From Lake Como to Venice . . .

Well, time does fly, and yes, we are having fun. Day two in Lake Como was spent in Bellagio, the most upscale busy little towns on the lake, in my opinion. And yes, the hotel in Las Vegas IS named after it, but don’t hold THAT against the original Italian village.

Walking from any of the hotels to the ferry dock is easy, breezy, and a lovely stroll along the water if you choose to take that pedestrian boulevard. We did, of course. A short ferry across the lake to one of the three triangle points (Varenna, Mennagio and Bellagio are all towns at the “crotch” of the lake, just where the two “legs” of water meet the long body).

An afternoon of window shopping, cafe stopping, and photo shooting was just what we asked for, and the sky was bright blue, the day was warm, and the crowds weren’t too bad for a Saturday at a bustling vacation spot.

When we’d had enough of Bellagio for the day, we hopped on a ferry back to our town and our hotel. We had made reservations at Albergo Milano for dinner, and enjoyed a delicious meal of tuscan soup, fresh lake fish with “Venus” rice (that’s black rice, black from the squid ink, of course), and a wonderful dessert of panna cotta with berries. My favorite! I’d give up all gelato for an occasional dish of panna cotta . . . truly.

After dinner I spoke with the owner/chef, who told me the story of his purchase of the hotel eight years ago. Neil and I stayed at this little hotel in 1997, when we first came to Italy, and while the hotel’s location can’t be beat, the rooms were (at the time) shabbby with horrid mattresses . . . quite uncomfortable. But the price was right and it was a Rick Steves bargain, of course. Well, the current owner, Egi (pronounced edgy), had a “meant-to-be” narrative that’s too long to write here, but perhaps someday I’ll do it in an essay. Needless to say, he agreed with my assessment of the beds of a dozen years ago, and a year after the purchase, he and his wife completely redid all the rooms. Small hotel, ALWAYS booked. Wonderful meals . . . try it sometime!

Yesterday, our last at Como, we decided to head up to a small village “just 30 minutes’ walk” up the “hill”, to see a raku artist whose brochure Erin had picked up at our hotel. Don’t ever believe hotel personnel in Italy who say anything is “just” a short walk. Nearly two hours later, after switchbacking up a road to Perledo, asking an old couple how to get there, climbing into their car after their offer to drive us, getting to the top of the mountain, only to find that there was no raku artist in Perledo, but just in Vezio, again, “just” 10 minutes walk down the hill and then UP again . . . needless to say, the whole trip was absurd. We were directed to here, and then there, and then down a tiny path through an olive farm, and then over the road, over a bridge, above a dry stream, through woods with a loose-rock and cobblestone pathway, up the mountain again, nearly climbing on hands and feet until we reached Vezio, where we DID find a lovely artisan shop with the raku we were looking for. And THEN, of course, we followed the signs (another mistake in rural Italy) that were supposed to lead us back to Varenna.

It DID lead us back, to be fair, but we ended up at the complete opposite end of the village from the place we began, and walked perhaps another mile back to our hotel. All in all, a story to tell our grandchildren, but would we do it again? Probably not.

A lazy rest of the day, a visit to the beautiful gardens of the Villa Montastero, a glass of pro secco, and back to the rooms to pack up for our train trip to Venice today.

This morning, we ate our last breakfast at the Hotel du Lac and climbed into the taxi driven by Rita Faggi, who got us to the station 30 minutes ahead of time. The train back to Milan was only an hour, and the EuroStar to Venice was just ten minutes late. Not too bad.

The day was gloomy and spitted rain here and there, which didn’t ruin our vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal from the Venice Stazione, Venezia Santa Lucia. Our stop, San Marco Vallaresso, was the end of the line for this boat/bus, and we dragged our rolling luggage the short walk to our hotel, Dimora Marciana, a new hotel with very ornate Italian rooms.

Shedding all the luggagee was a relief, and my little group must have visited thirty mask shops just in the San Marco area. A gelato for the others, bruschetta for me, later a bottle of wine, and finally at 9:30 some pasta at an out of the way trattoria near the Rialto Bridge, and we were ready to “bread crumb” our way back to our hotel.

Here we have free wireless in the rooms, and that is a relief after the terrible wireless service at our Varenna hotel. But still, no downloading of photos. Inserting them later won’t be as nice, but I’ll try to do something!

Must go get ready for bed. I brought three books, two of which I have to read before I return home, and the third is the one I can’t seem to put down.

Buona Notte, il miei amici!


Arriving in beautiful northern Italy

I’m typing this just inside the balcony dining area of the Hotel du Lac on beautiful Lago di Como, in the village of Varenna (yes, there is also a Hotel du Lac in Bellagio), just as the sun is setting through the blue-grey clouds and settling behind the mountains that surround this most enchanting lake.

My small but mighty group of travelers arrived in Milano yesterday morning after an all-day flight. We loaded ourselves and our luggage on the mandatory bus that takes travelers to the Milano train station from Malpensa Airport. I’ve always wondered why an airport near this cosmopolitan city doesn’t have a short train or metro between the airport and the train, but the answer has always been, “It just doesn’t . . . “. So we buzz through the suburbs of Milan and arrive in the traffic, choked with auto fumes, arriving at the Stazione. Since there is construction near the entrance, we drag our suitcases around the large dark-blue wooden panels which close off the unfinished work from the pedestrians, and finally we reach the entrance to the station.

I spend the next hour securing my 5-day train pass, replacing one I received a month ago (don’t ask . . . long story). My travelers have passes, and they join me at the front of the queue to get theirs validated, we move on a slanted ramp to the third level where the tracks are marked and the walkways are a-buzz with travelers. Boarding the train for Varenna, we settle in for the 50 minute ride to our little village at Lake Como.

When we arrive there, two taxis await the disembarking groups, and they scurry back and forth from hotel to train platform, loading and re-loading passengers and depositing each set of three visitors to their proper hotel, turning around again for the next group. We, fortunately, are second in line, and we arrive at the Hotel du Lac. Our rooms aren’t quite ready yet, but we are just in time for a light lunch out on the balcony overlooking the lake. Don’t you just love the combination of lake and mountains?

Bruschetta and insalate caprese are brought to our table, with tomatoes more colorful than I’ve seen in years (except in Italy, of course). Why can’t we grow tomatoes like this in the United States? I remember them in my garden when I was growing up, but they are now faded remnants of those good old days, and I’m always grateful when I arrive in Italy and order my first caprese. I sprinkle those red chopped gifts with salt and close my eyes as I take my first bite.

Okay, enough of the swooning about tomatoes. When our rooms were declared ready for our arrival, we took the tiny elevator, taking turns, to our respective room levels and began the initial ritual of unpacking what we would need for the next three days.

Rebecca, my roommate, didn’t sleep on the flight over, so she fell on the bed for a much needed nap. Erin decided she didn’t want to screw up her internal clock anymore than necessary, so she opted to try to stay awake until evening, and I, having had a great six-hour nap on the plane, headed out to explore the cobblestone pathways along and above the lake, finally venturing up one of those infamous set of steep stairs that lead to the next levels of streets in this mountainous village.

Two stops to sit on stone stairs at the water’s edge, a bit of journal-writing, photo-taking, more observations in my journal, and I climbed the stairs to the piazza, where the town’s church was brimming with the families and friends of a bride and groom! There always seems to be a wedding in the village church, no matter where we arrive, and the church bells rang, announcing 5:00 p.m.

After an hour or two of exploring, I rewarded myself with one of the two gelato treats I will eat on this trip. I’m not really a fan of gelato (I know, HERESY!) but I do seem to feel the need to have one or two scoops during any trip. Today the shop I chose did not have my favorite, lamponi (raspberry), so I settled for fragola (strawberry), and did enjoy the cold creamy substance, atop a sugar cone. Maybe I kid myself about this dislike of gelato. Hmmm.

And . . . back to the room, where Rebecca was waking up from her second nap of the afternoon. Erin had left us a note that said she had lost the battle to stay awake, and she’d see us in the morning.

So Rebecca and I headed back out for the water walkway, found a nice little restaurant, Il Molo, as the skies opened for a 10-minute downpour before it cleared up enough to allow us to stay at a table outdoors while we had our pizza and risotto asparagi. A half-liter of the house red wine and we were set!

We returned from our casual dinner at 8:30, and I read for perhaps 10 minutes before I slipped into oblivion in a comfortable bed, the sound of waves my only lullabye.

Twelve hours later, I awoke to our second day on Lake Como.

More later . . .