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One Day in Milan

San Bartolomeo by Marco d'Agrate

San Bartolomeo by Marco d’Agrate

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We are on the early morning commuter train from Varenna to Milan. We are meeting up with a private local guide, Lorenza Scorti, who knows the city’s history well. We have marked off certain sights we would like to see. We are hoping Lorenza has been able to get us tickets to get into the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Last Supper, is housed. One of the leading families of Italy during the Renaissance, the Sforza Family of Milan, hired da Vinci to decorate the dining hall of the Dominican monastery that adjoins the church. Ultimately, the Sforza family was bribing the monks with this gift so the monks would allow their family tomb to be placed in the church.(Which never happened) The fresco began deteriorating within six years of it’s completion due to the experimental technique used by Leonardo.  Bombing during WWII left only one wall standing in the church.  The wall of the Last Supper. Truly a miracle! In 1999 a 21-year restoration project was completed peeling away 500 years of touch-ups, leaving the masterpiece intact.

Lorenza meets us at the central train station and after going up several escalators in the fashionable shopping area of the train station, Lorenza buys tickets for the metro and we are off! It is early morning and the streets are quiet. First stop, the Duomo, with a forest of spires on its roof, is the fourth largest church in Europe, after the Vatican’s, London’s, and Seville’s. The church was built with Pink Candoglia marble, rafted in from a quarry 60 miles away. We went past this quarry on the train when we went to Cinque Terre. Marble is still extracted from the sight. Inside the church is a beautiful marble mosaic floor and looking up we see The Quadroni, (large paintings on canvas, each about 20 by 26 feet) depicting the life of St Charles Borremeo. The paintings have been brought out and displayed for a special anniversary in the church. The 1st cycle of paintings (starting in 1602), The Facts of Life of Blessed Charles, consists of 28 paintings depicting his life, and were painted by seven different artists. The 2nd cycle, The Miracles of St Charles, consisting of 24 smaller paintings of his miraculous works and healings, were all painted between December 1609 and November 1, 1610, when Charles was canonized. These paintings were displayed for the first time together on November 4, 1610, when the paintings of his miracles could be shown after he had been declared a saint. Now they are only displayed on special days in the church and we were fortunate to be able to see them.

The Duomo

The Duomo

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An impressive, detailed statue of San Bartolomeo Flayed (1562), by Marco d’ Agrate, is upfront and center in the church. That is his skin draped over his shoulder!

After the church, we are delighted to be shown a small museum in a private palazzo. I have wanted to see what was behind those big oak doors! Following Lorenza, we are lead through an intricate laid marble entryway and up the stairs to the private apartments.  Today there are collections of clothing, shoes and those little bitty one woman carriage/carriers that were lifted on the shoulders of servants to whisk one about town and prevent your dress and shoes from being soiled. Boy were those women TINY! On the outside of the palazzo is a beautiful fresco above the rim of the windows.  (See the video I made)

The Palazzo

The Palazzo

The Dress

Inside the Palazzo

Next, we walk to the La Scala Opera House and museum, the world’s most prestigious opera house!  All that red velvet! Following that we head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a four story glass domed arcade on the main square, featuring all the Italian high end shopping stores and great for people watching as well. It was the first building in Milan to have electric lighting! Oh how Italians love fashion!  Around the center dome patriotic mosaics symbolize the four major continents and the mosaic marbled floor reveals the city’s symbol, a torino. (little bull) Here locals step and twirl on the bull for good luck.

Inside the Galleria

Inside the Galleria

Il Torino

Il Torino

We go to a local pizza restaurant and I am so glad to sit.  The one person pizzas are HUGE (enough for three people) and we wash it down with good red wine.

Afterwards, we make our way to the Sforza Castle, previously the residence of the Sforza family. It is now a museum of ancient art which features the last and unfinished Pietà, by Michelangelo and the Sala della Asse, frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked for the Sforza family as a painter, sculptor, and hydrologic engineer. Seventeen layers of whitewash are slowing being removed to reveal the entire mural by da Vinci, sections having been discovered on the walls as late as 2013.

The Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

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Our last stop of the day is Santa Maria della Grazie Church and we are thrilled to find admittance tickets waiting for us! The church is now hermetically sealed, so you go through sections of air filter stations, filtering the air from the outside, until it is deemed pollutant free and we are admitted.  At last, a group of twenty, is turned out into the refectory for 15 minutes at a time. In the Convent, where the work on the end wall was started in 1495, the mural, measuring 180 inches by 350 inches, represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. Completed in 1498, the mural specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray Him. Working a new technique, dry plaster rather than wet, and choosing to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, da Vinci painted the sealing layer with tempera. Due to this method the piece began to deteriorate a few years after he finished it. As early as 1517, the painting was starting to flake and by 1556 it was deemed “ruined” and so deteriorated, the figures were unrecognizable.  In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, so the monks could get to the kitchens easier.  This door was later bricked up, but can still be seen as an irregular arch shaped structure near the center base of the painting.  In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting to protect it; but instead it trapped moisture on the painting’s surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back, it scratched the flaking paint. In 1821, Stefano Barezzi, an expert in removing whole frescoes from their walls intact, badly damaged the center section of the mural before realizing the work was not a fresco.(Painted on wet walls) He then attempted to reattach the damaged sections with GLUE.  From 1901 to 1908, Luigi Cavenaghi completed a thorough study of the structure of the painting, then began cleaning it. On August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by a bomb, but a protective structure of sandbags and an additional wall in front of the painting protected it from bomb splinters. Pictures of the damage to the church line the walls upon leaving.  It was the only wall left standing. We leave Milan and return to Menaggio by train and then ferry, weary but so thankful we have been able to see some of the greatest art in the world.

For more information on a private tour of Milan contact Lorenza Scorti at lorenza.scorti@libero.it

A Boat in Bellagio

Bellagio Water Front

Bellagio Water Front

Bellagio Ferry Dock

Bellagio Ferry Dock

Bellagio Waterfront

Bellagio Waterfront

Today we are off to Bellagio for a day of boating fun. Bellagio is by far the most touristy of the three villages we have spent time in. Walking to the right from the ferry, we find souvenir shops and tourist traps galore. These shops are not so much my cup of tea so we walk on to the beautiful Villa Melzi Gardens, filled with exotic plants and flowers and Neoclassical sculpture right along the lake front. We walk the entire length of the garden, to the concrete pool that now sits empty. The walk along the white pebbled garden path is outstanding!

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Our next stop is the Enotecha Cava Turacciolo, for a wine tasting. (to boost my nerve to get on the speed boat you see)

Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Wine of Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Wine of Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Food at the Cave

The Food at the Cave

At the Piazza Mazzini dock, where the wooden boats of the Bellagio Water Taxi are docked, we check in with Jennine and Luca.

Luca's Boat

Luca’s Boat

Luca’s boat is immaculate and gorgeous. Take off those spiky-heeled shoes please, do not mar the brilliantly restored mahogany wood! We zoom to the villas along the lake; past Richard Branson’s villa, (Virgin Airlines owner) past a huge sign in front of a villa that reads “No George”, meaning this is not the villa of George Cluny, as some believe. Villa L’Oleandra, George’s villa is located in Laglio, Italy, on the western shore of Lake Como.

We depart our speed boat at Villa del Balbianello, for an English speaking tour of the villa and grounds.  Situated on a romantic promontory overlooking Lake Como, the villa, built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini, at the end of the 18th century, sits on the property of a former old Franciscan Church. Be sure to see the inconspicuous door inside the villa that leads to an underground tunnel, an escape route for the Cardinal, that ended up in the hills above the villa. After passing through the hands of many owners, who each placed their own personal touch to the villa and gardens, it was bought by Guido Monzino.  Today the villa consists of his vision, and art collection of landscapes painted on glass (utterly unbelievable) and his mementos of his expedition to the North Pole and Mount Everest. Monzino was the leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mt Everest and has dedicated an entire floor of the villa to this collection. In 1988 he died, leaving the villa as it was when he owned it, to the Italian National Trust. I found especially interesting the lower floor apartment, designed for his mother, who lived with him, and the modern kitchen on the ground floor. Also, his gardeners were left stipends for the rest of their lives, with the directions to maintain the grounds as they were when he lived there. Note the tree that is so large, the gardeners must climb inside it to prune it and keep it in it’s lovely shape. The villa and grounds have also been the choice for movie directors. It was filmed for movie scenes for Casino Royale, a James Bond thriller, and Star Wars: Episode II. Truly, a must see at Lake Como!  Enjoy my video of the boat trip from Bellagio!

For Information about Villa del Balbianello and Enoteca Cava Turacciolo see:  TripAdvisor

For more info about the Water Taxi Tours see: http://www.bellagiowatertaxis.com

For more info about the Villa Melzi Gardens see: http://www.giardinidivillamelzi.it

 

Romancing the Stone Part II, Menaggio

Menaggio

Menaggio

What a wonderful first night we had! Our apartemento, Le Eriche, is perfect.  With the bedroom shutters and the salon shutters open, a lovely perfumed breeze fills the air.  What a way to wake up to the beautiful sunshine! Today we are headed down to Menaggio, via the local bus. It will pick us up early right outside our retreat or if we want to go later in the day we will walk down the road to the big curve. See (La Bella Lingua post for more info on that) Menaggio is picturesque and quaint with buildings of soft colored patinas of ocher, watermelon, cantaloupe and sage that seem to float in the sunlight. Menaggio is also the place to stay to avoid the hot, hot, hot afternoon sun rays.  Of our three favorite villages, Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna, it is the only village draped in shade late in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the promenade and eating at the outdoor restaurants along the beach. There is also a boat rental shop here, in case you want to rent your own boat to  motor to the other villages and sights, without taking the ferry. Here are some of my favorite pictures of Menaggio!

Menaggio

Menaggio

My Favorite!

My Favorite!

Heaven!

Heaven!

The Shore Square

The Shore Square

Shore Square

Shore Square

Fun Along the Shoreline

Fun Along the Shoreline

Fun for Everyone!

Fun for Everyone!

The Promenade

The Promenade

The Restaurant

The Restaurant

Here is what we came home to every night!  I can not say enough wonderful words to describe the stay we experienced at the Apartment Le Eriche ! Thank you Piero and Fiametta!

Il Salotto

Il Salotto

La Camera da Letto

La Camera da Letto

La Cucina

La Cucina

Il Bagno

Il Bagno

Apartment Le Eriche, Via Per Barna, Plesio, Italy or see TripAdvisor under their B&B of the same name.

Romancing the Pizza Stone III: The Cooking Class

The Wharf at Varenna

The Wharf at Varenna

I have a pasta maker/roller/flatener (my made-up word) that has been stashed under one of my cabinets and as yet, has never been used.  Making pasta looked so easy when I saw it demonstrated at the local Saturday market in my hometown!  I thought if I took an Italian cooking class that I would finally get the hang of pasta making. On this beautiful Italian day we (SB is manly enough for this) are headed to Varenna, (population 800) to a cooking class with Chef Moreno at Ristorante Il Caminetto in Perledo. He teaches the basics of Italian cooking including pasta and regional specialties. The ferry has become our friend.  Every morning we are up and out the door to the bus, chatting with the Italian nannies as we all head down to Menaggio.  Then at the dock we sip more latte, espresso or Coke (for SB) and watch the world go by as we wait for the ferry to arrive.  I could really get used to this lifestyle!

Varenna is even more laid back then Menaggio. I love the grand yellow hotel at this dock location too.  It seems very large, but when you look at it from the side, how narrow it is!  Check out the video I made! There are several groups of people mulling about the dock and soon we see a man in a chef’s apron, who has come to reign us all in. His son’s have arrived in various vehicles from the mountain village to retrieve us and take us to the restaurant. I can see why on the trip up.  I thought the drive to Menaggio was twists and turns, but this road comes in first place.

At the Restaurant Caminetto we are greeted with wine and home made cookies as we wait for everyone to make it up the mountain. Chef Moreno washes up (his hands and arms) and washes down the wooden table ( a good 20 minute scrub) while chatting along the entire time about his life in the village and life as a chef here. Then he begins to prepare the dough: flour, scant water, eggs, flour, knead, eggs, flour, knead, roooooooooll! Repeat! And repeat! Rooooooooooooll every which way with the longest, skiniest rolling pin I have ever seen! What no pasta maker?  He would never consider it!  We started at 10 am in the morning. We laughed, we roooooolled, we pinched, we patted, we made sauce with tomatoes from his garden, and we ate several servings of our makings and drank a lot of wine in between! We had the best time and then finished up with a stroll through the petite mountain village.  It was 4pm! Taxis have been dispatched to return us to Varenna. We have a woman cab driver. She  looks like a housewife who got the call to come fetch us. I can’t believe they have cab service here!

Back in Varenna, we stroll to the left of the dock, into the neighborhoods, to find the local train station.  How about that tree? Then we back track and go to the right of the dock into the village shopping and main restaurant areas. Eventually on another day in Varenna we would go to the tippy top of town and visit the local church and eat pizza under giant smooth barked trees. This is HEAVEN!

For information about Chef Moreno and Ristorante il Caminetto visit: http://www.ilcaminettoonline.com  Price includes transportation to and from the Varenna dock landing, the lesson, and lunch including wine, cookies and coffee. A must do!

Romancing the Water and Stone

The Angel in the Train Depot

The Angel in the Train Depot

For a Valentine’s posting I was thinking of the most romantic spot I have journeyed to.  For me it would be Lake Como, Italy. The romance begins on the journey to get there. This vacation offered everything I consider romantic, a lake and the mountains. The Zurich train depot set the tone for our vacation.  It was one of the most artistically pleasing train stations I have ever been in. The compact green Italian train departed from a lively open warehouse-looking building filled with shops and restaurants and a large flower stall.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The train ride through tiny mountain villages and lakes in the Alps from Zurich to Como went by very quickly because the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Como just in time for an afternoon glass of wine before embarking a Rapido-Hydrofoil to go from the bottom left leg of Lake Como up to the split in the lake, to one of the triangular points of the lake, Menaggio.

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

Como Lakeside

Como Lakeside

During our stay on Lake Como we would be exploring Bellagio and Varenna also. The hydrofoil stopped at several small villages along the lake and it was exciting to see what the other villages looked like from the waters edge.  Villas, surrounded with immaculate gardens and landscaping, were most impressive!  After each stop, to let passengers off, I would tick the villages off in my head. Well we didn’t pick that one. Next…..

When we got to the dock at Menaggio, I knew I had picked the right place. Near the shore and the landing area for the hydrofoil and the ferries, was a hip coffee/pizza/breakfast restaurant with outdoor seating.  This spot would be our favorite spot for morning cappuccino, espresso or latte while we waited for the ferry to take us on various excursions. We would just sit and watch the seagulls and the early strollers.  Nearby was a beautiful yellow villa, Hotel du Lac, and across from that the grocery store.  Perfect! (For more insight into grocery shopping in Menaggio see the post, Il Negozio di Alimentari)

Soon after arriving at the dock in Menaggio, about 4 hours behind schedule, but right on time following Italian time, we were met at the wharf by our host, Piero. Six months previous, I had asked to rent one of his rooms in his B&B, but it was full.  He had suggested an apartment, that he and his wife also rented out, since were staying over a week, and we agreed. We were not exactly sure what we would be getting. Piero had a tiny hatchback car, so we piled the luggage in as best as we could, but SB still had to scrunch up and fold himself over the luggage (and we travel light) that had to be squeezed in the back hatch seat. With Piero and I buckled in the front seats, we set off up the hill.  We went up and up, curve, up, up, curve, tight curve, back up and take a second go at the curve-turn combo. Up, Up, past San Marco, past Ligomena, another tight curve.  Stop. Here we are and the rest is history!

For a week we lived in an outstanding apartment on the mountainside of Menaggio with a heavenly pool and a dream view of Lake Como.  Our neighbors, who stayed in other apartments, came from all over the world.  We had the best time getting together in the evenings by the pool and trying to figure out what everybody was saying! It was fantastic! Enjoy the view!

PS. We traveled from Zurich, Switzerland to Como, Italy because after leaving Lake Como we would be spending a week in Interlaken, Switzerland.  You could fly into Milan and take a train from there to Como to get a hydrofoil to the other villages along Lake Como.

For information about the apartment see: Apartment le Eriche, Via per Barna, Plesio, Italy.

For the B&B see: B&B Eriche, Villa alla Grona, Menaggio, Italy or view on TripAdvisor

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