First Adventure: Milan

10 Jul

You opt to go with the church to Milan, and this is a great decision.  Not only do you save over $250, but you meet some really nice people whom you’re glad to get to know.  The trip begins with a walk to the chapel from your house.  It’s only 25 minutes away, but you left at 8:30 to make the 9:00 bus, so you left very little wiggle room.  And it turns out that you weren’t supposed to meet at the chapel, but at the commissary instead – about 7 blocks farther away.  So you all run as fast as you can, but thank God, the bus was late too and is pulling up just as you arrive.  Of course you are all sweating and gasping for breath, but in the two-hour bus ride to Milan, you have plenty of time to relax and talk and enjoy some rest.  The sights along the road are interesting – lots of factories, many farms, vineyards, gorgeous old church towers, and three humongous wheels of cheese – and by the time you approach your destination, you are very excited.

When you get there, you arrive at a giant fountain in front of a massive castle.  Now there’s something you don’t see every day.  Castello Sforzesco was originally built in 1368, and is complete with moat, dungeon, huge towers, and a perfect view of the Peace Arch that Napoleon Bonaparte had commissioned.  We’re talking history here, people.  Oh and a few of those guys who cover themselves in paint or latex and pretend to be statues.  You get lunch at a panini stand, then go on a quick tour of the castle.  Your tour guide carries a blue umbrella so you can see her in the crowd on this 90° day, and she uses a Janet Jackson-type headphone and baby monitor-style necklace to amplify her voice.  Silly, but functional.

You then get back on the bus for a driving tour around the city.  Milan is home to 1.4 million people, and if the surrounding areas are counted, it’s more like 4 million.  And the place looks like it.  There are people everywhere, and as you point out to Nicole, there are no buildings shorter than 4 stories.  The architecture is astounding, and every so often you pass by a very large “gate” that was once used as an entrance to the formerly-walled city.  You discover that the center of the city used to be flooded with water and the main transportation was boat, similar to parts of Venice.  There are many stores with expensive-looking high fashion clothes, plush green parks, and a massive cemetery with an extraordinary entrance.  But the bus tour ends and it’s time for the main event.

You go to the monastery (Santa Maria della Grazie) where Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper.  The inside of the sanctuary is breathtaking.  The walls and ceiling are covered with vivid iconography, and are majestically detailed.  It is, in brief, The Best Waiting Room Ever.  But you are soon ready to view the painting.  They only allow 30 of you in at a time, for only 15 minutes at a time.  The room where it is housed used to be where the monks ate their meals, and you can see why monks are so quiet – every whisper is echoed and magnified to no end.  So trying to have a 4 year-old and almost 2 year-old try to be quiet in the room is nearly impossible, especially when they are clearly delighted at the magnificent noise.  But from the moment you lay eyes on the painting, you are in awe.  You did not expect it to be nearly so large – about 15′ tall and nearly 30′ wide.  It takes up the entire width of the wall, and the painted men are larger than life.  After many restorations you can see the proper detail again, although those punk monks enlarged the door to the kitchen long ago, cutting off Jesus’s feet.  And the Allied Forces bombed the building during WWII, destroying the ceiling above and one wall near it, but the painting was covered in sandbags and kept mostly safe.  The structures were obviously rebuilt, but the beautiful painting of a starry night sky on the ceiling was lost forever.  As you leave the room, you see an enormous fresco painting of the Crucifixion done by another artist (Gaudenzio Ferrari) just a few years after Leonardo’s painting.  It is beautiful and rich in color & dimension, and stretches from wall to wall and ceiling to floor.  If this painting wasn’t second-billed in the same room as The Last Supper you get the feeling it’d be nearly as popular.  Photographs are not allowed inside the room, but you get a nice snapshot of a framed photo outside of it.

Your last stop in Milan is at The Galeria – a large mall of beautiful shops with much too costly items for sale.  But the window display at Louis Vitton is nearly as impressive as The Last Supper!  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the mall is exotic and gorgeous.  Nicole joins other tourists and spins her heel in a hole on a tile mosaic of a bull, a fun tradition for good luck.  And just outside the Galeria is the most incredible building you’ve ever seen.  You round the corner and almost cannot believe your eyes.  The Duomo (cathedral) is larger than any building you’ve ever seen, and far more extraordinary.  It is made entirely out of marble and took 600 years to finish constructing.  The spires are so high up you almost don’t notice that they are each topped by ornate statues.  The grand doors are big enough for a giant to pass through.  Every bit of the outside is carved and sculpted and made perfect.  And the inside is just as amazing.  There are stained glass windows that stretch 7 stories high, and immense pillars & columns & buttresses that dwarf you and the hundreds of other visitors.

You leave Milan at dinnertime, grabbing a quick sandwich & Coke at the AutoGrill – the Italian McDonald’s for roadside fast food.  You are exhausted from your busy day, but grateful for the amazing opportunity.  And speaking of opportunities, just this next week you’re offered a chance to go to Germany to the Army’s resort lodge Edelweiss for free through the chaplain’s office.  It’s a marriage retreat for your already solid marriage, but it can’t hurt to be a little closer together after living apart for 10 months.  Continue reading if you opt for your next weekend to be a relaxing one, or go to Second Adventure: Edelweiss if you decide to go for the free vacation.

You decide to have a nice relaxing weekend…at Edelweiss in Garmisch, Germany.  Now go to Second Adventure: Edelweiss to read about it!

One Response to “First Adventure: Milan”

  1. Alexis Macdonald July 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    wow! what an incredibly fantastic and wonderful experience you are having all together. You are all looking great and so happy too, of course, love, Mom/Gramma lexy

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