Thursday morning we took a somewhat round-about route (I tried really hard to plan things efficiently as possible, but sometimes my best efforts turn out to be not as good as I intended) to Milano, Italy. We started out taking a train from Interlaken to Bern where we had to switch to a different train which took us to Zurich. From Zurich we switched to another train that carried us on to Milano. Unfortunately the ride from Zurich to Milano was a little rockier than any of our previous train rides and both Andrew and I were feeling a little queasy at different points throughout the trip. We survived it though, and arrived in Milano at around 2:00 pm. From there we had to switch trains again to the local commuter trains to reach our host. Now, I have to say that sadly, Italy’s local commuter trains are not the most pretty of beasts. Many of the cars are heavily graffitied on the outside, and old and smelly on the inside. They run, though, and got us where we were going on more than one occasion, so I guess that’s a step up over many of the cities in Canada.
We arrived at the train station nearest our host's place of work (place of study, really, since he is a PhD student) around 3:00 pm. He picked us up, and drove us to the University for a tour and meet ‘n greet. This was for Andrew’s benefit rather than my own, as our host became acquainted with Andrew when he (and his wife and child) came to Edmonton for a stint in the lab Andrew works in at the University of Alberta. I listened as politely as I could and tried to remain focused on the discussions, but superhydrophobic surfaces and water droplets are somewhat outside my realm of study/interest/understanding. Around 5:30 pm we headed home via the supermarket. We ended the day with a delightful dinner with proper Italian pizza, and made plans for the next day.
Venezia, Italy: April 23rd, 2010
Our first destination for our stay in Italy was Venezia, or in English, Venice. Another train ride was in order for this day (2.5 hours), but it passed in relative comfort on the Italy Eurostar (way cushier than the local commuter trians). After a slightly longer-than-necessary wait, we managed to grab a map of the city and directions to the nearest grocery store, then off we went to explore. The first few steps outside the train station were wondrous--a little like entering Disneyland for the first time, I suppose. The main canal was right there, there were bridges, there were boats passing on the river...oh, and there were gorgeous, old buildings. We snapped a couple of pictures right away.
|Our first view of Venezia out of the train station.|
|The main canal, from a bridge as we crossed.|
In Venezia, fancy, decorated face masks, and glass are particularly famous. Many of the shops carried one or the other of these and sometimes both. We decided it might be nice to pick up a mask, which we eventually did on our way back to the train station at the end of the day. We chose to support one of the smaller vendors, who decorated the masks onsite. She was very friendly, which was why we went back to her, and spoke at least three different languages (English, Italian and French). Eventually we wound our way to San Marco (it took as three hours, maybe?) and paused there for some time to admire the architecture. Ultimately we choose not to go into any of the museums, so we just got an external view. We started working our way back around 4:00 pm, in order to catch our train home. Although the weather wasn’t spectacular (rather grey, with a light pattering of rain at some points) we had a very nice day, ambling the streets on our own.
|San Marco square.|
|San Marco square.|
Milano, Italy: April 24th, 2010
After our early start the previous day (we were on the train by 7:00 am) we were able to sleep in to around 8:00 am this day as we were driving into Milano with our hosts. After a breakfast of a cappuccino (for me) and biscuits we headed off with our first destination as the castle of Milano. It was quite a spectacular building, definitely a proper castle with turrets and fortifications, and it must have been quite grand in it’s time. We were free to wander about the interior walls, which gave us a good view of the building and many photo opportunities. As an added bonus, the weather was already demonstrating it was likely to be a decent day, with not too much sun, but pleasant overall. After the castle we continued on along one of the main shopping streets on our way to visit the huge city centre cathedral. First, we passed through a famous archway dedicated to long ago royalty. While under the arch also had to take a turn spinning on the balls of a bull--yes, truly. There’s an image of a bull placed in the sidewalk and you’re supposed to place you heel on the bull’s balls and turn around to ensure you will one day return to Milano. A reasonable-sized crowd hung around it and I found it difficult to butt in and take my turn.
|A snapshot of the interior of the castle.|
|Andrew, turning on the bull.|
|The main cathedral in Milano.|
After a rest in a small coffee shop we were able to visit the second church, which was in deed very unique. We only took a few steps inside the church and stopped, when our host asked us if we could tell what was different about it. We paused. Andrew looked around closely and so did I. Our host hinted that we would have to be very good to be able to tell the trick from where we stood. I think we walked in a little farther and stopped again. Andrew reacted as if he had realized what was going on and I looked again. I’m not quire sure how I was able to tell, but I too realized the quirk: the front of the church was painted to act as an optical illusion. There was really only a few meters of depth behind the alter although it was painted to look like the church continued on much deeper. Unfortunately photographs of the interior were not permitted. When we’d finished in the church we headed back to where the car had been parked. We’d walked a fair bit by this point and our hosts' son was fast asleep in his stroller.
Isola Bella, Italy: April 25th, 2010
This morning I had faith in it being a beautiful day. I wore capries and sandals--my faith, as it turned out was rewarded. This day was pleasantly spent on Isola Bella. The drive took about an hour and a half (I’m not quite sure as I was busily reading Beauty, by Robin McKinley) to we arrive at a parking lot beside a small dock. We had to wait for sometime after our arrival for a group of friends of our host who were going to join us and seemed to have gotten lost. After a slight delay we were off to the island. At first we just took a circuit of the island. Many of the shops carried things like postcards (for excessively cheep prices), glass jewelry, more masks, etc. I liked to look at the various wares available, but the only thing I picked up was postcards (for virtually every oversees trip I have taken I have sent back a small army’s worth of postcards to friends and family--it’s easier and less expensive than kitschy souvenirs). It’s amazing (being a native North America) how Europeans cram as much as they can into tiny spaces. The streets on the island were only big enough to walk along. I thought it was all very beautiful, but that may because I don’t see such scenery on a regular basis.
|The streets on Isola Bella.|
|Me, admiring the scenery from the Borremeo garden.|
|The interior of the garden.|
|The white peacocks.|
Florenze, Italy: April 26th, 2010
We struck a bit of bad luck this day. First, I woke up with the beginnings of a cold (the whole left side of my throat and face felt congested) then, once we arrived in Florenze we discovered that all the museums are closed on Mondays. This meant we couldn’t go see the David as planned, and we couldn’t go to the Pitti Palace, which was a definite bummer. The day was sunny, at least, which in my books makes anything at least somewhat bearable. It was also rather hot, although quite tolerable when hiding in the shade. So, although Sandra Bullocks’ character from While You Were Sleeping dreamed over going to Florenze and thought it the best destination possible, Andrew and I were somewhat unimpressed. I liked Venezia better even though the day we visited there it was cool and damp.
We spent a good deal of the day walking. First to the art museum were the David is housed (before we had realized everything was closed), then to the Pitti Palace (where we determined that no, indeed, the museums were closed). Then we walked a bit farther yet thinking we might be able to get into a semi-nearby garden—we couldn’t. In the end we decided to sit for a dessert and a drink then killed time by doing some shopping. I tried a few things on, but didn’t purchase anything. Around 5:00 pm we took a peak in the main cathedral in Florenze. It has a fancy dome, which is really high up (supposedly some kind of engineering feat) so you have to crane your neck to see the art work. Andrew took pictures, some of the few we took in Florenze. We caught the train back to Milano at 6:00 pm, and were back with our hosts around 9:00 pm (we had to wait awhile for our connecting trains).
Como (and other small villages) Italy: April 27th, 2010
This was the day we went to see George Clooney’s house. Well no, not really, but we liked to think that’s where we were going. Mr. Clooney has a house in Como, which is a very pretty town on a lake of the same name. Houses are built at the base of mountain, just like you might imagine from a European postcard. Unfortunately, the day we went was not particularly postcard-like. It was grey, cool, and windy. Plus, by this point we didn’t have much in the way of clean clothing so I wore my capries again, and the weather was only barely warm enough. We arrived in Como around 12:00 pm (Andrew and I slept in that morning, me because of my cold, Andrew because...well...he likes to sleep) and wandered around the pier for a bit. If it had been a nicer day it would have been really lovely, but as it was, it was only tolerable. We continued to meander around the town for a while, but as it was mid-day many of the shops were closed (the siesta is a common practice in Italy).
|Along the pier, toward the edge of Como (otherwise there were construction cranes in view).|
We arrived in the town of Cernobbio around 2:00 pm (I think) and again went for a stroll along the lake. Judging by the city centre, this town was considerably smaller than Como, and so the main purpose of stopping here was to take a quick look around before catching a ferry, which would take us to the other side of the lake. Thankully the wind had died down by this point, so I was more comfortable with bare legs. In order to kill time we stopped in one of the local restaurants for some refreshment. I ordered tiramisu as I hadn’t had the chance to have it anywhere else in Italy and this was our last day. It lived up to my expectations with a tasty cream/custard filling. Unfortunately we missed our planned ferry at 4:00 pm due to taking are sweet time in the restaurant and had to wait for the next one which was at 4:50 pm. Even then we nearly missed the second ferry as we were confused about which dock we sailed from.
|The walk way along the lake front in Cernobbio.|
|From the ferry as we approached the opposite side of the lake.|