Monday, April 02, 2012

mist, spritz and tiramisu

If the last two days had a mist in the afternoon, this day has one in the morning. Well, true, also in the afternoon. And a wind that really whipped things around by the water. And clouds over the summits. And my ambition level is set at the low end of the continuum.

From my breakfast table, I look out at the lake... There is a boat out there, but you can hardly see it. The mountains on the other side? Forget it.


I want to slow down today. Sunday calls for easier stuff, no? It calls for eating a big meal in the middle of the day. And for people watching. This is the day when you rub shoulder with civilization.

A boat trip! There’s an idea. Cross the lake, see another town.

There is a ferry that runs from one end of the lake to the other. At this time of the year it pulls into Gargnano only once a day. Further north, there are added boats that crisscross the lake on a fairly regular basis.

You could say that making this trip on a hazy day, when the clouds roll in luxuriously and mostly cover the mountaintops is not ideal. But truthfully, it would be boring if it were always the same. I’m seeing Lago di Garda in all its shades of mist.

I walk over to the ferry landing. It's always such a lovely walk through the quiet streets of this town by the lake.

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I note that the peak from yesterday's climb is behind a faint cloud cover. I'm glad I'm not there today.

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The ferry is huge and nearly empty now. A dozen of us get on. Most people huddle inside. It really is windy out there. I have a scarf and a fleecy so I stay out on the deck. Initially, it looks like the sun will take hold.


Not for long though. Light clouds roll right back and stay clustered around the cliffs and peaks. And still, it’s a fascinating landscape out there and the haze adds stealth and mystery to it.



It’s about a 45 minute trip to Malcesine – a town further north, on the eastern shore of the lake. As we approach it, I think – nice. Colorful. And we're having a moment of sunshine!


As we dock, I change my mind. It’s crowded. And not in a good way. If there are local people out and about they’re lost in the swarm of visitors. Italian, yes, there are those, but the dominant language is German. In fact, the locals just assume that if you’re a visitor, you must be German. When I ask for directions, always in my non native sounding Italian, I get an answer in German. I don’t speak German and so my standard phrase, used more than any other on this day is – could you please say it in English or Italian?

The tipping point for me is when a huge swarm of middle or early high school kids descends, out of nowhere, onto the village square. Boisterous (to give them credit -- appearing to be having quite a fun time of it) American kids wearing "I love Italia" sweatshirts in various colors. I'm smiling at the scene, but I'm also in a hurry to find another corner to explore.

I wonder what’s so special about this town. It has dozens of stores, souvenir places, clothing and food places, all that, but surely that’s the result, not the cause of people coming here!

I think the roads on this side of the lake are better and so if you are to see Lago di Garda, you come here. And there are frequent ferry services as well.

I began to truly appreciate the beauty of Gargnano on this day. One book called it a sleepy little town. Yes it is. I miss it already.

So forget the Sunday meal here. I’m taking to the hills, misty haze or not. There is a very nice and very open tourist office (in Gargnano we have a one room operation and it’s been closed the whole time I’ve been there) and I get good directions for a several hour hike up the hills.

The peaks here actually are higher than that of Comer. Some have traces of snow. Later, toward the middle of the afternoon, a few poke through the cloud cover. But initially, they remain hidden. And as I head up the streets, then cobbled paths (nothing ambitious today – I top out at 500 meters), I see that the mountains across the water are also muted by some combination of mist and cloud.


I don’t have a particular goal. There was to be a chapel, or a rock named after a chapel, or the other way around (“Rocchetta Madonna” – who can tell...) that the tourist office suggested as a destination point, but I quickly lose the trail to it and so I’m left with basically going up. Even after an hour or two of climbing, I never leave the perimeter of the town. True, the houses are sparse and there is a thicket of olive groves, but I’m in a funny sort of distant way indeed amidst civilization after all.


It’s always the case that when you come to a congested spot, you need only walk 1000 steps and you’ll be alone. People like to stay clustered to the hub. And so my walk is gently quiet, with only the occasional passerby. A hiking tourist like me, a local taking a dog for a walk. Good kind of encounters. Far better up here in the hills than down there with the “I love Italia” crowds.


I am aiming to catch the boat at 4 and so eventually I have to turn around and head down. I didn’t take any photos of the little harbor. Nor of the town itself. Just one, as I am coming in after the hike. Off on a side street, a mom is taking her little girl to a party. I like watching the little one's excitement as she prances forward.

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And now the wind has really picked up so I am glad to have put down the additional three Euros for a fast hydrofoil crossing. Here’s the little boat, coming at us from across the shore.


My second and final destination is the village of Limone. Sounds like lemon, translates to mean lemon. This was the northernmost outpost of lemon cultivation some 100 years ago. It’s blustery cool today, but it is Sunday and there are people out and about – fewer than in Malcesine and so I mind it far less.

It’s a cute little town, though a bit cramped at the foot of rocky cliffs. There are shops here as well but somehow they don’t overwhelm you in the same way that they did across the water.


Yes, there is a lemon theme to the place. You can even buy large lemons grown here, but it’s all rather contrived, given the fact that serious lemon cultivation has left the area many decades ago.

Which does not prevent me from purchasing a lovely Italian cotton tablecloth with prints of lemons on it for the farmhouse. At 8 Euros, it is less than the price of the Sunday afternoon meal that somehow I never sat down to eat

There is a bus that makes its way through many many tunnels piercing the cliffs here, all the way back to Gargnano. Twenty kilometers later, I am home (for this week).

And because it happens to be six and because I haven’t had a bite to eat or even water to drink since breakfast, what better way to celebrate a return then to have an Aperol spritz at the café by the shore.

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I have it in the intensely orange interior. Only three tables here – all empty. The mass of Gargnano humanity is huddled outside under the awning, but I’m cold from the winds of the day and moreover, if you are a nonsmoker, the worst place you can be is under a (partially enclosed) café awning, because that qualifies as outdoors and there are plenty of people who like to mix their Aperol spritz with tobacco here.

Besides, I love watching the proprietor and his wife in this place. The spritz at the neighboring café has a better orange slice, but this one has the friendlier staff. It makes for an overall warm and cozy respite.

My dinner (and I am so ready for it!) is at the hotel. There are now three couples in the dining room and we have all preordered out set meals (you have a choice, always of two pastas and two main courses and a handful of home made desserts), so that all remains is to decide which wine to add to your foods. I am no longer surprised that all the guests around me are speaking German.

The food is, as before, quite wonderful. I have the mushroom risotto and a grilled shrimp main course. Yes, I’ve departed from eating local foods with that one. I realize that there are no shrimp in Lake Garda. It’s to be expected that fish would not be on the menu today. They only serve fish sold by the Lake Garda cooperative and Sunday is a day off for the fishermen.

What’s truly local and utterly delicious is the tiramisu. When you’ve had in your life many indifferent servings of tiramisu, it always catches you by surprise when a good one is put before you. Tonight’s was just such a surprise. You can’t have expectations. Mist only in the afternoon? Forget it. Sometimes it’s there the entire day. And sometimes the tiramisu shines.

(The last photo, with the funny looking lens of my camera is here, because I often write at the table by the mirror. )