Finally, Milan

We have arrived at our final destination – the fashion and financial capital of Italy. What a change it is to be in a large modern city, where tourists aren’t the driver of the economy.

Yesterday we took the metro to the Duomo, conveniently located next to the lovely Galleria, that makes shopping a religious experience. Actually, religion may now be a shopping experience, judging from the two posters prominently positioned on the part of the cathedral yet to be cleaned. Let us hope the church is being somewhat selective about whom they feature as sponsors.

Saving the Duomo for today, we walked into the Galleria in time to hear some young people singing as a group in the center. It sounded angelic. Then we noticed their group’s name on their backpacks and had to ask. Yes, they are kids from Columbus, Ohio, fresh off the plane and here to sing. Can’t evade our Ohio connection.

Today we started out fresh, at the Sforza Castle. It was built in the late 1300’s as a fortress, which became the Sforza’s Renaissance palace. Leonardo stayed there as a genius-in-residence.

The must-see feature of what is now a collection of museums within the palace walls is the Pietà Rondanini, the last and unfinished work of Michelangelo. A work in progress, it has a beauty all its own.

We admired the Ancient Art collection, particularly the 16th century tapestry of St. Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, often carried through the streets on his feast day.

Then it was on to a religious pilgrimage in the afternoon.

We continued to reference St. Ambrose, visiting the basilica begun by him in 380 AD. The facade is 12th century Lombard medieval style, as is much of the interior. However, the columns supporting the 9th century altar are much older. The body of St. Ambrose himself is on view in the crypt.

And then it was on to what is called the “Sistine Chapel of Lombardy,” the 16th century Church of San Maurizio. It was frescoed by a follower of Leonardo, and it is gorgeous.

Behind the altar is the Hall of Nuns, where a cloistered order would hear Mass apart from the general congregation.

Then it was on to the really big one – in fact, the largest cathedral in Italy. (Milan’s Duomo can coyly call itself that if one remembers that Saint Peter’s is in Vatican City, not considered “Italy.” So there.) It was built to hold 40,000 – the population of Milan when construction began in the late 14th century. Everything about it is designed to impress both the Vatican and the royalty of northern Europe. Milan was staking its claim as an important force. A grotesque but incredible statue of St. Bartolomeo shows him skinned alive by the Romans, wearing his own skin like a robe. And then the poor thing lies in state in the crypt under the altar. No privacy for this saint.

We covered a lot of ground by foot, tram and metro today in this very impressive city. Of particular note is “The Finger,” which is either the 99% showing its opinion to the Stock Exchange, or the 1% showing the rest of us how much it cares. Go know.

Don’s Food Corner

It took an unusually long time via a convoluted path to find today’s destination restaurant. I kept stopping to ask people where the tiny street where the restaurant was located could be found. Directions were given with assurances that it was just five minute away. About a half hour later, following many more helpful directions from natives and further assurances that it was just five minutes away, we found it. This restaurant — simply called Trattoria Milanese — was mentioned in several guidebooks as the penultimate of traditional Milanese cooking.

In business since 1933, this trattoria had an old-time decor and feel with old-time waiters that we relish. Our waiter was one of those guys with a slightly gruff but charming manner who basically told us what to have and not to worry about what the menu said or which wine to select. He’d take care of us.

We started with risotto Milanese. Since we had this dish on Lake Como the other day, we knew what to expect — risotto with cheese and saffron. Today’s version, as you would expect, was somewhat better than the version we had previously.  Still, I think I could master this dish and make it at home.

Then, crossing her fingers, Jo ordered the veal Milanese. Well, FINALLY, she got what she had been searching for since we arrived in Italy. The PERFECT veal Milanese. Found, amazingly, in Milan! It was served as a cutlet, with the meat still attached to the bone but pounded flat, filling a large plate. We decided to share this dish; you’ll see that Jo forgot to photograph the cutlet until after she had cut it in half, she was that anxious to dig in. Now we know how it is supposed to be prepared. The meat was not pounded too thin. It was not overcooked to cardboard texture. The breading was both crispy and moist. Perfection.

We also ordered veal scallopine Marsala. Another superb version of this classic dish, served with the creamiest whipped potatoes we’ve had on this trip.

Because things were going so well, we also ordered a dessert. We thought we were ordering an apple tart specialty of Milan, but we were served tiramisu instead. Our waiter didn’t speak much English and my Italian really isn’t that great (hey, I have two more days to learn!), so since both the tart and the tiramisu start with the letter “T” you can see how there could be confusion. The tiramisu, the first we’ve had in Italy, was light and rich at the same time.

This wonderful meal served in this atmospheric place — with three courses and wine — cost less than $80, including tip. Don’t be surprised if we end up there again. If, that is, we could ever find it again.

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