"" Writer's Wanderings: 18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Milan. Italy

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Milan. Italy

[Summer, 2004]

Early in the morning, we set out for Santa Marie delle Grazie. We had booked tickets to see DaVinci's Last Supper before we left the states (a wise move---they were sold out when we got there). The yellow line from the station near our hotel took us to Duomo where we changed to the red line which took us to the Cadorna station. From there we walked a few blocks to the church. The train in Venice could learn a lot from the Milanese subway as far as making it easier on the tourist to figure out directions.

Santa Marie delle Grazie is not a very large church compared with others we had seen on our trip but the church and convent hold one of the art world's greatest treasures as well as one of today's most popular controversies. We walked around the church and the courtyard as we waited our turn to go into the old dining hall where the mural is painted on the wall. When your appointed time arrives, your group of 20 people are ushered into an antechamber where the humidity levels are adjusted and pollutants removed from the atmosphere. One more 2-3 minute stop in a second antechamber and the doors open into a dimly lit banquet sized hall. To your right, stretched across the width of the narrow room, is the painting. For a moment, I was breathless.

I had purposely not read the DaVinci Code by Brown. I knew there was controversy surrounding it and involving the painting. I wanted to view it through my own eyes untainted by suspicious symbols and markings interpreted by others. In the preceding 17 days, we had visited countless churches, chapels, and cathedrals. All had one thing in common. They emphasized the particular saint they were named for. Jesus was often the minor figure. Here in a perfect example of one point perspective all of the action, the objects, the walls in the setting, drew your eye to the center where Jesus sat. He was the central focus of the painting. It was a welcome sight.

The colors, the movement of the robes, the anatomical representations were all grand compliments to DaVinci's talents, although I understand that there has been so much restoration done that the colors may not be true to his originals. It is still a magnificent piece and well worth the effort to see. After our allotted 20 minutes inside the room, we exited another door through two more antechambers and out into the sunshine once again.

Back at the piazza by the Duomo, we looked for the restaurant Polly had read about in Steves' book. It is on the top floor of a department store and mall, La Rinascente, and looks out onto the church and piazza. It took a little searching to find the elevator but we were rewarded with a nice light lunch and beautiful view. We could watch people walking on the roof of the cathedral, exploring the nooks and crannies. We added it to our "to do" list.

The cathedral is free if you just want to wander around. It is so full of interesting statues and alcoves, that we opted to rent an audio wand to get all the information. It took about two hours to wander around the inside and stop and listen to the commentary. Since this was all we planned for the day we paid the extra Euros to see the Baptistry. It is underneath the church and shows an excavated foundation that dates back to the 4th century.

For me, the most exciting part of the cathedral was exploring the roof. We paid 5 Euros to ride the elevator to the roof. Slabs of stone make up the roof covering providing the base for all the spires and turrets that rise above your head. The intricacy of the statuary was amazing. We learned later at the Duomo museum that they are repaired and/or replaced when the weather finally takes its toll. The views of the countryside, the city, the cathedral, all lend to some interesting photography.

We let Polly sit where she was comfortable when she decided she was high enough and didn't want to look down. The three of us continued up a few more steps and walked out across the main area of the building. Walking to the front, we found a stone bench and sat for a moment looking back and up at the golden Madonna sitting atop the highest spire.
Bob poked me and nodded his head in the direction of the guard booth. Hands crossed over his chest and head slumped forward, the guard had obviously succumbed to the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze and was catnapping.

Not being interested in museums, Dick went off to find some more of the great gelato we had the night before while the rest of us went into the Duomo museum across the piazza from the cathedral. The museum held stained glass windows and statues that had been replaced from the Duomo. It showed how the pillars were constructed and some of the plans for the cathedral's construction. Also of interest were some of the vestments of the clergy.

The afternoon was waning and so were we. We returned to our hotel and retreated to our rooms for a bit of a rest and nice long shower. Bob and Dick checked with the front desk to find a nice place to eat for our "last supper". They recommended a restaurant that was a bit off the beaten track but had a wonderful menu and quiet spot where we could reminisce about our 18 days together.

The most amazing part of the whole trip was returning home after being so closely thrown together in a little Audi for eighteen days and realize we were still friends. Not too many families can survive that kind of closeness and want to plan the next adventure. The hard part will be choosing where in the world we want to go now.
[Stay tuned. . .We'll be trying 28 days in Ireland together. Wonder what kind of car we'll have this time?]

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