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Mama Mia! An architect journeys to Venice and Milan

By Blog

Forty-two years ago, I was in Venice…for one night. At the time, I was a student and couldn’t afford to spend an entire day there. It was a gift that my dad had given me as a college graduation present – six weeks to travel around Europe.

Of course, I always wanted to go back. I honestly didn’t think it would take me this long! My son (the same son who convinced me that he needed to study photography in Venice for two months when he was 20 years old), Andrew, along with his wonderful partner, Cody, planned the whole trip which also included four days in Milan.


Venice (Venezia)

In Venice, the buildings have been settling for decades, and the only way to really travel is by boat taxi and by foot. There is, understandably, always construction happening in that sinking city, and you can see that there is yellow tape and huge drapings around many of the buildings. This is Venice, after all, and they will never not focus on aesthetics and beauty. It still must be beautiful.

Venice is tiny, and full of tourists, but the locals are dedicated to trying to keep their space. There is a feeling of joy at every moment and every new day was a new experience.

We went on a few tours. One of them was a three-hour food tour lead by a woman who seemed like a typical, eccentric tour guide. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the food and the history of the city. We started drinking at noon. We did some digging later (via Instagram, naturally) and discovered that our tour guide had some other unique identities, not the least of which was as a fetishist who had a thing for painted-on latex dresses.

We toured the Doge’s Palace, an impressive work of Gothic architecture that is a layering of constructions and ornamentation spanning from 1340 onwards. We also took in several architecture exhibits through the Venice Biennale, a yearly celebration of the city’s art and architecture that includes performances and installations. We walked the entire city, and ate, and walked some more, each of us falling in love with the place.

On our last day, I had the mother of all pastries. The sfogliatelle, otherwise known as the “lobster tail” stateside. I needed a nap! But that didn’t stop me from devouring it. I ate my way through this trip because that is how you experience Italy.


Milan (Milano)

We took a Leonardo da Vinci tour, touring all over Sforzecso Castle, the largest citadel in Europe. We learned about da Vinci’s unique journey and his major impact on Milan. We found out about a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. It was incredible. The library (Codex Atlanticus Leonardo da Vinci – Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana) had everything, including da Vinci’s notebooks, which were astonishing. His brilliance was particularly evident at the Milan Cathedral, the Duomo, where construction began in the late 1300s. Leonardo da Vinci was one of a long succession of architects at the head of this ongoing project, and at the end of the 15th century was given the Herculean task of designing the tiburio, the polygonal lantern tower that rises above the four arms of the cruciform. It was spectacular.

In fact, every detail was. Cody is an illustrator, and he and I really got off on the mosaics. They were everywhere. Built into the city as a necessity, not a luxury.

We enjoyed a roof tour, walking through the archways and seeing all the gorgeous pink marble up close. What looks like buttresses are just ornamental. They used a very porous marble which means that they are always replacing and doing renovations. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of individual sculptures throughout Milan, none repeating, including Mussolini and Napoleon and other controversial figures who, it seems, will remain there until they crumble.

We shopped at vintage clothing stores and peeked into high-end retail spaces like Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton. I got in a little bit of trouble –mostly disapproving looks– because I was apparently underdressed f

or some of the shops! The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a pedestrian mall housed within a four-story double arcade and consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street with an arching glass and cast-iron roof. The Galleria is teaming with high-end couture shops and home to some of the oldest shop spaces and eateries in Milan. We treated ourselves to a visit to Café Aperol, one of the oldest cafes in the city.

Do you know what was really cool? Europeans still shop. It was wonderful to see people out on a weekday, having lunch, shopping. They really enjoy it. Americans don’t shop like that. Not since the pandemic, and not even before that. We’ve lost that culture, or we never really had it.

Italians also don’t take huge breakfasts, but there are always pastries and every pastry I had was better than the previous, and every cup of coffee, too.

The Mama

Young people are so much fun to be with. Several times I’d be taking pictures and it felt like Andrew and Cody were the grown-ups, and I was the kid. We also discovered that the password in Italy is “mama.”

“They’re gonna let the mama pay for dinner!”

“Bring out extra limoncello for the mama!”

I felt like I was put on a pedestal. It was weird, but I did just fine with it. There are very few places in the world that make you feel like Italy does.