11/12-15/2011 Milan, Lucern
Milan is on the way back to our flight out of Zurich and we have a walking tour of Milan that culminates with a viewing of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper". We were not really expecting much of Milan and it has really surprised us. Our tour guide, Ludovich, is French, lives in Milan and teaches English. His excellent command of history, passion for Milan and Italy, and his keen sense of humor combine for a tour to remember. We start at the cathedral and he explains that Milan was a cannel city like Venice and Amsterdam long ago but they became a hazard as Milan grew being used as sewers and mosquito breeding farms and were covered...not filled in...covered; so they still flow under the streets. Several hundred years ago you could travel from Milan to Venice via canal. It took 500 years or so to complete the cathedral and he explained the progression and the many funding issues and how they were overcome in creative and humorous ways
. One patron has his own spire and his tomb is in the church because he gave so much money. Selling time off from purgatory and forgiveness from sins became large enterprises. Now there are huge advertising screens hung on scaffolding for the renovations they fund...problems arose when they had a ten story woman in an underwear ad hung on the outside but rules still insisted that peoples shoulders and knees be covered to enter the church. I guess this caused some confusion for the faithful and their leadership according to Ludovich. The pope replied that, "at least she has more clothing than Adam and Eve". We walk through the spectacular shopping center covered with steel and glass and many famous shops, stroll through neighborhoods learning tidbits about Milan and how much of Milan is hidden within courtyards and behind invitation only doors. We arrive at the church where the Last Supper is painted on the back wall. It is a small unassuming church that you would never know a famous work of art is resident. We get a history and understanding of the piece and the building then go to the dehumidifying rooms. We enter and see the spectacular painting filled with insight and perspective. Not frescoed like so many renaissance painting, Leonard developed a new paint formula and technique so he could take his time (frescoes are done on wet plaster and done in hours) and perfect his message over several years. It's hard to explain why it is so special but it really is. It is a painting of a moment, the moment Jesus announces that he will be betrayed (not really about his last meal) and they apostles reaction. The variety of ages of the apostles was interesting. Also Leonardo's knot signature and it's meaning...so many things of interest. We got food recommendations from Ludovich, went to the canal district and went to his favorite happy hour place. Happy hour in Milan is different, drink prices go up to about 10 euro but they put out a huge buffet and it is all you can eat
. Many locals show up, live music by a girl singing Italian and American pop songs with computer accompaniment, kids welcome; everyone drinks, eats, and gets happy. The next day we head to Luzern via the alps and Bernina Express. To get a schedule of trains is a huge battle since going this way is twice as long and completely inefficient. I tried to get a schedule from a train agent in Cinque Terre and had a heated argument with the Italian woman behind the counter...these Italians love to argue...I do too I guess. I want to get a schedule for trains from Milan to Lucern via the Bernina Express...I've already looked it up on line, know it is possible. She says you can go direct Milan to Lucern, no Bernina, it does not make sense; when do you want to go to Milan; it does not matter what matters is after Milan; you want to go to Lucern; eventually first Bernina; on and on...I had to go to Milan to make the arrangements and it took three different agents to haggle through the 8 hour route. That said it was worth it. If you ever get the chance, the train through lake Como and the lake district of Italy was very nice, where Belligio is, not the Las Vegas casino, the Italian lake side resort they patterned the casino after. In Tirano we boarded the Bernina Express on the border of Italy and Switzerland. A sparkling new train painted Swiss red with a view through the drivers front window, huge side windows to view the scenery. We wind our way up for the next three hours through villages higher and higher into the alps seeing the most impossible landscapes
. It goes over 190 bridges and 50 tunnels and is considered one of the most scenic train routes in the world. At the summit we are above treeline, the tundra is sparse and icy with frozen lakes and glaciers on this sunny gorgeous day. We arrive to St. Moritz the famous ski resort, switch trains and begin our route down toward Zurich and Lucern. Yes it was a longer way to go but wow. In Lucern we have rented a two bedroom apartment via Airbnb.com. It turns out to be another terrific place for us, across the street from the train station and on the top floor of a 4 star hotel Monopol. There are actually only 2 apartments in the whole place. Views of Lucern, 2 bedrooms, 3 baths, kitchen, living room, and TV with a playstation (Jack is excited). Lucern is a beautiful city on a lake. Switzerland is clean and neat and orderly. Everything is well run, well kept, pristine, and expensive. It is kind of funny, I love the town, the shops, the scenic beauty but it is a tough place to be because it is so expensive. To give perspective, a combo meal at McDonalds, chicken mcnuggets, fries, lg soda is advertised on a billboard for 9.90 Swiss fr...about $10.80 US, the kids went to a Starbucks in our lobby to get a drink... 7.40sf for a grande...$8.50US...yowza...so we eat in from the grocery store which is also expensive but survivable. We head home in a couple of days and we are all looking forward to home. Maybe that was part of the purpose, to appreciate home more.
Trips end. We dream and plan and save and prepare and go...and then it's over and we come back home. I've never taken a trip where it was so long that I was really ready to come home until now. I think it will be good memories and lessons for us all...too early to tell but we are already reminiscing on times had, places seen, challenges overcome. We are missing our family and friends and beds and pillows and cats and even school and work (I think). We live in an amazing world and fell super blessed to have seen some of it. Our next trip...Elaine says send her a post card...ok I guess it's too early to put something in the calendar.