Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Summer 1997 - Italy and Switzerland
A week in northern Italy on Lake Como
Friday June 27
Leaving Tuscany. Drove across the valley to the autostrada and then zip, zip. Steve driving between 130 and 150! Today is overcast and windy.
Got to Carrara exit by 12:30pm, and had a hard time finding our way up to the town. It is extremely built up here with crowded roads and aggressive drivers. Finally found what seemed to be a back road, but was the main road. The direction signs were bad and we circled around twice following signs for "centro" that led nowhere. We parked and walked and still went in a circle, but finally found the duomo and then the piazza. Lots of restoration going on, roads being dug up. Almost everything closed. No shops with marble statues! Found a simple pizzeria, spagetteria near where we parked, so we went in and had a wonderful, simple lunch. Everyone was local (mostly tables of men) and there was no menu.
Autostrada to Sestri Levante. Seemed unlikely as we followed signs for the hotel down narrow, pedestrian crowded lanes, but the hotel was tucked into a back lane and fronting on the Bay of Silence. Not an ocean view, but we can hear the ocean.
Not raining, but threatening, we walked around the town and along the ocean. Tall buildings, faded paint, lots of trompe d'oeil - fake windows, shutters. Our hotel is like this. Crowded, but fun. Lots of families.
Had the best meal of the trip at a little restaurant we saw when walking around. Buon Geppin.
Saturday June 28
Amazing day - all I have thought about for 5 weeks is the heat and tonight I am shivering and searching for extra blankets, and not liking it one bit. We are on Lake Como, in a ground floor apartment of a villa on the main street through Menaggio. Noisy from the traffic, but not bad.
To start the day, still overcast in Sestri Levante, but clearing. To get out of the tiny garage for the hotel, we had to back out and into a small alley. To make the turn (hotel staff were directing us), Steve had to back a corner of the car into an open kitchen door on the other side of the alley.
The autostrada along the Rivera is not good - many tunnels, many curves, many cars. After Genoa it goes up a valley into Piedmont then flattens and goes to 3 lanes. Steve took the Volkswagen Golf above 160 kph and still cars were passing us.
Almost got lost on the autostrada entering Milan (my fault), but recovered. Reached Como at 1:00. Parked and walked into town. The main square on the lake was flooded - benches underwater, water lapping against buildings, stores with water barricades in front of their doors, streets closed. The rains have made the lake flood. Saw the duomo, but the tapestries were boring. Left and drove up the lake to Mennagio - rain started then.
It has been overcast and threatening since the Riviera, but the rain didn't start until 4:00 on the narrow, winding road skirting the edge of Lake Como. It poured, let up, poured again, and then we had lightening and thunder tonight.
We arrived at our vacation rental "Villa Lariana" which we have booked for one1 week through The Parker Company. Drove past the place (really bad directions), couldn't turn around for a couple of miles, then drove back. You can only get into the driveway from the south so Steve had to u-turn in the intersection outside the house to get in.
This is our first tourist rental that is not in the country. It is on the main street of the town. Menaggio is a nice old town, with only a few blocks between the main street and the lake. The lake is high because of all the rain. Had a coffee by the lake.
Sunday June 29
Pouring rain all day. For the rest of our trip nothing is booked. We were planning to go into Switzerland for the next three weeks, but now we are thinking about going to France.
Como is not like Tuscany, it feels more Swiss here. We are a few miles from Switzerland. The delis in the food stores here only have meat and cheese; no pesto, porcini in oil, artichoke in oil (two kinds in Tuscany), huge green olive (the best I've ever had). I keep searching for a better deli. Steve says "give it a rest - they don't sell those things here - you will drive yourself crazy". He is right - I miss the Tuscany food! Como was supposed to be very Italian, sunny and hot - maybe too hot. Swimming. Maybe the weather will change.
Rain stopped at 4:00. Put on our heavy coats (also sweat shirts) and went out. All the stores were closed, except a couple of clothing stores. Found the boat dock and got the schedule. Walked around town. Signs were up saying the road is closed at the north end of the lake - flooding probably. Found the swimming beach, just a block from our house. 8,000 lire to enter, 5,000 lire for a chair, 5,000 lire for a cabin. Lots of logs and garbage washed up along the lake edge. Doesn't look like we will be swimming.
Monday June 30
Still pouring rain. The house is cold. Went for a walk just before noon as the rain was letting up. Found a Sunday Times (London). The day was brightening. Took the ferry to Bellagio. Some confusion about which ferry to take - the guy who sold us the tickets didn't tell us much - but we got across the lake. Bellagio is beautiful - narrow steep streets, not many cars - but all expensive tourist shops (silk, leather, etc.).
Walked to the Villa Melzi D'Eril. Built in 1808 for Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril, assistant of Napoleon. Great gardens, but the house was closed. It stands across the lake from the Villa Carlotta. Took the ferry (hydrofoil) back.
Starting to cloud over. Got home as it started to pour. The house was freezing (because I had left open a window in the second bathroom - I figured this out the next morning). We went out in the rain to the phone booth to plead for heat. Called the representative, Fabio, but got a recording. Called the local guy, but he said he could not turn the heat on ("not in the contract") and we must call Fabio. So we called the Cottages to Castles representative. She said she would call Fabio and wanted to know if the town was flooded, because she thought they may have to evacuate us and the other two families they had staying here.
We went out for dinner. The restaurant was warm and not very full. I think a lot of the tourists left or didn't come because of the rain. Good meal. Wasn't raining when we left, so we left the umbrella behind (got it the next morning). A one eyed gray cat lives on the sidewalk beside the restaurant - he is always there. Looks well fed and cared for (unlike most cats you see which are strays).
When we got home the heat was on, the house was warm.
Tuesday July 1
Woke up at 6:00am to sunshine, then woke again at 8:30 to overcast and cold. Discovered the open window. Drove to Tremezzo, the next town south, supposed to be a Brit enclave. It is a small town, really just a strip along the highway. Had coffee sitting at a table by the busy road, in the sun, looking out at the very full lake. We figured the weather had changed and we would be swimming the next day. Wrong.
Toured the house and gardens of Villa Carlotta, built in 1747 by the Marquis Giorgio Clerici. Fabulous, huge garden with lots of roddies (not in bloom at this time of year).
Drove back to Menaggio for lunch at a restaurant on the lake. The food wasn't as good as we were used to in Tuscany.
Drove up the hill behind Mennagio to a hill town. Narrow, winding road, passing through towns, past a mineral water plant (the type we had for lunch), through forest, to a small Ticino-like town at the end of the road. Walked through narrow lanes of stone houses, but it began to rain. Went back to the car for the umbrella. Will we ever learn to carry it with us?
Went for coffee in Menaggio. It was 6:00pm and the bar was empty, no outside tables occupied because of the rain. How different it would have been if the weather was as usual. Then the sun broke through; the waiter paraded through announcing the sun. Got some groceries, then home for a snack supper (local cheese, olives (not as good as the green ones in Tuscany), crackers (Premium, if you an believe that), tomato. But, when the sun comes out Lake Como is incredibly beautiful. Only three miles wide at its widest, the deepest lake in Europe, mountains rising straight from the waters edge, picturesque towns clinging to the sides of the lake, snow covered Alps in the distance. Mennagio is at the point where the lake splits into the two legs. Lush and green and the water sparkles in the sun. There are more ferry boats here than there were from Locarno.
Wednesday July 2
All week, so far, wearing our sweat shirts, even our coats sometimes. Cold, damp. Today it only started raining this evening after we were in, but it never got sunny.
All week long we have been trying to book a vacation rental in France, talking to both British and US agencies. No one wants to deal with us booking at the last minute. They don't take credit cards and cannot figure out how you could make your payment before you get there.
Drove out for a nice lunch at Ristorante Veluu above Tremesso. We had tried to go there the other day, but it was their closing day. Great meal, sat outside under a porch, view of lake, cats sleeping (2 of them).
Drove to Lenno and did a hike up to a sanctuary. Great hike through the town (like a Ticino town), along a cobblestone route with the rosary shrines beside it, to an old church (up 400 meters). Muggy and warm. Then downhill, through another town perched on the side of the hill, through incredibly narrow streets following a Roman highway. Part of the hike goes on a lakeside promenade - the lake has risen over the promenade! A good 2 hour walk.
Feeling strange about the France decision. This is going to be too hard, too much work. Maybe we should just go to Switzerland where it is easy to get something at the last minute.
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