze gave the city an Impressionist feeling.

There was still about an hour free before my next appointment, so I window-shopped my way down the arcade. Continuing my passion for all things related to Leonardo da Vinci, I decided to spend that hour in the museum.

Little in the way of authentic work, there were models of the master’s designs, similar to those I’d see in Amboise. There was a copy of the fresco, the Last Supper, with detailed explanations of the technique, as well as identifying not only which apostle was which, but who the portrait was based on. This was probably the most popular exhibit, although I really liked the full sized models.

At 4 I had a ticketed reservation for an English tour of La Scala, the opera house. Not particularly impressive from the street, it was remarkable once inside. I knew that with my ticket for the evening performance, I’d not be able to get to the boxes, so a tour would allow me to see more of the interior of the house.

The forty-five-minute guided tour brough the complement of 16 English speaking participants to the historic boxes, the royal box, the foyer, and the stalls, before heading on stage. Starting at the Ridotto dei palchi “Arturo Toscanini”, or the practice stage, our guide moved us quickly through the house, as she had to be back for the 4:45 Italian tour. Our ticket allowed us access to the museum, which closed at 5:30, so I spent three-quarters of an hour perusing opera and theater memorabilia.

My ticket for the performance of the ballet “Romeo and Juliet”, the Kenneth MacMillian choreography, would be at 8. I was seated on the ground level, and knew I needed to dress up a bit, as well as leave my camera at the hotel. So I began the half hour walk, about 2½ kilometers, back. The Via Alessantro Manzoni was a straight shot through a shopping district, and included some “palazzo” on the way. Ending at the Indro Montanelli public garden, I walked the paths as the skies began to clear. Leaving the park, I was approaching the district around the train station and my hotel.

Thinking to grab a quick bite, I entered Habesha Restaurant, serving Ethiopian food. Completely out of my depth, at the suggestion of the young woman waiting on me, I ordered a sampler with a bottle of beer. The plate arrived, with a bit of goat stew, pickled vegetables, a dish of lamb curry and several sauces. And I did clear my plate.

The hotel was 5 minutes away, so I scooted back, changed into a dress shirt and pulled out the only tie I’d packed, and with the heavier sports jacket, I was set. Journal and camera left behind, I didn’t think I’d need the umbrella, so I returned to the street. Heading to the train station, I entered the Metro station and caught the #3 line, riding it for 4 stops and getting out at the Duomo. As I walked the Galleria again, I noted most of the shops were closed, but drinking and eating establishments were doing good business.

At Teatro La Scala, I joined the patrons as we handed off our tickets and were directed (in Italian) to the correct door. I had a chair, placed slightly in back of the other 5 in my group, which were behind the rows of fixed seating. It was an “obstructed view” seat, but I really didn’t miss much of the stage, and there was enough of a rake to have decent sight lines. The program cost 3€, something I’ve come to expect in Europe, and I didn’t recognize a single dancer’s name. Having seen this choreography with the Royal and ABT in New York, as well as being very familiar with the Prokofiev score, I knew I’d be in for a great evening. The dancers were brilliant, the fight scenes well crafted, and both the balcony and crypt scenes had me in tears. I did get up and stroll during the interval, just giving the glutes a break. When the performance was over, I went to the La Scala stop and got a #1 tram back to Plaza Cincinnato and walked the 3 blocks to the hotel.

Opting for an acquavite d'uva from Nonino called Uvarossa, a clear brandy-like distillate of the must from schioppettion, refosco and fragolino grapes. Yup, more firewater. I took my snifter upstairs, kicked off the shoes and hung the jacket, shed the tie and began writing my posting as the photos got downloaded. Two camera batteries to charge as well as the phone, so I was awake later than I’d like. Plus I sent off two emails to my private guides in Bergamo.

-Because I didn't get back to any of the other four basilica on my list, here's the map I was using:


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