The Divine Duomo

See how happy she is, wearing her new dress?

We’ve all been told you have to dress appropriately if you want to tour the Duomo.  That isn’t entirely true.  If you happen to be wearing something a bit too revealing, no worries.  The Duomo staff will give you a lovely, suitable outfit to wear.  Best of all, you get to keep it when you leave.  Take a look.

If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that I toured the Duomo a few days ago, while in Milan on my own.  I am now on the OAT trip, which started with a walking tour of Milan, including a guided tour of the Duomo.  I’m glad I did both, because different tour guides emphasize different things, so YOU, dear reader, get the benefit of both, without having to endure an overnight flight.

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Both guides cited identical facts and figures: when construction started (1386), how long it was under construction (centuries), and on and on.  The main fact I retained was the Duomo has 52 columns.  Bet you can figure out why.

As you can see, each column is topped with statues of saints, but I have no idea who is who, and neither guide (quite wisely) bothered to tell us.

Only one called our attention to the beautiful marble floor’s embedded sun dial, with figures of the zodiac appropriately placed.  Check out Aries the Ram.

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As usual, the Duomo showcases art representing saints that died horrific deaths.  Catholics seem to have a deep appreciation for pain and suffering.

I missed the portrait of St Agatha on the first tour.  We had seen many portraits of her in Sicily, in the process of having her breasts chopped off.  In Milan, the painting isn’t quite so graphic.  St Agatha is shown being healed by St. Peter, who visited her in prison.  As you can see from her bloody garment, he is just starting to work his miracle.

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BOTH guides made sure we saw the statue of St. Bartholomew.  HE  was skinned alive and HIS statue leaves little to the imagination.

In case you’re wondering, that’s his skin draped over his shoulder.   Look to the right of his elbow.  His face managed to stay intact, and every hair on his head and beard is still in place.   Pretty terrifying for young Catholic children, wouldn’t you say.  No wonder we grew up so twisted.

Those Romans certainly dreamed up creative ways to launch Christians into the afterlife!

While touring the Duomo terraces a few days ago, I noticed what looked like a rooftop restaurant.  I figured it was probably super expensive and rather exclusive. 

What a nice surprise when  our OAT guide brought us over there for a drink and cookies.  We enjoyed yet another view of the Duomo, while sipping our cappuccinos. Here’s Elisa, our guide, explaining where we are going next.  Check out the chocolate shoes for sale  at gourmet chocolate shop inside.

 

Time to stop blogging and start experiencing…so I leave you with some Milan highlights.

 

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Two Days in Milan

Day One

I’ll be honest.  The first day of every overseas trip is always a wipe out, which is exactly why we  try to arrive before a tour begins.  So, not too many photos from day one, but a couple of tips.

The train from the airport to Milan’s central station is an easy and inexpensive option.  Just be sure to buy your ticket in advance.  We were feeling pretty smug when we walked by the long line at the ticket window.  Although you select a particular time, fortunately you don’t have to get it right.  You can take any train within a three hour window of the time on your ticket.  Our flight arrived early (how often does THAT happen?), so we were able to board an earlier train than the one we were ticketed for.

We stayed at the Hotel Sanpi, which is within walking distance of the train station, although we opted to take a taxi.  Those €6 were well spent!  We were TIRED.  The Hotel Sanpi was recommended by one of the posters on the OAT Forum (thank you, Ted).  It was a great choice.

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After a quick nap and lunch, we headed to the nearby public gardens.  We walked past an art museum,  a planetarium, and the Museum of Natural History, whose exterior reminded me of a Muslim mosque we’d seen in Spain.  We didn’t have the energy to go inside ANY of those places.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spent on a park bench, staring glassy eyed at I can’t remember what.  

There are lots of restaurants close to Hotel Sanpi.  We didn’t like Il Carpaccio, where we had our first bad meal in Italy  (I make better risotto), but the Azzurra Grill more than made up for our lousy lunch.  The veal chop with white wine and artichoke sauce was amazing, as were the profiteroles.

Day Two

Mike was up and out early, headed to Cremona to spend the next three days hanging out with his violin buddies.  As for me, I planned on going wild in Milano.

Step 1: purchase the €4.50 24 hour metro pass, and head for Milan’s hot spot—the Duomo.  Hey, you go wild YOUR way, and I’ll go wild mine.

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My Destination

With my iPhone in hand, eyes fixed on my downloaded google map, I was able to find my way to the metro station a few blocks away.  For a normal person, it would have been an easy task, but I have always been directionally challenged. 

As I was headed toward the Duomo’s ticket window, a young woman representing Gladiator Tours, wearing killer palazzo pants (I really should have gotten a photo of them) sold me a package tour, including  “skip the line” for the terraces, the cathedral and the museum, all for €30.  E1D4D8B3-8E8B-42D7-A247-4166AF23807CWas that a good deal?  Initially I didn’t think so, after I saw the prices at the ticket window, AND learned that my ticket didn’t include the elevator.  (180 steps to the top).  BUT, I was mistakenly sent to the wrong door, so as an apology, Gladiator Tours gave me the elevator ride for free.  All good, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  “Skip the line”doesn’t mean that you actually don’t wait in ANY line.  You still have to go through security, being wanded, one by one, AND then you wait for the elevator, which fits ten people at a time (one of the ten being a staff member).  THAT took almost 20 minutes.

Here’s what I saw when I exited the elevator.  

Yep, lots of repairs.  After walking as far as I could, I encountered yet ANOTHER line.  This one was for the elevator down.  Well, I backtracked, and when I did, I discovered you could walk through a passage to get to the Duomo’s OTHER side, which was FAR more interesting. If you took the stairs up, that is the side you would have initially encountered.  

If you are so inclined, you can climb 80 more steps to get to the rooftop.  (Yes, I have a thing about counting steps.  I can’t help it.  It’s what I do.)  

Ready for the GOOD photos?

I decided to REALLY skip the line, and walk down the steps to meet the Gladiator guide for the tour of the interior of the Duomo.  She was FANTASTIC, even though she wasn’t wearing gorgeous palazzo pants. Of course, our OAT trip will include a Duomo tour, (but not the roof), so I can do an instant replay.  I’ll wait till then to share my interior photo, even if I decide to skip the tour and go to the mall for gelato and people watching.  It never gets old.

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Wonder if they do your “make over” while still on skates? I wasn’t curious enough to find out.

Anyway, after the interior tour (with “whisperers”, so we could easily hear the guide), I figured that the €30 was not such a bad deal.  I skipped the Duomo museum, opting instead to take advantage of my metro pass to cruise around Milan on the tram and underground.  

I THOUGHT I’d prefer the tram.  Nope.  You can’t really see THAT much.  It is impossible to understand what the conductor is saying, plus there are no maps on the trams, AND the stops are not clearly marked.  So yes, I got lost.  But no big deal. I hopped off, crossed the tracks, and kept walking till I found another stop.  I had MUCH better luck with the subway, which WAS clearly marked AND had maps.  

Rick Steves suggested visiting  Naviglio Grande, which he described as “Milan’s old canal port — once a working-class zone, now an atmospheric nightspot for dinner or drinks”.   Who am I to ignore a recommendation from Rick?  So, off I went.  

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The canal was interesting, for about five minutes.  I admired the “love locks” that European cities seem to fancy. 

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Not so sure about the nightlife.  Maybe I was too early.

Here’s the only other patron at my sidewalk cafe.   Looks like he is also drinking an aperol spritzer.  

Check out the buildings across the way.  Don’t you want to do unspeakable violence to the inventor of spray paint?  (And I’m a pacifist at heart.)  What possesses someone to mark up buildings and other random surfaces?  Makes me think of dogs,  trees, and fire hydrants.  But I digress.

Including my little jaunt to the canal, I ended up getting 5 trips out of my 24 hour pass.  That’s much better than paying  €1.5 per trip, wouldn’t you say?  Bet you didn’t expect math would be in this post.

I’ll leave you to ponder graffiti, sidewalk cafes and metro passes.  On to Tremezzo…

Northern Italy and the Dolomites

What could be better that Northern Italy in the fall?  Right now, nothing comes to mind, which is a good thing, because that’s where we will be for 19 glorious days.

We arrive in Milan 4 days before our OAT trip starts.  How in the world did it happen that one of the least fashion savvy women on this planet will be in Milan during fashion week?  I imagine the streets will be loaded with even more beautiful people than usual, wearing exquisite clothes.  Will that change my determination to travel with only a carry on and backpack?  The answer to that question is “not a chance”.   Initially the plan was for us to exit the plane and head for the train without a detour to baggage claim, but then we got a call from our trip leader.  She reminded us that although it will be warm in Milan and Tirano, temperatures will drop during our visits to the Swiss Alps and the Dolomites.  So, that means we will need bulkier items.  I was able to fit everything into my trusty Eagle Creek carry on, but Mike’s clothes are considerably larger than mine.  So, one of us will be checking luggage.  That’s okay.  I’ll get a chance to see whether international flights are as picky as domestic ones about carry on size.  On our last domestic flight, I discovered that United has changed the dimensions for allowable carry ons to 9″ x 15″ x 21″.  My trusty Eagle Creek bag is 10″ x 13″ x 22″,  or 2,860 cubic inches, versus an allowable 2,835 cubic inches.  Really?  Will the gate person play hard ball?  Because we will be waiting at baggage claim anyway, it doesn’t really matter.  I’m determined to pack light regardless, because after our first night in Milan, Mike and I will be going our separate ways, and I will be traveling solo by train, bus and boat.

Mike is heading off to Stradavari’s old stomping grounds –Cremona–to hang out with his violin making buddies.  While he’s there, I’ll be in Tremezzo, on Lake Como.  Wonder if George and Amal will need a baby sitter for the twins?  And will I have packed the proper outfit?

Ah yes, packing.  I did my usual clothes “auditioning”.  It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to amp up my quick drying wardrobe.
For my last “one bag” trip, I  used a laundry service midway, because I spent half of the trip in just one place–Beja, Portugal.  This trip, however, I will wash as I go, because over 19 days, we will be staying in 8 different hotels.    This also took some serious retooling of my laundry aids.  The expandable clothes line I packed last time was pretty worthless when I couldn’t find two suitable attachment points that would also allow me use of the bathroom (thus the need for laundry service).

Thanks to my travel buddy Sally, I now own “clothespins” that can be looped over shower bars, and foldable hangers.

What I had never done before is something that bloggers Terri and James of Gallivance recommend: try living out of the bag for a week.  Of course, they were preparing for an around the world trip lasting several months, while I’m just going to one country for less than three weeks, so I didn’t feel the need to literally live out of my bag.  Instead, what I HAVE been doing is limiting myself to the clothes that I plan on taking and washing them out in the sink.  So far so good.  My LL Bean travel pants have been drying in less than 8 hours!

IMG_7519Some travelers swear by packing cubes.  In the past, I relied on my jumbo zip lock bags instead and they have served me well, but this time I decided to give a packing cube a try.  This cube opens on both sides, and is divided into two compartments–perfect for stashing things that  I will be using on a daily basis.  To my surprise, I was able to fit pajamas, underwear, toiletry bag and laundry supplies, plus a few small items–jewelry and scarves.  So, I can pull this out in every hotel, and I have the equivalent of two bureau drawers.  Take a look.

Best of all, it fits nicely into my carry on, leaving just enough room for everything else.  If you are interested in what I was able to jam into my bag, here’s a link to the Google spreadsheet.

Of course, this list could come in handy in the event that my luggage is lost.  (Which it was, briefly, on my trip to Portugal and Spain earlier this year.)

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I suspect the reason I haven’t used packing cubes was my carry on is already divided into neat sections.  As for whether I folded or rolled, the answer is, I did both.

Okay, so enough with the packing.  Full disclosure, although I sincerely hope that what I share is helpful to others, I REALLY have recorded it to help me, because I tend to forget what I took, what worked, what didn’t, if I have’t written it down.  Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, or waste, or whatever is going on with that empty space atop my shoulders.

On to the other preparations.  I got tickets for the train from the airport to our first hotel, from this very helpful website.  There are others, but I found Trainline easy to use.  Who wants to deal with unfamiliar ticket machines, in another language, while jet lagged?  Not me.  Being a bit obsessive compulsive, I also got tickets for when I’m traveling solo to lower my anxiety level.   From the Como train station, I have a choice of taking either a ferry or a bus to my hotel in Tremezzo.  Thanks to the internet, I have the schedules for both, and can decide which option is most appealing once I get there.

What a difference from my travel days in my early 20’s, when I got on a plane to Colorado without any reservations, with very little money, and only a vague idea of where I was going and what I was going to do when I arrived.   With google maps, trip advisor and the internet’s search options, I can be somewhat spontaneous, while limiting the risk of bad decisions.  (The thought that a bad decision was possible never crossed my mind in my younger days!)

Hope you’ll follow along on this next adventure.