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Report 915: Lake Como and Bernina Express

By SeaJay from VA, Spring 2002

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Page 9 of 11: Saturday, April 20

Itís hard to believe it is time to pack and leave. The four of us pitch in to pack, shower, clean up and get out. Kisses and hugs and the Lukeís are off to Lake Maggiore and our destination is ... Well what is our destination? We are in the car and really donít know where we are headed yet. Do we spend another day exploring the lake and mountains or do we head for Milano. We decide weíll check off the Milano box.

On return trips we wonít have to dawdle in Milan. Itís another shot at the long, winding, and often narrow road down to Como. From Como, there is a toll expressway to Milano and the airport. Between the tollbooths we achieve speeds of 145 Ė 175 km/hr (90 Ė 109 mph). European driving is so civilized with three lanes each going at different speeds and slower cars always allowing the faster cars to pass. When we are at 175, we still have cars and motorcycles passing us like we are standing still.

We scout around Sommo Lombardo for a hotel. We donít see a single hotel there but put its castle on the list for a later visit. We settle on the Hotel Sempione in Casorate Sempione, about 3km outside of town on the road to Milano. Carol gets us a room at a hotel where no one speaks English! We unload our luggage and head for downtown.

We have no problem locating the town center and the historic attractions. Tom and Kathy have taught us that, in Italy, ďcentre villeĒ is indicated by a black circular target symbol on the road signs. We have lunch outdoors on a pedestrian mall, the famous Via Dante. Carol finally gets her tiny clams albeit on a pizza.

From the outside the Milano Duaomo is gaudy. There is just too much happening with its architecture. Construction began in 1386 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1418 yet remained unfinished until the 19th century when Napoleon, who was crowned King of Italy, had the faÁade completed. The inside is entirely a different story. It is a massive cathedral with striking stain glass windows. The altar is the most unusual that we have seen. It is simple yet elegant. Huge pipe organs flank the altar. The building begins to shake and rattle. Fortunately itís a passing thunderstorm and we will miss the roof terraces.

We seek refuge in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a covered shopping mall inaugurated in 1867. Its basically four city blocks covered with an elegant glass roof with a 154-foot dome at the intersection. It is decorated with beautiful mosaics of Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Within the mall, Japanese tourists and Milanese are cleaning out Prada and other high fashion designer shops like they are discount outlets.

When the rain lightens, we begin the short walk to the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie that is the home of Leonardo da Vinciís Last Supper. Unfortunately we didnít realize that reservations are required. This is a particularly bad week. Its cultural appreciation week in Italy and all the museums are free. We are out of luck. Like tours of the White House, we noticed that Japanese tour busses seem to have no problem getting in.

The rain has finally stopped. We retrieve CJís coat from the car and continue on to the Castello Sforzesco. The castle originally built in 1368 has been modified and rebuilt many times since. Even Napolean had a hand in the remodeling at one point. At the far end of the adjacent gardens is the Arco della Pace, a triumphal arch modeled after the Arch de Triomphe in Paris.

We realize that we are both sleep walking and decide to call it a day. We pause for a coffee and tea break. CJís gelato turns out to be a very large bowl of mango and melon. Italian gelato is not served like the little boules of French sorbet. During our break we realize we missed La Scala and we both seem to have a second wind. When Carol stops to ask for directions (given and received in Italian), we realize we have been tricked by the scale of the Rick Stevesí map. Our detour affords us the opportunity to explore some more shops.

The Teatro alla Scala is one of the worldís most famous opera houses. Actually since itís the only one CJ has ever heard of he thinks it IS the most famous. It was built in 1776. (Probably in celebration of our revolution) The theater museum is closed for renovations. The building has disappointing architecture. The statue of Leonardo da Vinci across the street is much more impressive.

While we were having coffee CJ was memorizing the location of the Pirelli building. On the way out of town he invokes that sense of ďfeelĒ of his and we end up next to the Pirelli building. We park and walk to the first police line to take pictures, then proceed around the block to photograph the other side. There are large crowds and an even larger traffic gridlock problem. The damage is extraordinary.

CJ still does not believe that an experienced pilot would hit the building dead center even with plane problems. The amount of paper on the ground and the number of broken windows blown out is incredible. A temporary construction elevator has already been erected up the side of the entire building.

We return to the car and pull a u-turn and manage to avoid the gridlock. The signs for the desired direction take us back into the gridlock. We rely on that sense of direction of his and get back to the beltway. Itís around eight when we get back in the Sommo Lombardo area. Trying to find a shortcut we end up getting off an exit too late. We know the area well enough to get back to our hotel on the back roads.

We find a great restaurant in Sommo Lombardo but it is fully booked. They recommend we try a village 9km down the road. We really donít see anything interesting in that village but keep driving mesmerized by the sun setting over the Matterhorn and the Alps.

We spot a restaurant sign, make a turn and drive so far down a road that we are contemplating turning around in a small village when we spot the sign again. There are two restaurants in this small village and both serve nothing but fish and seafood. Parking in this little village is at a premium because the roads are very narrow. The village consists of two roads that meet in the village square and one road out. Carol picks the more elegant restaurant (naturally for our last evening) and CJ goes off to find parking. A maitre d, sommelier, and waiter and only one speaks a few words of English. We split a steamed calamari appetizer. Itís a dozen whole bodied squid, each 4 to 6 inches long with tentacles. They are tender and tasty beyond all expectation. Our sommelier has selected a marvelous Pinot Grigio with a wonderful floral nose. The recommended special pasta of the region with a red sauce, onions and some kind of fish is another homerun. For the main course, we order the salt encrusted fish for two, also purported to be a specialty of the region. They present two whole fish at the table for our selection. Carol chooses the lake trout. A white pile of salt arrives; the waiter covers it with a towel and begins tapping, then banging it with spoons to break the salt crust. He filets the trout at the table. It is very good but when you get some of the excess salt it overpowers the delicate fish. You probably canít possibly eliminate all of the salt. We prefer the Spanish version where the fish is encrusted in a salt and flour mixture and when the pasta is broken open the pasta carries away the salt.

About this time we realize we are having this wonderful meal on a lake and have absolutely no idea where we are. Carol asks the Italian couple sharing dinner next to us. The woman turns out to be Australian. We are on the shore of Lake Maggiore just outside of Sesto Calende. We enjoy the Italian Muscat desert wine they recommend. Itís a wonderful finish to the evening. The wait staff that valiantly struggled through the evening trying to communicate with us assembles at the door to personally say goodbye and give us the cards of the restaurant. It is the Ristorante La Vela located in the piazza of Lisanza di Sesto Calende. We did not anticipate such a wonderful dinner nor did we anticipate such a long dinner. We arrive back at the hotel very late, pay the hotel bill and leave a wake up call for 0630.

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