The Final Week in Italy, May 2008 – Part 2

Tuesday, May 20 – It’s still raining in Cinque Terre as we get our bags ready for the hotel staff to drag up or down the stone stairways from our rooms to the Piazza near the yellow church.

We are waiting for our next private bus to arrive at the piazza to take my group and our luggage to Lago d’Orta, the last stop on our three-week adventure. The arrangements become complicated, of course . . . Nadia has sent a 30-passenger bus rather than a 16 passenger bus, and the larger bus won’t fit on the small roads that wind from the top of the hill down to our hotel. So the La Torretta staff comes up with a creative solution, and we are taken, the women first and then the bags in three loads, and finally me! We settle in for the 4-5 hour ride to the lake.

Our bus driver speaks no English, but for “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Goodbye”, but he talks to me in less complicated Italian than I typically hear, because he wants to tell me about his life, where he grew up in Italy, where he has visited, and he asks me some simple questions I can answer.

The day is rainy and he tells me it will be rainy where we are going as well. I hope he is wrong, because the scenery is less beautiful with all the fog and clouds. No sparkling water on the Mediterranean, no emerald green glistening on the hillsides. And we’re beginning to get soggy!

We arrive at San Giulio d’Orta, do the now-usual transport from bus to hotel, people first, then luggage. As I greet Elena and get our rooms sorted out, Colleen and Calla have already begun to wander the piazza and they’ve stumbled into a little shop with lovely jewelry. It’s Cerri Flora, Elio’s store, and he knows they are American women. He immediately asks if they’re with “Joannah’s group”, and they are astonished by this question!

They come back to the hotel and tell me that the man in the shop across the way knows me. Of course he does. I’ve been bringing lovely women to this place for six years, and they always like the merchandise he and his wife Flora present to their customers. So we’re off to a great start!

The Hotel Orta, owned by the same family for five generations, provides us with lovely breakfasts and dinners, and we prepare to dine in a beautiful dining room, overlooking the lake and the island, where 70 nuns are cloistered in the monastery at the top of the island’s hill.

The view is lovely, the food is delicious, and Stefano, the maitre ‘d, greets me warmly. We know we will be well taken care of here.

Wednesday, May 21 – One of the reasons we come to this lovely relaxing place at the end of our trip is that there is NO particular agenda for us at Lago d’Orta. Breakfast is served in the hotel until 10:00, dinner begins at 7:30. Between these two meals (and you can always skip eating if you’d like!) one may do whatever the heart desires.

We awake to the sounds of the street market vendors beginning to set up their merchandise stands, and the rain hasn’t deterred the boatloads of day-tourists (this is very unusual for our little town) who show up at about 9:30 and leave mid-afternoon. Apparently THIS year, our visit coincides with some big holiday for the Italians, though usually we miss this event by a week. Today some of us have scheduled massages with a hotel down the street, and the rest are free to shop, sleep, read, write, sip cappuccino or espresso to our hearts’ content!

And we do just that. I have opted NOT to get a massage, and instead, I wander the tiny streets, taking pictures of doors and views I know well. I try to check my e-mail, but the two very sketchy internet points are unavailable . . . one closed until further notice, and the other is just the personal computer of one of the rental agents in the village, and she isn’t very happy about sharing it today.

Between the opening and closing of our travel umbrellas, we are grateful for the dry but cloudy skies. I make a reservation for all of us at the Hotel Leon d’Oro across the piazza for lunch tomorrow, our last day in Italy!

Thursday, May 22 – Today we again have no real agenda, but for the group lunch, which is delicious, expensive, and hosted by a rather crabby old woman, the owner of that particular hotel. When I enter the hotel and restaurant, a drawn woman of perhaps 40 greets me, if you could call it that. I explain that I have spoken to the owner of the restaurant about my group. She turns, sighs, and calls over her shoulder, “Mama!” and the old woman appears.

No wonder the younger woman looks the way she does. If the older owner has made arrangements for a group lunch for us, her attitude completely uninspired and grouchy, can you imagine what it must be like to be raised by such a woman? She is the first really austere, unpleasant person I have met in Italy. She has tried to polish her manners when she realizes I mean to add quite a bit of money to her lunch coffers, but she falls short of anything like enthusiasm! Oh well . . . we have only to go to the desk of our own hotel to receive all the nurturing and warmth we are lacking at our lunch restaurant.

After lunch, the rain looks like it has gone for the day, and we arrange to have a boat take us to the Isola San Giulio, where the monastery sits on top of the island at the center, the one beautiful little church is near the boat dock, and the meditation walk goes around the island easily, threading its way through the beautiful houses. The island’s sole restaurant is closed indefinitely, but the tiny gift shop is still open next to the church.

We buy our round-trip tickets, go over as a group, and are on our own once we get there. One could never get lost on this tiny island, and no matter where you go, you always end up back at the dock, waiting for boats that return you to the village.

Last-minute shopping at the many lovely stores, a final trip to the Buongustaio, our favorite deli (that word doesn’t even begin to describe this store), where the young woman, the owner Luca’s only employee for as long as I have been coming here, vacuum seals great chunks of parmesan cheese and carefully wraps small bottles of 30-year old balsamic vinegar (“Don’t EVER put this in salad!” Luca warns) for one of my former trip participants, and we are ready to dress for dinner.

NOTE: As I write this, I wonder whether my memory has confused and reversed yesterday’s and today’s activities, but no matter. Boats, food, shopping, cappuccino, walking, beauty. What could be clearer than that!

Our last night’s dinner is bittersweet, and we gift our remaining bottles of Spumante to the staff. I settle up with the bill and tip the staff generously, receiving hugs from several of them, and we each return to our rooms to pack up. Our shuttle will take us to the private airport bus at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow for the ride to Milan Malpensa airport.

Friday, May 23 – Well, we were all out at the Piazza with our mountains of luggage by our sides at 7:00 a.m. The hotel staff made sure they began breakfast one hour early so we could have something to eat before we departed. After a bit of confusion between the bus company and the bus driver, we finally got on the road to the airport 45 minutes late!

When we arrived at Malpensa the driver parked the bus at least three departure doors away from the baggage carts and a VERY long way from our ticket counter, so we all ran like wild women with luggage shackles, hoping we would not miss our connections. But hey, this is Italy, where the Alitalia staff doesn’t shake their fingers at harried, be-luggaged, LATE American women! They greeted us warmly, assured us that there was plenty of time before the flight departed, and generally made the whole morning’s hassle go away.

The flights departed and landed smoothly, in Milan, Atlanta and Denver, the limo showed up on time to take us back up to Fort Collins, EVERYONE got all their luggage returned safely, and we were delivered to our houses in Fort Collins by 11:00 p.m. . . . that’s about 24 hours after we checked out of our Orta hotel, and now we can rest, relax, and regroup!

Arrivederci, caro Italia . . . arrivederci.

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