Leaving our happy Tuscan Euro camp experience, we headed north toward Milan. On the way, we decided to stop for lunch in Parma and stroll the Old Town.
We found what looked like a very local joint down one side road. I snuck this picture while Rob was helping the kids finish up their pizza. It was so chaotic, with the guy ordering a drink at the counter, the dog roaming over to say hello to us, and none of the staff speaking English. They did have a sign on the wall though that claimed they had the best pizza in town.
They totally had the best pizza. Rob got pesto and pecorino on his and I got the Buffalo mozzarella on mine. As you could see from the first photo, we ate them ALL.
When we left the pizza place, very fat and happy, we turned the corner to see and hear this opera singer singing from the balcony of the theatre. We only caught the last half of the performance, but it was lovely.
Turns out we were witnessing the opening of the week long Festival Verdi.
We strolled past the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, built in 1604, and then headed back to our car to drive the rest of the way to Milan. Parma was fun that it was totally NOT a touristy spot, but there also wasn't much to do there.
We arrived at our airbnb apartment in Milan, and walked over to the nearby shopping mall and grocery store for some breakfast and snack items. Rob decided to grab pasta and sauce and made dinner back at the apartment (we were still pretty full from our pizza-fest at lunch.)
The next morning we walked two blocks to the metro, and rode down to the Duomo stop. As soon as we popped up above ground we were greeted by the Milan Cathedral. The largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and the third largest of any kind of church in the world. They started building it in 1386, and it was finally finished completely in 1965.
We made our way to the ticket office and bought tickets to go inside the cathedral and to visit the terrace on the roof. There was an even happening in the cathedral that morning, so they said we wouldn't be able to go in until noon, but we made our way to the elevators and went up to the roof first thing. (While there was no line.)
We walked around the rooftop with no crowds at all and enjoyed looking at the sculptures, views of the city below, and intricate Gothic architecture.
Although my personal style is quite minimalist, I do appreciate the "more is more" Gothic look sometimes.
Mark Twain visited Milan in 1867, and said this about the cathedral,
"What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems ...a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!... and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest...everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself...Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. ... (Up on) the roof...springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance...We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street... They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter's at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands."
After our visit to the roof, we sat for a moment on the steps and took in the rest of the Piazza del Duomo.
On our left there were two very similar buildings. This is one of them. These were built during the Fascist era in the 1900s. Mussolini liked to make use of this balcony to address the people on his visits to Milan. The building is now a modern art museum.
On our right from the cathedral was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This arcaded shopping area behind Rob and Amelie was built in the 1860s. (This is around the same time the Eiffel Tower was being designed in Paris, and it felt similar to that with the beams and glass, and daylight streaming through the arcade.) It is full of posh high street shops, cafes, and tourists.
The architect, Giuseppe Mengoni, sadly fell to his death from the scaffolding just weeks before his 14 year project was completed. For luck, (and to avoid the same fate?) the Milanese, and many, many tourists, spin on the testicles of this bull mosaic.
Apparently the mosaic needs to be repaired regularly due to the damage of this tradition. It looked perfectly fine while we were there though. Only Charlotte and Toby wanted to participate in this ritual from our family.
We strolled out the other end of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to see the Opera House, La Scala. La Scala opened in 1778 and is one of the premiere opera houses in the world. There is an opera museum... but we didn't think our kids would tolerate that very well.
In the square facing La Scala is a monument to Leonardo DaVinci. In the late 1400s Leonardo left his work in Florence and moved to Milan where he worked for a period. His most notable work while in Milan is the Last Supper. I tried for MONTHS to get us tickets to view the Last Supper, but was unsuccessful. Oh well, life goes on.
We next walked over to Sforza Castle to look around. Like the Medici family in Florence, the Sforza family held the power in Milan moving from the dark ages into the Renaissance. Sforza Castle was built in the 1400s, but enlarged in succeeding centuries.
It is now an art museum, but we just enjoyed strolling around the inner courtyard.
Milan was very grey after the beautiful weather that we enjoyed in the Cinque Terre, Tuscany, and Florence. I think we were also winding down and feeling ready to head back home to Germany.
For our last stop in Milan, we finally got in line to go inside the Cathedral. The line was long, but not as long as it had been earlier in the day, so I'm glad we waited. We ordered some gelato to make the wait less painful.
The doors to the cathedral are every bit as complicated and intricate as the rest of the building.
And SO BIG.
I took this up close photo of one little part of a wall while we were waiting in line. The kids liked looking at each individual face's expression, the biblical scenes, and how the human sized sculptures are straining to hold up the pillars of the church. Super interesting artwork.
And finally! We made it inside the cathedral!
There is no denying how immense the interior is. It looks large from outside, but inside it somehow felt even larger and made the people look like tiny ants by comparison.
In the back of the church, there is a replica of the 13 foot tall Madonna that sits atop the tallest spire. The original was made in the 1700s. The stained glass in the church comes from many different eras, as the church took so long to be built. During WWII, the windows were all taken out and stored in a crypt below the church to protect them, and the Madonna was wrapped in gray-green cloth so as not to provide an easy target for Allied bombers.
I tried to take some panoramic shots of the interior to show the scale, but I don't think this does the church justice. It was a fitting finale to our Italian road trip!
After the cathedral, we took the metro back to our apartment and played on the playground for a little while. The drive back home took about 8 hours the next day and we were all SO HAPPY to be home and sleep in our own beds. On the way back I asked Rob which Christmas markets he would like to visit this year and he said any that are close to home! Between our three road trips this year (Great Britain, USA, and Italy) we have driven over 9,000 miles. I agree, it is time for us to spend a little time at home.