Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Milano and Como: Nice Ways to Finish A Eurotrip

To be clear, my time in Europe is not over, and Mrs. Spew has a few more days, but Berlin is, well, home enough for me that tomorrow I will be returning to my apartment and my normal.  I will still be doing a heap of tourism but now as tour guide for my wife and my sister and her boyfriend.  

So, I will just highlight some stuff we saw the past few days here in Lombardy (which reminds me that Italy is the country that gave us irredenta as a word!) and then some thoughts about intra-Italy contrasts before moving onto some thoughts about the trip as a whole.

I made a fun mistake--we ended staying in a very nice hostel rather than a hotel.  Not a huge mistake as it worked out fine, but the Hilton (and its points) nearby was actually not that much more expensive.  It would have meant a larger elevator, perhaps slightly older neighbors, and, perhaps we wouldn't have roomed with Molly Mosquito.  

We bought a package of transportation/museum tickets/etc, but couldn't really get the metro part of that to work for us.  But Milan has some turnstiles where you can just tap your credit cards.  Once we figured that out, the metro was a breeze.  We were deterred from the trams (bigger, uglier, slower than those in Erfurt) as I was not sure how to pay.  The package did pay off for getting us into the Duomo (but only the stairs to the terrace, which meant not for us), the fortress, and the Ambrosian Library.

The Duomo lift situation reminded of how the Church did and does perpetuate inequality.  Three ways to

get to the top--stairs for those who pay a bit extra, elevator for those who pay more than that, and then an express elevator for those who yet more.  No line for the last one, of course.  Whenever I see cathedrals, I always think about how they exploited the peasants to make them.  But to be fair, these projects involved a lot of jobs for a long time (several hundred years in this case).  On the other other hand, sculptors made lots of Saint Lucy statues since she is the patron saint of the bline, and carving marble .... was not good for one's eyes.  

I have a question: are sculptures in cathredals normally this violent?  I can't recall anything like this.  What is this scene depicting?  In the museum next to the Duomo, they had a bunch of statues that are no longer in the cathedral, mostly for preservation/safety reasons.  Lots and lots of Abraham nearly smiting his son--which is one of the key points in my religious education which led me to being pretty hostile to religion.







The fortress, designed by Leo Da V, was pretty amazing.  Just a beautiful structure that seemed impossible to attack.  Not sure it was ever successfully attacked.  Too much art inside to get into the history.  Museum for musical instruments, museum for furniture, plenty displays of glass and ceramics, etc.  Most impressive.



But our fave museum in Milan was the Ambrosian Museum--it had a lot of incredible displays.  My faves were an exhibition where they gave artists moleskin notebooks and they went to town on them in many different ways;  the Raphael drawing that serves as guide to the Philosopher's football meeting; and Da Vinci's own notebooks.  It was very cool to see his own handwriting.  



Because we couldn't make reservations for the big museums for our first day in Milan, we headed off to Como to see lake and mountains and George or the Smiths.  And, yes, Como is beautiful--lake and mountains and the buildings all make it a special place.  We didn't have time to either use the funicular (can't spell it without fun) or rent a boat or take a ferry.  But we did have time to walk around, people watch, and check out the area.   

The food, including the gelato, was terrific.  I had a great calzone in Como, had some wonderful pasta in Milan, and had an amazing sandwich with the freshest foccacia bread just off a canal in the Navigli area--the Venice of Milan.  Hmm, how many Venices of have I been to?  Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, ... am I missing any?  I only repeated gelato flavors once--coffee!  

Milan vs Venice: Milan has some amazing museums, and we didn't really get a taste of that in Venice.  Venice has a heap more beautiful sights, but damn it is crowded outside of peak season.  Milan was far easier to walk with only bridges/canals in Navigli.  The food was amazing in both.  Milan was not quite the tourist trap that Venice is.  Venice had Murano and Burano, and I guess we could have tried to see some other parts.  I am glad we did both.

Northern Italy vs my memories of southern Italy: I spent one overnight in Naples in 2001 on my way to Bosnia, and my other Italian experience was Rome/Florence in 1987.  I remember the roads/the walking to be far more chaotic and, um, thrilling in the south than in the north. While we saw some old stuff here in Milan and in Venice, well, it doesn't get much older than Rome (except my trip to Jerusalem 5 years ago).  The food?  My palate has changed a lot and I am willing to pay much more now (not traveling on $25/day max anymore) so I can't make any comparisons.  I didn't get food poisoned this time, so there's that!  Much more English this time, which is no surprise.  Navigating via google maps made things far easier this time--to use the metro system, to get to the sights, to navigate the alleys of Venice, to find excellent restaurants, and only get gelato at places rated 4.5 or higher.

Overall, how would I rank the places we visited over the past ten days?  

  1. Venice.  Just too pretty, too much fun.  Points off for not letting us into their castle.
  2. Erfurt. Small and sweet and I knew it complete. Kept up our castle streak nicely with its citadel.
  3. Dresden.  Its old town is spectacular--huge buildings of all different kinds of shapes and histories, nicely positioned on the Elbe (fun to be on the river that divided Soviet and western forces at the end of the war).  Bumps up with the Schloss nearby that we enjoyed so much.  We had our best German food here--a German tapas place if I remember correctly.
  4. Nuremberg.  The rise and fall of Nazis in one place with site of rallies and the trials plus a really cool castle.  Some great food.
  5. Milan.  Only this far down the list because the other places were that special.  Definitely gets points for a fantastic Da Vinci designed castle, terrific food (the last dinner's service had much to be desired).  Points off for Mosquito Molly.  
  6. Leipzig.  It was ok, didn't knock our socks off.

And yes, between the German heavy food of Franconia and the gelato of Italy, I blew my diet bigtime.  Hopefully my lack of treadmilling was offset by all the walking.

I will be spending another three months in Berlin next winter/spring for the second half of the Humboldt Award, again at the Hertie School.  Where will I wander next time?  The Italian Alps are calling--good snow and better food than the Austrian Alps.  Maybe Greece, maybe some part of the Balkans, depends on a variety of things including the possibility of traveling with my daughter.  Anyhow, as always, I am so lucky.  I was very frustrated with my career at the start and for some time, but I have been in a good place in spirit and physically for quite some time.  I do have a plan for the next sabbatical in seven years.  Hopefully, it can come into fruition as well as this one.


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