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Report 915: Lake Como and Bernina Express

By SeaJay from VA, Spring 2002

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Page 2 of 11: Saturday, April 13

Two uneventful flights deposit us at the Malpensa Airport in Milano. We make the obligatory stop at the ATM for some Euros, effortlessly pick up the rental car and we are off into the rainy Italian countryside.

We immediately exit the expressway for the back roads. The village, closest to the airport is Somma Lombardo. CJ remarks that it reminds him of Brest. Carol quips that the cold rainy weather is certainly the same. CJ plans a circuitous route to our 14:30 rendezvous with the Lukes. We have more than four hours. Our first target is Laveno on Lago (Lake) Maggiore. As Carol exclaims, “Heaven forbid we do something like go directly in a strange country.” On the contrary CJ’s route doesn’t even have us remaining in Italy for very long. His explanation is that it’s like going to Providence from Newport and passing through Massachusetts along the way.

We zig-zag across all manner of roads eventually arriving on the lake in Laveno. The signs to Luino point in both directions. Our selected route takes us up a picturesque mountain road of switchbacks. It reminds CJ of the road to Isola 2000.

At one point there is a “deviation” (detour). It is a traffic light controlled single file through a small village. At one point the passage is only a few inches (very literally) wider than our car. The walls show evidence of the larger vehicles that have scraped the sides. CJ saw a narrow car passage like this previously in Toledo, Spain. Eventually we dead-end in someone’s driveway on a very steep slope. We must BACK DOWN about 75 yards. This also dooms us to a second shot at the narrow passageway.

Eventually, following the lake, we make our way to Luino where we stop and checkout the local supermarket. The cheese and meat selection invoke depression and envy. Oh, to transport this market to Smithfield! We turn east toward Lugano. Just prior to crossing over into Switzerland, we have lunch at a bar in Ponte Tresa. There is no such thing as no smoking so far. In the airport, no smoking signs were openly ignored.

These glacial lakes are so deep and rise so steep that some of the towns have funiculars (varied styles of ski lifts and cable cars) to take you to the top of the mountain. We see open stand-up cars (like Courchevel and Les Menuiers) that must terrorize passengers on these steep ascents and descents. It appears they only run in the summer.

Following lunch, we have only an hour and a half before our rendezvous. Our quick pass through Lugano is enough to suggest a return visit. The waterfront is lined with beautiful flowers. It will not come to pass for us and Tom and Kathy report disappointment of their afternoon in Lugano.

We arrive in Menaggio with 10 minutes to spare. Menaggio lies on the shores of Lago di Como (Lake Como), Italy’s third largest lake and its deepest at 1,345 feet. The lake is 201 meters (over 600 feet) above sea level.

Carol stays with the car while CJ goes in search of Tom and Kathy. The Luke’s arrive and coincidentally park in front of us. They are surprised to see Carol waving from the car behind. In the town square we share a couple rounds of drinks while attempting to contact our landlord. There is often a challenge associated with using the various public phones in Europe. In this case even the proprietor of the bar has troubles with his new phone. Our landlord, Camillo Tassoni, arrives and escorts us to the apartment in Nobiallo. Its called Casa Monastero. Nobiallo is a neighborhood of Menaggio, just slightly farther up the lake.

The apartment has a balcony with a wonderful view of the lake. It has two large bedrooms, a large dining room, large living room with fireplace and balcony, adequate kitchen and then there is the bathroom. We have a tub that is about half the size of a small American version. It is a two-tier contraption that appears to be designed like a chair. No doubt we will be flooding the bathroom regularly. Guess that’s why it comes equipped with a mop.

Our biggest problem at the moment appears to be some cranky women in Boston who delayed the Luke’s flight sufficiently to cause them to be without luggage due to their short connection in London.

We return to Menaggio and visit the tourist office. Armed with recommended tour itineraries and some ski information for CJ, we scope out the restaurants in the downtown area. Nothing remarkable is discovered. A short drive up the lake and we find a place for dinner. Back at the apartment, we relax with cocktails of wine and cheese. Our Italian wine expert begins zero for two with the second selection a particularly undrinkable local Banardo. In spite of the vicious ribbing, we are all acutely aware that the selection of local wines is always a crapshoot. After all we don’t have a Wine Spectator to rely on.

We drive to the village of Aquaseria for dinner. We have a nice dinner of carpaccio (more air dried than raw), seafood pasta, and local lake perch with sage butter. When one is dining at restaurant Crème Caramel then of course desert must be ...

Tom goes to the police station to seek help with the luggage. Given the location of our apartment, we suspect the delivery people will never find us but the station is only a few hundred feet from our apartment. A wonderful local officer promises to help if the luggage arrives before the end of his shift at 0100. We crash at 2330.

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