The Duomo di Milano

The Italian word duomo means cathedral, but when you hear the word, your thoughts would automatically go to the Duomo di Milano and with good reason: it is the fifth largest church in the world and second largest cathedral, and perhaps the best known cathedral (or duomo). It also took almost 500 years to complete, with contruction started back in the late 14th century. We actually have to thank Napoleon Bonaparte for speeding up the completion of its facade, since he wanted the cathedral completed before his coronation as king of Italy – to this end, he proclaimed that all expenses will be shouldered by the treasury of France. Needless to say, with the guarantee of reimbursement, construction was completed in less than a decade.

The duomo stands out from other churches I’ve been to because of the Candoglia marble facade. Plus, it has many turrets and spires instead of towers, and many marble statues adorning its walls, entrances, and many corners. However, you can tell that construction was never really finished as there are still blank blocks waiting to be carved into gargoyles or statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a very beautiful building whether you visit it early morning with little light coming from the sun just rising from the horizon, or midday with the full light of the sun almost making the church too bright for the naked eye, or evening with the soft light from the nearby lampposts rendering it almost ethereal against a backdrop of dark skies.

It’s quite romantic, minus the crowd that never seems to dissipate.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to think that those movies showing tourists feeding flocks of pigeon at the piazza were exaggerations until I got to experience it myself. There are many sellers who will try to sell bread for you to feed the pigeons with but my friends and I brought our own and this made them a bit upset and some of them got quite rude. It’s a good thing there were five of us so we just huddled together and walked away whenever the sellers would try to approach us.
IMG_4073The side of the duomo reminds me of the Notre Dame in Paris, maybe because of the similar window panels.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassive as it is on the outside, it feels even bigger inside given the floor to ceiling height. And the thick marble pillars all contribute to the Gothic theme of the cathedral.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in the early 20th century, the organ of the duomo is the largest in Italy, and one of the 15 largest in the whole world. It is made of several organs scattered inside the duomo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecognized as the most famous statue in the cathedral, this artwork of Marco d’agrate (circa 16th century) shows St. Bartholomew with his flayed skin over his shoulders. As per tradition, St. Bartholomew was martyred in Albania, skinned alive and then crucified. I can’t imagine how much suffering he must have endured to have the skin stripped off his body and then crucified. The status itself is quite disturbing enough without you knowing the history behind it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are various sarcophagi inside the duomo, especially of former archbishops. While I am fine loking at sarcophagi and marvelling at their usually intricate designs, I can’t help but be creeped out by glass coffins.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are well-maintained crypts under the duomo and oftentimes, private masses are being held there.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of its crypts, underneath the main altar itself, is the sarcophagus of Saint Charles Borromeo, a member of the Medici family, one of the most powerful families during the Renaissance. Though born an aristocract, he was actively involved in the reformation of the church, helping establish seminaries during his time.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe duomo was undergoing restoration works during our visit – all that marble probably needs a good cleaning what with hundreds of years worth of pollution. Austerity measures implemented by the government included budget cuts to the city’s cultural funds, and this probably forced the duomo’s administration to get creative: they launched this adopt a gargoyle initiative where patrons can “adopt” one of the gargoyles and have their names carved underneath, in exchange for donations. This donation will then be used for the maintenance of the gargoyles they’ve adopted. In fairness, the duomo is one of the best kept churches I’ve been to in Europe (a lot are really old and felt abandoned). I am quite saddened though that beautiful old churches such as the duomo, which are great treasures not just of Catholics but of the entire human population, now have to fend for themselves and beg for alms just to survive.

I didn’t get the chance to go up the duomo and see the Madonna statue up close and get a 360-degree view of Milan, but hey – that just means I should include it in my next trip, right?

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Out and About in Milan

Whenever I think of Italian food, pizza and pasta would normally come to mind. Surprisingly though, I didn’t really find any pasta/pizza dish in Milan that stood out. But we found this neighborhood cafe serving gelato and chocolates that were oh so good we didn’t mind visiting almost every day after our daily excursion.

We found Cioccolat Italiani by accident – we were on our daily walk from our charming apartment near the San Lorenzo columns when we chanced upon this cafe a few steps back from Via Torino. It had a laid back and cozy atmosphere which we immediately liked.

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And how appropriate that the cafe is beside the Church of St. George?

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Our handsome server patiently explaining the different gelato flavors. He didn’t need to – we’ll have whatever they’re serving. Hahaha!

Inside was an open kitchen where you can see the staff preparing your coffee or gelato. Can you all those chocolate bars near our table? I thought I was gonna die of happiness.

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We got their chocolate gelato sampler – five different kinds of chocolate to choose from! I can’t even remember which one I liked most but I would definitely recommend this to all chocolate lovers out there. They were all so creamy, not too sweet and the chocolate was very rich, whether you get the milk chocolate, the dark chocolate, the hazelnut, or the white chocolate.

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Well, it was kinda hard focusing on gelato that day…

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And you have to try their coffee and waffles! Sure to perk you up for the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Surprisingly, one of the best meals we had in Milan didn’t involve pasta and pizza but rather sort of Asian fusion. We were so hungry on our first day after a long train ride from Paris that we didn’t have much energy to go far from our apartment in Urbano – which turned out perfectly fine because we stumbled upon this quaint little place in front of the Roman columns of San Lorenzo that served the best smoked ham and cheese, and rolls! Too bad we were so hungry we forgot to jot down the name of the place but if ever you’re in Milan and find yourself near the columns, it’s just across the street and comes highly recommended by me!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our neighborhood in Milan is actually the “hip” part of Milan, with a whole street lined up with bars (really loud ones!) and several whole in the wall restos, one of which we really liked is the Cantina della Vetra, where I first tasted the stuffed zucchini. I loved it so much I ordered the same dish almost everywhere (sadly, Cantina’s version was the best I tasted in all the restos we went to).

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Milan is so fashionable not even the walls were spared. How I wish street art in Manila is this cool! Sadly, ours look like drunken kids and teenagers were given spray paint and brushes.

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Castello Sforzesco

Cities in Europe don’t run out of castles and palaces, and Milan is no exception. Just a few minutes away from the bustling Duomo, you will find the Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforzesco, the Duke of Milan, it was later rebuilt and enlarged, and at one point, was one of the largest forts in all of Europe. Today, however, the castle houses several museums and art collections.

The castle has undergone many renovations throughout its existence but the layout and features largely remained the same, thanks to the plans left behind. What really fascinates me about this castle is that it actually has circular towers in its corners, and I can imagine it having drawbridges in each of its entrances during its heyday.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe castle is big, but not impossible to navigate in a day (unlike Versailles or Schonbrunn), at least if you’re goal is just to circle it and maybe look into a couple of the museums housed there. There are several buildings inside, and pocket gardens with reflecting pools in the middle. Too bad though that the pool (or pond?) was very dirty during our visit. Perhaps because it was summer and everything was dry and dusty.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am a museum freak so of course, I had to drag my friends with me and our first stop was the Museum of Ancient Art, found on the ground floor of the Ducal Courtyard. This is right behind the museum ticket counter and souvenir shop, so there is no missing it, and why it serves as the logical first stop on the tour. The museum is very tourist friendly as well, since there are reading materials which you can get in each room, free of charge!

Perhaps the most imposing structure in the first and second rooms would be the Sepulchral Monument of Bernabo Visconti, former lord of Milan, which stands proud in the middle of the room. Made in 1363, the marble monument was supposed to be used for the apse of the San Giovanni church in Conca, but later used as a sepulchral monument for Bernabo Visconti after his arrest and subsequent murder (by his nephew, Gian Galazzo, who had seized power). The sarcophagus, made between 1380 and 1385, was added to the marble statue of the figure riding a horse.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are also two slabs from tombs on the floor and not to play favorites, but I liked the one of Bianca di Savoia, mother of Gian Galazzo Visconti:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoom VII or the Room of the Gonfalone is dedicated to sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century and various tapestries. But what immediately caught my eye (and my nose to be honest, owing to the dust and mites that must be living in colonies within) was this huge tapestry of the standard of the city of Milan, dating from the mid-16th century. It first appeared in public in 1566, during the feast of the Duomo of Milan.

The standard depicts Saint Ambrose with two soldiers at his feet, with four significant events from the life of the saint depicted along the sides of the tapestry signifying his holiness.
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In the Sala del Ducali, or Room IX, a sculpture of the Madonna and Child greets visitors upon entry. This wort of art from Jacopino da Tradate is notable for the lifelike draping of the garment – indeed, I actualy found it so meticulously carved to mimic the flow of garments as they would in real life. However, one aspect which I found severely lacking is that the face is rather unattractive. I am quite used to seeing similar scuplture where the effort is more concentrated on the facial features rather than other details. 
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One of the highlights of our tour to the Sforza Castle is being able to see up close a huge sculpture by Michaelangelo – the Rondanini Pieta. I have seen a Madonna and Child scuplture of his in Bruges, but that was from about five meters away and with velvet ropes barring me so this was actually my first close encounter with an artwork of his.

As legend would have it, the artist was working on this up to a few days before his death and that he intended for it to be given to his servant, Antonio del Francese.

The sculpture in the castle appears to have undergone several versions, with Michaelangelo superimposing another version on top of the original, and this can be seen in the different texture of various parts of the sculpture, and sometimes, it seems even different techniques employed. In any case, this pieta was not finished owing to the death of Michaelangelo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne part of the castle was dedicated to antique furniture and cutlery and all sorts of household stuff. One word actually comes to mind whenever I see such rich/ostentatious display of wealth: nouveau riche. Each furniture was so intricately carved with gold or silver trimmings that one cannot mistake that they were deliberately put there to remind the spectator of the cost or value such a piece would have commanded.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFruit platter in solid silver, anyone? I even spied a silver cutlery set with gods and goddesses on the handles. I am forever a fan of mythology and I would love to have a similar set in my future home, but probably only in stainless steel as that’s only what I can afford. Hahaha!

I remember my grandmother had this antique set of a small flask and shot glasses made of silver in her house and thinking, it must be so expensive now. Too bad they promptly disappeared and I couldn’t find them during my next visit.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gilded furniture kind of reminds me of the ones being sold at Muebles Italiano. Then again, it is an Italian-themed furniture store.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last part we visited before our feet forced us to head home was the underground level containing the Egyptian section. Of course, I was ecstatic. I have been dreaming of going to Egypt since I was a kid that I think I must have been Egyptian in my past life, if I am to believe in reincarnation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t think I’d see another Egyptian mummy just a few days after paying a visit to the one at the Louvre but what do you know. This one though is not as complete as the one in Paris, and the funeral jars are missing.

There are many other rooms at the castle containing paintings and musical instruments that we weren’t able to visit; it was simply too big, but more manageable than the Louvre and certainly easier to navigate. Our feet just couldn’t go much further after our stop at the Egyptian section. I am quite glad that we decided to explore this castle based only on our trusty Trip Advisor app as otherwise, I might have missed it completely (I didn’t really plan much for our Milan leg since I knew I was heading to Switzerland as well). Definitely one of the highlights of our Milan trip.

Milan Fashion Walk

Milan is undeniably one of the fashion capitals of the world and just by walking its streets, I can easily understand why. Practically everyone was dressed to the nines! Where else can you find impeccably dressed men in suits and ties, riding their bikes to work? Paris may have the good-looking people but Milan has the fashion pack.

There were quite a number of tours in our trusty Trip Advisor City Guide app, but since we were in Milan, why not try the fashion walk tour?

We started off at the Duomo but we quickly got lost after that – our city guide apps don’t really identify dead end streets and it had pointed us in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. The good thing though was that we found ourselves just a few steps away from the Emporio Armani Caffe.

Yep, you read that right. The fashion house has its own cafe right smack in the fashion capital of Italy! What better way to start our day than with an aperitif at a fashion cafe, no? Prices weren’t so bad either.

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After freshening up a bit, we spent the better part of an hour looking for Via Montenapoleone, which we thought at first to be a historic place in the fashion world, but which turned out to be the shopping district of Milan where practically all the luxury brands are. I guess you already know what happened next – major retail therapy.

Hauling all our shopping bags, we made it to the next stop in the fashion walk, the Bagatti Valsecchi mansion. This mansion was the family home of Barons Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi. The two undertook the task of remodelling the home in the Neo-Renaissance style, beginning in the 1880s and all throughout their lives.

I am so in love with this house. The interiors are quite dark for my taste, owing to the lack of big windows, so it can get kind of musty, but the use of warm wood, colorful tapestries, and etched ceilings made the entire place cozy – not hard to imagine our future home looking like this.

The tour starts at the 2nd floor in a room called the Room of the Fresco, where this fresco of the Madonna of Mercy, originally from a parish church in Bergamo, greets guests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the ceiling of each room, particularly the one in the library, with a vibrant blue/red/gold theme.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have a thing for lampposts as I think I’ve mentioned before but I also have this thing for ceilings. I automatically look up whenever I am visiting a new place, expecting a surprise waiting for me there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAside from the interior design, the brothers were fond of collecting not just artworks but also everyday tools – there are keys, pliers, and locks kept in glass cases…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and an impressive collection of ceramics.

Now, I have this phobia of vases since I was a kid, after I watched a movie where monsters would come out of large vases. It’s been decades but it still makes me look over my shoulders whenever I’m surrounded by ceramic vases (for some reason, I’m not scared of clear, glass ones).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFausto never married but Giuseppe married Carolina Borromeo, from one of the richest and most powerful families in Milan at the time. Their bedroom, while typical, is kind of unique in that it’s the first one I’ve been to where there are also kids’ furniture and toys.

Oh, and how cute is that little crib? True, it must be kind of hard if the baby bumps his head on that solid iron frame, but it’s really cute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite room is the Grand Salon, which is easily the biggest room in the entire house. It is made of warm wood (by now you probably can also tell that I love wood), and has a very high ceiling where a huge chandelier hangs from, and numerous lamps. These lamps used to run on gas but as soon as electricity became available in Milan, the brothers had them changed. The Bagatti Valsecchi mansion was actually one of the first to have electricity in Milan. That just speaks of how rich and powerful they must have been back then.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last part of the tour is the Gallery of Arms, where various types of armour and weapons are on display, some of which are pieces restored by the brothers while some they had commissioned.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe house was restored and kept as it was many years ago when the brothers were still alive based on the very detailed and meticulous plans and descriptions they left behind, kept together in a hard bound ancient book.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter our tour, we went off to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, named after the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It is very similar in structure to the Saint-Hubert Gallery in Brussels, with its domed glass and iron ceiling. It connects the Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala (and there I go almost typing in pizza what with all those piazzas).

The arcade has high-end shops, such as Prada and Louis Vuitton. I read in one of the travel sites I’ve been browsing prior to my trip that there used to be a McDonald’s inside, but the other shops petitioned that it be removed as it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the ambiance/prestige they were aiming for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA statue of Leonardo da Vinci stands in the Piazza della Scala, made of white carrara marble. The Accademia di Bella Arti in Brera held a competition in the 1850s, to come up with a monument to be placed in the Palazzo in Brera. The jury selected the sketch by Pietro Magni, which shows da Vinci surrounded by four of his pupils. It was later decided to place the statue instead at the Piazza where it still stands today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Milan Fashion Walk was fun, although I wish it didn’t make us run around in circles in the beginning. Haha! 😀

Brera

On our second day, we visited the picturesque neighborhood of Brera, considered by some to be the Milanese equivalent of the Montmarte. In short, it’s the artsy side of Milan.

A lot of websites say it’s walking distance from the Duomo but judging from our map, it looked quite far (or at least more than thirty minutes) so we decided to take the metro and save our energy for actuall sight-seeing and museum hopping.

There are a lot of old buildings and even a castle (the Sforzesco Castle which I will blog about separately) in the Brera district, which got its name from the Lombardian word brayda, or land without trees (either naturally or cleared of it) but it took us quite awhile to find the actual Brera street which is supposedly the heart of this district. Fortunately, a kind old lady helped us and after a few minutes, we found ourselves on a pretty stretch of narrow cobblestone roads and pastel colored houses. It reminded me of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, for some reason.

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So picturesque, isn’t it? Too bad I don’t have a photo here (my face was starting to swell a bit by this time and I avoided close up and solo photos).

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There are many shops and restaurants in and around Brera Street. We found a couple of nice shoe stores selling the cutest ballet flats so we decided to do some retail therapy.

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And that purple seat? I want!

We were quite famished roaming around; fortunately, the entire district has rows and rows of decent looking restaurants . The entire stretch seems popular with locals as  well since we found groups of them, some obviously out on their lunch break, crowding around the nicest restos in the area.

Since we were in Italy, we decided to eat authentic Italian pasta and pizza. Cliche, I know, but that’s what makes it fun, right? Surprisingly, there wasn’t a big tourist crowd in Brera, and we quickly found an almost empty place off the main Street – the Ristorante Il Kaimano Brera.

The staff at the restaurant were also quite funny and friendly, and they spoke English well enough for us to order the exact food we wanted! The place was really small, and they didn’t have an al fresco table good for five; to our surprise, one of the waiters brought out a chair with the two back legs sawed in half – so that it could fit comfortably on the steps! Quite ingenious! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, I wonder why I look so happy in this shot? Perhaps this was after we realized that the can of tomato sauce was being given to us for free (after we gave a generous tip at the prodding of the waiter – I honestly would have been offended if he weren’t so funny).

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Anyway, I was already fighting a really bad case of allergies so I had to make do with just salivating over the pasta with lobster, mussels and clam.  But I did enjoy the pizza, ossobuco, and fried zucchini flowers (which we developed a liking for, since having some for dinner the night before).

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We would have ordered water since it was a hot day but it was so expensive! So yes, we ended up having wine again…

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…and then we drank our bottled water as soon as we stepped out of the restaurant – travel tip #1: always have bottled water with you; water is very expensive in restaurants/cafes/fast food chains in Europe).

Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Roman Columns in Milan

Built sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries, the Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in Milan; even the names of the persons behind this structure have been lost, and the exact dates and purpose for building it is unknown. Regardless, it is one of the most intriguing churches I’ve been to – and definitely the least crowded. I was the only tourist!

I wasn’t able to get a nice photo of the facade because it was barricaded (no point taking photos when all I can show you are steel bars). Plus, I ran into a group of goths dressed in leather, spikes and dark lips and I hightailed out of the place after that (I fear the living more than I fear ghosts or monsters – I am a practical person after all) so all I can show you is the back, which opens up into a park previously used for, among others, public executions. Nowadays, it’s a nice hangout for exercise, picnics or just walking your dog.

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Upon entering the place, I was immediately greeted by an eerie silence, darkness, and a cold draft of air. Seriously, this is the most spooky church I’ve been too, even though it’s very beautiful and solemn.

The church is quite unique in that it is a bit circular as opposed to the usual cross-shaped structure and there are many rooms and a chapel off to the side, though most are off limits. For a church that appears to me to have very few parishioners (most probably because the Duomo of Milan is just 10-15 minutes away and I spied two more churches in between the two), it is well maintained and clean, although the air feels damp.

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Several of the church’s pillars are recycled – they used some of the columns from the ruins of a Roman amphitheater just outside the basilica which gives the impression that the church is much older, and contributes to its appeal. For some reason though, they used the pillars upside down so that the carved cornices are at the foot of the post instead of at the top.

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As was my custom, I lit a candle and prayed for happiness, success and good health for myself and my loved ones, and, cliche as it may sound, world peace. Then I adropped a couple of euros in the donation box…

…which made one hell of a ruckus I probably woke up the entire church. Hahaha!

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Anyway, probably hearing my coins, the lone caretaker (not a hunchback, thank heavens) suddenly appeared behind me. He was very nice especially when he realized I was by myself, pointing out the most interesting spots and explaining their history to me. We did have a rocky start because I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me at first – that I had to pay an entrance fee to get into the the other parts of the church. How we managed to communicate with only Italian words (he appears to speak zero English and I know just enough to get by) leaves me baffled to this day.

One of the most interesting parts of the basilica is the octagonal chapel of St. Aquilino, which has retained its original structure and can be accessed via a “pincer-shaped” entrance to the south of the main church. The chapel used terracotta ducts and the original dome (which is one of the oldest parts of the church, at 1,600 years old) is hemispherical. Inside is a succession of semi-circular and rectangular niches with Byzantine mosaics at the ceiling. Some of the mosaics are in badly worn out, and in some cases, have fallen out that y0u are left with the artist’s drawings, but nevertheless, the walls are still very pretty.

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Here’s a close up of the mosaic above the first entryway. In some parts, you can clearly see that there must have been various mosaics or paintings that have each been painted over during its long existence, so I can only imagine how hard it must be to reconstruct and restore these walls.

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There are various color schemes as well – this room obviously had blue for its motif.

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The last room immediately before the rooms where Saint Aquilino’s remains are kept, has perhaps the most beautifully preserved mosaics in the chapel and is the third spookiest place in the church, what with all those eerie spotlights casting an ethereal glow over everrything – and yes, the only light from outside are coming from those windows.

 

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Another mosaic close-up, this one of Jesus surrounded by the Apostles:

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This one, where almost only the drawing is left, can be found in one of the alcoves on the opposite wall but I could not figure out (or research on the net) what it’s supposed to be. Can you spy that rectangular slab or marble? I saw several of them in the room and while I couldn’t find any inscription, I think these are the tombs of various members of the imperial family as it served as the imperial mausoleum when it was initially built.

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 The next room is the 2nd scariest place – I was by this time, about ten meters from the only entrance/exit of the chapel and I was the only living soul in the place so my goosebumps were literally jumping off my skin. I almost turned around since I didn’t want to get close to the coffin but the caretaker was again right behind me, prodding me to move forward. He was actually starting to give me the creeps as well – less than a minutes after telling me to go into the next room, when I turned around, he was gone. Either he vanished into thin air, or he ran really fast.

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Ah, but the sight inside is a marvel with its carved, painted and gilded ceiling, the fresco by Carlo Urbino behind the ark and the silver ark itself created by Carlo Garavaglia, all very exquisitely done.

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I was by this point scared out of my wits and would gladly have ignored the fact that there was a flight of stairs behind the ark were it not for the caretaker who magically popped up again to hold my hand and take me to the top step of the stairs. I wanted to tell him, no, I am already fine with what I’ve seen so far, but, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I was so scared he would lock the gates behind me once I’ve descended though I was comforted by the fact that my friends all knew where I was, plus, my curiosity got the better of me.

And what do you know? Such a treasure! Seems that underneath the chapel is an ongoing excavation – from this photo, you can see a glimpse of the church’s foundation (or perhaps the ruin of the old complex), back from Roman times! I didn’t dare go further than this though since the cold, airless feeling was getting to me and I rushed back to the chapel and headed straight for the main church.

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Seeing as I was the only tourist, the caretaker told me he would show me a room that is off-limits to the public – I could tell based on the tone of his voice and the fact that the door had a big off limits sign. Hahaha!

Inside are various religious treasure (which I didn’t photograph – I assumed that similar to Manila, taking pictures of such things are generally not allowed), and the best of all was this old baptistry – for the “ninos”and “ninas” as the caretaker put it.

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I was so happy to have been given that exclusive tour I almost berated myself for being suspicious of the caretaker. Hahaha! But I was more than relieved to finally walk out of the basilica and into the direct heat of the sun (and I still can’t shake off the feeling that he was a ghost or something, or that he walked at lightning speed).

The Basilica of San Lorenzo is part of the Basilicas Park, where the Basilica of Saint Eustorgio (where the tomb of the three Magis are) and the Colonne di San Lorenzo can also be found. I didn’t get to Saint Eustorgio (I didn’t have time to visit both so I chose the one which I felt was more historically and architecturally significant) but the columns were right out front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo and cannot be missed. It is the most well-know Roman ruins in Milan, with the columns dating from the 2nd century, taken from old baths and temples.

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A lot of people also gather here, with some musicians and dancers offering free entertainment during the early summer evenings, and crowds waiting perhaps for the clubs nearby to open pass the time here so it can get pretty crowded and smoky. If you’re planning to take a nice photo, I would suggest you visit early in the morning.

There are a couple of other old churches nearby but time was too short. I will write next about the Duomo, which I visited several times during our stay in Milan.

Sapori Solari

If there is one place you simply must visit in Milan, this would be it. Heck, I would go to Milan just to eat here.

But we almost never made it to this place.

The first problem we had was logistics: the deli (it is, strictly, NOT a restaurant, nor even a cafe – think Santi’s except that they let you eat your cured meats and cheese right there at the store) was very small so reservations are a must. But, the owner/proprietor/all around staff Giuseppe, doesn’t speak English – so we had to ask our landlady to make the reservations; except that our landlady also couldn’t speak English. Yeah, imagine the sign language we had to employ for her to understand us and communicate it to Giuseppe. I never thought that knowing the Italian words for dinner/reservations and the hour of day and number of people can be very useful. My friends were actually very proud of me. Hahaha!

Finding this place was even trickier that we almost gave up were it not for the fact that it was highly recommended and we were so hungry and there were barely any other restaurants along the way. The deli was located in a not so touristy part of Milan, and while riding the tram was confusing, the taxi fare was discouraging. We walked 30 minutes from the train stop before we finally caught sight of its signage (and the anxious Giuseppe almost thought we’d ditched him).

Pardon the blurry image - I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we'd gotten lost in Milan.

Pardon the blurry image – I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we’d gotten lost in Milan.

Giuseppe was the only one manning the deli so we had a bit of time to just take photos and enjoy the rustic appeal of Sapori Solari. It’s exactly how I would have imagined my neighborhood hangout: small and intimate. Not intimidating at all. The best part? Everyone seemed to know each other. That, or they were just plain nice. We even met a very lovely couple – the girl looked like Teresa Loyzaga and the guy looked like Andrew Garfield, except that he’s hotter than the actor. They were so gorgeous and so kind to act as our interpreter that night that we wanted to have our photos taken with them!

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My travel buddies.

We drank some red wine while waiting for the surprise feast Giuseppe was whipping up for us in the kitchen. Now, I am no expert in wine but I do know when I like it or not, and this one? Definitely like.

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The Milan Crew!

Sorry, no close up photos of moi, because by this time, my face had swollen as if bees had stung me and my eyes were almost shut tight – my allergies were acting up because of all the wine and the weather, plus, I haven’t been sleeping very well during the trip so that contributed to my skin problems.

There were only about five tables in the 30 or so square meter place and while it was empty when we got there, pretty soon, it was full of people – Giuseppe had to prepare a makeshift table to accommodate another group!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though he couldn’t speak English, Giuseppe had animal figurines on hand to show us where the meat was coming from, and a booklet (below) to show us what parts we were eating that night. There’s no menu, by the way; he whips up the menu on the spot, based on the meat and cheese available that day. If you’re a picky eater, then this place isn’t for you. But, if you are okay with meat and cheese – this place is perfect. Everything was superb!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were first given different kinds of bread, which tasted so fresh (and we were so hungry) we finished the entire basket in a few minutes.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

After a few minutes, Giuseppe served our first tray of thinly sliced prime beef with chunks of ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil. The beef was perfectly smoked and tasted oh so delicious – not too salty and not pungent at all which is what I hate sometimes when eating cured meat. I am salivating just writing that down and recalling the taste from memory.

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This plate tasted almost too good to be true. It was so good we finished it off before Giuseppe even managed to prepare the 2nd plate.

Our second plate (it’s kind of incorrect to actually say plate, because it was more of a tray – think of a family sized pizza pan), was all about pork. The outer rink in the picture below came from a regular pig (you know, the cute pink ones, like Babe?) while the inner rink came from a local pig (I forgot the exact type which I’m pretty sure I studied back in grade school, but it was a black type of pig). This one was like eating fresh ham and salami, except that it’s fresher, saltier and yet sweeter at the same time. The meat also had a little slimy texture to it that made it feel slippery on my tongue.

By this time, we realized that the bread and cheese (which came with the first plate) Giuseppe served us earlier was meant to be eaten with the meat. Too bad, we already ate them! Probably why Giuseppe almost raised his arms in alarm when he saw us stuffing our mouths with all that bread and cheese. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next plate had this fatty part of the pig which reminded me of glazed Christmas ham, except it was a hundred times better. The dark red meat with white fatty edges was goose breast. Everything was bathed in honey and olive oil and I just died and went to gastronomic heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As I mentioned, there’s no fixed menu. Giuseppe will keep serving plate after plate after plate as long as you want. I’ve read of some tourists lasting up to the fifth plate but my friends and I were too full by the 3rd plate we actually had to beg Giuseppe to stop. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that, he served us biscuits with nuts (reminded me of Starbuck’s biscotti) and some very sweet, nectarine juice. The biscuits were a bit on the hard side and took some getting used to but it had an aftertaste that I kept chasing after – like when you eat something good but the flavor is too fleeting that you want to just eat more so you can figure out what that flavor is? I had several moments of those.

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The Milan Crew with our host, Giuseppe.

What I loved most about Sapori Solari was that it not only served good food but Giuseppe was just about the most unassuming and most accommodating host. It actually felt like visiting your grandparents’ house and being treated to all those family recipe specialties.

If only it wasn’t so late and we didn’t have a long day the next day, we would have stayed and ordered another round. I would gladly have gone back but this was our last meal together in Milan (I went to Switzerland the next day while my friends went to Verona to pay their respects to Romeo and Juliet).

I would give this place five stars out of four. And I will definitely include a stopover in Milan in my next trip just to eat it. Yes, I loved it that much!

Selfie

Just in case you haven’t noticed – I’m a big fan of white tops. It can be a plain white tee, a blouse, a lacy top, a tank… Sometimes, I don’t even realize I have lots of white stuff that it’s still the first color I grab when I go shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I love color but you can’t ever go wrong with white.It’s a blank palette, like black, but not as intimidating. You can dress it up, down, or go all out glam. It’s perfect.

Top, Stradivarius; Tank (underneath), Promod; jeans, Lucky Brand; flats, Tod's; watch, Kate Spade.

Top, Stradivarius; Tank (underneath), Promod; jeans, Lucky Brand; flats, Tod’s; watch, Kate Spade.

I found this top while walking past a Stradivarius store in our neighborhood in Paris. We were always either too early or too late but on our last day, I knew I had to have it. Oh, and those red flats? I had absolutely zero intention of shopping during this trip since I am saving up for a new house (with the addition of Georgie, the house is kinda cramped these days), but when I saw those shoes, I made beeline for the store, asked the salesman for my size, and promptly went to the cashier. All in less than ten minutes. My friends were amazed. Haha.

Anyway, I am not very fond of taking selfies so this is my way of being a little sarcastic (and that sarcasm is directed at me, lol). Look at my instagram and you’ll know right away. I mean, I’m too plain Jane! I’m not insecure at all (I’ve long accepted that I am not Hollywood material) but I wouldn’t exactly invite trolls to nitpick my looks. But hey, sometimes, I like to pretend that this blog is still somewhat related to fashion (which was the reason I put up the original blog over at blogger in the first place).