This post is a part of my continuing series documenting our vacation in Italy. We had arrived in Milan on a super rainy day and we had managed to see quite a lot inspite of the weather gods not cooperating with us. We heard the rain continuing to pelt down as we slept and I didn’t have much hope for the next morning.
I opened the window the next morning with a prayer on my lip. And lo behold! It was clear blue skies when we woke up and not a cloud in sight. That was really a relief, since the plans for the day included mostly outdoor sights as I had my fill of art on my previous trip to Italy. So we had our breakfast at the Hotel Star which was a buffet with great fresh cheese and amazing varieties of cold cuts. We had our fill and checked out of our room leaving our luggage in the luggage storage of the hotel so that we don’t have to rush back to check out.
We then left for the Duomo as the first item on the agenda was getting on top of the Duomo Roof. The Milan Duomo is the tallest structure in central Milan and the roof gives great views over the city and supposedly even the Alps on a clear day. I had suggested completing the roof climb on the previous day but the better half had sensibly asked me to wait till the next day and try our luck with regards to the weather. Thanks to her we were now ascending up to the roof on a clear and sunny day.
We had bought passes for the Duomo which included elevator up to the roof. The elevator only takes you part of the way up, there is no way to avoid the last few narrow stairs up to the spire filled roof top. On the way to the top you pass the flying buttresses and gargoyles acting as rain water drainage system. ( For anyone interested in cathedral architecture mixed with fiction – Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the earth” is an amazing read.)
As we got to the roof the first thing I checked was whether we could really see the Alps or it was another tall tale as the day could not be clearer than it already was. And sure enough the white topped jagged peaks were visible in the distance. We would get a lot closer to them later in the day but this was as good as it got from Milan.
The roof walk itself is unique for Italian cathedrals as most others are of the Renaissance style with Dome climbs where movement is restricted. Milan Duomo with its Gothic Architecture has a huge gently sloping roof which allows you to move around a lot more and even run from one end to the other if you want! As we were the first ones up to the roof we had the roof to ourselves for a few minutes and it was a great feeling walking amidst the spires. I was enjoying it so much that I forgot to take photos till much later when there were a lot more people on top.
We saw the modern city of Milan hustling below ( As much as Italians can hustle) as we took in the views from all the sides. Even though Milan has no great structures other than the duomo on which we were, the views are still beautiful. Especially the Duomo Square right below with it’s pleasing symmetrical lay out.
Finally it was time for us to descend and we took the elevator down to ground level. Even though I said that I had my fill of art on my previous trip, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Duomo museum which was included in the Duomo pass which we had bought. So we lined up to visit the museum as it opened up. The museum holds the original statues and stained glass from the cathedral which can be seen close up. The most striking piece is the Face of God which is a huge brass face which was originally above the altar.
The museum also gives a chance to view the variety of Gargoyles from up close and I was amazed at the creativity of the sculptors in creating these glorified rain water drain pipes.
As we moved ahead there was a waist up huge bust of “God the Father” , not as dramatic as the huge face staring you into submission but imposing nonetheless.
There are also vibrant tapestries and brightly coloured stained glass which can be viewed from up close. I am a big fan of stained glass windows and try to visit any church that has them – Chartres and St Chapelle in France are my favourites till date. Seeing them backlit from up close was unreal, as they are usually high up and you have to strain your eyes to appreciate the details. No such problems here, as they are at eye level touching distance away!
The Museum also shows the lengths to which the artists went to perfect their pieces of art. First they made drawings of the intended piece, then they made miniature wooden sculptures of the drawings, then came the plaster moulds and finally the marble sculpture! Phew!
The same effort went into building the Cathedral itself with scale wooden models made to give an exact idea of proportions before starting the gargantuan marble structure. They also made various models of the facade of which one was chosen to be translated into marble on the real building itself.
As we completed our tour of the museum and went out into the square it was a relief to see that it was still sunny. We still had a few hours left before our train to Varenna on the lake Como, so we decided to visit the Sempione park which is a huge public park right in the centre of Milan. We took the metro from under the Duomo to the station closest to the park and walked into the park. When I walked in I realised I had made a mistake of not carrying the 300mm with me that morning as the park was full of Mallards, Black birds, Robins and Cinerous tits ( Birds in short for the uninitiated). We walked around the green lawns watching the locals go about their exercise routine, a band setting up their equipment for a free concert later that night, children feeding the ducks. It was unbelievable that this was just a metal grill away from full business mode Milan. And a welcome change from the dedicated sightseeing that we usually do.
Even though I didn’t have my trusty 300mm the ducks were so close and used to humans that I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures with the Ultra wide lens that I had on.
Soon we reached the edge of the park from which Napoleon’s triumphal Arch of Peace was visible which is very similar to the arches in Paris ( The featured photo). It was time to retrace our steps and go back to the hotel to get our luggage and catch our train to Varenna. We took a few photos outside the Sforza castle which we couldn’t visit for shortage of time (Something for next time!) and took the metro back to our hotel.
We collected our luggage and said our Arrivederci to the pleasant staff at the Hotel Star. We would be back to Milan on the last day of our trip, but the only agenda for that day would be watching a Series A football match at the famed San Siro Stadium. (Another thing off the bucket list!)
As we walked down the streets of Milan, we realised that it was not as staid a city as guide books made it seem. It had everything from huge cathedrals to lush green parks, great food and a superb public transport system. We had made the most of our short stay here and now it was off to Lake Como and the mid lake town of Varenna. But that is topic for another post, another day.