Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Milano, where warmth and inspiration still flourish

 Duomo, Milano

Milano is the second largest city in Italy that was first founded by a Celtic people called the Insubres. In 222 BCE it was captured by the Romans but was ultimately under the rule of a host of different peoples to include the Visconti family, the Sforza family, the Spanish, the Austrians and then Napoleon, who conquered the city in 1796. It was not until the mid 1800’s that it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Milano is now the center for Italian commerce, industry and finance including the base for the Italian Stock Exchange. Over the years, many Italians have said to me that Milan was for doing business and that the real Italy was to be found in Rome, Venice, Naples, Tuscany, etc. Time passed and finally it was time to check this place out for myself. The Goths supposedly took the city over from the Romans and named in “Mailand” meaning the land of May where warmth and inspiration flourish. It being May, it seemed like the perfect time to head for Milano, Italy.

Trolley car

I headed off to Italy with one of my favorite traveling partners, Chantal. Flights from Orly (Paris) to Linate (Milan) are less than an hour so what a quick and easy get-a-way. The cabs are remarkably clean, plentiful and the drivers courteous. The cab quickly whisked us from the Linato airport to the hotel in 20 minutes with a fare of 20 euros. I consider that efficient and affordable.
We opted to stay in the old city center which I highly recommend. The city is not large and walking is an easy option. There are also buses and trolley cars going in every direction as well as a metro system and of course, as I mentioned, pearly white cabs at correct fares. Getting around Milano is very easy.

Galleria Vittoria

The most visited tourist site in Milano is Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper housed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent from the 15th-century. Don’t expect to be able to get in without having made reservations well in advance. Here is a ticket site to help you plan your visit as well as to give you a description of the current state of the painting : http://www.tickitaly.com/galleries/davinci-last-supper.php

For an exceptional museum, I highly recommend the Pinacoteca di Brera. The building is 17th-century and is where the Accademia de Belle Arti was founded in the 18th-century. The Palazzo di Brera is magnificent and the collection is the finest in Milan with examples of Italian Renaissance and Baroque painters. It also includes some of Italy’s more famous modern artists from the 20th-century. This is where you will find the most reproduced painting of the 19th-century. It is called “The Kiss” and is by Francesco Hayez.

The Castello Sfozesco is the first castle built by the Visconti family. We do not have the original building from that period but what was built by the new ruler, Francesco Sforza, in the mid 15th-century. The most sought after piece to view in this museum is Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà. This was interesting, but I was more inspired by the delightful and interesting mix of archaeology and applied arts housed here. Both this museum and the Pinacoteca di Brera were easy to get into with no lines.

Eye Candy!

The Museo Poldi-Pezzoli was the home of a wealthy nobleman who bequeathed his art collection to the state. The museum is extraordinary and proved to be our favorite. It is here that you will find the 15th-century Renaissance painting by Antonio Pollaiuolo called “Portrait of a Young Woman”.

The Duomo is at the heart of the city and is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. It is an easy landmark and towers over the palatial Piazza del Duomo at its entrance. The interior is dark and lacks the beauty of the majority of cathedrals that I have visited, but this is made up for in the enormity and expanse of the interior. One can not help but to be awed. What was most interesting was to climb to the roof (an elevator is also available) for spectacular views of the city that span to the Alps. You can literally circle the cathedral walking on the rooftop and intertwining with the many crowning spires while being face to face with the gargoyles. Very cool indeed!

From the Roof of the Duomo
I have not mentioned shopping and let’s face it, Milano is a paradise for the chic designer shops that are focused on and near Via Monte Napoleone. There is also the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II near the Duomo. This is a shopping arcade inaugurated in 1877. I am guessing that it is the mother of all shopping malls. It is open to the exterior with a magnificent class ceiling and dome covering the galleria and its adorned mosaic floor. Everywhere are cafés and shops for everyone’s taste and budget.
La Scala
There were two highlights to this trip. The first was to see Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at Teatro alla Scala. The opera house opened in 1778 is certainly one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world. The productions tend to be sumptuous and the interior is a glorious red with gilded box galleries and an enormous chandelier that is worth the ticket price to see. Speaking of ticket prices, they are just that; pricey and good seats are hard to get. You must go online and be ready to pounce on the day that the tickets become available. Be warned that many seats are for listening only making a good seating chart crucial to selecting those seats that will satisfy your expectations.
The second highlight to our trip was to be able to go to the theater production of “Priscippa La Regina Del Deserto” (Priscilla Queen of the Desert). This is a musical based on the film that came out a number of years ago and will be playing in Paris, Madrid and Berlin. It was a gift from our friend, Alex, who wanted to be sure that our stay in Milano would be memorable. 
Priscilla Queen of the Desert

There is no doubt that this trip will be very memorable and it was sweetened by the warmth of the people and our friends. We came back to Paris with a renewed inspiration that this marvelous city gave to us. The Goths were correct in calling this old Celtic city Mailand and May was the perfect month to visit.

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