Be Italian - Day One

In some regards, the worst part of a vacation (besides coming home and getting back to reality), is the journey to get to your destination of choice, but our trip to Italy, though long, was far from arduous. In fact, for the longest part of our journey, from O'Hare to Munich,  we were the beneficiaries of what might now be considered the holy grail of international air travel in this era of airline schedule cutbacks -- Dad had an entire row of seats to himself, and I had an empty seat next to me. When Dad decided that he wouldn't be able to sleep on the plane, we switched seats and I was able to lay down across the entire row of seats and get some fitful rest, something I haven't been able to do on a plane since the airline put me in an empty row when I was visibly suffering from food poisoning during our return flight from Rome over a decade and a half ago. Today's flight was infinitely superior, to be sure.

Though exhausted from our long journey, we were determined not to waste our first day in Milan, so we headed out to see the Duomo di Milano, or the town's cathedral, which is truly epic in scale. In fact, it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and the largest in Italy. (St. Peter's Basilica technically has the largest interior space of any Christian church in the world, but it is in the Vatican City, not Italy proper, and it technically isn't a cathedral. Under the definition of the Catholic Church, a cathedral must be the seat of a bishop, and St. Peter's is not the seat of any bishop. It's considered a "papal basilica.")

Started in 1386, construction was not completed on the cathedral for a whopping 600 years, and it was completed in 1965. Due to the length of time it took to complete the building, it represents a range of architectural styles, but the finished project is undeniably impressive. We had the good fortune of arriving there right as the sun was starting to set, which illuminated the pristine white facade in a particularly stunning way.

See? Seriously huge.
The inside was equally dramatic, with particularly high ceilings and soaring stained glass windows. Though my vote for most beautiful stained glass windows still goes to the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague (the Czechs have been known for their glass production for centuries), these were overwhelming in terms of size and quantity.

Scenes from the story of Adam and Eve.
With the first major site of our trip under our belts, we sought out the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, which was noted in the guidebook for its masterful Renaissance tromp l'oeil paintings by Bramante, the building's architect. He used the eye-misleading artwork to create the illusion of a bigger church than would have fit on the available lot. Sadly, the church did not allow photography, so I wasn't able to capture it for you.

Fading fast, we decided to try to hit one more site for the day -- the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a large, indoor, open-air shopping arcade. Milan is a major fashion capital, so the shopping inside was a little out of our league, but we were more interested in the building anyway. The structure consists of a two large wings that intersect in a hexagonal space, with the resulting four arms and central dome made entirely out of steel and glass. Built in the l860s, this was the first structural use of glass in an Italian building. Prior to this, glass was only a decorative element.

Inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
The building also has some nice Neo-Classical floor mosaics, though many were under reconstruction while we were there. Most notably, however, was the depiction of a bull (all of the symbols of the zodiac were represented, and the bull is Taurus), with a swarm of tourists standing around it. Apparently, local legend holds that whoever stomps on the genitals of the bull (long worn into a deep depression in the floor) and turns around in a circle will be the recipient of good luck. We dutifully participated in the ritual as well.

(Not either of us.)
By the time we were finished there, however, we were practically falling asleep standing up, and we returned to the hotel for a little pre-dinner nap, followed by a (what would be considered outlandishly early, by Italian standards) dinner at nearby restaurant, before collapsing into a well-earned slumber on our first night in Italy.

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