When first planning the trip Milan was primarily the arrival and departure city. The first draft schedule had us arriving in the city of 1.3 million (5+ million including the suburbs) the day prior to our departing flight, taking a few sites and then leaving the next morning. The Milan 2015 Expo and the da Vinci’s Last Supper changed those plans.
Milan is a modern city with a modern business district with skyscrapers. Like other European cities, Milan has two city centers....the old historic central city and the modern business district many miles away from the old central city.
Given all that is being done to preserve what remains of this classic artistic work, it is not easy to get in to see Da Vinci’s work on the wall of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. Viewings take place in 15 minute blocks with no more than 25 people per group. Walk-up tickets are hard to secure…such as when a scheduled person does not arrive on time. Tickets are best secured 4 to 6 months ahead. As we had done so our day was scheduled around our afternoon viewing time.
The work is in poor shape due to the techniques and paint da Vinci used, moisture in the wall from an underground stream and the fluctuations of weather as the mural is painted on an exterior wall. Over the centuries work has been done to repair the painting….including special cleanings and repeated touching up of the paint. Today, after extensive restoration work to remove all the touch up paint layers, we have only about 45% of the original left, but what remains is still impresses. The symbolisms, the subtle messages in the position of the bodies, hands, feet and facial expressions are powerful. The original must have been stunning (the picture of the Last Supper is not mine as taking pictures of it is prohibited). We have a good idea of what the original looked like as Giovanni Rizzoli under the supervision of da Vinci painted on canvas a full scale copy. Rizzoli's copy is on display in London England at the Royal Academy of Arts.
After viewing the Last Supper we visited the grounds of the Sforza Castle which was on the way back to our apartment. The castle first built in the 1300s was added onto the expanded throughout the centuries into a huge fortress. The castle is so vast that it houses nine different art collections and museums as well as a rare book library. As it was late in the day we didn’t have sufficient time before closing to do any of the collections. Visiting the collections and museums would be left to another day.
On the second day we headed to the Milan Expo for the day. Arriving as the gates open we found that long lines were already forming at the pavilions. Long lines from the outset of the day are inevitable as the pavilions don’t open until an hour after the gates open. The Milan Expo is designed with the pavilions flanking one main street. Though we visited several pavilions, as the morning progressed the lines became longer. By 12:30 we took a break for lunch and had difficulty finding any place to sit…all the lunch lines were about a half hour long.
After lunch we looked cueing up for the Italian pavilion but with a 2.5+ hour line we changed our minds. With other lines becoming well more than hour long, and the central street a mass of people moving slowly along together, by 2:30 we decided it was time for us to leave. The Milan Expo was such a disappointment that we both agree that we are not likely to visit another Expo in the future.
On the way to the Milan Duomo early Sunday morning we walked around Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. Built in the 1860s and 1870s this covered shopping mall is one of the oldest malls still operating. With glass vaulted ceilings, decorative stone work and stone flooring, the Galleria is well worth viewing.
The Duomo (Cathedral) which dominates that area of the city is too ornate and gaudy for my taste. To say it is grand and elaborate would be an understatement. The Cathedral is located in an older part of the city and well removed from the modern skyscrapers of the modern business district. The Duomo is the 5th largest church in the world and took nearly 700 years to build it (started in 1386 and was completed in 1865). Its stonework is currently undergoing needed cleaning to restore it back to its glistening white condition. Its many roof is adorned with such a multitude of spires that a trip to the roof is now an attraction that can be accessed for a price. Once on the roof, one has a wonderful unobstructed view of that area of the city.
As we were visiting on a Sunday, we elected to take in one of the several worship services taking place over the course of the morning. While not anywhere close to the nature of St. Mark’s in Venice, the interior décor and artwork is rich. The space is expansive with marble floors, high vaulted ceilings and multistory stone colonnades.
We spent the end of the day relaxing, walking around our area of the city and having dinner before returning to our apartment to prepare for our journey home.
While flying into Milan passing through customs and immigration was efficient, our departure process was different. We had to do high amount of walking to get from the train terminal to immigration control, and a long walk from immigration control the airline’s check-in in, then another long walk to security and then a long walk to the gate. Our total walk time was about a half hour, excluding the time waiting in line. Arriving at the airport at least two hours before one’s Milan flight is definitely advised for Milan, and when you arrive at the aircraft gate be prepared to find seating for less than a quarter of the passengers.