This week, Wednesday through Friday, the majority of my classes went on an overnight school trip to Sicily. While I would have loved to join them, everything was already booked months ago so it was too late for me to join.
The teachers I work with told me to go ahead and take Wednesday through Friday off, so I booked a train ticket to Milan and stayed Wednesday night. Milano is the next closest major city to where I’m living, so it was a logical choice for a quick getaway.
Milan is the business, financial, and media capital of Italy. It has the third largest economy in Europe, behind only London and Paris, and the Greater Milan area is the most populated metropolitan area in Italy. Tourists don’t flock to Milan like they flock to Venice, Rome, and Florence, because there aren’t as many major historical landmarks or tourist novelties – Milan is a fast paced and modern city, oriented around work. In my case, however, I’m not only interested in seeing tourist landmarks. I want to know what life is like in Italy, for Italians, so Milan was definitely on my short list of cities to visit.
I left around 7:00 AM on Wednesday and journeyed into Torino. The trip into Torino, which I first described in my Baby Steps post, has become second nature for me. I arrived in Torino around 8:00 and went to the Porta Susa train station. I arrived a bit too early, because it was my first time, but really it seems like there’s no reason to arrive more than 20 minutes before your train leaves. My train is the one on the very bottom, labelled “Milano C.le” for “Milano Centrale.” (Italians often use periods for abbreviations in the middle of the word, something I’ve never seen in English.)
At 9:00, the train arrived and I boarded. There are no turnstiles or ticket checks – you simply carry your ticket with you. Sometimes they come around and check for tickets and sometimes they don’t. If they check and you don’t have a ticket, you are fined right then and there. (Not sure how much the fine is, but apparently enough to encourage everyone to buy tickets.) Some of the trains have assigned seats and some don’t. This one didn’t.
My ticket cost about $14. It’s not a far trip, about the distance from Columbus to Cleveland, and it took about an hour and forty-five minutes. There are faster trains, but I opted for the slower one this time because I went at a peak time and it was cheaper. I took the fast train home on the following day.
I disembarked from the train at the massive and beautiful Stazione Milano Centrale. It was completed during Mussolini’s fascist period. Dictators like to use large buildings to try to convince others of their strength and virility. We shall see if President Trump initiates similar undertakings in the United States after he takes office next year.
After leaving the station I immediately made my way towards my first destination. Leonardo da Vinci painted L’Ultima Cena (The Last Supper), one of the most famous paintings in the history of the world, on a wall in a monastery in Milan in the 15th Century. The painting has had a tumultuous 500 year history. First it was neglected, and then it was subjected to several “restoration” jobs which often made it worse than before. At one point, the monks put a door right through the bottom center of the painting and Jesus’ feet were lost forever. Finally, the convent was struck by a bomb during World War II.
Thankfully, the painting was put through a 20 year restoration which was completed in 1999. Today, visitors can view the painting if they book in advance. During the tourist-heavy summer months, you must book weeks or months in advance, but luckily, for a Wednesday in March, I was able to get a ticket just one day in advance.
The Milan Metro was the best way to get to the convent. I made my way down the steps into the station. Both the physical design/condition of the Metro and the combination of people riding it – suited businesspeople, students, immigrants, and everyone in between – reminded me very much of New York City. This analogy stuck with me for the rest of the trip, and it was confirmed in my mind repeatedly. Milan, the financial and media capital of Italy, is most definitely Italy’s New York.
I arrived at the convent and waited. The only time available was 2:30 in the afternoon, so I had time to kill.
I went on a short walk around the immediate vicinity before entering.
The painting was done in what was essentially the lunchroom of the convent. Monks would quietly eat their food and contemplate. The painting was create to aid them in this task. Today the room is strictly climate controlled to prevent further damage. Guests walk through an airtight door, then it closes, then another door opens and they enter the room.
I don’t know much about art, but it was not hard to appreciate this work. Being in the presence of something so old and so renowned was awesome. Each apostle is expressing his own reaction to Jesus’ news that one of them will betray him. It is very large so one can gaze at it for a long time, studying the details. Visitors are only given exactly 15 minutes before being shown the door. My 15 minutes went by quickly, and I could have stayed for at least another 15.
After viewing the painting, I exited through the monastery’s garden and went to see more of the city. Stay tuned for the next post, and check my Flickr account for more photos. Click the menu on the upper right corner of this page for access. The Milan photos are from March 2 and 3, 2016.