We had only been back in Europe in January 2019, so it was reasonable to assume we would not be back for another year or so. There had also been a few visitors from home lined up for the Xmas and New Year coming – so definately no other trip on the cards.
That was the plan until a wedding invitation arrived through the mailbox around Easter time. Our good friends John and Joey were getting married in September.
Another trip back to Ireland? Sure. Why not – Mallow or Dublin it was. But wait this address location, Cinciano ?? Is that like South Dubin or something?A quick google map check and it was in fact in Tuscany, Italy!!!!
We had about 2 weeks of annual leave so we would have to box clever to cram in as much as possible.
#DestinationWedding here we come.
The Italian Job
As we said with only 2 weeks available to us planning was key. We were also restricted by having to fly into and out of Milan Malpensa Airport. The Wedding was to be down in Tuscany. After booking our flights we told our families and now two sets of mini-breaks had to be arranged as well in Italy as well as someone *cough* Helen Rose *cough* booking a day too early than was convenient.
So here was the plan:
- 24 Hours in Milan then on the train south.
- Couple of days down in Florence with Helen Rose
- 24 Hours in Siena then train slightly north
- Wedding and reception in Cinciano
- Big Train ride North to Como and the Lakes for a couple of days with the Hamiltons
- Back to Milan and fly home
Milan was our first stop. Fashion, Football, Architecture and Banking combine to create a vibrant metropolis.
We landed in Malpensa Airport in the early hours of the morning. 109 years ago this was a basic farm but the connection to aviation was strong as this is where the Caproni Brothers had their initial test flights of biplanes.
To get to Milan Central and our accomodation we would need to take the Malpensa Express Train; a 70 minute journey.
Our room for the night was in a pop-up hotel that was tucked into the corner of an office building off Corso Italia. Unfortunately we were unable to get an early check-in so it we would need to go do some sightseeing for a few hours before taking a nap.
But first – some real Italian coffee. At least that is what we thought.
In Australia John drinks a Skim Flat White coffee. In Europe this does not exist so he needed to revert to his old European preference – a Latte. Karen went inside and ordered John a Latte and a few minutes later this appeared.
You see in Italy – Latte means literally milk. John had been given a big glass of warm milk.
Our first big site was a short walk away in the Piazza del Duomo – Duomo di Milano (or Milan Cathedral). Dedicated to the Nativity of St Mary took nearly 6 centuries to complete from 1386 to 1965. It is the largest church in Italy, the second largest in Europe (after St. Peter’s Basillca in the Vatican City) and the third largest in the world (behind St. Peter’s and the Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil. An original church dedicated to St Thecla, exists below the current cathedral and dates back to 335 AD.
It was built as a reward to the noble classes for their help in the getting Gian Galeazzo Visconti elected as first Duke of Milan. The Facade alone has a rich and varied history with changing designs and styles across the centuries. It was only in 1805 when Napoleon Bonaparte was on the verge of being crowned King of Italy in the cathedral that it was rushed to completion in its current marble Gothic style by Carlo Pellicani.
The entire project had 78 principal architects throughout its lifetime.
A number of literary figures have written about the Duomo after their various visits – including Mark Twain (Chapter 18 of Innocents Abroad), Oscar Wilde and Henry James (Italian Hours).
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!..Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad (1869)
The Piazza itself is quite large and serves as a central focus point to the city with the Duomo dominating one side of it and on the North side is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade built in the 1860s after the Second Italian War of Independence (1859). He was the first King of a United Italy since the Carolingian Dynasty in the 6th Century.
The statue in the middle of the piazza on horseback is that of King Victor Emmanuel II himself and was erected in 1896. This was the last major change to this area until the bulding of the Arengario (complex of two symmetrical buildings) in the 1930s.
We ventured north from the Piazza and entered the archway of the Galleria – Italy’s oldest active shopping arcade. It consists of two large glass-vaulted arcades that intersect in an octagon topped with a glass dome. The shops are a mixture of high end fashion, bakeries, and restaurants and it is known as il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room) due to it being a common meeting place for liaisons in the city. The central dome has a stunning mosaic that wraps around – representing the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe and America.
We decided to cool off with some gelato from Savini Restaurant. Established in 1867 this restaurant is as much a part of Milan life that the Scala Theatre or the Duomo. It has played host to many great artists throughout the centuries most notably Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who left the Manifesto of the Futurist Movement within the premises, resulting in its publication within Le Figaro Newspaper in 1909.
We then explored the streets that surrounded the Galleria and encountered a Red Ferrari F1 Car (SF90) just occupying the street outside the Milan Ferrari Store. As it was the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that weekend the entire street was a hive of activity in ancticipation for the race. This car would go onto win that race and finish 2nd in the Constructors Championship that year.
We spent another hour walking the backstreets and coming upon the occasional piazza and interesting building such as the Teatro de Scala, San Carlo al Corso (Neo Classical Church). We then made our way up Via Dante towards the Castle, the Castello Sforzesco, passing the South African General Consulate and its statue of Neson Mandela outside on the way.
Built in the 15th Century by Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan it was later rennovated and upgraded in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of the largest citadels in Europe. It was built on the ruins of an old Roman fort and was the location of the Praetorian Guard Barracks when Milan was the capital of the (Western) Roman Empire (286 – 402 AD). During the Napoleonic Era a lot of the outer fortifications were torn down to make room for Water Foutains and an open Piazza. Later the Via Dante was extended and cut through the Medieval layouts to provide a direct path to the Duomo.
Above the main gate is the central tower – the Torre del Filarete.- named after it’s architect Filarete who rebuilt it in 1452.
It has at one point in time been held by the French, Spanish and Austrian armies of occupation duiring the tumultous years before Italian Unification.
That was the sightseeing done for the day – all that was left was some lunch at Signorvino on Via Dante, a cat nap back at the room and then some Pizza for dinner at Bio Pizza on Corso Italia. Oh and some Aperol Spritz too. When in Italy.
Brera and Breakfast
The next morning we left our luggage at the accomodation and then strolled back into the centre to get some breakfast at the Princi Bakery on Via Speroni.
From there we struck north to check out the Brera District. Named after the Medieval Italian word for a cleared land due to its geographical location outside of the walls of Old Milan – it was kept bare of trees for military purposes. Today it is an artists neighbourhood with a number of gallerys, acadamies and museums nestled into a number of narrow winding streets.
The centerpiece is the Palazzo Brera – an old Jesuit monastery rebuilt as a palace to the designs of Francesco Richini in the 1650s.
The inner courtyard contains a bronze copy of Antonio Canova’s Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker that was cast in Rome in 1811.
There was other art outside this gallery on the streets – with shutters used to great affect.
On the way back we took a different route and walked past the Temple of Victory (Tempio della Vittoria) – a War Memorial originally built to commemorate the fallen Italian soldiers during World War 1 (The Great War) – it was inaugurated in 1928 on the 10th anniversary of the end of the war. The current structure was rebuilt in 1973 after heavy Allied bombing of Milan in 1943 and its size is deceptive as there are 3 large underground floors with the names of 10,000 Milanese fallen.
The temple itself is made with white marble from Musso (near Lake Como) that is also used in the Duomo and is built on the site of a Martyrs Cemetary of ancient christians next door to one of Milan’s oldest churches that dates back to Roman times – The Basilica of Sant Ambrogio.
And that was the city of Milan. Normally our city guide ends there as we make our way to whatever train station of airport would take us onto our next adventure. But this is Europe.
And in Europe – transport terminals are like Cathedrals, Milano Centrale is no exception.
Opened in 1931 it is the largest Train station in Europe by volume (according to Wikipedia). It connects the city to Turin, Venice, Switzerland, Rome, Nalples, Salerno and everywhere in between. It is another example of a long drawn out construction and massive changes along the way with the first cornerstone being laid by King Victor Emmanuel II himself 25 years earlier. The large steel canopy roof was designed by Alberto Fava.
After exploring the station and grabbing some snacks we boarded our train to our next destination and a reunion – the Roman ‘flowering colony’ of Firenze (Florence).