A long time ago, I had a quick day in Milan with my fun senior citizen bus tour and then an overnight many years later during August when the city pretty much goes on vacation and shuts down. If I’m honest, I didn’t quite discover the charms of the city back then. On my third visit to the city this summer, I planned to stay for four days to attend Expo15 and join the walking tour of Milan, hoping to change my initial impressions so long ago.
Starting my Saturday sightseeing day, I easily found the Walks of Italy coordinator at Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie and had time to enjoy a quick breakfast at the café across the street. I was told that there were twelve people today for the Best of Milan tour with Last Supper Tickets and Milan Duomo Rooftop so we would be split into two groups of six. I thought twelve (the max) was small enough but six made it even more private (a couple from Atlanta, a family from Toronto and me). Our guide, Laura, grew up in Milan and attended the local tourism school before leading groups abroad. Now with small children, she stays in Milan to share her perspectives of her hometown and its rich history. It’s easy to visit a city, tick off an icon, take a photo and share on social media but it’s the private guides that add the flavor to the photo, a sound bite of history to bring the experience more alive.
The Last Supper – Milan
If you want to see “Last Supper” in Milan you need to reserve your ticket well in advance otherwise you need to sign up for a tour with one of many tour groups.
As we had timed tickets for the “Last Supper” Laura explained Leonardo’s history with the painting and told us it was about perspective. The fact that Leonardo was an architect shows in the work as you can, at some point, feel in the painting not just look at it, but be there with it. She then used a great analogy as to why it was so big in the dining room – “think of how we now have big screen televisions to watch at home, back then the painting was a big screen story to watch while you ate” that gave me a bit more insight into much of the works we would see on our 3 1/2 hour walking tour of Milan.
The “Last Supper” is a controlled entry (you get only 15 minutes inside and they limit access to 29 people) and Laura explained that we would go in first to get the good seats as she explained more on our headsets. No photos are allowed inside. We ended up with only 15 people in the room so pretty much had the place to ourselves to take it all in. There is another fresco on the opposite wall from an artist painting and living with Leonardo at the same time – it is so different and is famous only as an afterthought to the masterpiece it faces.
Walking Milan – Time to Get Our Walk On
We needed to cover some ground (it is a walking tour remember?) and it was a hot Saturday. Thankfully, while not usually a fan of the headsets and wireless devices, it was great to hear commentary as I lagged behind taking photos. We stopped in the courtyard of the church behind the “Last Supper” for great views before the next hidden gem.
I would not have found this church, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore which is full of amazing frescos covering every inch of the walls. I didn’t see any tour groups here just a few local senior citizens. While you take in all of the stories on the walls (again television for the times) and admire the frescos, Laura then explained we are going behind to the second church in the back. Here we see the wooden choir chairs, the beautiful organ as well as more and more frescos. Visually it’s stunning in person. Just when you think “I can’t see another church in Italy”, you are rewarded for your perseverance.
Back on the sidewalk, it’s time to visit the Sforza Castle (or the castle within the castle). Walking past the alluring fountain that I wanted to jump into, we joined the crowds moving toward the castle and the square inside. History, stories and details are provided and pointed out – the past is always so fascinating in context with today. It makes you think is it really that different in treatment of the classes and politics? Ok, so we don’t have Napoleon who figures prominently in the narrative of the day but the players are just as complicated.
The Fashionable Brera
From the castle, we stroll through the fashionable neighborhood of Brera. This cobblestones and boutiques line the streets dotted with cafes (bars), art galleries and the occasional chain store (i.e. MAC). Thankfully we didn’t stop to shop as this is an area that would really like your credit card. Taking photos and notes as we walked, I wanted to come back later to linger and window shop. We did stop for a coffee/water break (at our own cost) at a bar (café) and had time to chat with the group. Thankfully, Laura chose a bar with air conditioning to refresh us from the walk.
The Milan Icons
Our next stop was outside, across from the La Scala Opera House to see Leonardo in the park before walking through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Galleria for short) to the Duomo. All impressive sites and made more interesting with Laura’s commentary. It’s easy to visit a city, tick off an icon, take a photo and share on social media but it’s the private guides that add the flavor to the photo, a sound bite of history to bring the experience more alive.
The Milan Duomo and Rooftop Visit
At the Duomo, we were given our tickets for the lift to the top observation area and at this point Laura said “Ciao” to us. We waited about 20 minutes in line for the small lift (much better than 900+ steps!) and the group chatted for a bit before squeezing into the elevator. We still had a way to go after exiting the elevator (note: there are uneven surfaces, many steps and slippery marble so wear good shoes and take caution to follow the folks ahead of you).
There are very few experiences nowadays that provide the “wow” moment but walking on top of the Duomo is definitely one of those. You get a different perspective of the city – old vs. new, insight into the detail of the design and structure and marvel at the ingenuity of it all back then.
The roof, at the time of my visit, had an art installation of statues/sculptures to enjoy in addition to the many wonderful views and architectural details.
The Walks of Italy Walking Tour of Milan (the Best of Milan) was a great way to see so much of the city in a short time. Laura was fantastic with her knowledge and passion for her hometown. When you sign up for a tour, you want someone to share their love of their city and she definitely added flavor, insight and stories to my photos, much more than I could have done on my own.
Thank you to Walks of Italy for hosting me on this fun walking tour of Milan (the tour cost €79), as always opinions are uniquely mine.