After the fun of Amsterdam, my parents and I departed for Italy, halfway through our trip and ready to celebrate Easter Sunday in Milan, the fashion center of the world. I admit I had high expectations for this part of the trip. I mean really, how much more glamorous can you get than Milan? What I certainly wasn’t prepared for was how quickly Milan would dazzle me.
With the fresh memory of sun shining over the tulip buds of Holland’s beautiful springtime countryside, I wasn’t expecting to see too much more until I at least got off of the plane in Italy. I spent most of the flight with my nose to my iPad reading up on Lombardy and Milan, learning what the foodies say we should taste and where all the real fashionistas and cosmopolitans in Milan hang out.
But suddenly something caught the corner of my eye. A sharp point was protruding into the soft clouds outside my window. As a matter of fact, a few sharp points. And as the clouds cleared I saw them for the first time: the Swiss Alps, rising up into the sky in all their rocky, snow-capped glory, smiling at me from all around. After a prolonged moment of complete speechlessness, my first thought was that I had a new addition to my bucket list. I am going to hike those some day. My second was that I needed to share this with someone.
My poor sleeping mother fell victim to my excitement when I reached back-without daring to turn my eyes away from the view through my window-to prod her mercilessly until she woke up to see it too. My dad’s typical “Whoaaaa!” (pronounced in three or four syllables like “whoa ho ho ho”) wasn’t far behind once he heard the commotion. Together, we all basked in the sight. I have to admit that it was probably quite a kodak family moment.
Then as the rolling mountains flattened out into river-studded plains, we saw the neighborhoods and green fields of Northern Italy. Everything there was perfect. The clusters of houses with their matching red tile rooftops were perfect. The evenly spaced and exquisitely manicured trees that lined the winding streets connecting those houses were perfect. Even the puzzle work of rice fields in their neat, tidy rectangles were perfect. It was overwhelming.
So as we pulled into Milan Centrale train station after landing and catching a train out of the airport, you would have thought I couldn’t be more impressed. But you also would have been wrong. The station, decked out Classical style with white columns and winged statues high above our heads, was filled with designer shops and shiny marble floors. The air outside swirled with dogwood flower petals and the hotel room, once we found our way there, was not only huge but also immaculate. A cake and a bottle of wine sat on the desk waiting for us as an Easter present, the massive windows on every side lit the room with natural light, and the bathroom (complete with BEDAYE) invited me in with it’s spacious white bathtub.
Bags dropped off, we jumped onto the subway to make our way to the city square. After exiting the main entrance into the square, there is only one thing anyone can see. The breathtaking Duomo, the third largest church in the world and both spiritual and geographical center of Milan, could enchant even the most disbelieving soul. I can honestly say I literally froze when I laid eyes on it.
To the left lay the Galleria Vitorio Emanuele II. To the right, the courtyard of the Palazzo Reale, town hall and royal residence of Milan until the nineteenth century. The Galleria, in other words THE galleria, the place where the world got the word and the idea, is cross-shaped and five stories high. It is a magnificent glass-ceiling arcade of shops and cafes, not at all belittled by its Catholic neighbor but rather made humble at its side.
We found an Italian restaurant outside the Galleria where we made the mistake of trying out some real Italian grub that was literally so filling that even my dad couldn’t succeed in clearing all of out plates. But somehow after being charmed by the interior of the Duomo as well, we managed to wash down our pasta, cheese and seafood with the most incredible gelato ever tasted. Nut crusted cones, filling with hot dark chocolate and topped with three flavors each (I had pistachio, noir chocolate and nutella myself) we’re garnished with crunchy waffle pieces and then promptly scarfed down. I guarantee you I will never again taste anything so spectacular.
Although we never made it to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan’s Chiesa di Santa Maria, the city amazed us at every turn with its utter decadence. It existed in the glass cases full of candy high heels and chocolate bricks like bars of gold. It existed in the rich Italian food and the high ceilings and candle-lit passages inside the Duomo. It existed in mother earth’s constant reminder of nature that was the easily-seen Alps in the distance to the north. It existed everywhere and seemed to be a part of the essence of Milan.
I read a book many years ago called THE SEARCH FOR DELICIOUS. The story told of a town who sought to make a dictionary using only one other word to make up each definition. Discovering a lake at the end of a long drought led them to agree that “water” would be their choice to describe the word “delicious.” Well, for “decadent” I hope they chose Milan. It would easily do the trick.