Northern Italy and Lakes Region

Unlike the 2021 group trip up the Rhine and into Switzerland, the 2022 iteration was to northern Italy. When I began planning this trip in late 2020, I had wanted to spend a few days in Venice because our last stay in Venice in September 2004 was limited to a single night. I had decided that I wanted my group to experience true luxury and contracted for a night at San Sebastian Island, a private islet far from the Lido. Although truly luxurious, it was a long boat ride to the boat landing near Piazza San Marcos and we were dependent on the boat schedule. (BTW, these two boats were themselves symbols of luxury). It also was very expensive.

So, I searched for accommodations near “the action” and could find nothing that would take a group of 15+ that was not outrageously expensive. Then I checked suppliers and was pleasantly pleased with what Collette Vacations offered. It was not in Venice, but we would fly into Marco Polo Airport in Venice and then be immediately transported to Padua, about 45 minutes to the west, allowing for a full day in Venice with a guide.

“Northern Italy With Its Lakes” was the name of the trip that Collette put together. It was a bit shorter than other group trips I have organized (8 nights) but there was a two-night extension in Milan and 10 of the 16 in the group opted for this extension.

Besides this two-night extension, there were several optional activities that we could sign up for. I thought that those who opted for the Milan extension might like to see Leonardo’s “Last Supper” and all chose to do that. As this is extremely popular, it was most strongly recommended that tickets be purchased well ahead of the asked-for date. I purchased the vouchers about six weeks before our date and even then was restricted to 3:45 or 4PM.

Through the Collette regional manager who lives in Grand Rapids, I attempted to find out who our Tour Manager would be. Stephanie Rarchaert’s name came up. After Googling her name, I found out that she lived in Senigallia, a small town on the Adriatic coast north of Ancona. Curious about Senigallia, I checked it out and saw that it was settled in 248BC and became a Roman settlement in 207BC.  Eventually becoming part of the Byzantine Empire, it was invaded by Lombards and then Saracens. It was the birthplace of Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, who became Pope Pius IX in 1792 (the last pope to rule the Papal States before Italian unification).

7 – 8 September 2022

The fun begins. Six of us departed from Grand Rapids at noon. Our itinerary would be Atlanta with an almost six-hour layover where we joined Jeanne Corombos and Dick and Catherine Stone with the ultimate destination after an over-night flight to Venice, Italy. Here is the approach to Marco Polo (Venice) airport

I had thought that we would be the last sub-group of the 16 total Travel With Chardoul to arrive in Venice, but I had received an email from Green Bay that the flight of that couple had been cancelled. Quick emails to my travel advisor got them a flight out of O’Hare, so they had to rent a car and drive the almost 200 miles to O’Hare, turn the rental car in, check in at the Lufthansa desk, and then make to the departure gate on time. With a little chiding at the gate because they showed two minutes after the gate “closed,” they were admitted, headed for Frankfort, but that changed their arrival time in Venice from 0920 to about 1PM. The group leaving originally from O’Hare via Amsterdam got delayed as well, so their Venice arrival time changed from 1050 to after 2PM. We all walked into the parking lot, bundled into the transfer vehicle and drove to Padua for about 50 minutes. The driver obviously did not know where Hotel Europa was as I saw some of the same buildings several times as he circled through the city. When we finally reached the hotel, our Tour Manager, Stephanie, was waiting for us. She helped us check in for our three-night stay.

Hotel Europa Padua

A welcome dinner was scheduled for that evening at Cafée Pedrocchi. As a professional historian, this piqued my imagination and I did some research on the restaurant. Check this out if you want to find out more about the Cafée.

Cafée Pedrocchi, Sal Bianca (White Room)

This was a chance to meet some of the others in the Collette group who would be traveling with our group. We were guided to the Sal Bianca and seated at four long tables. I was surprised to see a plaque on the wall describing the presence of Stendhal, accentuating the historical importance of the restaurant. [Stendhal]. Our meal consisted of a polenta appetizer, a small risotto plate, a main course and tiramisu, all washed down with prosecco and regional red wine. Then the walk back to the hotel and everyone crashed.

9 September 2022

Groggily got down to breakfast about 6:20 and I was surprised that half of our group was already there. If you asked one of the servers, you could get specialty coffee, like Capucchino or espresso.

After breakfast met in the lobby with our two guides who divided the group up for our first walking tour. As I had deployed my Nordic poles, our guide moved our group a little slower. Our path was back towards Cafée Pedrocchi and she gave us more of the history of the building and restaurant. From there to a local market in the back area of the city hall. The main focus for this walking tour this morning was the University of Padua. Our guide spent much of her time with us in the anatomy labs and its Theater.

University of Padua Anatomy Theater
Plaques in University of Padua

She also described the reason for the many plaques on the walls.

Exterior of Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

In the afternoon, most of the Travel With Chardoul group went on the Brenta Canal cruise tour. Later, I heard that they were very pleased with the outing. The Chardoul trio attempted one last time to get to the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel.

As it was located less than 500 meters from our hotel, I had thought that it would be easy to see it. Several months earlier, when I inquired electronically how to get admission tickets, I found out that, although 9 September was the only day when we were free enough to get admission, that was the one day of the month that the Chapel would be closed to everyone except a group of students from Rome. I had been exposed to the Chapel from my undergraduate days as a history of art student and I also had worked for 2 ½ years showing slides for the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan.

Unfortunately, when we walked over to the Chapel, there were no tickets available. But we did get tickets for the adjacent museum that was a little gem that included archeological artifacts from the pre-Roman period to some great Renaissance (and they were truly large as several Tiepolo paintings were well over 10 feet high) paintings including some great Tintorettos, some Canova sculptures and a grouping of 18th and 19th century paintings, some of which were originally frescoes that had been removed from palace and church walls. If you are interested in learning more about this fantastic chapel.

10 September 22

After breakfast, we boarded our coach and we were introduced once again to Bruno, our permanent driver. Our destination was Venice. We rode on the almost four kilometer-long Della Liberta Causeway to the Santa Croce area where we walked to a boat dock and boarded a small speedboat that went around the southern coast of Venice and then to the north to the island of Murano. Look at the interactive map and you can adjust the scale to see Padua to the west, then enlarge the map to see how the boat went around the east side of Isola Sant’ Elena and then to Murano. []

We walked to a small foundry and saw two glass-blowing events. Then came the inevitable walk through the sales portion of the foundry. Dick Stone noted that the only language that he saw “DO NOT TOUCH” was in English! Think about that for a moment. We then returned to the speedboat for the return no-wake trip back to the landing and the walk to the landing near Hotel Danieli. Stephanie reminded us that this would be the pick-up point later in the day. Our “step-on” guide gave us a 90-minute tour of central Venice so we could see the famous gondoliers plying their trade.

Venice, One of smaller canals

After that, we were on our own, but most of the group gravitated to Piazza San Marco that had a two-inch layer of water on it. Remember that 10 September was high tide because of the full moon.

Venice Street with our Tour Manager, Stephanie

Some of us stood in the hot sun in a line to enter San Marco. The last time I was in Venice, San Marco was restricted to clerics because of the recent passing of Pope John Paul II, so I wanted to see the interior. As I surmised, it was spectacular!

Venice, Two Images of Interior of San Marco

When we came out, the water on the Piazza had disappeared! We found an interesting place to eat lunch and eventually worked our way back to the boat landing for the speedboat ride back to where our coach was parked. As on our trip to Venice, I observed the Dolomite range to the north on the way back.

Dolomites between Venice and Padua

11 September 22

Another travel day. One thing – among many – that I like about Collette Vacations is that their trips are organized to minimize hotel check-ins and check-outs. The standard process of having our checked luggage outside our room door at a designated time and mysteriously, it would appear in the hotel lobby and then be whisked onto the coach. (Fear not! I checked every one along with Stephanie.) We loaded onto Bruno’s bus and headed west and then north. Our route was just south of Verona as we stopped at the thermal spa town of Sirmione at the southern end of Lake Garda. We were in the area where three regions meet: Veneto, Trentino and Lombardy. Garda is Italy’s largest lake but more laid back than the other laghi at the foot of the Alps. They are all long and narrow, oriented north to south.

We walked to the lake front and got into one of two speedboats for a thrilling short ride north parallel to the Roman ruins of Grote di Catullo, a villa named for the Latin poet Catullus who visited here.

Speedboat ride on Lake Garda

Garda, Grotte di Catulli

Lake Garda, Closeup of Grotte di Catulli

He was not alone. Dante, Goethe, Lord Byron, Stendhal, Gabriele D’Annunzio, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Franz Kafka all were enthralled by the region.Catullus intrigued me so I did a bit of additional research on him and his poetry. catullus After the speedboat ride (much faster than the no-wake trip at Venice), we were on our own to explore. Most of the group entered the grounds of Scaligero Castle that was built in the 13th century.

Garda, Castle Scaligero

Some chose to climb the battlements to get a bird’s eye view of the town and lake, but I chose not to.

Lake Garda, Sirmioni after gelato break

We did find Centro Storico and a gelateria. I perched on a stone wall in the shade to enjoy the two very large and luscious flavors I had chosen. We eventually gravitated to the central piazza to have something more substantial to eat and drink. (I always have to sample the local beers.) Then it was time to reboard our coach and continue to Lake Maggiore.We continued west on highway A4 and then E02. After about three hours, we finally saw the southern end of Lake Maggiore and then traveled along the west shore of that beautiful lake through Stresa and then a few miles further north to Baveno in the Piedmont district, where we saw the aptly named Hotel Splendid.

Some images of Hotel Splendid, on Lake Maggiore

We were greeted with a welcome drink after we settled in our rooms for a four-night stay. Then came a welcome dinner. It was a clear evening and we could see the lights coming on across the lake.

12 September 22

The day began with a short drive to the town of Stresa for a relaxing few hours checking this coastal lake out, shopping in local stores, and eating a quiet lunch. I bought a cheap pair of sunglasses because I had misplaced my prescription ones several days earlier.

Stephanie was not sure that I should attempt the afternoon excursion to Isola Bella, but I had heard so much about it, I wanted to experience it. We boarded a small boat and traveled for a few minutes to the island.

Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore

Until 1630, Isola Bella was a rock inhabited by fishermen. The Borromeo family, began the grand project that would lead, over time, to the creation of the fantastic palazzo and garden. This project continued through the 18th and 19th centuries, and was finally finished in 1948 when the northern façade and pier were completed.

With its more than 20 rooms, the visitor will be amazed with the literal mosaic of paintings, such as the 130 in the Galleria Berthier, which included copies of great masters such as Raphael, Correggio, Titian and Guido Reni. Walk through the Throne Room, the Sala delle Regine (Queens’ Room), the Salone degli Arazzi (Tapestry Hall) and the Grotte and be amazed at the riches displayed.

Then go out into the gardens with its 10 terraces that produce different colors at every flowering season. Known as the Teatro Massimo, this monument integrates statues, obelisks and fountains with the vegetation of the terraces, culminating with the statue of the Unicorn (the heraldic symbol of the Borromeo family).

Charles Dickens said: “For however fanciful and fantastic the Isola Bella may be, and is, it still is beautiful.”

When we landed, we went immediately to the Borromeo Palazzo, met our guide, and were transported through this magnificent structure that took 400 years to complete! Each room we went through continued the overwhelming luxury.

Isola Bella, Gallery Room

I couldn’t say which room overwhelmed me, but probably the Napoleon Room that was a delightful almost round room with a huge dome for the ceiling with lots of windows. He and Empress Josephine stayed there in 1797.

Isola Bella Napoleon Room

Then we went down the stairs to the Grotto.

Isola Bella, Stairway Down to Grotto

These six rooms totally fascinated me as the walls and ceilings were entirely covered with pebbles, stucco, mother-of-pearl, concretions and marble to create the sensation of entering real caves. The objects came from all over the world and from Lake Maggiore. Originally added by Vitaliano Borromeo to protect his Borromeo family and friends from the summer heat (before air conditioning) and also to amaze his guests. Add to this the beautiful nude Venus, sculpted by a student of Canova, a dugout from the Iron Age that was found on the shore of the lake, clothes and armor of ancient Samurai, and other treasures. I was amazed at the collection of saddles and other equine paraphernalia of the Palazzo’s parade horses.

Isola Bella, one of six rooms in Grotto

In the summer, the Borromeo family moves in and occupies the 50 rooms of the second and third floors which are then off limits to visitors.

From there, we went to the gardens. In the middle was the Teatro Massimo.

Isola Bella, Teatro Massimo in Gardens

Our guide told us that the number of gardeners had been recently reduced from around 20 to 9, but it still looked fantastic!

Isola Bella, Garden (not like mine)

Then back on the boat that first cruised around other Borromeo islands and then return to Hotel Splendid.

13 September 22

Our day trip on 13 September to Bellagio, on Lake Como

Our destination was Lake Como, via Lugano in Switzerland. Lake Maggiore, the second largest Italian lake, like the other northern Italian lakes, is long and narrow. If we either went south to go around the lake or north, it would take a great deal of time. So Bruno aimed our coach north along the west shore, where I could see our hotel from across the lake

Lake Maggiore, Hotel Splendid from across the lake

then slightly to the south, to Pallenza, near Verbana. There, we got off the coach and walked aboard a ferry for the three-mile ride to Laveno on the east coast of Maggiore.

We got back on the coach after it left the ferry

and continued northeast until we could see the Swiss border. There is a “tongue” of Switzerland hanging to the south so that part of Lake Lugano is in Schweiz. As is the northern part of Lake Maggiore with the historic city of Locarno in the north. The Customs House was empty! “Dogana” is the Italian word for Customs. So no checking of passports or even getting them stamped with another country. And remember that Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. Lake Lugano is named after the eponymous city. This is typical of many northern Italian lakes where the lake takes the name of the largest city/town. The first name of the lake was “Ceresio,” when St. Gregory of Tours saw the many cherry trees on the shores. Later, on documents of the ninth century, the name “Laco Luanasco” appeared. The lake drains into the Tresa River that flows into Lake Maggiore.

Arriving in Laveno, walking to catch our coach

We stopped in Lugano for a comfort stop and a nice place to have lunch. It was a beautiful day and we walked as far as Piazza della Riforma where most of the coach passengers found Vanini Dolce e Caffè, but bothered by a very nosy goose that eventually was chased away by the waiters. Yes, there was a Burger King right there and maybe some of our group ate there.

Lunch in Lugano, Switzerland

Lake Lugano appears to be surrounded by mountains We continued northeast around the northern part of the lake, crossing back into Italy and the city of Menaggio.

We missed the ferry there by a couple minutes, so Bruno drove south along Lake Como to just north of Tremozzo to Griante where another ferry crossing was. (This is one of the distinct advantages of working with a tour company, because both Bruno and Stephanie knew of this alternate ferry crossing that actually was closer to Bellagio. Think if you were by yourself and began to fret when the ferry left without you on board.)

Lake Lugano

Bruno found a place to park the coach as this boat would not carry it. It was here at Griante waiting for the ferry to return from Bellagio that we were able to take the only group photo as it was hard to get everyone together in an interesting location. But my entire group had signed up for this optional excursion.

Our entire TWC group overlooking Lake Como

Bellagio is located at the top of the Larian Triangle the land extension that divides Lake Como into the Como and Lecco branches, looking like an inverted “Y.” It is called the “Pearl of Como” for good reason. The lake, like the others in northern Italy, was created from the great Pleistocene glaciations. Bellagio became a permanent settlement in Roman times and possibly, Pliny the Younger had a villa there. From the end of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century, the town passed from one oligarchic family to another until the 19th century when the city became a famous holiday resort for the rich and famous.

And who can resist this?

Bellagio Gelateria — Yum!

We recrossed the lake on the ferry,

Lake Como, looking North

with a slight delay, and then Stephanie and Bruno treated us to a trip heading South along Como to the end, looking for George Clooney’s villa (never could see it) to the left of the coach and these mountains to the right,

Mountains to west of Lake Como

then on A9 to A38, to E02 back to the hotel. The end of a beautiful day to see our hotel all lighted up.

Hotel Splendid at Night

14 September 22

Another optional excursion today, this one going west to Lake Orta. Originally called Lago di San Giulio – the patron saint of the region – this lake a different flavor from Maggiore, Lugano or Como, as it is more laid back and more spiritual. Some consider it Italy’s most beautiful and romantic lake. Stephanie told us that Orta is about 350 higher in elevation than Maggiore, so the coach made a series of switchback turns to climb to that height. When we got off the coach, we met by our guide and a small “train”

Lake Orta, train to Sacro Monte

to take us up to Sacro Monte, the complex dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi; this was begun in 1583. A total of 36 chapels were planned, but only 20 were completed. (We visited about 10 of them.) Each one contains either frescoes or dioramas depicting the life of St. Francis with the ceilings looking like Baroque masterpieces.

Lake Orta, Sacro Monte. One of chapels

Lake Orta, ceiling of one of chapels

The statues were all protected by iron screens. By the way, this is the only time on the entire trip that we experienced any rain, and it was very light and very short. A short walk to Chiesa dell’Assunta, the Romanesque basilica overlooking the chapels, and then we walked all the way down the hill. We had to wait for the train at a stop to take us back to our coach. We stopped at an overlook to see the island we were going to visit next.

Lake Orta, seeing Isla San Giulio

We stopped in the town of Orta to board a small boat to take us on the five-minute ride to the Benedictine monastery on Isla San Giulio. This compact island is dominated by the monastery. One thing I noted was the reverence of the entire island, almost, it seemed, as if everyone who lived there somehow had been infected with the religious spirit. Everywhere, we noted various meditation quotes on small signs suspended above the streets and all of them had the word “silence” on them.

Lake Orta, Isla San Giulio sign

The Benedictine nuns there have taken a vow of silence. Then back across the lake to Orta for a quick lunch in the central piazza, before returning to our hotel and prepare for the Farewell dinner.

We got ready for our Farewell Dinner and met at the dock on the lake shore. All of the 42 were there and most had put on some special dinner clothes. Soon, we saw a speedboat coming across from the other side. It was interesting because the boat driver actually drove the bow of his boat right onto the sand, reminding me of beaching our LST in Vietnam in 1966, although our landings were always perpendicular to the beach while this boat was at about a 30º angle. We boarded and headed for Isola dei Pescatori. If you look at most charts of Lake Maggiore, you will see two islands just south of Baveno (where Hotel Splendid is located). One contains the Palazzo Borromeo that we had visited on 13 September, and the other is just north of that island and is listed as Isola Superiore. This island currently has about 60 inhabitants and most are enthusiastically involved in fishing. Our boat went around the southern tip of this island and docked at a restaurant with some steps going up to La Pescheria entrance.

This restaurant is the only fish shop in all the islands of Lake Maggiore, so is very popular and receives high marks.

There were other travel groups there already so the Travel With Chardoul group could not sit together. I only took a couple pictures, but Jeanne got around to the entire group.

15 September 22

All good things must come to an end and we are all packed. The six members of Travel With Chardoul who had elected not to travel to Milan for an additional two nights left at varying times in the morning. I had thought that all of us would just stop at Malpensa (Milan) airport and they would be dropped off, but because of the many different departure times, they were picked up instead at Hotel Splendid in small groups. I tried to be in the lobby to say “good-bye” but could not make all of their departures.

The Two Stephanies plus the other two Chardouls

The ten of us who elected for the optional two-night extension were joined by a few others from the rest of the Collette group and we loaded up on the coach for the final ride with Bruno and Stephanie at 0815 for the hour-long ride into Milan, stopping at the Doria Grand Hotel. Italy’s second largest city, the financial and fashion center, has a population of about 1.3 million. Stephanie stayed long enough to make sure that our luggage left the coach (Bruno drove off at that time) and then she introduced us to Elena who would be with us for the next two mornings. One of the first things that Elena did was to give each of us a three-day unlimited public transportation voucher that would be activated the first time we hopped on a tram, a subway train or a bus. They cost €12 each, but were included in our total Collette bill.

Milan 3-day, 3-zone ticket

As the rooms were not ready for us, our checked bags were put temporarily in secure storage. We then walked to the corner and hopped on one of the noisy old trams. Steph Chardoul took everyone’s voucher and validated them so the three-day clock began for all of us. Trams are streetcars that run on tracks with metal wheels and an upward extension getting power from overhead wires. They are called 1500 series and date back to 1928-30.

There are some new ones that are up to seven section articulated ones that do not rattle. The network has been in operation since 1881 and is one of the most extensive in the world.

1500-series tram in Milan

Statue of Leonardo in center of Milan

We got off in the true center of the city: Piazza della Scala. Appropriately, there was a statue of Leonardo. On the pedestal are his four favorite students. The one facing you is Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio. His works are in the Uffizi, National Gallery of Art in Washington, National Gallery London and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

Elena described how to get into La Scala, (practice, practice, practice!)

Milan La Scala exterior

but that was not on the walking tour, so several ran to get tickets. We then walked through and marveled at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. To see a history of the building, click here The gallery has been nicknamed il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room) with luxury retailers. There was a McDonald’s but in 2012, its lease was not renewed and a second Prada store replaced it. On the floor were a series of mosaics and here is a central one depicting the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Italy (House of Savoy).

To see the influence of the House of Savoy that is a large segment of the Risorgimento that unified Italy, click on

Milan Galleria, House of Savoy coat-of-arms

On a public building, I noticed the yellow banner that stated: “Verità per Giulio regeni.”

Milan Public Building with appeal for Regeni

Curious as to the significance of the statement for “truth for Giulio Regeni,” I found out that he was an Italian doctoral student at Cambridge University who was in Cairo researching Egypt’s independent unions in February 2016, when he was abducted and tortured to death.

Giulio Regeni

While Elena was getting our admission tickets, we noticed a film crew preparing a model shoot. I was chastised by the crew head for taking this picture.

Milan, modeling in Piazza Duomo

We then entered the Duomo and I, like everyone else, was amazed as to the sheer size of the structure. I am putting some information on the Duomo as an attachment here. [Duomo Milan]

Here are some of my visual impressions of the Duomo. Still some construction/reconstruction visible.

La Modonnina (the highest point in Milan)

After that uplifting experience, Elena released us and we hopped on the Metro for a different experience on the Green Line, getting off near our hotel and walking (sort of limping because I could not find a suitable place to sit for 30 seconds) back.

I had contracted for all 10 of us to view “The Last Supper” and had purchased 10 admission tickets in the form of printed vouchers – that were my hotel room. The site was very strict about the timed entries (and only 15 minutes in the church, but the total tour was about an hour). I had asked Stephanie several weeks earlier about renting a van, but she responded by email that vans only held nine passengers, so we would have to have two vans with two drivers, who would have to wait more than an hour; as a result, the cost would be €270! Her suggestion: have the hotel concierge call for 3 cabs to get us there, and then after the viewing, get 3 other cabs to go back to the hotel.

I would give instructions for the first cabbie to take us to Santa Maria delle Grazie on Corso Magenta. The concierge told me not to worry as he would call for the cabs at 2:55 for our 3PM departure. We bundled into the cabs and it took 30 minutes in semi-rush time traffic to get to the piazza where we met our guide (thank you, Steph for the initiative to find the “Get Your Guide” location.) There were a lot of schoolkids in the piazza kicking soccer balls around the crowds of people waiting to get into the church. Someone said that the parents were intentionally late to pick up their kids to allow them to blow off steam.

Here is the exterior of Santa Maria della Grazie.

Milan: Santa Maria della Grazie exterior

This basilica incorporates a sanctuary belonging to the Dominican order and is integrated into the parish of San Vittore al Corpo. It is here that “The Last Supper” was painted. You can see some of the wild kids in white shirts.

Our fifteen minutes in front of this pictorial mistake were too short. I say “mistake” because Leonardo wanted to experiment and used a technique called “dry fresco” where he painted directly on dry plaster rather than the established fresco method of putting a fresh coat of plaster on a small section and then painting directly on that wet medium so that the paint was absorbed into the plaster and became essentially “married” to the plaster and thus permanent.

You can see the iPhones in front of me trying to capture the image, but I do not understand why they used the ‘portrait’ mode rather than ‘landscape’ to get the entire table. Of course, very much in evidence was the doorway that was cut into the bottom of the painting so that the servers could bring food into the refectory from the kitchen that was behind Leonardo’s masterpiece.

The last time I saw this fantastic image, I do not remember the line drawings so that viewers can identify the disciples by name. I am showing only part of it that includes Judas Iscariot.

At the other end of the refectory is “The Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato Montoriano, that most of us did not even stop to look at because we were hurried out of the room so the next group could enter.

The Crucifixion, by Montoriano

Rather than the long tedious taxi ride back to the hotel, we decided to catch the Metro and use our 3-day passes. The Green Line stop was several blocks from the hotel and much quicker.

Steph had scouted out some venues for our dinner and suggested Mama Rosa’s that she said was three blocks from the hotel. We found that it was farther than three blocks, but an interesting restaurant.

16 September 22

After breakfast, it was time to update emails before we left for the morning.

Milan: West Façade of Mussolini’s Central Railway Station

Our Elena came to the hotel and we had our second walking tour, this time heading west and north on an architectural tour. Our first stop was the Central Railway Station that was built in the 1930s with the intention of showcasing the Mussolini régime.

We then continued walking west (I had to stop and sit a couple times for a minute) along Via Pirelli to the Garibaldi district. Officially known as the Porta Nuova District, this was initially  part of the industrial area that was torn down and was totally vacant for a few years until a group of forward thinkers decided to make this into a futuristic area by redesigning and redefining both its skyline and characters. Rather than having it just a business district with office buildings bustling in the daytime and dead at night, they have done the prevailing urban process of multi-use construction with retail stores, offices and residences, making it come alive many hours of the day and night. Involving several internationally renowned architectural firms such as Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associated, Boer Studio and others, they designed and built some of the most vibrant and interesting examples of architecture. Although we were not there at night, this was supposed to be THE place to be after dark. Also included in these pedestrian-only areas were cycling tracks, green spaces, hi-tech stores, arcades, bookstores, bars and cafés, pizzerias and discotheques, and the Garibaldi railway station.

Here is a condo complex where the greenery is maintained by the city. Called Bosco Verticale, you can see a boom on the roof that horticulturalists use to move up and down the four sides of the building to take care of the greenery.

Milan: Bosco Verticale in Garibaldi District

The tallest building in Italy, UniCredit Tower, designed by César Pelli and completed in 2011, has redefined Milan’s skyline. Traditionally, at least in Europe, no building could be higher than the highest point on the cathedral. So the Madonnina atop the Duomo is still higher, but I was amazed at this curving phenomenon.

UniCredit is a pan-European commercial bank is dedicated to empower communities to progress and to “unlock the potential of our clients and our people across Europe.”

Milan: UniCredit Building Complex in Garibaldi District

What impressed me was not just the variety of architectural examples, but also the green spaces and the apparent pride in what was happening in this formerly barren area, so that it was not the typical arrangement of sterile buildings. See the construction cranes as the building continues.

Here is another view of the same buildings from a different angle. Look at the graphics on the one building.

Here is another example.

After Elena left us, we stopped at a small restaurant on the way back to the hotel. I had to take my short nap and then Connie and I stopped at a bar about 30 meters from our hotel that was totally deserted for a beer and a snack. It turned out that this is where the group wanted to have dinner, but outside.

Dean and Sharon shared their impression of their afternoon going back to the Duomo where they climbed to the top to see the statuary. They also went to La Scala Museum and shared some pictures of the opera house interior.

Milan: La Scala Interior

17 September 22

As everyone had different flights, I had put a wake-up call for 0230. The desk clerk snickered as he put the time down.

The pickup for the six of us flying back to Grand Rapids was 0345. (In the Navy, we called that “zero-dark thirty.”) Malpensa Airport (Milan International) is 45 kilometers from the city center. There was no line at the KLM desk, where I had cut my thumb and left a trail of blood on the counter. Our 0640 flight was on time to Amsterdam. That connection and the one from there to Atlanta were both uneventful, but then we had that eight-hour layover in Atlanta. Lucky that we had access to the Delta Sky Lounge for more comfortable chairs, some food, something to drink and even …

Atlanta Sky Lounge