Day 10: One Day More…

Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli

We awoke early in Lugano, hoping to find not only breakfast, but the activities that we missed last night. The morning was brisk, as most early mornings were. Cool enough for a stroll through town. We came across a set of steps and saw they lead down next to the lake. An easy short cut for the way down, but not so easy coming back up. On the way down we noticed a railway going down the mountainside. For a moment I thought our life could be easier until I saw the weeds cultivating around it. Abandoned. It left for a hauntingly breathtaking image of what could have been or what once was.

Abandoned railway going up
Abandoned railway going down

As per our usual, we caught a cappuccino in one of the Cafes as well as a croissant to accompany it. Eating outside, some small sparrows hopped by, hoping for some scraps to fall. We tossed them a few crumbs, perhaps a little too large for their beaks and then they fluttered off only to return for more. This went on until a pigeon flopped in to disturb the peace.

Our morning cappuccino

After some time of walking off our cappuccino and croissant, we concluded that the stores were not opening any time soon. So we agreed to march back up to our apartment and gather our things for our final destination. Milan.

The Duomo of Milan

I didn’t know what I would find in Milan. Four years back, my roommate suggested we go to Milan on one of our free days, but we ended up going to the beach because of the unbearable heat. All I knew was that Milan was a fashion capital (ugh. Fashion), and Pepperidge Farms Milanos we’re named after this place. Come to think of it, I was hoping to find a packet of Milano Cookies in Milan just so I could say I ate Milanos in Milan. But, I was not disappointed, because…

Hey look, a Milano shaped cookie on my gelato

I was a happy camper that day.

As I said, we had no idea what to do in Milan, but as we found out for most Italian towns, when in doubt, visit the cathedral. Entering the cathedral was easy enough, and I expected to see about the same Romanesque Gothic hybrid architecture I had seen in most other churches. But when I stepped through those door, I had felt something I had not felt for a long time on this trip.

Inside the Duomo

Just like the great mosaic in the front of Pisa’s Duomo, I felt the majesty of God surround me as I navigated between towering arches and high ceilings. Both believers, followers, and tourists alike gaped in awe of the work of human hands making way to a space dedicated to the King of kings. We paused for a moment to soak it in. We sat down and prayed.

Stained glass

After the calm of our Father’s house, we set out for another great point of interest, as per my sister’s request. Back in December of 2018, we had the privilege of witnessing the opening weekend of the Starbucks Reserve in New York. Now that we were in Milan, we just had to see that Starbucks Reserve. Needless to say, we couldn’t find it. We checked the maps over and over, and concluded that our phones must be broken because it was saying we were right on it, but it was nowhere to be seen… Keep in mind, most cities in Italy are ancient, and half the buildings are repurposed. We looked to our left…


… there is was.

With no further ado, we crossed the busy streets and entered a wonderland of coffee. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. That cathedral we went to was nothing compared to this (not really, but you get the point). It was slightly smaller than the one in New York, but it had the same spirit. Tubes and piping full of coffee grounds and freshly brewed coffee coursed through to the bar dispenser. A giant wheel churned the coffee beans around. And a large vat sat front and center of the display. The best part, however, was the coffee. We ordered our usual cappuccino, and sat by the display, watching them work away at various brews.

Starbucks Reserve – New York City
Starbucks Reserve – Milan
Starbucks Cappuccino

We didn’t do much shopping… imagine that, going to Milan the fashion capital and not shopping. But we may have allowed ourselves to drool over the many Prada and Louis Vuitton purses hidden in the confines of spotless windows (my mom anyway. I hate purses). The most spectacular aspect of theses shops wasn’t the stores themselves, but the large barrel vault glass ceiling looming above. One would have mistaken it for a mall, but it was outdoors, and a walkway from one square to another.

My mom in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The rest of the day, we went to see two exhibitions, both dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. Something I had not learn before was just how involved in Milan’s culture Leonardo was. I didn’t even know that The Last Supper was located here, and to see it we had to book two months in advance. He even helped in the design of the Navigli in Milan. So, the exhibitions we went to see were all based on his sketches. The first exhibition had more to do with the writings in his journal and thought process behind each sketch study. The second was much more interactive and involved live replicas of his machinery, as well as digital restorations of his greatest works. Upon leaving the exhibitions, we stopped in Piazza della Scala to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s memorial statue before returning to our hotel.

Leonardo Da Vinci statue in Piazza della Scala

Day 4: What. A. Day

View of Ponte Vecchio

Our morning was very refreshing. After a relaxing breakfast, we went for a stroll before our first activity. We had plenty of time, after all. So we went to see all the best points Florence had to offer, including the Ponte Vecchio as seen above.

Outside of Palazzo Vecchio
Piazza della Signoria

I remembered exactly where Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria was. It brought back fond memories of those hot summer days where I stood before those statues, sketching the dramatic poses depicted by Giambologna. I was also brought back to my first day ever in Florence where we briefly toured the layout of the town, and not only wandered through here but alongside the Uffici Gallery.

Students busy sketching away

We still had time to kill, so I decided to visit the best Gelateria in Florence (in my opinion anyway). Right next to Piazza San Lorenzo is a little gelato store called Leonardo’s, and it was the first gelateria I ever ate at in Italy. We were the first customers of the morning, and like always, the people were very kind. After grabbing out gelato, we proceeded to the steps in front of San Lorenzo and enjoyed it while watching the world go by.

Straccitella in a chocolate cone

Up next was the complete tour of the Duomo, including the Baptistery. We waited for a little, and as we did I took the time to sketch some of the smaller features of the cathedral. I began with the smaller dome and started to work my way up. As I worked I thought I had seen some figures moving by the shadowed archways depicted below. But looking closely, it wouldn’t have been possible for people to occupy that space, since there’s no way up there. My mind must have fooled me since people are allowed to venture up to the top of the dome itself, and there were people there.

Northern side of the Duomo – gesture

Our tour began in the Baptistery, one of the older buildings of the complex. Much the the cathedral in Pisa, the inside of the Baptistery harbored the same amount of power and glory through medieval mosaics. The inside seemed darker this time around as they were restoring the inside. But all the same, God’s might was reflected through rings upon rings of story telling, angelic hierarchy, and the depiction of the last judgment.

Jesus in the Last Judgement
… nailed it

Something that did jump out to me upon observing this for the second time was the depiction of the last judgement. My memory had warped the size of the Devil as compared to Jesus. From what I remembered, the Devil was almost the same size. Seeing him stuck out and posed as a foreboding figure from what I had seen in the past. Probably because my professor at the time pulled so much attention to Jesus casting the sinners to be damned by that thing for all eternity. But seeing it a second time, I realized how my mind twisted the memory of the mosaic.

Capturing the size comparison of Jesus and Satan

It is hard to see because the tarp is partly covering the Devil. But notice how much smaller Satan is compared to Jesus. So much attention was brought to this terrifying figure the last time I had seen it that the idea of damnation seemed larger than Jesus. And while it may have been put there to scare pagans into getting baptized, it was never really the point of God’s story with us. In way, it is a visual message for Christ’s followers, by coincidence, that God is bigger than sin, or the guilt or shame brought on by it. God is bigger than our fears or the troubles we are facing. Through Christ, we will overcome.

Altar inside the Duomo

Next was the inside of the Duomo itself. The inside of this particular cathedral is nothing extraordinary to look at in terms of decoration, but what got me was the space itself. Everything was tall. The arches, the ceilings. But the characteristic that I could not take my eyes from was the dome itself.

Inside of Brunelleschi’s dome

The fresco in the Dome drew me in with its symbolism and depictions. I found much more that I had passed off before. Father Time with a broken hour glass. Death breaking his scythe. Various beasts from the Divine Comedy and other Christian texts brought to life. Righteous souls called to the heavens on empty fields while the wicked are chased into the inferno which is peeled open. But there was a detail I found disconcerting in the dome. Two actually. There were two large cracks running from the base up to the center. I asked our tour guide the story behind them, thinking it might have been brought on by an earthquake, or the time the golden ball on top of the dome was knocked down by lightning. It turns out that those crack have always been there since the beginning, and because the construction of the dome was so meticulous, it has to be monitored 24/7.

Aside from the dome, there was one more thing I wanted to capture inside the Duomo. Particularly in the stained glass window above the front door. As I promised, here it is:

Jesus coronating his mother, Mary

After our time in the Duomo, it was time for us to see the one thing every tourist must see in Florence…

Michelangelo’s David.

David, by Michelangelo

I had visually studied the David before, as seen in a previous post. That time I had only captured the face, spending well over 30 minutes toiling over what is considered one of the greatest sculptures of all time. Almost everyone captures the face, I thought for many years after. This time, I wanted the part that no one seems to focus on. The hands.

David holding the sling – study

The most jarring aspect I found of the David when I first saw him wasn’t only the side, but the inclusion of the sling. No one ever thinks or notes the sling he is holding. He just comes across as a nude figure made of marble. But he does have a sling, which has a stone. Which in turn, we are drawn to the hyper real ness of his hands, then arms, then slowly the rest of him, almost as though the figure is made up of flesh.

Carousel in Vicolo dell’Onesta

After our long day of touring, we were exhausted. We passed out for a few hours before getting ready to embark again, only we were going for a leisurely stroll this time. We walked those streets that were still familiar to me, taking in the evening ambiance before settling once again.

Touch the Boar’s nose to return to Florence