Tears of joy and sorrow in Milan: All in a day’s trip

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.

At the Milan Centrale Stazione

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 front façade of the Milan Cathedral as viewed from the subway exit

Close-up of the Milan Cathedral

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 !

The columns on the right are 80 feet tall. To the left are the confession boxes

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”.

The entrance to Vittorio Emanuele II. I Milanesi from the Piazza Duomo

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.

Leonardo da Vinci in a reflective pose

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…

Orange is one of my favourite colours, and I just had to photograph this one
This photograph was taken just after a rainy spell. The golden light spilling onto the wet streets was irresistible.

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.

The extensive grounds of the Sforza Castle

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.

The Santa Maria delle Grazie or 'Holy Lady of Grace' (L) and the Cenacolo Viniciano (R)

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 !

42 thoughts on “Tears of joy and sorrow in Milan: All in a day’s trip

  1. Exquisite imagery
    weaving poetry
    in the mind
    as your postcard
    of reminisces
    reach out
    and touch a
    corner of the heart..
    Like a forgotten
    taste that kindles
    a fondness and then
    delight and sorrow
    reveal themselves in parts..
    The tears of anticipation
    then of joy,
    then of an opportunity
    that just passed you by
    find resonance in
    the times when i
    have felt the same hollow
    being denied
    what seems a simple
    enough thing..
    and often the memory
    overwhelms like
    a psychedelic ring..
    Time stops for a while, but
    the tears do not..


  2. You have brought back my happy memories of trip done twenty years back.
    If I were a rich lady I would visit EUROPE every year, but the others beckon me too.
    Thank you for a beautiful writeup dont stop


    1. I’m glad you liked the post, Arnavaz. The few hours spent in Milan, tears or no tears, has been one of my most memorable ones ever. I’m glad it gave you a chance to reminisce.


  3. Really amazing place. As always said pictures speak 1000 words…. I see the saying coming to life here on your post. But none the less your words truly deserve applause for describing behind the scene facts.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Venu. No, I have not been back to Milan, yet. But I will definitely go back one day.

      You say that you know the feeling. What was that place?


      1. When you come back to Milan do not forget to visit THE INTERIORS of S.Maria delle Grazie , S.Ambrogio church and two of the most peculiar Italian small churches :S.Bernardino delle ossa in St Stephen Square and S.Satiro in Torino street (I do not tell you why,they are wonderful surprises!) .
        Funny hearts : I shed tears of joy in Virupaksha Temple (Hampi) and not only there!!!


  4. aah milan…. i am suddenly getting the urge to get my passport work done that’s pending since ages! thanks for such a lovely description (and motivation to go places!)


  5. Thank you for taking me to Milan-Yes! with your lovely description and pictures. I actually felt the ‘holiness and sanctity’ of the Cathedral and actually offered my prayers.

    I can feel your angst at being unable to see The Last Supper. Maybe you should have posted Karim’s picture of you crying.

    Maybe one day we can plan a trip to Milan again.


    1. Thank you for your beautiful comments, Neena. I am glad that I was able to offer you a tour of Milan, but a picture of a red-nosed me would have spoiled your pleasure of Milan. Trust me on that one.

      I will definitely go to Milan again to take care of some “unfinished business” and it would be great to have you with me.


  6. I thought the narrative in your story was very powerful. It makes the reading smooth and coherent all the way through the end. The subtle description you provide in some instances makes it even sophisticated. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience. Khalid


    1. Thank you so much Khalid for taking the time out to comment on this post of mine. The few hours in Milan was no doubt a very emotional one, but also remains one of my most memorable trips ever. Perhaps that’s what has come through in my narration.

      Thank you so much once again and do keep visiting.


  7. ha ha ha real passionate you are about the last supper ;). But trust me its little but of a let down when you see the real thing. Even after the restoration it’s not in the best of shape. But that said quite well written and the pics definitely do justice (especially the one just after a drizzle). But hey! You complete missed the other(and probably more revered) cathedral in town – the “San Siro”. Hordes of Milanese (and million others) swear by it. Something for the next time then 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a big fan of da Vinci and that is why I wanted to see his Last Supper in its original form. Yes, I have been told it is a bit of a let down, but I don’t allow such things to bother me, do I? 😀

      As for San Siro, the other “cathedral” in town, it will have to wait when I go there next, which will be sooner if I win this contest or later if I don’t 😉

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.


  8. I like the way you have narrated it, in present. It feels like I am taking a walk around Milan myself.
    And exquisite photographs, especially the street scene after the rain.

    I hope you get to see the painting soon!


    1. Thank you, Pooja. If you felt that you took a walk around Milan yourself, that is the highest compliment I could receive. Thank you once again for stopping by and commenting. 🙂


  9. Thanks, Nandhini. Yes it was a lovely day (in spite of the tears) and Milan is quite under-rated. I loved walking around in the drizzle and generally enjoying life 🙂 It remains one of my best trips, ever.


  10. Bringing back happy memories from Bella Italia is just what you did for me!! Loved your narration and absolute fan of your pictures. Btw I did see a replica ( in the form of a tapestry) of the Last Supper in the Vatican and I have heard the original one is much the same. I wasn’t able to get my booking even 4 weeks in advance in the Milan one (September is a busy month in Italy after the holidays) but I hope I go there next year and I hope you go there too!! 😀

    PS- take me along, will ya? 🙂


  11. I am from Italy and I shed tears of joy every time I arrive in India. I know that Italians are not (in number) the first tourists in India but we love the country and the people deeply.


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