Thursday, September 24: A drove back to Ancona, returning the rental car (a nightmare!), a stop at the post office to mail two fat envelopes of no-longer-needed maps and guide books, before boarding our first of two trains for the day. From Ancona to Milano, we were comfortable in a EuroStar express, with wide seats and places to put our luggage without having to lift them up to overhead racks. The Milano-Stresa regional was a bit more choppy, but still . . . train travel is certainly efficient. When we arrived at the Stresa station, we saw our driver holding a sign with my name on it, and we lugged our very heavy suitcases down the stairs, under the tracks, and up again on the street side. Our driver loaded the bags in his trunk and we began the hour-long ride from Lago Maggiore to our final destination, Lago d’Orta.
Dropped off in the little village of San Giulio d’Orta, we checked into the Albergo Leon d’Oro, settled into our beautiful rooms overlooking the lake, and headed out for espresso, cappuccino, and some light dinner. For the next 2-1/2 days, this familiar setting did more to relax me than anything else on our trip . . . and that’s exactly why I always make sure we have three nights here before we arrive back in the U.S. It’s good to settle down, ease back into our normal lives and gather that last taste of Italy by wandering serenely up and down these cobblestone streets.
Friday, September 25: I realize I have friends in San Giulio, people who recognize me, give me great huge hugs, and are happy I have returned again to their town. Elio, the owner of Cerri, a small gift shop. Luca, proprietor of Il Buon Gustiaio, a delicious shop full of cheeses, salami, exquisite specialty breads, and other delights such as 15-year old balsamic vinegars and special bottles of amaretto, fig jams and sauces. Georgia, the American owner of the small herbal soap shop in the piazza, was delightful and in bits and pieces told me her story, from being a designer for Mattel, running an office in Milan, through her decision to buy two little businesses in Orta, marry an Italian man, become an Italian citizen, and settle here for the past 16 years.
My group and I wandered these streets, sometimes together, sometimes separately, and I am always amazed at the displays and varieties of pasta and porcini mushrooms, in the shops here.
My favorite hotel, Albergo Orta, has been sold after five generations of family ownership, and is closed for renovations for the next two or three years, but Elena, who was a 30-year employee of the Orta hotel, met me for a bit of conversation one morning, and was a great help in arranging our transportation while we were in the area.
We made time to take a boat over to the Isola San Giulio, the island in the middle of the lake, which houses a monastery/abby for 70+ nuns, one beautiful church, a meditation walkway around the island, and one restaurant which served delicious lunches at the edge of the water.
Saturday, September 26: And when I wanted a break from
walking through the cobblestone pathways, I always headed for the main piazza to sit at one of the outside tables belonging to the three little restaurants nestled next to one another, with beautiful “front porch” views of the lake. I ordered cappuccino or a glass of wine, and on this particular evening I was especially delighted as I watched as at least thirty friends and family members gathered after one of the many weddings that took place in the town that weekend. These wedding guests pulled nearly all the tables together, and each ordered the same thing, an aperitif whose color rivaled that of the sunset that evening. For two hours, I read, sipped my wine, and watched the wedding celebrants come and go, while the waitress filled her tray with more of these beautiful drinks.
Our group dinner in this serene lake village was an especially delicious one, at the Ristorante Olina, which doesn’t have a water view, but everything else about a dining experience here is exquisite. From the very attentive wait staff to the aperitif delivered immediately to your table, followed by a delicious palate-cleanser. And that is before you even begin to order from the menu! I took one last opportunity for the freshest fish around, and ordered a grilled branzini, accompanied by delicious potatoes and a small salad. The dessert case settled just behind our table meant we couldn’t avoid tempting glances toward the homemade dolci, and we each had “just a small one, per favore” before we paid our bill and walked slowly back to the hotel.
Sunday, September 27: Well, we know this drill well enough. Pack up, check to make sure we didn’t leave a precious journal or souvenir in a corner or under the bed, and head down to the lobby to wait for our driver again, this time headed for Malpensa airport for our departure to the U.S. again. Needless to say today was filled with travel, and we arrived in Denver at 10:00 p.m., though our bodies were still operating on Italian time, 6:00 A.M. the following day.
I had driven down to DIA, so my car was waiting in the parking lot, and by the time I started the engine, it was midnight. I listened to loud radio so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the highway going toward Fort Collins. Returning home is bittersweet, because my familiar bed always greets me, as do my loving partner and four pets. However, Italy is already calling to me again, and perhaps some of you might join me in May 2010 for the next Italy Adventure!
Scroll along the left menu for my post about the details of that trip, and dream of bella Italia.