After a frenzied few days in the teeming streets of Hong Kong I was more than a little ready for the more sedate pace and milder climate of Milan – mainly for the sake of my already unruly, curly hair which copes very badly with high humidity and had begun to look most peculiar. Milan is the second-largest city in Italy, the capital of the region of Lombardy and the style capital of the world, although that last jewel in it’s crown might have faded just a little during the three days we were there, lowering the general tone of things. The streets of the city throng with the sophisticated and the chic – although how the women can walk in those heels on cobblestones is nothing short of a miracle. They must do a seriously good side-line in orthopaedic surgeons there, to cope with nasty ankle injuries. Of course, The Husband and I are not even vaguely voguish, preferring comfort over style every time, so we tried to keep our heads down and be as discrete as possible – just in case we were asked to leave.
I’ve visited Milano before and, even for those with little interest in the fashion labels, there is still plenty to find fascinating – although you sometimes need to go looking for it. The world home of opera is in Milan at the famed La Scala theatre. Completely unremarkable from the outside, the theatre is simply stunning inside and is also possessed of a wonderful collection of historical costumes, art works and instruments, including a piano which belonged to Guiseppe Verdi. However, they were very strict about not taking photo’s, so you will just have to take my word for it.
Like all Italian towns, in Milan they are very proud of their extravagant cathedral, the Duomo, which looks for all the world like an enormous wedding cake. It is a very beautiful building, both inside and out, holding 40,000 people and is the largest cathedral in the Italian state territory, but it took a remarkable amount of time to get built. The construction of the cathedral was begun in the 14th century, but when Napoleon arrived in Milan in the early 1800’s it was nowhere near done, prompting something of a hissy fit on his part as he demanded they pull their collective finger out and get it finished. Nothing gets things moving quite like a testy dictator and the cathedral’s facade was completed seven years later. Construction continued slowly from then and the last fiddly bits were finally completed in the 20th century.
The other utterly imposing building in Milan is the Sforza Castle, one of the biggest citadels in Europe and once the Duchal residence. The castle, which now houses several museums and galleries, was also begun in the 14th century but was developed and extended over the centuries until it eventually reached three kms in length by the 16th century. It was severely damaged during the bombardments of WWII, but has since been restored.
Like so many cities of Italy, Milan houses a great many important works of art but one of the most significant is tucked away behind a very modest facade indeed. Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper” is housed in the monks refectory attached to the Sante Maria Delle Grazie and was commissioned by the Sforza family, being completed in just three years. It began to flake less than 60 years later and has been restored, with varying degrees of success, repeatedly in the past. A final, major restoration was begun in 1978 and completed in 1999, stabilising the painting and sealing it in strict climate-controlled conditions. If you get to Milan and want to see it, make sure to book well ahead as there is limited access to the painting.
We also managed to eat lots in Milan – no surprises there, I hear you say. While we had some very good meals, I have failed utterly as a food blogger in that I managed to take no photo’s at all of our food. All I can say in my defence is that it is very hungry work being a tourist and the meals were mostly gone before the thought of a camera ever passed through my mind. We did pay a visit to the noted Milanese food store, Peck, where we spent a blissful half hour wandering about admiring the cheeses, smallgoods, baked goods, meats and fresh produce, but the Peck staff have a fierce reputation so I took seriously their warnings not to photograph the goods. We left there with several bags bulging with crusty rolls, local cheese, magnificent proscuitto and white fish fillets bathed in olive oil and lemon, taking the haul back to our room for a splendid (if pricey) picnic lunch.
From Milan we made our way by train to a small village north of Como, on the banks of Lake Como, called Varenna. We had wanted to spend some time on the lake and this spot was suggested by a friend who had heard it was a little bit special. It is one of the most heavenly places I have ever been in my life! It is a very small place perched on the hillside beside the lake, full of picture-book traditional houses and narrow cobbled lanes that lead down to the water. While there were quite a few tourists there, their numbers were nothing like those across the other side of the lake at Bellagio, a quick ferry ride away. I’m afraid if I try to describe the loveliness of Varenna I shall simply lapse clumsily into hyperbole so some of my very amateurish photo’s will have to do the talking for me.