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Report 117: Two weeks in Italy

By Tracy from NC from NC, Summer 2001

Trip Description: Tracy and her husband and children did a two week trip to Italy in June 2001. This trip report was also posted on the AOL Italy boards.

Destinations: Countries - Italy

Categories: Adults and Young Children

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Page 1 of 5: Varenna

June 8 and 9 What a day we had! We left Charlotte at 5:30 PM on British Airways bound for London. I had been up since 4:00 am, had run 10 miles with Gina and then returned home to pack. It was a very long flight. We arrived in Gatwick at 6:45 am London time. We had a 2-hour layover in London before we caught our 8:35 AM flight to Milan. We finally landed on Italian soil at 12:00 PM Italy time, or six AM Charlotte time. We have now been awake 25 hours and we are not at our final destination yet.

We breezed through customs and were lucky enough to catch the next Malpensa Express shuttle to the central train station. We arrived at Milano Centrale just in time to catch the 2:15 train to Varenna. This was a first real train ride for the kids and me and it was lovely. The flat Milanese terrain rolled away and we were surrounded by mountains almost immediately. My husband and I noticed the vegetable patches that were planted everywhere, often on what must be easements. The scenery was beautiful, and I was very glad we had taken the train. We arrived in Varenna on schedule (3:20 PM) and wound our way down the hill from the almost deserted train depot to our hotel, Albergo Olivedo.

The Alps rise above the lake across from Varenna, and one can see snow topping the highest peaks, and yet the shores of the lake are planted with palms, oleander and pittisporum. Confederate Jasmine and Bougainvillea fill pots and climb over railings. From the vegetation, one would think we were in Charleston. But from the buildings, you know you are in another land. They are the colors of Easter eggs and are adorned with lovely wrought iron railings. The buildings climb up the hills and all command great views of the water.

We easily found the hotel. The Olivedo is a charming inn in a lovely, yellow stucco building situated on the lake, directly behind the ferry launch. On entering the hotel, we were immediately greeted by Laura, the owner. I had e-mailed her numerous times with questions, and she always replied promptly. We got our keys and dragged our luggage up three flights of marble stairs to suites 21 and 22 on the top floor of the hotel. We were delighted with our rooms. My husband and I took the room at the end of the hall, which had two twin beds, a balcony, a lovely marble bath with tub and two views of the lake. The furniture was old and charming, with a writing desk, three chairs and a large armoire. The kids' room also had a small balcony with a frontal view of the lake, a sink, armoire, two twin beds and a small table and reading chair. They would be sharing our bath.

After relaxing for a few minutes we headed out on our first mission: get money from the ATM. I was nervous, because I had read so many posts about the trouble people had using Cirrus cards versus Plus cards. We took a short walk around the hotel to the ATM (thank God it had an English option!) and presto - money! We had no problems at all. First potential crisis being averted, I could breathe once more and we took the paserella to Nilus Bar on the waterfront, where the kids had hot tea and biscuits and my son joined some American boys throwing rocks into the water. A light rain began to fall, so we worked our way back to the hotel. While I bathed and made notes, My husband took the kids to a video arcade near Nilus Bar.

Our rooms at the hotel included dinner, and according to Rick Steve's and a few posts I had read on AOL, the Olivedo has some of the best food in Varenna. The dining room is a beautiful space, reminiscent of a room out of a Merchant-Ivory film. The ceilings are high with intricate moldings, the walls are adorned with Edwardian sconces and coat racks, there are simple chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and all of the tables are dressed in fresh jacquard cloths. Laura greets us with her now familiar "Ciao, Allens" and seats us at our table. She immediately launches into the choices for the evening; "Gnocchi with meat sauce, gnocchi with green sauce, risotto with mushrooms, eggplant Parmigiano, vegetable soup." My son and I had the gnocchi; my daughter and husband had the risotto. Both dishes were delicious. The gnocchi was very tender, the pesto was aromatic and fruity. The risotto was creamy and comforting, with tender bits of mushrooms and the peppery bite of radicchio that was the garnish. For our second course, we all had lake fish, which was simply prepared. For dessert, My daughter had tiramisu and I had panna cotta. My husband and son had gelato. I was very impressed that my son the picky eater ate everything. He even mopped up the remaining pesto sauce with bread.

After dinner, we strolled through the town. The piazza has an enchanting church and bell tower. When we returned to the hotel, my husband and I took a 1/4 liter if red wine to our room and sat on the balcony, sipping wine and relishing our first day in Italy.

Sunday, June 10 We slept surprisingly well last night. In fact, we didn't wake until 10:00 AM. I was awakened at 1:00 AM by the locals hanging out at the bar next door. They had been there before we went to bed.

By the time we were all ready to go, it was noon, so we went directly to the Victoria Grill for lunch. We had wonderful pizzas. Here. My husband had the rustica (potatoes, ham and cheese) my daughter had Nostrana with sausage, roasted red peppers and olives, my son had the first of many diavolas, the Italian version of pepperoni, and I had San Marzano, which was simply tomatoes and cheese. After lunch, we walked to the Villa Monastero di Varenna. It was beginning to rain, but there were still wonderful views of the lake from these hillside gardens. We saw a statue of a headless man. I thought the head had fallen off, but in fact, he was holding his head! I wonder what that was all about? In the garden there were oranges, lemons, acanthus, palms, aloe and geraniums. Again, we were dumbfounded by the fact that these plants can gown so close to the Alps. What an amazing microclimate this area has.

We trudged back through the town in the pouring rain and changed into dry clothes. At about 3:00, we caught a ferry to Bellagio, with a quick stop in Menaggio. Belaggio is an attractive town. My husband really liked it. It is much dressier than Varenna, with upscale hotels and shops lining the steep and narrow streets. We bought a colored lithograph of Varenna for $80. The kids had gelati and then we took the ferry back to Varenna. It was too late and wet to make the hike to the fiumelatte. Next time we will see it.

It rained hard before dinner. My husband and I took a quick trip to Bar Baretta when the rained slowed to buy our train tickets for Milan. Then it was on to dinner at Olivedo again. My son had a repeat of last night's meal. My daughter, who did not enjoy her lake fish, had two primi piattos: risotto and gnocchi. She's my starch lover. I had a fabulous eggplant Parmesan. It is far superior to what we eat in the US. My husband had minestrone. Fish again for the second course. My husband and I split a bottle of Chianti Classico ($7) and then we turned in. We fell to sleep while it rained solidly. No parties at the bar next door tonight! Tomorrow, Venezia.

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