‘Serendipity’ has long been one of my favourite words in the English language, not least because it’s been very much a theme of my life for as long as I can remember. For all the planning skill I pride myself on, the universe has always been so much better at it, time and time again, and I’ve always been better off for her intervention.
This past Saturday was no exception.
As a solo traveller, you get quite used to dining alone, and actually come to treasure it, watching the dynamics of family groups and loved-up (and not so loved-up) couples around you. But the occasions when you have company, even that of strangers, are still welcome! The company of a friend you weren’t expecting to see though …that’s a special treat.
Sitting down to my usual breakfast of fruit and coffee (one cancels out the bad in the other, at least in my head anyway!), I looked up to see a familiar face headed my way. A Dutch work colleague who I happen to be very fond of. He was meant to be staying somewhere else but someone booked him into the hotel as well, totally by fluke. He was also the only person I hadn’t said goodbye to the previous day, which bugged me a little, since he organized the event in the first place! What followed was a lovely catch-up chat, during which we were also joined by someone else we knew, and a proper chance to say goodbye.
Feeling more enthusiastic about spending the day in Milan (it wouldn’t be my favourite city), although slightly subdued having watched the Lions lose, I made my way to Duomo du Milano (Milan Cathedral). Or rather to the ticket office for the Duomo. It was hot. There was a queue. My mood wasn’t improving.
‘With stairs or with lift’, the cashier asked when I finally got to the top of the queue. I opted for stairs, not having any idea what the stairs led to, how many steps we were talking about, where they even were. If you need a ticket to get the lift though, that really should be an indication that you should at least know what you’re getting yourself into! I know, would skimming a guide book have killed me?
Anyway … it’s impressive, certainly. The stained glass windows are so full of content that they require far more than a cursory glance to truly appreciate. The organ is reassuringly grand and certain to deliver even the dullest of notes with an added layer of gravity. And the statue of St Bartholomew Flayed is certainly intriguing, if slightly disturbing.
The real treasure though is on the outside. It’s a very close run race, but for me architecture always trumps art. The Duomo is no different. The Neo-Gothic exterior is an exercise in exuberance and embellishment which is a true feast for the eye. I’d felt that way as we stood outside it on the Thursday evening; I felt the same way now.
So imagine how I felt when I realised that the ‘stairs’ in the ‘stairs or lift?’ question actually took you to the heart of that embellishment on the terraces and the roof, walking between the spires and using the flying buttresses as doorways to the next ‘room’ of gothic splendour!
Admittedly the stairs were tough going, not helped by being spiral and steep (some say 250 steps, others 195, whichever it is, there were a lot of steps!), but the reward was worth every single step! The reward I didn’t even know I was getting.
I would have stayed up there all day, were it not for the tour of La Scala that I had booked myself on, to continue the obsession with theatres (more on that later). So with my legs feeling decidedly gelatinous (those steps!), I toddled along to the somewhat inauspicious-looking building that houses one of the world’s most famous opera houses.
Not long inside the door, the guide announces (and apologises) that, because they are using the theatre for rehearsal at the time, we won’t get the usual experience and will just be able to watch a bit of the rehearsal, but we can come back later and take pictures. I’ll take the rehearsal, thanks very much!!! For the ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream! Only one of my favourite ballets! And an opportunity to see the La Scala stage in use, with a full orchestra in the pit! You really couldn’t plan that!
Well … you could. If you were the universe and you were so much better at planning than the rest of us.
I’ll take those kinds of unexpected pleasure any day, and when three of them come together to create a surprisingly perfect day … well who am I to question those planning skills!