(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about skiing in St. Moritz. However, on that same trip, I was also fortunate enough to visit a couple of very different places in Northern Italy: Varenna and Milan.
Varenna (see photo above) is a beautifully situated small town on the mountainous shores of the Lago di Como (Lake Como). Even in March, the climate is comfortable, despite being so close to the snowy ski slopes of the Alps. Varenna is quite hectic in the summer months but in March I was able to enjoy all of the benefits without any of the crowds. I walked along the lake, shaded from the sun by palm trees, and enjoyed some locally made gelato.
Alas, I was only able to spend one night in Varenna. I look forward to visiting again someday…hopefully, in the pleasant Italian spring.
From Varenna, I took an Italian train to the border town of Tirano and then a Swiss train across the legendary Bernina Pass to St. Moritz. After 6 days of skiing in St. Moritz and 3 more days of skiing in the relatively unknown Swiss resort of Andermatt, it was time to spend a few days in Milan (Milano, in Italian) before flying back to Canada.
Milan is a prosperous, hard-working city in one of the richest parts of Italy. Much of the city is functional rather than beautiful, but it is still home to a couple of very special sights.
The Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) is massive. It totally dominates the Piazza del Duomo in downtown Milan. While the cathedral is still very much an active place of worship, visitors are also permitted to climb up to the roof. It is a very strange sensation to climb up to and around the roof of such a large building, let alone such a large cathedral.
Although we had to pass through some relatively heavy security at the Cathedral, it was possible to just show up and visit. Our other major destination in Milan required much more planning.
We purchased our tickets to the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie several months in advance, committing to a very specific date and time. It was not possible to just show up, as the site was unable to accommodate all of the people who wanted to see it. Why? The refectory is the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, one of the most famous works of art in the world.
By passing through a complicated series of doors and climate-controlled rooms, we were suddenly looking at “The Last Supper”. There were only about 12 of us and we were permitted to stay for 15 minutes. While photographs are absolutely forbidden, I can say that “The Last Supper” is very big, as it occupies an entire wall of the chapel. After seeing so many images of it in miniature, the size and scope was quite a surprise.
Even though it has been deteriorating almost since the day it was completed in 1498 (due in part to the materials used by da Vinci), “The Last Supper” is still an extremely impressive sight. As with Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is a religious work of art that can also be enjoyed simply as a great artistic achievement. It was very special to see this mural in the exact spot that it was created more than 500 years ago.
Jumping back to the present: it’s time to travel again! I’ll be spending the next week in another one of those places that I really should have visited before…but somehow never got around to it. Stay tuned!