Planes, Trains & The Last Supper
As we settled into our seats at Tampa International for the nine hour flight to one of the world's great fashion centers, Milan
, we had read all the books, listened to the Italian language CD's for hours on end, researched late into many nights and planned our first trip abroad at a level of detail exceeded only by the Allied invasion on D-Day. The excitement I felt was like Christmas morning, my first real date and seeing The Beatles in concert in '65 all rolled into one. Even my fellow Nomad and wife, Susie, demure though she may be, was unusually talkative and animated as she began to realize that we were actually doing something we had dreamed about for years.
As Americans traveling to the country that gave us opera, the Lamborghini and Spaghetti, we had committed ourselves early on to learn everything we could about the history, traditions and people of one of the great cultural building blocks of western civilization. Italy's architecture, music, art and culinary contributions to the civilized world are well documented. But we were now taxiing to lift off to experience first hand all of the things we had only read about in travel and history books, seen in Italian films or heard on a Pavarotti recording.
No discussion of travel to Europe would be complete without the mandatory acknowledgement that flying for nine hours, even to Italy, is simply one of the least enjoyable experiences any human being willingly agrees to subject himself or herself to. There is no component of air travel, particularly to Europe, that can be described as pleasant, tolerable or even slightly uncomfortable. In a word - it sucks! From the ergonomically masochistic design of the seating to the bland microwaved food to the C movies provided to help get your mind off your misery, flying on any commercial airliner for nine hours is proof positive that they just don't like you or care about you in any way. But in a world which is growing increasingly less civil by the day, it's the price one must pay to experience the joys of travel to the continent. And without hesitation, I can say it was worth every uncomfortable second spent with Delta to experience one of the truly great cultures of the western world.
After our uneventful flight and arrival at Milan's Malpensa Airport
, we made our way through customs and boarded a quick train to Cordona Station
. As per travel guru Rick Steves, we planned to store our luggage in a locker at the train station as we had reservations to view one of the great paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci
, The Last Supper
, which was within walking distance of Cordona Station. Alas, this was not to be, as the lockers were closed for repairs. Since there was no plan B, we headed out for Santa Maria Delle Grazie Church with our luggage in tow. Then we got lost. As strangers in a strange land, we were at the mercy of various people on the street to give us directions to the church. After finally finding our destination late, the very nice English speaking docent allowed us to view the great painting with the next reserved group.
With our luggage still in tow, exhausted from a nine hour flight, we stood in awe of one of the most compelling works of art ever created. As we studied the great mural created by the original Renaissance Man, the first sparks of the paradigm shift I posted about last week, hit us. We knew we were in a different time and in the presence of divine inspiration from another time at this place. Davinci painted The Last Supper around 1495. As with all great ancient paintings, the painting suffered extreme deterioration over five centuries. Fortunately for weary pilgrims and art lovers alike, the painting went through a major restoration started in 1978 and completed in 1999. Because of the popularity of this priceless work of art, viewing is only allowed by small groups in fifteen minute intervals.
Just as Leonardo himself was obsessed with his mode of dress (many historians consider him to be the first real fashion conscience genius), any account of a visit to Milan would not be complete without a discussion of its position as one of the fashion centers of the world. Armani, Versace, Chanel, Prada and Gucci are just a few of the endless roster of world renown and less famous designers who have boutiques all over The City of Fashion. They even have outlet malls. And you thought outlet malls were only on I-75 between Atlanta and Tampa. No sir. Milan is the place for fashion conscience shopaholics, rich and fiscally challenged alike.
Pizza, Coca Cola and The Duomo
Upon leaving The Last Supper and the Santa Maria Delle Grazie with our first real memory of Italy, we headed for the famed Piazzo del Duomo, the main city square of Milan. Getting more exhausted by the minute, we snagged an outside table at a small cafe right on the piazza, ordered pizza and a coke (cut me some slack, it's my first day) and marveled at the most important work of Gothic architecture in Italy, the Cathedral Duomo. This majestic work of art took over five centuries to build. At over 500 feet in length, 300 feet in width and 350 feet in height, this massive church features five naves constructed of white Candoglia marble. Though thoroughly exhausted from our flight and first day activities, we enjoyed our first Italian meal in plain view of one of the greatest works of religious architecture ever created. As we sat and took in the beautiful day in our new temporary home, we gathered up our luggage and headed to the train station for a connecting train to Lake Como and a little hotel on a mountain.
After settling in to our first class seats (only 8 euro extra), we headed out for the three hour train ride to the small resort town of Varenna on Lake Como and The Hotel Eremo Gaudio, a small boutique number in a re-purposed former monastery built on the side of a mountain in the 1400's. As we began to speedily make our way through the countryside to Lake Como, I thought to myself, these Italians have got this train thing down. We were traveling the way human beings were meant to travel in what has to be one of the most amazing countries on earth. And we had only been there a few short hours. As we emerged from a long tunnel, the train sped around a curve and Lake Como came into view. I gently squeezed my favorite Nomad's hand and smiled. Sorpreddente!
Next up, Varenna and The Hotel Emero Gaudio. You won't believe the place or the price.
Travel Quote of The Week. "A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what is expected a man should see". Samuel Johnson
Video Artist of The Week. Who better to introduce The Nomad Architect series on Italy than the great operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti. As we say in God's country, the man could flat out "sang".
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