Milan, Bergamo and Verona, Italy
Here is our route through Northern Italy:
It was 4 hours from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to Milan, pretty much the whole way on big toll highways - cost about 30€ in tolls. The route is through the mountains, so lots of long tunnels and high bridges towering over towns, villages and countryside, so likely they need the money to pay for and maintain them. I am quite sure the Italians could solve our I-70 problem (up to the mountains from Denver)! Arriving in Milan was not too crazy from a driving perspective as we are staying in a perimeter community about 20 mins from the city center. Our Airbnb is in the Isola district and in addition to the large underground parking spot, we are appreciating the air conditioning as it was 33 C/92 F when we arrived. There was kind of a wild unkept garden around the apartment - the hydrangeas grow well here! The trip into the center was an easy tram ride so we didn't need to use the car in the city.
Our first “aperitivo” (happy hour) at the new pad!
We started our visit to Milan with with a bike tour of the city, to get the lay of the land and visit some major sites. I was very happy that I didn’t crash or get stuck in a tram rail, as the riding here is a bit challenging with the cobblestones, narrow streets and traffic. (My sister Tara told me that traffic signs are just a suggestion in Milan!)
We got our first glimpses of some really cool stuff that we will spend the next few days visiting, but there was other ‘drivebys’ that are BW (blog worthy, an acronym from Carleen!) Here is the Vertical Forest, designed to have different colors through the seasons, complete with flying gardeners! (See the hoist on the top of the building). It’s expensive - just over $1M for a 1000 sq foot apartment.
Modern and new is Milan!
We also saw the famous La Scala Opera House, where I’m sure we will see Erika perform one day!
And one of the worlds oldest shopping malls, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You can see where West Edmonton Mall got ideas when it built in the 80’s - largest mall in the world at the time, complete with a “Europa Street” which has a similar ceiling to this. (The same family from Edmonton built the Mall of America in Minnesota.)
The San Lorenzo Columns, one of the few relics in Milan from the Roman days:
Leonardo Da Vinci:
There is a lot of graffiti everywhere in Europe, so we always appreciate when it is artistically done!
It seems several European cities have an “Arc de Triomphe”, which Arc do you like the best?
Paris (5 years ago):
A definite highlight of Milan is the Duomo, a very fancy cathedral dating back to the late 1300s but took centuries to complete. It reminded me of the Taj Mahal in India, as the white marble changes color with the light. It can appear starch white or very rosy pink. Anyways, it is super elaborate inside and out. I loved the gargoyle rain spouts. We climbed to the rooftop (260 stairs) at about 32 C/90 F, so wore off the pasta that day.
The organ is the largest in Italy and the second largest in Europe with an amazing 15,800 pipes! Note there is two banks of pipes, it is still used occasionally.
We sought out this gorgeous little church that was covered in frescoes everywhere you look. The San Maurizio Church dates back to the early 1500s and has survived earthquakes and multiple wars. I was standing there gawking at all the paintings when an older Italian man came up to me and started telling me about the church in very broken English. He was very passionate about the church and explained it used to be half church/half convent, and the nuns would stay in the convent side but listen to the service and receive communion, etc. through the screens between the 2 sections. He talked about the meaning behind a few of his favorite paintings and the artists. The paintings and ceilings were amazing, it was hard to believe it was 500 years old. It was so interesting to listen to him!
The church side:
The convent side, see the screen between them:
Where the nuns received communion:
The Sforza Castle houses multiple museums, everything from art to instruments to porcelain to ancient ruins and artifacts. What we really liked about it was how they used technology to bring history to life. For example the restoration of paintings and rooms, they showed videos of before, during and after on a dimensional scale. It was very cool to see and air conditioned (which is valued at 32C/90F).
This is the last work of Michelangelo, the “Rondanini Pietà”, which he died before completing in 1564. The funny story is that we had read there was a 60-90 minute wait to see it, so we rushed through everything else to get there early, only to find out it was not in the Ancient Art museum (I guess 1564 isn’t ancient). So we backtracked a bit to see more of the part we rushed through, but had to be very devious to get by the museum staff, they don’t like anyone going backwards! When we arrived at the right museum, (also in the castle) there was no wait and we were actually alone with the sculpture for some time. It certainly is impressive to see, the picture doesn’t do it justice. It is displayed prominently in its own building and almost seems to radiate an aura.
And moats can be used for many things!
We had a wonderful lunch in Sempione Park, Milan’s “Central Park”, right behind the castle (lobster pasta and beef salad). It has a beautiful garden with huge hydrangeas, can you see me?
We stopped for a few hours in Bergamo on our way to Verona from Milan. Bergamo has a hilltop old town with an new town connected by funicular railway. On Google maps, the closest parking to the base of the funicular looked just a few blocks north of the station. As we weaved our way up the hill and the roads narrowed, I got a little worried. It appears that a few blocks from the funicular base was actually in the hilltop village! Ugh - cars are typically not allowed in hilltop towns or if allowed, extremely difficult. Dean did well, he maneuvered the steep hairpin narrow turns and sucked over to the side for oncoming traffic (bringing in the side mirrors required)...it certainly was a lesson - the satellite view on Google maps is there for a reason! The old town is very beautiful with it’s tangle of alleys and scenic squares, protected by 5 km of ancient walls. A couple getting married pulled up to the church as we left!
There was also great views of the surrounding countryside from the tower, with mountains to the north.
Yes, these are real hydrangeas!
Great flowers and great food at Dai Gustosi: Polenta was the main feature (polenta with mushrooms and veal; polenta with sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes; cream caramel ice cream), although it was not as good as Bernhard’s when we were camping at Maligne Lake!
We had a great start to our Verona visit by going to an opera at the Roman arena in the old town! This was something that had to be booked months in advance that we actually did! Both of my sisters and their husbands had been to it before and highly recommended the experience even if you were not an opera enthusiast. It has amazing ambience and wonderful acoustics in a 1st century, remarkably preserved Roman arena. It was a definite highlight for both of us!
The highlight of our apartment in Verona was that the AC worked well and our neighbors have 3 mastiffs and one lab mix, 4 big dogs! The couch was not exactly Dean-sized!
The Adige River meanders it’s way through Verona and circles the old town, so there are many bridges, some from Roman days and some mid 1500s.
The Torre die Lamberti offers great views of Verona, 162 steps to the top!
Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Given it was all fictional, here is the designated balcony:
The “Giardino Giusti” dates back to 1591, just outside their family villa. I made it through the maze!
We took a day trip to the Soave wine valley, about 30 mins east of Verona, well known for their dry white wine. It was excellent and the valley is very lush, complete with castles. We had a wonderful lunch at Locanda Lo Scudo, but ate it too fast for pics! The wine was a wonderful Soave Classico - as Gail Jordan would say “it’s cheap and cheerful” - which is not a bad thing!
We had an amazing dinner our first night in Milan at Cantina Milano: crispy prawns with bacon on mashed potatoes, roasted octopus on fondue with cheese, pepper and crispy leek; Amatriciana pasta, gnocchi with crispy bacon and Parmesan waffle.
Eataly is like Whole Foods on steroids, with multiple “farm to table”restaurants and incredible food, produce, meat wine and everything in between!
Puppies! Lola is 18 - She is blind and just sat wherever you set her down! Other four footed furry loves, as well as turtles from Sempione Park (next to the Sforza Castle), Noah’s Ark from the San Maurizio Church in Milan, and a lion sculpture from Sforza Castle.