Today was our last day in Milan. We spent the morning busily packing before our very early 8:15 tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. It was no small chore to get tickets to see this artwork! And not cheap (that is, if you can’t get the tickets from the “official” site, which are far less expensive). But as a history buff and an art lover, I have always wanted to see this work in person. I’m going to go out on a limb and be an art snob and say that I wanted to see this painting “in situ“…which is just fancy pants Latin for “in the original place”. I think a lot of times when you see a painting on a random wall in a museum, it loses it’s original intent by the artist.
So we met our small tour group (only 13 folks who were all Americans) and we headed over to where “The Last Supper” is located, which is in the dining hall at the monastery of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo started painting The Last Supper in 1495 and completed it in 1498. He was commissioned by the wealthy Sforza family to paint something on the wall of the Cafeteria…to give the Monks something inspirational to look at while eating their meals.
If you have never really looked into the history of the painting you should google all of the details… it’s really interesting (no…seriously, it is). But essentially, despite his genius, Leonardo did just about everything you could possibly do wrong when he painted “The Last Supper”. He didn’t use the proper fresco technique and he chose the WORST wall on which to paint the work (it was the north wall that suffered more temperature extremes). So in a matter of years, the Last Supper was peeling off the wall. Add to that general wear and tear….and the fact that the Allied (US) forces bombed the heck out of it….it is a miracle that the thing is still there!
So, history lesson aside, seeing the painting in person was truly amazing. As I mentioned, getting tickets is nearly impossible to do on the internet…they only allow 35 people into the room at a time for 15 minute intervals. And they are closed on Monday. So you do the math…not a lot of tickets to distribute on any given day or week. So we felt fortunate to have the opportunity to visit.
Once you arrive with your group, a set of automatic doors open up and you are shoved into two separate rooms, one after the other, that are temperature/humidity controlled. Somehow they level out the body temperature of tourists…and other bad, outside influences that could affect the painting. No pictures are allowed, so I wasn’t able to share the experience in photos, but I found a picture that represents the sense of the space.
I have to say it was kind of breathtaking. It was really more than I had imagined. It is much larger in person and it’s just amazing to see with your own eyes. it glows on the wall, and Leonardo’s understanding of three dimensionality is so readily visible.
To your relief, I am not even going to get into the painting itself…the meaning of all the Apostles and what’s going on in the background, etc….that’s for you to investigate…but I do feel privileged to have seen it in person. Our tour guide was great (from Tickitaly) …they are often times annoying, but she wasn’t rehearsed, which is the refreshing. And to her credit, as Lena was the only kid, she would occasionally gear her dialogue towards Lena so that she could participate and understand
The last part of the tour took us to the Sforza Castle, where the Duke of Milan (Ludovicvo Sforza) lived. His family is the one that hired Leonardo to paint “The Last Supper”. The Castle is fantastic…it is huge and grand, there are moats and drawbridges….and there is lots of great history and intrigue that happened here…illicit affairs, back stabbing, captures by French forces, etc. Everything you want in a castle.
And by the way….I know you haven’t seen much of me, but I AM still alive! Josette didn’t do away with me and hijack my blog. We haven’t taken many pictures of ourselves because as I have said before, we look a hot mess. We are not photo ready…we are photo sweaty 24/7. But I’m here.
We finished our tour and made a rush back to our apartment to get our bags and head over to Milano Centrale to catch our train to Venice. It’s a pretty massive station (very art deco meets Facism) that can take you anywhere in Europe. But we easily found our train (we sat in the wrong seats but it was too difficult to move our luggage–so we risked it and stayed put) and were on our way to Venice!
The train service we’ve taken in Europe (including England, France and now Italy) is so efficient…so easy to use…clean…organized and inexpensive. The US has so much to learn! After a nice train ride past Italian towns like Verona (the setting for Romeo & Juliet’s hometown)…Padua (setting for Taming of the Shrew)…we arrived in Venice…with what was seemingly 30,000 other tourists!
We had been warned by friends…travel books…TV shows, etc. that Venice is literally crawling with tourists, but it was still a bit overwhelming because is a relatively small place. And it was still very hot. As you know, the only way to get anywhere is by boat. So we managed to get our tickets for the Vaporetto (water bus)….and somehow get our luggage onto and off the boat amidst shoulder to shoulder crowds. But we made it! Sweaty and salty and with sailor’s mouths…but we made it!
For this apartment, we wanted to stay as far away from other tourists as possible…which is pretty much impossible in Venice because everyone seems to be a tourist. But we found something in the Dorsodoro district right on a small canal. The apartment is funky and modern and very may well have been designed by a teenage girl, but it’s pretty cool and most importantly….it has AC! God bless Venice!
Oh…and we are right on a small canal….with boats and gondolas passing by. It’s all very charming.
Our apartment was still being cleaned when we arrived (a little annoying since we arrived 2 hours past the check-in time), so we dropped our bags and headed out to explore a little.
Venice is literally other-worldly. You walk around in a maze of narrow little passageways…which open onto bridges…some lead to the Grand Canal, others lead to dead ends. It’s really the kind of thing that you would have to experience first hand. But it is beautiful. All of the anxiety and crabbiness that we felt when we arrived from the train station had melted away and we were immediately enchanted by this place.
We spent the late afternoon strolling around…we stopped for some gelato (I got a delicious berry granita) and just enjoyed the slow pace of things. Despite the crowds, the pace of Venice is the opposite of cosmopolitan Milan.
We decided that instead of cooking and staying in…we were going to be like the locals and go out for an 8PM dinner and then be like tourists and take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal at night to Piazza San Marco. I’m not going to say much…the pictures speak a thousand words. But I will say that our dinner was delizioso! Venice is on the water…so the seafood is fresh. I had beautiful mussels and clams in a lemon-garlic broth…and grilled fish for dinner. Lena had the #1 favorite of all kids…plain pasta….and Josette had tortellini in a simple broth (they don’t do tomato sauce here–that is further south).
And then off to the ride down the Grand Canal.
The night time ride down the Grand Canal felt like something out of a movie. The shimmer of lights on the water….the beautiful palazzos rising out of the lagoon. It’s really magical here.
Tomorrow we will explore more of Venice and then in the afternoon, we have a private boat tour lined up! Until next time…………