Sunday, September 6, 2009

Back into Italy, Val d'Aosta and Milan

From Chamonix we moved through some pretty villages with charming old bridges over streams that would be torrents in the spring melt of ice from the mountains,

Village bridge

and up through the Col de Petit St Bernard where we saw rather moving reminders that these two countries were at war just over 50 years ago, with border guard posts and tank traps still in the landscape.

Tank traps on the border

These days there is just a marker to say you are entering Italy, and a reminder that we are a long way from home.

Gnome standing on the border of France and Italy

18,240km to Sydney

Views of the other side of Mt Blanc were evident at various points on the trip. These days it is possible to move from Chamonix to Courmayeur using a range of telecabines, the one we began in Chamonix.

Mt Blanc reverse side

Ski resorts were everywhere along the road, still quite populated in summer for the tramping and the views.

Aosta is a town with a long history and many remnants of Roman building and trade and some difficulty in deciding if it is currently Italian or French, with lots of French spoken and signs on the town hall in both languages, just in case.

Hotel de Ville or Municipo?

The history of Roman settlement here is still etched on the face of the town, from triumphal archways, a curved Roman bridge outside our tiny hotel or the remnants of a covered theatre.

Triumphal Arch

Remains of Theatre

The town plan, was, as usual, rectangular and was well laid out in the archeological museum so we could make sense of the ruins we saw. Archeological work is proceeding and you come across canvas covered digs. One we saw had exposed skeletons that were obviously pre-Christian as part of a church was built across the bodies. Sad really, to expose them after all this time.

Cloister of S Orso

Capital in cloister

Door architrave and lunette

We also visited a fabulous art offering, Firenze; from Giotto to the Renaissance, full of gems from places like the Uffizi and the Accademia. We were able to see them close up which was wonderful, with very few other people around. In Australia it would be over-run if put on at the National Gallery. An exhibition by Sarah Ledda also attracted us. She paints using stills from movies as her inspiration for religious paintings. Marilyn as an angel was something to see.

We had hoped to see the Matterhorn (called Cervina in Italian) and drove up to a pretty village at the base.

The Matterhorn not showing in Cervino

Alas, the mountain did not show through the clouds though we did see Fenis Castle from the outside and also Bard Castle the next day.

Fenis Castle

Bard Castle

The valley is strewn with castles and Aosta has a philsophy of repairing them and returning them to the use of the people, with many musical and art offerings throughout the castles of the valley, unfortunately none playing close enough for us to attend.

Leaving the Valle D'Aosta we came to flat, hot plains with irrigated rice fields fed by the river Dora Baltea and Tincio. Canals cross the land and became very prominent towards Milan where they were designed for navigation, water power and irrigation. Leonardo had a hand in some of the designs which have rather fallen into disrepair, but which are fished avidly by the local population.


Mill race and lock controls near our hotel

We stayed outside Milan in Certosa di Pavia, close by the monastic enclave of that name which is very grand indeed, with a coloured marble front, grandiose inside with multiple altars and a large rood screen (unusual) glorious painted ceilings and numerous associated buildings including a wine press of gigantic proportions.

Certosa di Pavia
Each monk has his own little cottage around a cloister. They still make herbal remedies and liqueurs and sell them in their shop. Mostly photos are not allowed at all.

Cloister and cottages

Contemplative cloister and fountain

The Milan Duomo is enormous, the fourth largest Christian church in the world and a marvel of stone in lace. We took the lift to the roof which you can walk around and over. Unfortunately everyone knows this and the place was full of tourists. Dang! Stuffs up the photos.

Cathedral facade

Multiple spires

Lacework in stone

Duomo door

All the stone is clean and white and there are statues absolutely everywhere, in places they cannot have expected anyone to ever see, and each is a labor of love. The person hours devoted to this over a number of centuries don't bear thinking about.

Immediately to the left of the cathedral as you face it is the huge Galleria with its covered walkways and central dome. Very tall and imposing, all shops with their names lettered in gold on black, and EXPENSIVE.

The Galleria

We ate at Savini, ham and cheese toast, Nick's staple lunch, a grilled vegetable roll for me, half a litre of water cost E23.00.

Bar at Savini

Of course we had booked for the Last Supper and I have to say that it was magnificent and well worth visiting. It was in an unexpectedly large and empty room and only 25 people are allowed at one time. The painting is beautifully lit and you can make out much more than you can from reproductions. The restoration has been well done too, with before and after pictures in the foyer. Quite a highlight.

The museum Poldi Pezzoli was once a gentleman's home. He left it and all its contents to the city. Though heavily damaged by bombs in the war, the art treasures were saved and the house rebuilt. It is full of armour, jewellery, paintings, furniture, astrolabes and clocks, fabrics such as exquisite pieces of lace, fans and glassware. Astounding! Even three pocket watches similar to Nick's chiming one that we treasure.

We drove into Pavia for a visit, a lovely pedestrianised centre with a core of low, stately buildings. The red brick duomo was under heavy repair and we were thrown out because it was lunch time, whereupon the town shut down for three hours.

Statue of Volta in Pavia University

We saw the covered bridge over the Tincio river and the end of the Milan/Pavia canal system joins the river here in a last series of locks and canals

Covered bridge, Pavia

Last lock before the river

What post would be complete without some of Nick's collection of unusual signs. So here you are!

A menswear store

An evocative name perhaps??

One hopes not...

We found the organisation of living in the Milan area very interesting. The main road has small villages along it. In off the road are what we would call housing estates, with a church and some shops, a bar etc, and then multiple blocks of flats. Some are old and some quite new but it is a pattern we are seeing repeated as we drive. Meanwhile, old villas along the roads are falling into disrepair, occasionally up for sale to renovate into blocks of apartments. The apartment seems to be the preferred housing of Italy.

1 comment:

  1. What a well-thought collection of photos, really captures the beauty of the area (although we merely saw Milan, we dreamed of going the places you went). Very inspiring - hopefully we'll follow in your footsteps!


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