God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Milan—Oh the Drive

Driving in an Italian city always promises to be a daunting experience to be ventured only by the brave of heart with nerves of steel or by the fool. I seem to be married to such a man.

Using points, not € or $, we were staying in Milan at the Westin Palace on Piazza Repubblica—not in the centro storico but well within the maze of the city, which, of course, includes areas under construction, one-way streets, roundabouts, few streets with seeable names and the dreaded ZTL’s (zona traffico limitato) with cameras snapping license plates and zapping drivers with HUGE fines which eventually show up on the visa/mc/amex bill—don’t be lulled into thinking that having a rental car is a ticket to freedom.

Having had our share of such tickets while living here, we proactively called ahead to ask about these zones. Ken was assured that there would not be a problem as the hotel was outside the ZTL areas. With that, we proceeded with confidence, intending to follow what seemed to be very easy directions provided by the hotel—how could we miss?

At this point, I’m sure you know the rest……suddenly, I cringed as we sailed past the posted ZTL sign with all of its posted restrictions and its clicking camera. We were zapped! Now, I hope that the hotel rescues us or there goes another $125 +/-. My advice is to hire a taxi to lead the way safely to a destination. Maybe we will take that advice and do that next time.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, maybe not, we had three reasons for going to Milan—which is most certainly not our favorite city in Italy.

  1. Taking Casey to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper
  2. Taking Casey to the amazing roof of the Duomo
  3. Meeting a long time internet friend from Slow Travel and Expats in Italy, Sylvia, AKA Alice Twain.

Goal #1: As soon as we settled into our very adequate room, we set off for lunch and then walked to the Duomo, passing through the spectacular Galleria with its beautiful glass roof and turn of the century architecture—and €3 gelato. The Galleria then opens onto the Piazza Duomo..

We did a quick tour of the interior of the church—Casey, having been in so many cathedrals, duomos, churches, chapels and monasteries, has ceased to be enthralled unless there are crypts with withered skeletons or truly enrapturing works of art. He did, minimally, appreciate the exquisite stained glass windows which soar high into the upper recesses of this duomo. He likes identifying the Bible stories in them.

There are two ways to get to the roof—for € 5 you can walk up innumerable stairs or for €7 there is the escalator. Can you guess which we did? A clue-- it was a very hot day.

If you have never been to the top of the Milan duomo, think about doing it some day. It is truly fascinating. The carvings, spiries, statues, buttresses, walkways and views are unforgettable—quite unlike anything you may have seen elsewhere. One can only wonder about the vast number of artisans and lives it took to complete such a project. Casey enjoyed it.

Goal #2: Many years ago, Ken and I visited the Last Supper while it was still under restoration. We simply took the metro, walked over to the small room that it is in, paid a few (thousand) lira and were the only people there. We were able to stay as long as we wished. And, although the restoration was not complete, being alone in what had been the monks’ refectory, trying to absorb this painting with a perspective making it seem that a meal is being shared with Jesus and the twelve, was special

This time was quite different. Reservations need to be made months ahead of time or you lose. The fee is expensive by the time you pay the initial cost, the booking cost and the guide cost (not optional.) Each group is allowed 15 minutes exposure. The group passes through a series of hermetically sealed doors, filtering the air, before entering the room. And…there before you is Leonardo di Vinci’s masterpiece; his experiment in non-fresco, painting on dry plaster. The deviation from the technique of painting on wet plaster, alla fresco, was not successful; and so, the painting deteriorated over the centuries. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and exquisitely emotive. Casey was fascinated with its depth perspective which he immediately saw when stepping back further from the wall. He was still talking about it at dinner time.

Goal #3: Meeting Sylvia. What a treat this was—Casey’s favorite part of his time in Milan. He loves her already. I must tell those who know her, Sylvia is greater than her internet personae, which seriously under-represents her. Alice Twain is serious, opinionated, quite knowledgeable and helpful. I am certain that Sylvia is all of these things but she is also funny, fun, entertaining and just plain good company. She had Casey laughing so hard that tears flowed—and still do today as he thinks of her. She tried to teach him a Milanese tongue twister that he is committed to learning.

She introduced us to a small, neighborhood, working peoples’ restaurant. I am certain that it is not a place ever found by tourists. There was a simple price fixed menu with a few choices for each piatti (course.) It was good!

Reluctantly we parted after lunch so that Sylvia could return to work and we moved on to the Sforza castle/fortress.

And this was our day and a half, two nights, in Milan. It took us 30 minutes to find our way to the A1—I am sure that a native does it in no more than 10 minutes. But, we did find it without transversing any ZTL areas, I think. If so, it was a successful exit.

Now, I am writing this pool side at our “home” in Greve as I look out on this scene—taken specifically to elicit envy.

Tomorrow—Croatia which may mean a couple weeks before another blog entry—but do check in from time-to-time.


janie said...

On our very first trip to Italy we ended up in Milan at rush hour in a rental car-wow-what an experience. Luckily we finally found a parking lot because my husband was just about ready to abandon the car the the side of the road! Enjoy Croatia.

Jerry said...

Ok. I'll bite. Which is Ken? "brave of heart with nerves of steel or by the fool"


Jane said...

Jerry, I was just waiting to see who would pick up on that. I doesn't surprise me that you were the one. Do you really believe that I will commit myself to the answer which depends on the day, of course.

Janie, I understand your husband, totally.

Chiocciola said...

Sounds like a fun visit even though you had some driving trouble! How great to see the Last Supper - and to meet Alice Twain!!

jmisgro said...

I am so jealous! Of everything!! And meeting Silvia! I hope to meet her some day. We would probably talk about knitting the whole time!