Around 7 PM we went out to find tomorrow’s tour gathering place and for a pasta dinner and bottle of Chianti at Cafe Vecchia Brera recommended by Rick Steeves. We both ordered gnocchi with mushrooms which I enjoyed but Gloria found bland; however it was enough at the end of a 24 hour day. It was all within about five minutes walk from the hotel. A full dinner consists of antipasto (appetizer), Primo (pasta or soup) and secondo (more expensive meat dishes). Generally we plan to eat either antipasto and primo or secondo but not all three when we are eating out.
September 24 - Milan
We ate breakfast around 8 then I checked my email. The Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby is slow and unreliable but I was able to do what I needed to do, including an email to Andrea and Natalie. Around 9:00 we walked over to the tour office and by 9:30 were leaving on the bus with about 50 other English, Japanese and Spanish speaking tourists. We were given a small receiver and ear bud which was used at the various sights to hear our guide.
The tour took us first to La Scala where we toured the opera house and adjacent museum which contains artefacts such as musical instruments owned by some of the great composers. the auditorium holds about 2000, many in six levels of boxes accommodating 6 people each in a circle from one end of the stage to the other. We will be returning here tonight for the opera at 8:00 PM.
|La Scala, Milan|
From La Scala we crossed the road to the square for a view of the opera house then walked through the Galleria, an open ended X shaped glass covered shopping area with many exclusive shops. It also holds a seven star hotel (and a McDonald’s). High above the centre are murals depicting the 4 continents recognised at that time and on the floor are mosaics with many symbols from Italian cities, including the bull for Torino. Visitors spin on the bull’s testicles for good luck, and this area is regularly worn down and the mosaic replaced.
At the other end of the Galleria is the Duomo, Milan’s Cathedral. This is either the third or fourth largest Christian church in the world and has many artefacts, including 2000 statues, stained glass windows – some from the 15th century - and 52 hundred-foot columns. It has recently been restored and gleams in the sun. One of the artefacts is a nail from the cross of Jesus which is displayed three times a year. The bishop uses a cloud shaped elevator to go to retrieve the nail and bring it down to display. The elevator used to operate my manual labour but is now electronic. A memorable statue is a 16th century statue of Bartolomeo who was skinned alive by the Romans and the statue depicts this. He carries his own skin over his shoulder, his face hanging behind. It was carved by a student of Leonardo. Unfortunately we did not make it up to the rooftop.
|Sforza Castle, Milan|
From here the tour bus returned us to the starting point and we went for lunch. We decided to eat at a restaurant next to the tour office where a staff member had helped us find our way the previous night. We had a good vegetarian lunch of a spinach quiche with cheese and vegetables. Unfortunately we think we were ripped off as on the way back to the hotel we noticed the cost was about double what similar restaurants were charging.
We had an afternoon nap and got ready for the opera. While we were getting ready there was a thunder storm and it was still raining a little when we left. La Scala is about three minutes walk from our hotel and we pass several bistros on the way. We decided we would stop for a light dinner on the way. We ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich but noticed hors d’oeuvres (antipasti) sitting out on the counter. Gloria asked the people on the next table how that worked, and they told her if you order a drink you are free to take the hot snacks.
We arrived at the opera house before 7:30 and the doors were not yet open. People were crowded under the front entrance to get out of the rain. Soon after the doors were open and we were directed to the fourth level where we found our box, number 15. We were in the rear two seats. The front two are chairs like dining chairs. The second two are backless upholstered stools, a little higher than the chairs. And the rear two are the same only a little higher again. We were soon joined by the other occupants – an American couple who didn’t speak much in front and a Swiss couple now living in the Netherlands next to us. The opera we were about to see was l’Occasione Fa Il Ladro by Rossini. It is in one act with no intermission, about 90 minutes long. There should have been English sub-titles on the front of the box but I believe they must have been turned off by the American couple. I had read the synopsis so had an idea of what was going on.
September 25, 2010 – Train to Venice
We were up by about 8 and went down for another large breakfast. There was light rain so we decided to take a taxi to the train instead of the subway as we had planned. The main train station is in what appears to be the business district. The taxi was about 15 Euros and we were at the station well before 11 AM in time for our 12:05 train. Unfortunately our train – which was coming from Geneva – was about 15 minutes late. We were travelling first class which was very comfortable and we enjoyed the 2½ hour trip, mostly through the Italian countryside. We passed through Verona and Padua before arriving in Venice a few minutes late.
At the Venice station I bought a phone card and called our contact, Barbara, to let her know we would be on time. We joined the line to buy tickets for the #1 boat (vaporetto) and then joined the line for the next boat. A fellow passenger reminded me we needed to validate the ticket at the entrance and we went back and scanned it. Once on the boat we began our MP3 audio tour downloaded from Rick Steeves’ website. It was very informative and the 40 minute ride seemed to pass quickly.
|Gloria at the window of our Venice Apartment|
We arrived at Arsenale and were quickly identified by a young woman who led us to our apartment. It was much further from St. Mark’s Square than I had been led to believe but was still reasonably central. The problem was the number of turns on streets that could accommodate no more than two pedestrians side by side. Fortunately she offered to let us accompany her back to Arsenale and with that we were able to figure out how to get to Arsenale and to a nearby grocery store.
We bought tomatoes, meat and cheese etc. which we ate for dinner and in the evening we walked along to St. Mark’s Square and through some of the shops beyond the square.