So, we’ve just returned from a sometimes enchanting and sometimes frustrating tour of Italy.
We began our journey in Milan. Our first objective was to get a 15-minute visit with Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” an exquisite work that challenges the finest preservationists to keep it alive for future generations.
The day before we decided to visit Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century fortress in the heart of present-day Milan. After a half-hour walking with the often-worthless Google Maps app, I gave up and asked a passerby for directions to the fortress. The gentleman I accosted turned out to be a willing guide to the fortress and all things Milan. He not only directed us to the Castello, he also joined us on a two-hour tour and personal narration of everything Sforzesco had to offer. Because of his efforts, we were able to view Michelangelo’s last work, the unfinished “Pietà Rondanini.” Very moving, as you could see how the genius artist pulled the loving mother with her deceased son out of a lump of marble.
The next day we had a delightful tour of Milan and its Duomo, concluding with our visit to da Vinci’s masterpiece. While sadly faded, the experts have been able to restore some of the luster to the centuries-old work that was painted on one of the walls of a dining room for monks. If you want to see it, you must make a reservation months ahead.
From there, we took a train to Verona. Our 24-hour visit satisfied my curiosity about the town. Next began an unexpected and challenging adventure to reach Venice by way of train.
Trenitalia proved how superbly it could grossly mismanage what proved to be a non-event. In approaching Venice, there are two stops for the train. There’s Mestre, which is still on the mainland, then Santa Lucia, on one of the islands that comprise the Venice most tourists know.
Well, there was a bomb threat at Santa Lucia. Trenitalia determined that the best time to notify the train passengers about the problem was five minutes outside of Mestre. We were told that the train would not continue to Santa Lucia. There were no explanations about how we could get to the island or how to handle the abrupt cancellation of the train. Instead, we were dumped at the Mestre train station along with approximately 5,000 other travelers all trying to continue their journey. After a two-hour delay, we finally found transportation to the island, with no assistance whatsoever from Trenitalia.
Many folks had warned me that Venice was dirty, overcrowded with tourists, and lacking charm. Well, I must heartily disagree. Yes, Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace swarmed with fellow travelers. But by utilizing the vaparetto waterbus system, we escaped the crowds and explored all of this endearing city. We got lost roaming the streets and the hundreds of bridges, but had a great time doing it.
After three days in Venice (we could have stayed for seven), we moved on to Florence. A word of advice: Do not go to Florence in the summer. Too hot, too crowded, too tiring.
Ah, but our visit to Florence was highlighted by a long Vespa tour of nearby Chianti. This included our first of three visits to wineries in Tuscany. I’ll go into more detail about that in my next column.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.