On Sunday 2nd July we moved on from Verona to Milan. This was to be our base for our final five nights in Italy – our longest stay anywhere on this trip. There were a lot of things to do there, and we planned to visit two other cities on day trips.
Milan is a big city, and the places of interest to us were quite far apart, so we got used to making our way around by Metro. We had pre-booked two things. One was the opera! Unlike Verona, this was not the main reason for our visit. But La Scala is famous, and it seemed foolish to miss the opportunity of going while in Milan. This time we saw La Bohème, an opera neither of us knew, but after visiting Puccini’s birthplace in Lucca, it seemed appropriate. The staging was impressive, and the performance good – even if the story is not exactly joyful! We understood that the seats we’d booked were in the first circle, but it transpired that they were in the first balcony, above no less than four tiers of boxes. This meant that our view was far from ideal (Sandie had to lean forward in order to see even part of the stage) and it was very hot and stuffy up there.
The other thing we’d booked to see was Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, on the wall of a Dominican refectory. You have to book a time slot months in advance, and you are allowed only 15 minutes in the room. Perhaps we are not great judges of art, because we were not terribly impressed by the painting. Just opposite the refectory (and the linked church) we saw the small vineyard that was given to Leonardo by the duke of Milan, and in the Science Museum we saw models of his many inventions.
Our tickets for the Last Supper (sounds like we were present there!) also entitled us to visit the Brera art gallery, where we saw many famous examples of medieval and Renaissance art.
We spent some hours at the cathedral, Europe’s largest Gothic church. This included a walk on the terraces – giving great views over the city – and a visit to the cathedral museum. We do not normally find museums terribly interesting, but this was fascinating, as it enabled us to see close up some of the carvings we could otherwise only glimpse from a distance.
We visited the Castello Sforzesco, and the park beyond. In the castle we saw the unfinished Pieta which Michelangelo worked on until six days before his death. One evening we went to the canal area of the city, where there were crowds of people and a great atmosphere. We enjoyed the eating, drinking and people watching!
Genoa is 93 miles from Milan, but we read that you can do it easily as a day trip. This is true, but it means taking a high-speed train which is more expensive that the regional trains we’d been using for the past three weeks. We’d booked our long trips on the Net in advance, and bought tickets for short journeys from station machines. But this was a return journey, and we wanted to enquire about money-saving options, so for the first time we joined the queue to buy tickets from a human being. We found her quite difficult to understand, but gathered that you can buy return tickets only if you know exactly which train you are getting in both directions. Worse, she announced that the train we’d intended to get was full, and the next available one was not until 11.10 – too late to make a day trip worthwhile.
We were debating whether we could reorganise our plans and go on a different day, when the ticket seller announced that she could sell us tickets for the 9.10 – the train that was full – but we would have to pay a supplement when on the train. So we did, although it made our day trip expensive. We gave up any claim to understanding how the Italian railway system works!
But it was a good and enjoyable day. Genoa is quite different from the other Italian cities on our itinerary. For a start, it’s on the sea: it rivals Marseilles as the biggest port on the Mediterranean. In Genoa we didn’t just see the sea, we took a boat ride across the harbour to Pegli and back. The town is very picturesque when seen from the water. We also strolled around the old town, admiring the cathedral, other churches and especially the beautiful palazzi on the Via Garibaldi.
Genoa was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus: we saw the church where he was baptised (though it was closed) and the park where his three ships are pictured in flowers. In recent years the old port has been transformed, and is now home to several tourist attractions. We went up in the Bigo, a kind of revolving drum that is suspended from a spider-like structure, and lifts you up for great views over the harbour and the city.
Our other day trip was to Bergamo – closer to Milan, a shorter (and much cheaper) train journey. The old town sits on top of a hill, about two miles from the railway station. We went there by bus and funicular, but chose to walk back and take photos on the way.
We enjoyed strolling around the narrow streets of the old town. We visited the cathedral, which was less attractive than the nearby church of Santa Maria Maggiore. That was much more elaborate, and the painting of the Great Flood (recently restored) was especially interesting. The adjoining Cappella Colleoni had an even more elaborate façade, but you were not allowed to take photos of the interior.
We went up the clock tower, and had great views over the town. We ended up at La Rocca (a fortress, now a museum). We didn’t go in, but there were great views from the gardens.