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Three days in Milan, Italy


by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

                            The terraces of Duomo

April 24th - We check into the unsurpassed Mandarin Oriental, where service is impeccable and where one can walk to many attractions, including the world-renowned Duomo, shops, and restaurants. Just across the street is a local cappuccino and pastry shop where we stop for a bite.


While there, it strikes me that everyone looks so familiar. I don’t know them, of course, so it must be the Italian faces - they look like many of the Italians that immigrated to New York; the warm and welcoming families I grew up with. I feel at home in this beautiful, vibrant city.


We walk the busy streets, and ultimately arrive at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where high-end shops like Prada and Louis Vuitton abound. Tourists gather by a mosaic of a bull on the floor. They put the heel of one foot where the bull’s testicles once were (it is now a hole in the mosaic, worn away from this ritual), and they spin themselves around three times. Doing so is said to bring good luck. How and why this tradition started is unclear, but of course we have to try it ourselves because who doesn’t want some good luck. We consider ourselves fortunate just to be here. I had reservations to travel here March 2020, and we all know how that turned out.


We purchase a guided tour of the Duomo. Despite my saying for decades that I have seen enough churches to last a lifetime, the Duomo - the largest church in Italy - is a place I want to explore. (St. Peter’s Basilica is larger, but it is located in The Vatican, and that is considered its own “country,” apart from Italy).


The Duomo is impressive with its stained glass windows that extend way to the top of the massive cathedral ceilings, each individual square depicting a scene that brings to mind its own story.


At the entry, a Statue of St. Bartholomew looks like he is clutching a cloak, but he is holding his skin, representative of how he was tortured.


A small hole in the ceiling of another part of the cathedral allows light to enter, and reflects upon certain mosaic tiles, a system used long ago to indicate the time of day. It can still be relied upon today.


Construction of The Duomo began in 1386, and in the 1960’s ruins were discovered beneath the church itself, including baths, most likely used for baptisms. Tourists have now thrown pennies into one dry baptismal pond, and there is a sign asking them not to do so. Coins, pottery, and original tile floors are displayed behind glass.


Not every entry ticket to the Duomo includes access to this area, so if you are fascinated by ruins, be sure to purchase a ticket that includes it.


But the highlight of the Duomo are the terraces, where amazing views of the city unfold, and the close views of the incredible architecture make picture-perfect backdrops. At one point we walked across the concrete shingled rooftop of the church itself, pretty incredible that this is permitted. Not for those who fear heights.


April 25th - Milan is known for its shopping, and I have been introduced to The Bicester Collection in Manhattan a few times - a collection of luxury shopping destinations located in major cities. They have arranged for a Mercedes and driver to pick us up and take us to the Fidenza Village where we are offered cappuccino, champagne, and chocolates, and treated like VIPs. At our disposal is a fabulously-decorated room which we can access throughout the day, to use the rest room and to refresh ourselves with beverages while shopping the large, outdoor facilities.


I love to shop, and this is a very productive day.


April 26th - We tour Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece today - The Last Supper. It is a giant mural on a dark wall, that has been restored multiple times since da Vinci painted it between 1495-1497. Supposedly the colors were once bright and vivid, but they are now subdued. The painting has survived floods, rainstorms, and being bombed during World War II when a wall was built to protect it.


Interestingly, da Vinci painted a window in the background of the painting, and through this window, the guide tells us, Lake Como is seen. Yet, when I was in Israel, I toured the room where the The Last Supper supposedly took place. Although widely accepted that the site is in Israel, the guide from all those years ago did say the architecture of the room makes it doubtful. Somehow, I also doubt it took place in Lake Como.


We pick up an interesting tidbit from our current guide about the Duomo - supposedly one of the nails used to pin Jesus to the cross is here, and displayed once a year. She points out a statue in front of the Duomo that is very similar to the Statue of Liberty. It wears a crown and holds a torch in its extended arm. This is where the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty comes from, she says. Although it is very similar, I think the French might have a different story.


Within walking distance of these attractions is a statue of da Vinci. He is called “The Genius,” for his many contributions, including inventing a lock system that allowed canals to be built in Milan. 


Tonight we walk the Navigli area to enjoy the water views of the canals, and sample Aperitivo from the many restaurants and cafes in this area. We can thank Milan for the concept of “Happy Hour” as Aperitivo is simply some snacks - often chips, nuts, crackers, olives - that are served to you with every drink you order. Some restaurants offer more elaborate eats - one included an entire buffet of hot and cold food.


For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today. This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey.


copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza