One of the highlights of my visit to Italy every year is time spent with my friends in Italy. Unfortunately, it did not work out to meet up with Francesco & Irene this year, but I did get to spend another wonderful weekend with Katia & Guido in Coccaglio. They recently married and are living in a wonderful little apartment nearby Katia's parents' house.
Saturday, June 16th
After finishing up my last minute packing, I grabbed a quick coffee and then headed to the Ca' Doro vaporetto stop. I was a little nervous about how packed the vaporetto would be as there were many other people also waiting with their bags to head to the train station. The vaporetto was pretty full, but at least we were not packed in like sardines. I have heard of having to pay extra when taking luggage onboard. So far, I have never had to pay.
I took a Eurostar train to Brescia where Katia met me. We headed back to her apartment and had lunch.
View of a monastery above Coccaglio:
After lunch, we went to Guido's shop to see if he could fix my suitcase. I was hoping that he could get it to go all the way up and down but at the very least, I needed for it to close or the airline, which by the way damaged my handle, would not let me check the bag and it was too big to carry on. Guido took the handle apart. It was pretty interesting seeing the inside of a luggage handle. Even with a little oil, it was not going to budge. He finally found the problem. There was a huge dent in the metal halfway down one of the handles. My bag must have been dropped from pretty high up and had to have landed on something hard for it to dent like that. Guido was able to get the handle to close but we could not make it go up any higher.
It was a Wednesday in June 2005. I was staying in Bellagio on Lake Como. The prediction was for temporale that day (bad weather). I woke to overcast skies. I hung out for a while watching the weather trying to decide what to do.
The day before I walked all over Bellagio, got lost a couple of times, but had a wonderful time following the Bellagio walking tour. My feet and toes were pretty tired after a long day of walking and so I decided to spend the day on the boat, heading to Colico, the farthest point north on Lake Como, hoping that the weather would hold up for the day.
The first boat leaving (except the rapido boats) was at 11:30. I gathered up my things and headed down to the boats. The boat was not very crowded due to the unsettled weather. I found a great seat with a wonderful view and took lots of pictures on the ride up north. You can see my photos of the ride here. I enjoyed some cheese and some fruit on the way while checking out the towns along the lake. Many of the towns seemed much smaller to me than the towns on Lake Garda.
When I arrived in Colico, everything was closed except for a few bars. My original plan was to take the rapido boat back but because my boat was late to arrive in Bellagio, the rapido boat beat my boat to Colico and was heading back towards Bellagio just as we arrived. The next boat was scheduled to arrive in about 40 minutes. I walked around the town and found a little gelateria that was open while waiting for the boat.
On the way back to Bellagio, the sky seemed to clear a little as we got close to Varenna. I decided to stop there for an hour or so before heading back to Bellagio.
weekend in Coccaglio and bike ride around Monte Isola
Saturday & Sunday, July 12th & 13th
After eating breakfast outside on the veranda at Katia's mother's house Saturday morning, we stopped to see the progress on Katia & Guido's new house. We weren't able to peek inside because the guy that was going to show us around was called away on business at the last minute. Our plan for the day after seeing their new place was to head to the town of Iseo on Lake Iseo. We go there every year when I visit. I love this visiting this lake.
A special outdoor market of handmade goods was going on when we arrived. There were lots of little tables set up in the town. We walked through the town browsing through the market and then headed to the boat area.
We arrived just in time to catch the boat to Monte Isola. The boat made one stop in Sulzano to pick up more passengers and then headed to Peschiera on Monte Isola. We went to the bike rental place and rented 3 bikes. We did this ride together many years ago and had so much fun laughing and enjoying the views that we decided to do it again this year.
It took us about 90 minutes to ride around the island (mainly because I made lots of stops along the way to take photos). Both Katia and I got off our bikes at one point to walk when we reached the steep hill. The second half of the ride was down hill. Besides the steep hill, the biggest challenge was to keep to the side when the little motor bikes and cars went by. We rode up and down narrow paths, through little towns, and by the water. We saw grape vines and olive trees and two little islands along the way.
After returning, we had lunch and then waited to take the boat back to Iseo. I got soaked while trying to take a photo on the dock as the boat arrived. I was crouched down when the water came splashing up and soaked me. It made it look like I peed my pants.
Once back in Iseo, we had some gelato. Yum!! Then we headed back to Coccaglio. The ride back through the Franciacorta area was beautiful. I noticed a lot of corn fields this year. We stopped at a grocery store along the way so that I could pick up a few emergency food items in case the food was unedible on the plane. It was a good thing I did! This grocery store had these cool carts. They were the regular little hand carts we have but with wheels and a long handle to pull them. I meant to take a photo but never did.
When we returned to Katia's parents house, it was hot and muggy. We watched some TV (American sitcoms in Italian) while I wrote some posts on Katia's computer. We decided on pizza for dinner. Katia's dad got the menu out. It was a 3 page menu of various pizza combinations. We each ordered a pizza. I ordered the pizza choice that came with tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, mozarella cheese and grana padano cheese. I also added peppers to my pizza. We had a wonderful dinner together, chatting and laughing with Katia translating either English when I didn't understand her parents or Italian when I couldn't communicate on my own. For dessert, we ate some of the pastries and cookies I brought from Lagagna in Bologna.
After dinner, we sat outside enjoying the cooler air. The weather was changing and a thunder and lightening storm was heading our way. Those of you who know me know that I am not so brave during thunder and lightening storms. I let out a few little screams as the thunder got closer. Katia's neighbors also stopped by for a visit. I have known them since my first visit to Coccaglio many years ago. We had a wonderful evening together. I said goodbye to Guido before heading to bed. He was driving to Recco on Sunday to participate in a mini tin man event.
Sunday morning, I packed my bags after enjoying another breakfast out by Katia's mother's garden. Katia's grandmother and her older brother and his family were coming over for lunch. While Katia's mother cooked in the kitchen, Katia and I played with her 2 neices, Marta (age 4) and Emma (age 2). We looked at a big picture book naming and counting animals and dressed them up in princess jewelry, a present from Katia's grandmother. I was touched when Marta requested that I sit next to her at lunch. Everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch (chicken cooked in a tomato sauce, polenta, a tomato and pepper dish, bread, french fries, and some sort of meat). For dessert, we had gelato. We had a choice of 4 fruit flavors including "big bubble", which tasted like bubble gum, and 5 or 6 cream flavors. No one could decide so we all had a little of each.
After lunch, we went to Katia's work place so that I could post my last few posts on my blog that I wrote on her laptop over the weekend and so that I could check in with Continental. In case anyone else tries to check in when flying out of Malpensa, don't bother! I was able to go through all the steps until print. At that point, a page came up saying that the Malpensa airport does not allow you to check in early.
At this point, we realized that we had 10 minutes until the train arrived. We raced home to grab my bags and then Katia drove like a speed queen to the train station. We arrived with a few minutes to spare. I validated my ticket and then we waited for the train. Saying goodbye is always the hardest part every year. Katia helped me on the train and we each waved as the train departed. Until next year (I hope!).
The ducks in my previous post were ducks from Hawaii. Below are some photos I took of a cute duck family hanging out by the lake in Stresa. I was amazed at how close I was able to get, especially to the baby ducklings.
Daddy duck standing guard...
Mommy duck with one eye on me as I got near her cute little babies...
Saturday, July 11th:
My original plan was to spend 7 nights in Bologna. Due to a national train strike planned for the following day, I ended up leaving a day early. After packing my bags, I walked around the centro area of Bologna one last time. I stopped in Eat Italy and bought a panino pomodoro mozzarella basilico (tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich) to eat on the train. I really enjoyed my stay in Bologna and at Hotel Orologio and was sad to leave. I said goodbye and thanked everyone at my hotel one last time as my taxi arrived.
Once at the train station, I looked for Simona, Katia’s friend. We both realized earlier in the week that we would be taking the train to Milano Centrale on Saturday. On Friday when I talked to Simona, I found out that we were taking the same Eurostar train! Too bad I was not going to Coccaglio next. We could have traveled the entire way together.
The partenza board with the dreaded strike announcement (sciopero means strike):
Although the train station was crowded (possibly due to the strike the following day), Simona and I found each other right away. We had about 20 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive. We were both hungry. I offered her half of my sandwich. As we were eating, I mentioned how I Iike taking the Eurostar from Bologna to Milano because it always leaves from the first binario.
I must have jinxed it because just after I said how I liked the fact that the train to Milan left the first binario, Simona noticed on the partenza board that the binario number changed. Good thing I was with her. I am not sure if I would have noticed it on my own. There is so much noise at that station that it is sometimes difficult hearing the announcements clearly.
So much for leaving from binario 1 and not having to lug my bags down and then up a flight of stairs. Heading to binario 3 ended up being even more of a challenge because our train just arrived from Florence. As we tried to carry our bags up the stairs, we had to dodge a crowd of people descending down the stairs after departing the train. I lost Simona for a brief moment but easily found her again at our binario.
Because we made our reservations at different times (which are mandatory when taking a Eurostar train), we had seats in cars far apart from each other. We decided that we would SMS (text) each other once the train departed and then see if we could find two empty seats together.
As I was walking to my train car, I noticed a group of policemen and train personnel inspecting a big scrape near the bottom of one of the cars and two other men standing on a ladder putting a black plastic covering over the window. That did not make me feel very secure. I noticed a woman taking photos of the event. I thought about also taking a few photos but my camera was inside my bag and I did not want to risk missing my train since it was supposed to be leaving momentarily.
The train ended up leaving 15 minutes late. While waiting, I asked a woman sitting near me, who boarded the train in Rome, if she knew what happened to the train. I tried my best to explain what I saw (lacking vocabulary words such as scrape & metal). The lady started repeating over and over how this is why she does not like Bologna. I really was just curious and did not mean to get her all riled up. Meanwhile another woman chimed in that she thought it must have happened in Florence.
As the train departed Bologna, I left my luggage with the two women who continued to talk about the train situation to look for Simona. We ended up finding empty seats in a car between our two cars. I went back and grabbed my bags. It ended up being a very pleasant train ride to Milan.
Sunday, July 12th:
My hotel was nice and quiet when I awoke Sunday morning. Here is one of the first views of the morning from my balcony. It looked like it might rain but I soon learned that the first view of the morning did not always predict the weather in Stresa. It ended up being a beautiful and warm sunny day.
Despite the fact that the hotel was nice and quiet early in the morning, I can't say the same about the night before. Although no loud noises came from other hotel guests or from people nearby, it was a bit noisy as cars drove by the main road below the hotel. There was also the occasional train rumbling by. I knew that the hotel was near the train tracks but was surprised to hear the noise of trains Saturday evening since the train strike started at 9pm. I am guessing most of the trains were freight trains and perhaps a few might have been trains coming from Switzerland.
Breakfast at my hotel was very good. Of the four places I stayed this summer, B&B La Romea still wins as top breakfast spot with the B&B in Florence coming in as a close second. I would rank this hotel as third of the four. There was a better choice of cheese, pastries, breads than at Hotel Orologio and there was even individual cups of flan. Both hotels had a good juice selection though.
After eating breakfast, I sat outside my hotel by a peaceful garden for a while catching up on things using the free hotel wifi connection. The hotel does provide a computer for use in the room next to the lobby but there were some keys that seemed to stick and it got frustrating fast.
The wifi set up however was a bit frustrating. Every time I turned my iPod Touch on, I had to type in this long username and password. If I went up to my room where there was no wifi access and then went back down to the garden area to check one more thing, I had to type in the username and password again. This did not happen at other places that required a username and password during my trip so I think it was the way the wifi access was set up at this hotel. I am not sure if people staying in the main hotel building had wifi access in their rooms although I was not able to connect while eating in the breakfast room. I was happy though that I had a wifi connection even if I had to type in that username and password each time. Yes, I am an internet addict!
About 10 am, I headed down to the tourist information office to check on a few things and then bought a ticket for the boat to visit both Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori (Superiore). The large crowd waiting at the dock brought back memories of my stay in Sirmione trying to get onto a boat. I did notice that the crowds in Stresa were much more polite with a lot less pushing and shoving going on. The boat crew was also very nice and didn't mind if people stood near the sides of the boat to take photos.
My original plan was to visit Isola Bella first but because of the big crowds, I decided to go to Isola Pescatori instead, hoping that the majority of people would go to Isola Bella.
Sunday, July 12th:
After spending time on Isola Pescatori, my next stop was Isola Bella.
The main thing to see on Isola Bella is the Palazzo Barromeo. The combined ticket for both the palace and gardens costs €12. This was one of my favorite places to visit while staying in Stresa. Photos are not allowed inside the huge palace. This ended up being a good thing because just as the boat pulled in, I noticed that my camera battery was starting to run low. I couldn't believe it! I always charge my battery at night and always bring a spare battery with me but forgot this time.
The first part of the tour is of the palace. There were so many huge rooms to walk through. Explanations were provided in 4 languages of everything in each room. My two favorite rooms were the music room where the 1935 Conference of Stresa took place and the room with the mosaic flowers.
The next portion of the tour takes you down some steps where there is a small room with an amazing display of marionettes.
Then the tour takes you through the grotto rooms. Because of my battery situation, I only took one photo in this section of the palace.
As you leave the grotto rooms, you walk through a long hall with amazing tapestries and then finally you walk out into the most spectacular sight, the gardens.
I can't believe it is October and I have yet to finish up blogging about my summer trip to Italy. The way things are going, I hope to finish by Thanksgiving or perhaps even Christmas!
Monday, July 13th:
Continuing with my stay in Stresa:
I awoke early Monday morning enjoying this beautiful view out my window. What a wonderful way to start the day.
My plan was to visit Villa Taranto. After puttering around my hotel for a while and enjoying another wonderful breakfast, I walked down to the imbarcadero and bought a boat ticket to Villa Taranto (€ 10.80).
Being a fan of boats, I loved that it took about 45 minutes to get there. The boat pretty much emptied out after making stops at Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori, and Baveno. I think there was only one or two other couples and myself left on the boat at this point.
After leaving Baveno, we headed past Isola Madre, the only one of the three islands that I did not visit during my stay in Stresa.
This was one of my favorite photos of Isola Madre.
Next, we headed towards Verbania. As I understand it, Pallanza and Intra are both neighborhoods of the the city of Verbania. Villa Taranto is located between these two places. The boat stops in all three places.
I would have loved to have stopped in Pallanza but did not have enough time. Here are a few photos I took as we rode by.
The next stop was the amazing Villa Taranto. I had no idea just how much I would love my visit to these beautiful gardens.
Last but not least, the flower that captivated me... the Nelumbo Nucifera. I had no idea what type of flower this was and the sign (Nelumbo Nucifera) did not help any. The knowledgeble British couple (who travel the world to see flowers) did not know what kind of flower this was either. When I got home, I was very surprised to find out after googling Nelumbo Nucifera that is is the Lotus flower. How did I not know what a lotus flower looked like?
So here you go... my photos of the magnificent lotus flower:
The weather was overcast when I woke up Tuesday morning. I hung out at my hotel for a while and had a late breakfast. When it started to clear a bit midmorning, I decided to go to the top of Mt. Mottorone.
The walk along the waterfront was very enjoyable. I checked out the 5 star hotels along the way and took lots of photos as I headed to the spot where the cable car to Mt. Mottorone was located. At one point, I became a little lost trying to reach the cable car station. The combo of taking photos and getting lost as well as the late start put me at the cable car ticket office right before the last ride up before their lunch break.
I bought my ticket (17.50 euros to the top) and got on the cable car along with what seemed like a class full of German and French preschoolers! It was an interesting ride up. At the midway stop (800 m altitude) everyone gets off. A second cable car continues on to the top (1491 m altitude). I had two choices, hanging out at the midway stop and checking out the alpine garden or continuing on up to the top. Because this was the last car going up until lunch was over for the cable car workers, I needed to make a decision and fast. Visibility was still good at the midway point. I decided to continue to the top. So did the gang of preschoolers.
As we continued towards the top, it started to get a bit fogged in. There still was one tiny spot that was clear.
When we reached the top, I walked outside and was met with this view...
There really was not much to do up at the top...
I had 10 minutes to decide whether to stay at the top or head back down to the midway point, taking the last cable car back down before the lunch break began. My original plan was to hang out and eat lunch at the top (I packed a yogurt and some fruit) but since it was completely fogged in at the top and I saw pretty much all I was going to see, I jumped back in the cable car and rode back down to the midway point. This time I was alone (except for the cute cable car guy).
I knew from reading about Mt. Mottorone, that there was an alpine wildflower garden called the Botanic Garden Alpinia at the midway point. The walk to the Botanic Garden Alpinia was longer than I thought it would be. I enjoyed the walk as it was nice and cool, but I was a little concerned that once again I might be lost as the directions were not very clear. Along the way, I checked out the trees with these cool hanging flowers.
Wednesday, July 15th:
The skies were gray Wednesday morning. Not long after I woke up, it began to rain. I had two full days left in Stresa and both Santa Caterina del Sasso & Orta were on my list as places I definitely wanted to visit. Santa Caterina del Sasso, a monastery that was built in the 12th century on a rocky hillside, looked like the better choice for a cloudy/rainy day. After breakfast, the rain stopped for a bit. I took the 9:55 am boat (5.80 euros roundtrip) to Santa Caterina. For the history of this amazing monastery, check out Dana's blog post.
Thursday, July 16th:
Thursday morning, my last full day in Stresa, turned out to be a gorgeous day, the perfect day for a daytrip to Orta San Giulio (also known by many as just Orta). I headed down to the waterfront area to wait for the bus 10 am bus, which was the only bus heading to Orta for the day (except for two later afternoon buses). When I arrived, I noticed a small group of people waiting. I was pretty sure this was the bus stop but asked just in case. I really had no idea which type of bus we would be taking. In Italy, there are two types of buses that I am used to seeing. Local orange buses, which can be either small or regular size and large blue buses, called pullmans for longer journeys.
I was in shock when a tiny blue bus pulled up. This was the first time I ever saw a mini blue bus. This was going to be interesting. Not only was a large group of people waiting for this bus (the only morning scheduled bus to go to Orta) but also there was a couple waiting with two HUGE suitcases. There was no underneath spot for these suitcases. Chatter started in Italian as the couple boarded first instead of letting at least the older women board the bus. The couple plopped one of the suitcases down in the space between the front seat (which made that seat unusable) and put the other suitcase in the very front right by the stairs. This made it very difficult for everyone else to board the bus. I can’t remember now, but I think there were about 15 spaces total for seating. With one of the front seats taken up with the suitcase, the bus was just about full, and this was only the first stop!
I ended up sitting next to this very nice older woman from Milan. She spends her summers at her Stresa summerhouse and was traveling to a little town about halfway to Orta San Giulio to do some shopping for the day. We had a delightful chat until she got off at her spot. I mentioned to her how surprised I was that the bus was so small. She said that usually only a few people take the bus and it is never full.
As we arrived in Bevano, the next pick up stop, I looked out and saw a large group waiting for the bus. This was really going to be interesting now. The bus driver took the two suitcases off the bus. The crowd got on. The bus driver lugged the two suitcases back onto the bus. One went back up front and the other ended up in the aisle so that two people could sit in that front seat. Even with all of the seats free now, there was not enough seats for everyone. A few people ended up standing in the aisle and we were not even finished picking up people. At the next stop, an older woman who knew a few people on board was waiting. She ended up sitting on the suitcase in the front. Many people offered her their seats, but she refused, saying she was getting off in a few stops.
There was a lot of discussion by some of the local people on the bus (all in Italian). I understood most of what was being said. I don’t think that the other tourists understood anything. There was concern that the very nice bus driver, who really should have refused to pick up any more people once the seats were full, would be in big trouble if the police stopped the bus. I was mostly concerned about the route. The bus ride went up over the mountain pass with many tight curves along the way.
I am not a fan of buses and often get bus sick. My choice of public transportation goes in this order – boat, train or subway, and only if necessary bus. I think the only reason I did not become bus sick (forgot my ginger for motion sickness once again at the hotel) was because I was so claustrophobic, which distracted me from feeling sick.
The woman sitting next to me started joking with the bus driver as we got close to her stop. They were discussing just how she was going to get out. A few minutes later, we pulled into this cute little town (can’t remember the name now) and the woman along with a few other people got off the bus. There was now room for everyone to have a seat. The rest of the bus ride was pretty smooth.
When we pulled into Orta, the bus driver told us to remember where the bus spot was and not be late for the afternoon pick up. There were only two afternoon pick up times – 3 and 6 pm. If you missed both, you would be spending the night in Orta.
I was so happy to get off that bus!
The bus stop was above the little town. I had no map, and not much knowledge of the town. I only knew there was a little island that I should try to visit. Not having a map is definitely not a good thing for someone like me who constantly gets lost. Somehow, I managed to figure out, after one wrong turn, the way to the main part of the town (or at least the tourist part of the town).
I loved Orta! The town was so cute and charming. Lots of narrow medieval streets, not many cars, and a cute little piazza overlooking the lake.
I discovered this cute little church along the way to the main piazza.
Thursday, July 16th:
I was surprised at how short the boat ride was from Orta San Giulio to Isola San Giulio (about 7 minutes). It was not a very expensive fare roundtrip. I want to say four or five euros round trip but I really can't remember now. I found my boat ticket (motoscafi) but there is no price on the ticket.
Photos of Isola San Giulio from the boat:
The boat drops you off right in front of the Basilica di San Giulio.
another wild bus ride and the rest of my stay in Stresa
Thursday, July 16th:
My last trip blog post left off with me in Orta San Giulio heading back to the bus stop to travel back to Stresa.
I was a little nervous about getting lost. I needed to catch the 6 pm bus. If I missed it, I would be staying in Orta San Giulio over night. I returned to what I thought was the bus stop. Then I started to doubt my recollection of exactly where the bus stop was located. There were no bus stop signs anywhere. Worrying began.
Although I was a bit early, I did not see any other people waiting for the bus. I started to curse myself for not taking a photo of the bus stop earlier in the day and then began to panic a little bit. So there I stood pacing back and forth, praying that the bus would arrive. If it was any other night, it probably would not have been a huge deal, but I was checking out of my hotel in Stresa the following morning to travel to Coccaglio. Missing the bus would have really complicated things.
Right at 6 pm on the dot, the little blue bus arrived. An older couple arrived a few minutes earlier but I could not tell if they were taking the bus or waiting for something else. It really was a strange place to wait for the bus. Hooray! I did not mess up. The bus driver waited for 5 or 10 more minutes before starting back. I thought that was very nice of him. No one else came so he started up the bus and we were off.
The bus ride back to Stresa was another wild ride, a white-knuckle journey from start to finish. I sat in the front seat on the right side of the bus and the couple sat in the front seat on the left side right behind the driver. The couple and the driver knew each other and carried on a very animated conversation for the next 30 to 40 minutes. The bus driver drove with one hand while waving his other hand around madly as he chatted with the couple.
The crowded bus on the way over must have distracted me from all the sharp hairpin turns as I was more claustrophobic on that ride. If you have ever been on or have heard about the road to Hana, this was a very similar ride. I spent the entire time on the way back reminding myself to breathe and talking myself out of getting sick.
My face must have been white as a ghost because after the bus driver let off the couple at their stop, he asked me if I was ok. I explained to him that I don't do well on bus rides, especially bus rides with many curves. I thought that perhaps the rest of the bus ride would be a little less crazy now that he could keep two hands on the wheel, but his phone rang, and that was the end of that.
At one point, I recognized the road near the Botanic Garden Alpinia, which is at the midway point of Mt. Mottorone. The bus driver slowed the bus down as views of the lake appeared and asked me if I would like to get out to take a photo. I already had similar photos from my visit there a few days ago but since he was so nice to offer, I said yes. It gave me a chance to stand on land for a few seconds.
Photos from the bus:
I was soooo happy when we finally arrived Stresa! I loved my visit to Orta San Giulio but could have done without both of the bus rides.
I got my land legs back quickly and headed to the boat ticket window area to meet Dana for a drink. Dana, who has a blog called Stresa Sights was so helpful when I was planning my stay in Stresa. We went to a nearby bar for a drink, sat at a little outdoor table, and had a lovely chat. She was not able to stay very long, but we did make plans to meet for coffee the following morning.
I headed back up to my hotel to shower and change. I ate at il Pappagallo again for dinner. The waiter who I saw at Ristorante il Vicoletto the previous night recognized me. Sadly, I cannot remember what I ate that night at il Pappagallo. It was good though.
After dinner, I walked by the lake and checked out the many booths set up with various items for sale. I ended up buying some strawberries.
Photos from my walk along the lake:
Back at my hotel, I packed a bit and then went to bed.
Friday, July 17th:
At 5:30 am Friday morning, I awoke to....
The wind was howling. I jumped out of bed and ran to the balcony to grab the clothes I had drying outside. I was a little freaked out. First the thunder and lightening and wild winds, then the electricity going out all over town, and then the hail. I was on the top floor, so not only could I hear the hail pounding on the roof, but it also sounded like the hail would break one of the windows. Water was coming in under the French doors by the balcony.
I went back to bed and hid under the covers.
The storm passed but it was not looking too promising to be a great weather day. I ate breakfast and then headed down to meet Dana again for an espresso. I was surprised at all the damage from the storm. We had another nice chat.
Back at the hotel, the skies were threatening again.
I was trying to decide if I should chance it and walk the 5-10 minutes to the train station or call a taxi. I decided to walk (with my fingers crossed). Just as I was about to leave, the owner of the hotel stopped me. She was holding a box of the most delicious cookies that she bought for me for my train trip. I was speechless. We had struck up a conversation on many occasions during my stay and she always laughed at my goosebumps when I would return with my teeth chattering on the cool nights but I never expected for her to give me anything. I really was blown away by her generosity. Katia and I devoured the cookies over the weekend. They were some sort of local cookie from Stresa and sooo good!
The walk to the train station was uneventful. The one good surprise was that the train was a modern, clean train instead of the dilapidated train I took from Milan to Stresa. The ride was very pleasant. The train arrived at the same out of the way train track at the far end of the station.
That ends my stay in Stresa. So what did I think of Stresa? Well, I have to honestly say that I have very mixed feelings about Stresa. The people of Stresa were all very kind. I loved my hotel (Hotel Du Parc), loved the boat rides, loved visiting Isola Bella, Santa Catarina, and Villa Taranto.
Stresa itself however did not do much for me. It is a nice little place but very touristy and completely oriented towards tourists (that was my impression anyways). I don't think I would have enjoyed my stay as much if I just hung out in Stresa. But if using Stresa as a home base, there are so many possibilities of places to visit while there.
I have tried to figure out why I tend to love some places and think other places are just ok. I think for me, part of it has to do with photography. Stresa has beautiful flowers, fancy hotels by the lake, cool water scenes, but something seemed to be missing for me when walking around the town. I was only there for a short stay and did not see all of Stresa, so my comments are just of what I experienced.
Back in December, I wrote about my difficulty finding the Sacro Monte d'Orta in this post. I was not able to find my first try, but was determined, so I gave it a second try, even changing my plans by taking the later bus back to Stresa. I have always heard about visiting the little island, Isola San Giulio when spending time in Orta San Giulio, but Sacro Monte to me was a much more rewarding visit. It was so peaceful and serene. The air was fresh and cool. I could have spent an entire day at il Sacro Monte d'Orta (or the Sacred Mount of Orta).
It was well worth the effort to hike that hill (twice) even though my legs felt like jelly when I finally reached the Sacro Monte. I met an older couple when I arrived. I think I surprised them as I was huffing and puffing and appeared out of no where at this back entrance that really was not an entrance. They made a comment about my hiking up to Sacro Monte and how my legs must be like wood. I think there was a translation glitch but we laughed just the same. They pointed me in the right direction to find the real entrance so that I could start my journey visiting the 20 chapels.
The arch at the entrance:
There are a series of 20 small chapels at Sacro Monte d'Orta, all of which are dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, along with The New Chapel and the Church of the Saints Nicholas and Francesco. I am going to focus on the 20 chapels in this post and will do another post on The New Chapel and the church.
This description provides a little more information: (if you would like to see a larger version, click on this cropped photo of the sign located near the entrance arch)
On the front of each chapel, you will find a number (written in Roman Numerals) along with a hand pointing to the next chapel.
Because I am directionally challenged, I studied the map to figure out just how to approach my visit of the 20 chapels.
I took photos of each of the chapels I visited so that I could share the beauty of the chapels with all of you. I tried my best to stay in order so I could keep track of which chapel was which along the way.
Information sheets were locted inside of the open chapels and outside of the closed chapels, except for Chapel XI. Not sure what happened to that sheet. The information sheets were in Italian, as well as English and I believe German. Because some of the chapels were dark, the photo quality of each of the information sheets varies.
Even though there were little hand pointing signs on each chapel, I never managed to find Chapels XVIII and XIX. I probably would have eventually found these two chapels but I was in a time crunch, needing to catch that last bus back to Stresa.
I decided to create a Picasa Web Album as a way to best share my photos of the 18 of 20 chapels I visited. Click on the photo below to view the web album.