Milano: DaVinci, Spires and Symphony
After scanning the dreary Luxembourg weekend weather forecast, we decided on a whim to make a getaway for Milan. We headed out of Luxembourg airport Friday evening and white-knuckled it through a bumpy flight southward over the Alps. Friday evening we walked from our hotel to the Duomo, a Gothic-style cathedral, which is one of the biggest in Europe and took more than 600 years to complete. We marvelled at the intricate facade and then headed over to Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, one of the world's oldest shopping malls. The galleria features glass and iron ceilings and arcades filled with Italian designer stores like Prada and Versace. For more than 150 years, this has been a revered meeting place and shopping destination. After window-shopping, we headed back through the rainy streets to rest for an early start the next day.
We began Saturday by returning to the Duomo right at opening to check out the massive interior filled with detailed stained glass panels and also to climb 14 stories to the roof of the church. Because we were there at opening time, we were able to walk amongst the spires, sculptures and multi-hued pink, white and peach stones with only a few others. We took in views of the city below and gaped at the precise detail of sculptures that were intended only to be seen from the streets below. On clear days, there are views from the Duomo rooftop to the Alps, but we couldn't see beyond the city center due to the rainy conditions.
After the Duomo, we headed to a local juice bar for acai bowls, smoothies and matcha lattes and continued our exploration of the city. We stopped at the Chiesa de San Maurizio al Maggiore. From the outside, it looks like a simple cement building, but stepping in we were stunned by the brightly colored frescoes lining nearly every surface and the intricately carved wooden ceilings. The church was originally attached to the most important convent in Italy and parts of the structure date back to Roman times. One great thing about Italy, and Europe in general, is that seemingly plain, simple structures can contain exquisite, luxurious and historically significant surprises.
We ventured further outside the city center to the Cenocolo Vinciano, also known as da Vinci's Last Supper. We started our visit by learning a bit about the history of Milan, including how it was ruled for much of the Medieval and Rennaissance eras by two competing families: the Viscontis and the Sforzas. We learned about how the Sforzas commissioned Leonardo DaVinci to paint a mural of the last supper in the dining hall of the monastery near the family's local chapel, and how part of his payment was a house and vineyard nearby. As we stood across the street from da Vinci's house, we imagined Renaissance-era Milan and tried to embrace the history surrounding us. Before heading into the climate and moisture controlled room to see the Last Supper, we also learned how it was preserved despite occupation by Napoleon and bombings during World War 2 that razed buildings nearby. Once we entered the old monastery dining room, we were captivated by the bright colors and genius use of perspective da Vinci employed in the painting. We felt grateful to have time to just sit and take in one of the most culturally significant works of art in the world.
After all of the churches, art, history and culture, we decided to go modern for dinner and enjoyed a raw vegan meal of algae pasta, pumpkin ravioli and a few healthy desserts. We started the next day in a more traditional Italian way at a panini shop, where Dave enjoyed a crispy warm veggie panini and Erin feasted on a farro salad and matcha latte.
Despite all of the amazing history, art and architecture in Milan, it is perhaps best known for its fashion, style and shopping. Even on a wet February weekend, we walked past many men and women dressed to the nines in heels and furs. Many women wore dark eye makeup and stylishly puffed on thin cigarettes - just like a Dolce & Gabbana ad. With these surroundings, we had to do shopping. We couldn't resist checking out new stores we don't have in Luxembourg as well as a vintage designer shop for Italian socialite castoffs.
After a flurry of shopping we found a small cafe that made homemade noodles and dumplings and we enjoyed a small feast. After lunch, we headed to la Scala to take in Mahler's 9th symphony. Teatro alla Scala dates from 1778 and is the perhaps most famous opera house in the world. We entered and were surrounded by marble columns and extravagant chandeliers. We headed up to the fourth level to enter our red-velvet and silk-ensconced loggione to view the orchestra. To sit in the loge and look out into the jewel-box like opera house was epic and magical. Erin felt like she was in a Tolstoy novel, and taking in the view accompanied by live classical music felt like we were lost in time.
After the show, we headed to the more modern side of town for Thai massages, and followed those up with a bit more shopping. We turned down a side street and decided to try another vegan restaurant for dinner called Alhambra. Stepping in, we were shocked that the cramped restaurant was packed with trendy Milanese. We soon learned that the restaurant was run by an Eritrean family and that all of the 20+ dishes on the menu are vegan. We stepped up to the counter and pointed at each dish we wanted to try and the chef placed a scoop of each onto a tray. After selecting 5-10 different items (lentils, pumpkin, roasted veggies, potatoes, curries) the chef placed each tray in an oven. While our dishes were heating, our waitress brought fresh bread and hummus. Our food arrived later and we fell in love with the variety and flavor of the Eritrean dishes - they were a mix of Ethiopian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences.
We headed back to our hotel to watch the Super Bowl at 12:30am before dragging our feet to the airport at 4:30am for our flight back to Lux. Although Milan doesn't have the glamour of Florence, Venice or Rome, it has a fashionable, modern vibe and great architectural and artistic sights, so we were glad to spend a few days taking it in. Next up, our first trip to Portugal, and hopefully some sun.
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