Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Memories and Musings: My Recent Trip to Europe VII: Stopovers in Milan, Salzburg, Munich

Welcome, anyone and everyone, to the last post in my series on the trip to Europe I took from late May to mid-June 2016. I've covered the places I spent a fair amount of time in in posts I-VI, but in order to break up tediously long train rides, I also spent an overnight in Milan, only a short train ride from Lago Maggiore, so that I'd not have a seven-to-8 hour journey with two changes of train in one day. I love Milan, have visited it at least three times before, and it limited my train ride to Bolzano to about 4 hours, with only one change of trains, in Verona (another city I love, another city I'd have loved to spend a bit more time in). I was also able to take a tour that included...well, that would be getting ahead of my story.

Next, getting from Innsbruck to Ljubljana directly would have also been tedious, again lengthy, again with two changes of train. The stopover at Salzburg allowed me not only to ease my travel schedule somewhat and enjoy another city I love and have visited more than once, but to take a half day tour to...well again! That also would be getting ahead of my story!

After my four days in Ljubljana I trained directly to Munich and while it was the longest rail journey of my trip it was worth it to me, as I would fly back to the US (alas) from Munich. I suppose I could have, and sometimes think I should have spent one day more in Slovenia, but the thought of a long travel day less than 24 hours ahead of a very long flight home did not appeal, so I decided on two nights in Munich, giving me a chance to stroll around another favorite European city, and one I'd first visited all the way back in 1968, before many of my readers (if there will BE many readers) were born!

Milan's amazing Duomo
Milan is not always heralded as a top tourist destination, but I think that's because it's best known for money and high fashion - I always feel like a hobo when I walk its streets. But I have been four times now, at least, and can attest to several fine museums, great eateries, particularly in the hip "Naviglio" area, a decent castle, a wonderful cathedral (don't miss the roof) and of course La Scala, that should satisfy the tastes of many travelers. I enjoy Milano every time I visit.
My hotel room
Even in the rain. And on the Sunday afternoon and evening I spent there recently it rained and rained and rained. I stayed in a very nice small hotel, the Esco Hotel Milano, near the rail station for a quick getaway the next morning, and ate at a nice place just across the street from the hotel.
My drinks and fancy bread plate
My Risotto a la Milanese - also on the left my excellent waiter brought me olives
to go with my wine.
My veal cutlet a la Milanese 
I said I didn't want dessert, but he brought me
biscotti, gratis! Great meal!
I justified the stopover, because it figures in Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms. If you've read my earlier posts you know that I followed that book, in a completely backwards manner, through almost all of my three weeks. The hero spends time recuperating in Milan from wounds received during World War I, as does his love interest, one of his nurses.

But there was another reason I wanted to spend just a little time in Milan. When planning my itinerary I was not certain that I'd ever get back to that city. Now having completed the journey I am almost convinced that I won't return. After all, "la vita e trope breve", and I think it may be time to look for greener pastures. If I were never to see Milan again I thought of the one must-see attraction in Milan that I had never been able to get to: Da Vinci's "The Last Supper." So I tried booking an entry - timed entries MUST be pre-booked and well in advance - but I failed miserably. Not only is late May very pretty in that area of Italy, but the only day I had to spare was a Sunday. 

But then I discovered a way to see the masterpiece - a bus tour! It wasn't cheap, and it included sights I'd already seen, but there are a few companies that do such tours of the city that include a guaranteed entrance to that great, fading work of art. The tour worked with my schedule (my train arrived at 12:30 and the tour began two hours later). So I booked it - for close to $100 - as noted, it was not cheap). 

The castle, or Castello Sforzescu (the castle of the Sforza family)
from an earlier trip, in 2006

The tour was guided of course, by a sharp, well-spoken middle-aged woman. She narrated a tale or two about the castle as we passed by it (in case you take the tour and think you're going to actually into the castle, you won't). Then she took us on a tour of the Duomo or cathedral, and while I make a pilgrimage to that beautiful church every time I'm in Milan I found the guide's remarks interesting and learned a few things, so I enjoyed that.
The Duomo interior
A martyr, forgetting which one - there were so many
this one was flayed - I might have noticed an oddity
in the skin, but...well, now I know!

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, from an earlier trip
I did not enjoy leaving the cathedral as by that time it had started to pour. Our next stop was just off the cathedral square, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, 
One of the walkways of the Galleria V-E II
another place I make it a point to stroll through on every Milan visit. I made a dash for it, knowing exactly how to get there, and as a result got much less soaked than my fellow travelers who trudged sheepishly behind the guide,
the center ceiling of the Galleria
but the square was crowded, and everyone else there also headed directly for shelter of the Galleria to dodge the downpour. The place seemed packed with people, but actually only the entrances and exits were a problem. Once I got past them I was fine, though I did have to find the rest of the tour group - easy enough - and again our guide pointed out several aspects of the theatrically oversized space that I'd not known, so that was worthwhile as well.

La Scala, also from an earlier visit
Heading out the other side of the Galleria, our next stop was also close by, but of it was still pouring and I admit that even though I had a good poncho on, and a very good umbrella opened, I was now feeling soaked, particularly around my ankles and feet. Still, it is always a pleasure to see the grand Teatro alla Scala, or as it's usually abbreviated La Scala. Another place I'd already seen, and this time I was a bit disappointed, as the itinerary described a tour of the space. 
The bust of Arturo Toscanini
at the La Scala Museum
Instead, we merely walked through the museum, which I had done on other visits. We stopped for a very short peek at the auditorium from an entry way well up the five levels of seating, which anyone visiting the museum could do. Not quite as described in the tour guide, though I suppose that for first-timers in the city it was pleasing enough.
One of the famous posters at the La Scala Museum
The rain was letting up a tad (but only a tad) as we headed another short distance, from La Scala to our tour bus. But the best was yet to come.
Santa Maria Delle Grazie, where Leonardo's masterpiece is housed
The rain had tapered off to a drizzle, but more importantly we soon pulled up at Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church famous for housing Leonardo's "The Last Supper." As we waited for our timed entry (groups limited to 25, 15 minutes only) our guide regaled us with tales about the famous fresco, then automatic doors swung open and we were admitted. 
We were allowed to take photos without flash - so...
It really is breathtaking. It is larger than I'd imagined, and it is better preserved than I thought it would be, though of course it is fading. I must confess that I once again experienced "Stendhal-ismo" or the "Stendhal Syndrome" - growing weak at the knees and almost dizzy at seeing something so beautiful. I have felt this before, but I think I can count on if not one, then no more than two hands, the number of other times the euphoria that 19th century French novelist Stendhal recognized in himself, and wrote about. 

Our brief time with the masterwork was aided considerably by our guide, who described the different groupings that make up the fresco, the method Leonardo used in his painting, and so on. If I had enjoyed nothing else on this approximate 3 hour tour of Milan (and I had enjoyed parts of it, despite my previous experience with some of the sights, despite the rain), seeing this was worth the near $100 I had paid for the tour.
Dottore Gianni at Sta Maria delle Grazie
I returned to my hotel, went to sleep early and awoke refreshed for my train travel to Bolzano.


View of Salzburg's castle and Cathedral spires, from my table
at the Salzach  Grill
Salzburg is one of the very prettiest cities in Europe, at least its old town, featuring above it a fine castle, and on the ground level Mozart's birthplace, its great cathedral, the theatrical spaces of one of the largest performing arts events in the world, the annual Salzburg Festival, along with several smaller pleasures/treasures not to be missed. 
my lunch at the Salzach Grill
After lunch I had a bit of time to kill before my tour, so - well! Guess what's
playing at the local theatre?
My tour left just across the street from the Mirabell Gardens, so I lounged around
there before heading out
Mirabell Palace and the mountains beyond
My new girlfriend, the ballerina of Mirabell gardens

But I will describe very little about this fine city, as I decided that I would spend all of my afternoon there on a tour of the area around Salzburg, the Salzkammergut, alive with mountains, dotted with gorgeous lakes, every bit as worth spending your time as is Salzburg. After several visits this would be my first trip out into the hinterlands, and I wanted to make the most of it.
NOT the tour I chose - but for people who like that sort of thing...
that is the sort of thing they like.
The king (or queen?) of tours is the "Sound of Music Tour." It holds little interest for me, but it butters the bread of the local tour group, so that they can afford to send out smaller groups to visit Berchtesgaden, the Eagle's Nest, home to Hitler's last stand, Hallstatt an apparently perfect lakeside town, and others, including the one I chose, "Mountains and Lakes." I chose well!

Seven or eight of us stuffed into a minivan with our driver-guide and very soon we were out of the city and into lovely countryside. Our first - not stop really, but slowdown - was a peek at the home office of Red Bull! 
Red Bull? No bull!
I've never tried it, never will, never knew it was Austrian-born, never cared, but I learned something - and the sculpted bulls were fun. This was not listed on the itinerary, but I suppose when you drive by something as unique and odd and out of place as this in the Salzkammergut, you may as well slow down for a gander.
First glimpse of St Gilgen and Wolfgangsee or Lake Wolfgang
The next slow-down and first stop was much nicer, more to the point, and beautiful. The village of Sankt (Saint) Gilgen sits on Wolfgangsee or Lake Wolfgang. It is picturesque in itself and certainly in its setting, and may be best known as the home of Mozart's mother, and later his sister. 
How to make a pretty picture even prettier? Add Dottore Gianni! heh heh
Our guide noted that some say the lake got its name from association with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hmmmm...
My ride up the lake arrives
It was from here that we began a lovely cruise of about 45 minutes, to another perhaps even moe lovely village, Sankt Wolfgang. It is far more likely that it was for THIS Wolfgang, a 10th century hermit/saint that the lake was named. 
The near constant view - lovely mountains
Austria's mountain lakes offer clean. clear water

Our bright little boat pulls in to a pier
Off we go!
I could find it in my heart (if not in my pocketbook) to live here
We were lucky in our weather for the day (on a trip in which the weather gods did not look kindly on me), and I couldn't get enough of the clean, beautiful blue water, the charming places we passed, and especially the mountains in the distance. One of my favorite bits of time in my entire three weeks.
Approaching Sankt Wolfgang
Here's the proof

Our guide had dropped us at the St Gilgen pier, got us on the boat, and was waiting for us at the St Wolfgang Pier. What a lovely village! There are several reason to like it, first for its unassuming looking pilgrimage church. Step inside and your first impressions will be dashed, as there are two beautiful altars in it, the first a stunning mix of carving and painting by 15th century artist Michael Pacher. It is considered his masterpiece and one of the finest altars in all of Europe.
Two altars, Michael Pacher's center rear, Schwanthaler's in the front at left
Schwanthalers altar up close
Michael Pacher altar up close
Why any church with an altar as beautiful as this would want to replace it is beyond me, but a new altar was commissioned in the Baroque era. The artist Schwanthaler agreed to do it ONLY if his altar would not replace but be in addition to the Pacher masterwork. It is impressive in itself, but doesn't compare, in my estimation, with the astonishing Pacher. Good for Schwanthaler, however. Too few artists are as modest and generous to do what he did.
View from my table at Im Weissen Rossl

Quite different from the church but with an interesting tale attached is the 19th century inn, Im Weissen Rossl (at the White Rose, or just The White Rose). It's a beautiful place, and I could probably never afford it. I DID have an aperitif in its lakeside bar/restaurant as it was late afternoon, and as I had built up a thirst. 
The house aperitif, the Rossl-Spritzer - a bit frilly-fizzy for a man who
likes his vodka straight out of the freezer, one ice cube added to keep it cold,
but it wasn't bad
But the inn, nice as it is, would be just any other pricey inn on a lake had not a pair of writers used it as a setting for a love story, written first as a play, then as an operetta called, believe it or not, Im Weissen Rossl. It tells the tale of the head waiter at the inn who is has fallen hopelessly in love with the beautiful young woman who owns the inn. She, however, only has eyes for one of her first...and then the plot thickens. 
Facade of Im Weissen Rossl - a bit red for a place that means
WHITE Rose, but there you have it
The operetta adaptation enjoyed great success on Broadway and in London's West End in 1931, film versions were made of it, though today it is seldom performed outside of Austria. I had read something about the relationship of this show to The Sound of Music and our guide confirmed it by telling us that many Austrians are not terribly keen on the Rodgers and Hammerstein mega-hit, and have been heard to say, "Why should that show be so popular? We already have, and love, Im Weissen Rossl!"
Painted building and shop in St Wolfgang

A view from the minibus as we headed towards Mondsee
After some free time to wander around the Village of St Wolfgang we drove onward, for a quick look at another lovely lake, the Mondsee, with our guide regaling us about its famous abbey and telling us folk tales about the area. 
"The Hills are Alive..." you can just see the spire of
St Wolfgang Pilgrimage Church in the middle distance
She stopped for another photo opportunity in a field across the lake from St Wolfgang, which reminded her of Maria's meadow in The Sound of Music, and also at an idyllic place on the Mondsee. She is engaged to be married and told us that THIS is her dream house. Good taste!
Mondsee Abbey - the shopping looks good there too!
Marina at Mondsee
The house our guide would like for her and her husband-to-be - good taste!
Aside: She and I got to chatting and when I asked her about her nearly flawless English she said that she had been a foreign exchange student in the US. I asked where and she replied, "Charlotte NC" - practically neighbors, several years removed of course!

As she drove us back to Salzburg she told us to sit back, take in the views and listen to music. Not Rodgers and Hammerstein, but Mozart. Again, good taste!

And a lovely day out. 

I found time to take a quick stroll through the old town before heading back in the direction of my hotel. A few pics of the city, to tease any of you who have not yet been, a gentle shove for you to visit:
A pretty walking/jogging/biking path into Salzburg 
An interesting variation on, for my theatrical friends, the "fourth wall" -
in realistic theatre the set often features three walls of the interior of
a house - the fourth wall is imaginary at the edge of the stage between
audience and actors - here the 4th wall is a mountainside!
The house where Mozart was born - the Germans are
so economical - why use four or five words when
you can use one: Geburtshaus!
The statue of Mozart in the old town
The Salzburg Cathedral
A square in Old Town - what is the man doing atop that sphere?
How did he get there? God (and maybe Mozart) only knows!
Next to the sphere an over-sized chessboard - looks like a serious match!
Before I turned in I ate delicious and authentic Wienerschnitzel (made from veal, not from pork or chicken) at a pleasant cafe, and slept very well after a busy but wonderful day.
Where I et my dinner
What I et - yummy!

Marienplatz in Munich - the Old Town Hall (ratshaus) in the background
(Lederhosen at front right)

Finally Munich! I'd like to begin by telling you that I know this city like the back of my hand - except that on my recent visit I got lost between my hotel (very near the Hauptbahnhof (or main rail station) and Marienplatz, the main square in the city. If I had taken the way I KNEW would get me from one to the other there would not have been a problem, but I decided to take a short cut, which left me completely confused, heading away from the destination I convinced myself I was heading towards.
Where I had dinner - the cellar (keller) of the RAThaus - ergo Rathskeller -
the oversized fellow on the left seems to have just eaten a big meal there!
The dining room of the Rathskeller - and the Ugly American dominating (in more ways than one) a nearby table
Not the worst wurst I've ever eaten!
The huge ornamental beer keg next to my table
Once found, I enjoyed my afternoon, had a delicious supper interrupted only by the loud mouth of an Ugly American. But then everyone in the dining room had the same experience as I so I can't complain - except that I will. She was at (sorry make that she commanded at) a table with her husband and what I took to be her in-laws. She brayed out plans for the next few days, insisted on trying the food of everyone at the table, then proclaiming (sorry make that trumpeting) that this bit was tasty, this wonderful, this sorry but she'd had better elsewhere. Everyone else at the table sat cowed and fearful, except on occasion her husband who, in a normal tone of voice would interject a word or two into the conversation, at least I assume he did, can't swear to it because he was speaking quietly and I never heard what he had to say, but I always heard her answer, almost invariably "No, you're wrong about that" issued in a bellow, followed by a loud explanation of what was right about that.

When they finally exited the dining room, everyone eating in it burst into spontaneous applause. No, not really but everyone was applauding inside, I'm certain. At least I was. Thank god she's gone.

What? Excuse me? OH! Right, I'm supposed to tell you about Munich, not a nightmare-from-hell Ugly-American tourist.
Strolling down Marienplatz
What a bore - er, make that boar - on Marienplatz

And now I will. I DO know the city well. My first visit was in 1968, when I was stationed at a tiny town a few hours' train ride north. A friend of mine and I spent a long weekend there, hit the museums, strolled around the city streets, parks, squares, even went out to Dachau for a sobering look at one of the all too many concentration camps. Then I spent a full week in Munich in 1999, on my first sabbatic leave from Ithaca College, when I was collecting information and photos to enhance my theatre history class. A few years later I took my mother and my Aunt Roseann (wife of mom's youngest brother Bob) there on a trip that also included Salzburg (ah) and Vienna (ah, again). In a trip only a year or so ago I dashed in and out on a train from Nuremberg simply to get my nephew a shirt from the great Bayern-Munich football team, though I admit to including a large beer and wonderful wurst and sauerkraut at the Hofbrauhaus, just a few doors down from the shop where I bought the gift.
Bayern-Munich gifts sold here!
The Rathaus made even more colorful by the Hare Krishna singers

And I love it, simply love it. It is busy and bustling, beautiful in spots; in others, near the rail station for example not so nice, but that's true of almost any big city; it has wonderful museums, a palace or two worth strolling through, and from it day trips can be had to the beautiful mountains and castles of Southern Bavaria. If I could live anywhere in the world Munich would be high on my list. 
Karlsplatz, major entrance to Marienplatz - if you look carefully
at the fountain you may see a rainbow
As noted above, I had no particular agenda during my last visit, just poked around, ate, enjoyed, particularly on and around Marienplatz, 
The Residenz, royal palace in Munich
Gardens next to the Residenz
but I also took a stroll to the royal gardens next to the Residenz, and from there towards the posh Maximilianstrasse on a Sunday morning, after I had taken a former student's advice and had coffee and cake at the famous 19th century Cafe Luitpold - yum!
Sunday morning at the Cafe Luitpold
Posh section of the cafe - reservations only - not for me - but I
could still hear the music!
tiny selection of cakes at the Luitpold
A few other treats too
My own modest treat
An a cappella choir  at the Theatinerkirche
Intricately decorated building just off Marienplatz
The facade of St Michael's Church, on my way back to the hotel
on Marienplatz
I am almost at Karl's Gate (the top of it is at lower left) heading back to
my hotel - look at the upper right, three figures, two of them ships, atop the roofs
- I never look UP enough in my travels - this time I did - significance?
Who knows, but I like seeing things I've never seen before in a place I've often walked before!
I think I'll leave Munich at that, except for one short story: I have been frequently to Munich, but I have never seen one of the prime attractions on Marienplatz, the New Town Hall when it was not either filthy or scaffolded or both. Not so this time! I have never seen the wonderful Neo-gothic facade, which dominates the platz (or square) so clean, and there was no renovation work going on so that it was scaffold-free. 
The Rathaus as clean as I've ever seen it
Were the gods of travel telling me something? Rewarding me? Reminding me that I have perhaps seen enough of Munich, so savor it now but no need to return? Or tempting me to return? I don't know, and I'm not sure if Munich will be in future travel plans or not. But my relaxed day and a half here just ahead of the flight back was the perfect ending to a trip that was not perfect, but that had so much good in it I am sure I'll never forget it.
I ate Italian for my last meal - and over their exit door this is what they posted
nudeln for sehen? Well, it WAS a pasta place!
And that is the end of my memories and musings for now. I hope you enjoyed reading, I hope you'll continue to read whatever I might post. I imagine that I'll write more on the upcoming season of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, and in January I am going somewhere - where I know not yet - to celebrate my 70th birthday. I have a hard time with new decades, so since I turned 40 I have gone somewhere special every ten years. I will make a decision soon, and I hope to have much of the trip booked by October, but by hook or crook on 18 January 2017 I will be somewhere outside of the US, and I hope enjoying myself as much as I did on this adventure. Cheers all! Ciao tutti!