This post won the Indiblogger Cleartrip “My Purpose” Contest.
It is 5.20 am on a rainy May morning in 2009 and I am at Geneva Railway Station. My train to Milan is due in 10 minutes, and with me is Karim, a friend and my travel companion for the trip. I am so full of anticipation and barely suppressed excitement that I pace the platform and check the station clock every 15 seconds or so. As the clock strikes 5.30, our train rumbles into the station with legendary Swiss precision. We get into our compartment, find our pre-booked seats, settle down with wide grins at each other, and then we’re off.
This is to be a day trip to Milan, with both of us returning to Geneva that evening itself. Considering that we have only a few hours in Milan, my focus and purpose for the trip is to see the Milan Cathedral, and to view da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in its original form. Anything else that we see would be a bonus.
The train ride from Geneva to Milan is very picturesque on both the Italian and Swiss sides, and we pass through some of the most beautiful and colourful towns and cities that I have seen. It is raining throughout our journey, but our enthusiasm at the prospect of a day in Milan is unaffected by such mundane things.
It is 9.30 am when we get off the train at the Milano Centrale Stazione. We quickly orient ourselves with a map and decide to head to the Piazza del Duomo, where the Milan Cathedral is located. All major sights are within walking distance from the Piazza, including that of “The Last Supper”. After a 15-minute metro rail ride from Centrale Stazione, we are at the Piazza del Duomo.
It is 10 am when we get off the metro. As I climb the stairs to exit the station and enter the Piazza, the Cathedral comes into view little by little. With each step that I climb, a little more of the Cathedral is revealed. This unveiling of the Duomo di Milano or the Milan Cathedral is something that will stay with me for ever.
The Cathedral is built in the Gothic style and the exterior walls are clad in marble in hues of white, pink and beige. The cloudy and rainy weather enhances these delicate colours of the building. As I go about photographing the Cathedral, a police officer, who is watching me take the photos, remarks that when the sun is out, the Cathedral takes on an indescribable golden glow.
While the Piazza in front of the Cathedral is full of noisy tourists, the sides and the rear of the Cathedral are very quiet and tourist-free. Perhaps, they are unable to tear themselves away from the compelling front façade like me !
After spending an hour or so going around the Cathedral, admiring it and photographing it from all possible angles, I go inside.
The dim, cool interiors of the Cathedral, the soaring arches, the hushed whispers, the brilliance and the beauty of the stained glass windows… where do I even begin? In spite of the grey weather outside, the stained glass windows glow like jewels.
Suddenly, I am overwhelmed by all the grandeur around me. I sit down and take deep breaths. My vision blurs and I realise that I have tears in my eyes. These are tears of joy at in being in a holy place like this, tears of joy at finally visiting a long cherished dream, tears at seeing such beauty and grandeur all around… I don’t feel like moving from my seat and Karim has to urge me to get moving for we have to try to see other places as well in Milan, not to mention “The Last Supper”.
I reluctantly leave the Cathedral and, once outside, we head for the Vittorio Emanuele II Milanesi, a shopping centre located a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral. On seeing the outlets of every possible brand and then some more there, we are reminded of Milan’s stature as Europe’s fashion capital. After gawking at the wares displayed, we exit the Vittorio Emanuele from the other side and come to a little square with a statue of Leonardo da Vinci. It is a busy little square filled with tourists busy planning out their day or just taking a break.
The rain has followed us from Geneva to Milan, though it does stop now and then, enabling us to stroll around and get a feel of the city. We walk on cobbled or paved streets, peek into small churches and shrines, pass by very fashionably dressed people (and end up feeling quite scruffy), navigate chaotic traffic, eat a fantastic lunch of panino and freshly squeezed orange juice, and admire the colourful buildings of Milan—ochre yellow, lemon yellow, light blue, terracotta brown, lavender, sage green, rose pink, orange, red…
While asking for directions to the site of the “The Last Supper”, a passer-by suggests that we visit the Castello Sforzesco or the Sforza Castle. The visit to the Castle turns out to be the “bonus item” of our Milan visit. The Castello Sforzesco is one of the biggest citadels in Europe and houses many museums, art galleries, and even an art school. A brick and stone edifice with beautiful frescoes, it was damaged in 1843 due to the Allied bombing. Though most of it has been restored today, it continues to be a work in progress.
It is nearly 2.30 pm by the time we come out of the Sforza Castle and head towards the site of “The Last Supper” or the Il Cenacolo or L’Ultima Cena, as it is known in Italian. This 15th century mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci is housed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie or “Holy Lady of Grace” and the room where “The Last Supper” has been painted is known as Cenacolo Viniciano. It is a longish walk from the Castle and we have to stop many times to ask for or confirm directions. My excitement and anticipation at finally seeing a painting I have wanted to is growing with each step taken towards the Cenacolo Viniciano. And then, suddenly, we go around a corner and without any warning we are there. Just. Like. That.
I take a deep breath before going in to buy tickets for the viewing. When I reach the counter, the ticket clerk tells me, rather rudely, that bookings to view the painting is done 2 weeks in advance and there was no way I could see the painting that day. I was, of course, welcome to book for a viewing 2 weeks from that day!
I am devastated. I come out in tears and sit on the pavement and cry my heart out. Karim cannot believe his eyes. “You are crying? Over not being able to see a painting? And that too in front of everyone?” He takes a picture of me all red-nosed and with tear-stained cheeks and shows it to me in an effort to make me stop crying. I only cry harder. Karim can only stand and watch me helplessly and, I guess, embarrassment. Soon, it starts raining heavily and we know that we have to get moving. By unspoken agreement, we decide to return to Geneva immediately.
I sniffle all the way back during our walk to the Piazza del Duomo from where we take the the metro to the Centrale Stazione; I sniffle on the metro ride to the Stazione; I sniffle all the way on the train to Geneva… Over the days, the pain of not being able to view one of my favourite paintings fades and there are days when I feel quite sheepish about the whole episode.
Today, nearly 2 years on, I look back on that trip to Milan philosophically—a day that began with tears of joy at the Cathedral and ended with tears of sorrow at the Cenacolo Viniciano. That day was also a perfect example of the “so near and yet so far” adage. I hope that one day I will be able visit Milan again and view “The Last Supper”.
Que sera sera !
This post has been submitted for the Indiblogger Cleartrip ”My Purpose Contest”. You can view my submission to Cleartrip here. Fellow Indibloggers can vote for my post here. If you have liked the post or even if you didn’t, please do leave a comment. I’d really appreciate it. Thank you !