16 Juni 2022

β€œWhat, Drawn and talk of peace?”

This is a line from a play that every college bound kid in high school has had to read for probably the last 100 years. The line comes from Romeo and Juliette. This play was centered in Verona, Italy. My kids have insisted the play is not based on a true story, but I am not so sure. We actually saw the balcony on Juliette’s house where she and Romeo had the famous scene.

Balcony at “Juliette’s House”

We even stumbled across Romeo’s house. It just has to be true. πŸ™‚ Surely, no one would be so crass and commercial as to try and make a Euro off of such a tragic story. We took a one day detour from Milan to visit Verona, and it is a captivating city.

We started our day in the center of the city next to an amphitheater. The amphitheater was actually built about 50 years before the Colosseum in Rome. Though this place has obviously been cared for a lot better, because it is still in use today!

It is not as big, but then again Verona is not nearly as large as Rome. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go on a tour of the amphitheater, but that is just a reason to go back!

We walked over to the Castle San Pietro, which sits on top of a hill just outside the city proper. We thought this a great place to get an overview of the city, and we had a fabulous lunch! Early afternoon we toured the Botanical Gardens, and toured some of the churches before heading back to Milan for the night. Julie and I decided we needed a break about 6:00 pm so we stopped off at the Hard Rock Cafe for some nachos and drinks while George toured one last museum. We walked about 9 miles during the day and it was really hot, but we had great time.

Verona is the second largest city in Northern Italy. The city proper has about 250,000 residents, but when you take into account the entire metropolitan area the population jumps up to almost 800,000. One interesting thing I learned is that Bern is German for Verona. No one know for sure when Verona was settled, but it became under Roman control about 300BC and in the year 49 BC Verona was granted Municipium status. This was a BIG deal back in those days, because it meant the citizens of the city had FULL Roman citizenship as well. For the next 1800 years Verona seemed to be the prize in all of the conflicts in Northern Italy. It makes a lot of sense. Verona is a nice kicking off point for the alps.

Italy still has some of the Covid protocols in place. Not many, but you do have to wear your mask on all public transportation, and in many of the tourist attractions there were signs posted asking people to wear masks. You could tell the temperatures were climbing during the day just based on mask compliance. In the morning when it was cooler mask compliance was over 90%. However, during the day as it got warmer and warmer you could see the number of people wearing masks dropping and dropping. In the morning, the train conductor forced one woman to put on the right mask, but on the train ride home, the staff just completely ignored the 40% that were either not wearing one at all, or were wearing a mask down at their chin. I think the whole world is becoming tired of Covid.

I have learned that living across an ocean from your kids has made Julie and I old softies. We have a hard time saying no to anything our kids ask of us any more. This was a little thing, but…. I am pretty sure I told you before that George spent a semester “studying” in Milan. He talked over and over about how a couple of times each week he would just head over to the Duomo and go up to the roof where he would sit and read, or just contemplate life. Julie and I went to mass in the Duomo when we visited three years ago. We took the whole tour, and even went up on the roof, but because our son asked we found ourselves heading back up again Sunday morning before we came back home.

I have to admit the Duomo is on one hand the most ugly church in the entire world, but on the other hand it is absolutely beautiful. The outside, at least to me, is simply gaudy. There are way to many spires and steeples. All of which are ornately carved and adorned with statues. There is not one side of the building that is serene and church like. Again in MY OPINION. However, on the inside, it is as beautiful as any of the old cathedrals we have ever visited. The stained glass windows are incredible, and the other artwork is magnificent.

Heading back home we got one last ride on the trams of Milan. Somehow, we missed the trams on our first trip. We took the subway everywhere, but our son told us that the tram system was much easier to navigate, and required a lot less walking than using the subway. The trams reminded me a lot of the trams I had seen in San Francisco. The similarities struck me so much, that I started looking into it, and it turns out there is a reason for the similarity.

“In 1984, one Milan tram (No, 1834) came to San Francisco for the summer Trolley Festivals that led to construction of the F-line. It proved so reliable that Muni obtained ten more in 1998 to meet the huge F-line rider demand.”

It turns out, though, that Milan brought the trains over from the US in the beginning. Milan and San Francisco, though are about the only two cities that still run these really old Peter Witt trams.

inside one of the Milano Trams

George had to leave for the US yesterday. As usual the flights were all messed up. This time it was not the fault of United! There was a hardware malfunction in the Swiss Air Defense System early Wednesday morning. So all air traffic was stopped in Swiss air space for about four hours. This of course wreaked HAVOC on flights the rest of the day. He wound up only leaving 90 minutes late, but when you only have a 2 hour layover and have to clear customs it might as well have been 6 hours! George called me as I was writing this, and told me he did actually get in about midnight so it could have been a lot worse. He did laugh, because once he got through customs he had about 15 minutes to “make” the flight. Of course it was on the other side of the airport. He went to a United attendent, and they told him “They are holding the plane for you. Run and you will be fine.” So of course he believed the attendant, so he ran through the airport got to the gate, and the plane had left. What REALLY ticked him off, though, was the plane was scheduled to depart at 5:05. He got to the gate just before 5:00, but they had already closed the doors, and pushed away from the terminal. Oh well, United was pretty good about getting him on the next flight; so it worked out pretty well.

I am not sure I will get the chance to post next week. We leave Saturday morning for a week in Greece. If I can tear myself away from relaxing I will try and make one post next week, but if the Ouzo is flowing well please ignore more typos and grammatical errors than normal.

I hope you enjoy the last of the pictures from Milan and Verona.

14 Juni 2022

Milan was the first city I visited after moving to Switzerland. The process of moving here was a little strange in regards to permits and visa requirements. Julie’s company had to make the first move by filing with the government. Next we followed along with all kinds of paperwork that included college transcripts, resumes, and multiple police background checks. So when approval is granted you get a letter saying you are authorized to move here. The letter says you have to go get a special Visa. The Visa is good for 4 months, and it allows multiple entries through border control. I think this is a safety net, because sometimes it does take months to get the residency card. Anyway, you cannot get this special visa in Switzerland. Before I left the US I asked if I could just go to Chicago to get the visa, but I was told that it is only given out in New York. I show up to the Swiss Border and am simply go through like any tourist. The first weekend I was here we had to go to Milan (that is the closest consulate) to get the visa. We took the time to visit, but told ourselves we wanted to go back because the one thing we did not get to see was the Last Supper. Our son George spent four months studying in Milan about five years ago and he wanted to go back as well.

One of the strangest parts of the journey is going through the Gotthard Tunnel. This tunnel is the longest train tunnel in the world. It is 57 kilometers long. It takes about 20 minutes to go from one side to the other. I was reading some articles about the tunnel, and learned the tunnel shaved about an hour off the travel time. Going up and down the mountains is apparently a lot slower than going under them. πŸ™‚

I know what the technology is that allows this to happen, but it still amazes me that I can have a cellular connection while I am deep under a mountain, yet in many buildings you get nothing.

Another strange part of the trip is that Italy is still under mask mandates for Covid. We hit the border, and the train crew was immediately telling everyone to get their masks on and they were adamant that the masks had to be an N 95 mask. Coming back home, I thought I was going to see an American arrested on the train. The guy started arguing with the employee about why he had to wear a mask in Italy, since as soon as he crossed the border they could take it off. At one point I think the Swiss employee was going to get a police officer, but then the man backed down and went to the restaurant car to buy his mask. It was pretty comical! I could not hear the conversation, but I am sure it had something to do with “I have my rights.” πŸ™‚

When we got into Milan on Friday, George took us to his favorite restaurant in Sempione Park. Afterwards, we toured the Pinacoteca di Brera. It turned out we had also visted that museum our first time, but I did not remember it. Julie kept asking “You really don’t remember being here?” I finally realized I had when I saw the background on my cell phone! The Pinacoteca is supposedly on of the best museums in all of Milan, but honestly, there are only a handful of the artworks that I could honestly say I liked. For dinner we had a true Italian pizza, and if I could learn to make anything, that is what I would learn and bring that back to the US. I think Bloomington, Bedford, or Oshkosh could really do with a world class pizza restaurant. My son told me that he has my dining requirements figured out. If there is beef tartare on the menu or carpaccio he know that will be on my order. He is not wrong, as you will see by some of the pictures in the gallery at the end of this post!


Saturday morning dawned and we were all pretty excited. It is very hard to get tickets in to see the Last Supper. I bought mine in April. For the non-tourist months, you might be able to get tickets 4 – 6 weeks ahead of time, but for the summer months 8 – 12 weeks is the lead time. Unless of course you want to pay a crap load of money for one of the guided tours for the painting, but those tickets are three – five times the cost of booking through the museum. The museum is very adamant that you get there 30 minutes before your appointed time. Which is actually really good, because it gives you time to visit the church attached to the museum. It is not one of the gigantic wonders like the Duomo, but it is still very pretty, and might get missed if you all you were thinking about was the painting.

Santa Maria Delle Grazie

The last supper

Visiting the last supper is one of those bucket list items for almost everyone. Whether you are religious or not, it is one of, if not THE, most recognizable paintings in the world. da Vinci worked on the painting for about three years. No one knows exactly when he started the painting, but it was believed to be sometime in 1495. da Vinci tried something risky with the painting. He did not use the traditional fresco style. Fresco painting is very laborious, and NOT very forgiving in regards to alterations and needs to be worked on consistently. da Vinci did not work full time on this painting so he used a style that was not as long lasting but more forgiving.

One of the stories I found most amusing is the prior of the monastery was getting very angry at da Vinci because it was taking so long. da Vinci supposedly told people, that “he was struggling to find a face for Judas; so he decided he was just going to use the face of the prior that was causing him so much grief.”

The painting has been damaged from time and bad restoration attempts. Now the whole room is controlled. Not only to the number of visitors, but the entire room has been converted into a temperature, and humidity controlled atmosphere. You have to enter and exit through double sets of doors like entering a biological lab in a horror movie. Once in the room, your eyes immediately go to the end of the room with da Vinci’s masterpiece. You almost do not even see the other side of the room until you are leaving. The second masterpiece of art simply pales in comparison. The detail in this painting is still obvious even after the centuries have passed. The expressions on the faces of the disciples is magnificent. It seems strange, that Jesus’ face is not nearly as defined. I guess he figured he could not put a full face on the Son of God. (That is my take, I don’t know if anyone has ever studied why the face of Jesus is not as prominent as are the faces of the disciples.) Another oddity of this painting, is that Judas is included at the table. Almost all of the other depictions of the last supper have Judas separated in some way from the other disciples. da Vinci puts Judas at the table just like the bible said. He did go out of his way to separate Judas, however. For one Judas is holding the bag of silver. For another he is seated in a way that he is lower than ALL the other faces. That last part is something that your eye may not catch immediately, but when you look for it, it is really obvious that Judas is being treated differently.

It is really easy to see where the Dan Brown conspiracy stuff comes from in regards to Mary Magdalene. John is seated to Jesus’ right. However, John is very feminine. At first glance it appears that there are 12 MEN and ONE WOMAN seated at the table. John’s features are so different than all the other disciples. The amount of detail that is still evident in the painting after all these centuries is amazing to me.

Crucifixion

The painting above is at the other end of the hall. How would you like to be famous for the sole reason that your masterpiece is on the wall opposite someone else’s masterpiece, and that the only reason people see yours is because they came in the room to see the other persons? πŸ™‚

After seeing the Last Supper, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Galleria d’Italia Milano. I really enjoyed this museum a lot. The museum concentrated on Italian artists. There was a temporary exhibit that I captured in video for you. After that a small modern art exhibit, and then to more traditional art. The museum itself was every bit as entertaining as the art. The rooms simulated a royal castle, and were beautiful in their own right.

housekeeping

We learned today that we get to stay here for at least another year. We got back yesterday, and Julie got a notice that she had a letter for her at die Post. I got a letter stating my ID was at the Rathaus. Proving that all governments like to keep you guessing even getting the ID’s was confusing this year. Julie got to the Post Office, and the letter waiting for her contained her ID. I convinced her that she still had to visit the Rathaus because she needed to turn in her old ID. She gets to the town office, and they gave her my ID, but did not make her turn hand over her old ID. They did take mine, though! This process has been different each year we have had to renew our IDs.

Our Son leaves tomorrow morning for the US, so it is just the two of us and Eowyn again. We will miss having one of our children around. However, we are not just going to be sitting. We leave for Greece this weekend. We are going to be spending 3 days in Athens and three days on Santorini . I am excited got another check on the lifetime list.

I have one more post this week about our day in Verona, and a lot more pictures. I hope you enjoy these in the meantime.