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Report 915: Lake Como and Bernina Express

By SeaJay from VA, Spring 2002

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Page 5 of 11: Tuesday, April 16

Kathy’s wacky alarm goes off at 0730 and CJ and Tom are up for quick showers. We are out within an hour. This morning we drive to the market in Como. We are trying to assess the depth of the first general strike in Italy in over 20 years. Timing is everything! Here in the North, we don’t see much evidence of a successful strike. The next day we will read of over 200,000 strikers marching in Florence.

We drive to the South end of the lake and the city of Como. The road in this direction is like the road to the North. The mountains rise steeply from the lake. The road is very winding and there are many tunnels where the edge is solid mountain. The roving market in Como is a big disappointment. It’s huge, the biggest we have ever attended but it is almost entirely clothing and other junk. The fun of these markets is the food vendors and there are only a couple. There is a fortress wall around parts of ancient Como. We walk and shop the old city. Breakfast is a strudel followed by another pastry at a coffee shop. At a house wares store we purchase a wine decanter drying stand, wine decanting strainer, and ceramic canister to store sea salt on the counter.

The previous evening our young Italian friend recommended a piazza, half-timber buildings and its church. We visit this place and proceed to the Duomo of Como. The Duomo is quite spectacular, particularly the stain glass windows. Construction of the Duomo began in 1396 and ended in 1740 with the huge dome. While buying some wines, we pick a five Euro magnum of red. We are advised that it has a little “fiz” as we have found to be true of many of the local wines. We purchase the recommended “still” replacement for nine Euros. We joke about a bait and switch.

Our next stop is a small village that claims to have a short walk up the mountain to the Santa Ana church. Along the way there are 12 chapels. We stop a local man and ask for directions. He incredulously asks if we are going on foot. We say yes. He asks if we have a car. We say yes. He looks at us like we are crazy. Remembering our “little stroll” up to the castle in Varenna, we abort the walk and elect to drive. We would still be trying to reach that church by foot. Even worse, the church was unremarkable and the chapels even more so. Lunch is at the Pizzeria di Mario Izzo in Lenno. We make a few stops for groceries.

Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo is a marvelous high-class residence on the western shore of Lake Como constructed in 1690. The mansion is not much by Newport standards but the 14 acres of gardens are very nice with over 150 varieties of azaleas and rhododendron. The gardens are famous and appreciated for the great camellia hedges, citrus fruit pergolas, cactuses, tree ferns, tropical plants and bamboo. We conclude our visit with some photographs from the palatial entrance to the mansion.

We settle in for a quiet evening cooking over the open fire. CJ builds the initial fire and it becomes a community effort getting the green wood to actually catch and continue burning. We take turns blowing air into the fire. At some point we crack up when Carol starts a sentence “Ever since I was a kid while blowing ...” She eventually is allowed to finish the, “To start a fire,” part. Eventually we have a perfect cooking fire. Our first course is prosciútto and ham. Our main course is sausage. We spear them with the wooden spears collected on Sunday and begin to grill them over the fire. The grease causes flare-ups. We drop some of the sausages but manage to retrieve them all. It is a hilarious evening. We nearly run out of wine. We finish with limoncello, the Italian lemon liquor.

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