If you’ve ever tried to get tickets to see DaVinci’s The Last Supper painting, you’ll understand. They’re almost as hard to get as tickets to see an opera at La Scala. Tour groups snap up blocks of tickets and use that to bludgeon the unsuspecting public into taking their half day tours.

Vlad really wanted to see the painting, so we decided to bite the bullet and sign up for a tour.  After a lot of research, I found a tour that had the least amount of negative comments and booked.  There were 4 sites that this tour was to take us to see. The Sforza Castle, The Last Supper, La Scala and the Duomo. OK, sounded pretty harmless to us when we booked it.  On the positive side, we got to see the painting. On the other hand…

We show up on time to the meeting spot, and stood in line to get to the bus. They hand us stickers to put on our jackets (yeah, right – that’s like wearing a bulls-eye on your chest), and one of those ubiquitous receivers that you hang around your next with an earpiece. This is ostensibly so the guide can speak quietly andnot to disturb the other tourists at the venues, but really it is to humiliate the tourists.

Our guide gets in the bus and announces that since there is one couple on the tour from Spain, she will be doing a bilingual tour. OK – that’s fair. We can go with that.  Then she launches into her spiel.  Good God – she said a few words in pidgin English, the same in Spanish and then back to English to finish the sentence. That made it almost impossible to follow what she was talking about.   O what a tangled web she weaves…

Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle was in disrepair, and with nothing much to see – not sure why it was on the tour, except there really wasn’t much else to add.  That didn’t prevent the Tour Guide from telling everyone about the traffic in Milan after explaining that the castle is just an eyesore and a drain on tax revenue.   We had a feeling we were in for a long morning – especially when we realized we had joined a group that could only be called an Adult Tour.  Ack!

We’d found the 4th Circle of Hell.  Didn’t Dante once live in Milan?  Something to think about…

The Last Supper is really cool,though, and was fortunately next on the agenda.  It’s amazing it survived the bombing in WWII, and stayed in such good condition – one of the tourists on the bus whispered to her husband next to me that it was obviously divinely spared.  I can go with that.  You’re only allowed to gaze for 15 minutes and then they shoo you out so you need to make every minute count.   Vlad and I decided we’re with Dan Brown – the figure they say is the apostle John looks more like Mary Magdalene to us.

The most amazing thing we found was when you stepped back toward the opposite wall, the painting took on this 3 dimensional look that reproductions don’t do justice. You have to see it to truly understand.  It’s worth even a lousy tour to see, and that’s saying something.

When we got back to the bus, it was evident that a number of the other sufferers decided to bail after the Last Supper. After hearing many ‘useful’ facts about the La Scala Opera House on the way, such as “it was built because the people of Milan love music very much”, Vlad decided we would join the defectors and bail on the tour as soon as we got there. We’d go to the last sight, the Duomo on our own. Easy-going as he was, he’d had enough.

La Scala

We handed in our receivers when we go into La Scala, with our thanks, and gratefully explored the gallery and museum on our own. They allow you to peer into the interior of the theater from one of the boxes, but quietly and only a few at a time. It’s much smaller than it looks like on TV, but very impressive and opulent. For Vlad and his love of classical music and opera, it was like visiting Mecca. He drifted around with a blissful expression on his face the whole time. We were lucky enough to watch a few minutes of the dress rehearsal of that night’s performance, and got to hear Placido Domingo sing for a bit.

We saw the tour had dwindled down to only 6 people following the guide out of La Scala.  I’m surprised there were any!

Grand Hall in La Scala

The La Scala museum is also really cool. They have beautifully preserved musical instruments from long ago on display, as well as paintings of famous stars and conductors. They have a cast of Chopin’s hand, which Vlad really thought neat. The death masks of Verdi and Toscanini were a bit ghoulish, but the collection of miniatures and other memorabilia made up for it.

Bust of Toscanini in Grand Hall

Once we left the theater, we walked over to the Duomo. This is one of my favorite churches in Italy. Of gothic construction, it was started in the late 14th century, and subsequently extensively renovated in the late 16th century by San Carlos Borromeo.  It is every bit as lovely as Notre Dame in Paris. The stone carvings, stained glass windows and vaulted design is incredible. Outside, the cathedral is sheathed in pink and white marble – not in the striped fashion of the other main Duomos, but more of a soft pink wash on white marble.  Lovely.

Milan's Duomo

2010 was the 400th anniversary of the canonization of San Carlos, and they had a very interesting exhibit in the church on the contribution he made to the renovation of the cathedral, as well as paintings about stories from his life and miracles.  Even Vlad, not a real lover of museums, was fascinated and spent more time in this cathedral than all the others we had been in before.

The rain that had been plaguing us all week was at it again when we left, but we still walked through the old city admiring the buildings and ambiance.

Milan's lovely neighborhoods

If we had to do it again, I’d still take the tour to see the Last Supper, but I’d spend the extra money for a private tour.