Tuesday, March 19, 2019

the lake the lake the lake

I wake up to a beautiful day!

I could complain that the night hadn't enough sleep in it. It was the fault of an absence of an email (from my mother) and additionally -- a pop up of a troubling email from a financial institutions (signaling that someone had tried to hack into an account of mine). Trying to resolve these took a chunk out of the night hours, but honestly -- when I woke up to that sky and the still air (yesterday's wind is history!), I forgot all about the lost sleep. Issues were resolved. I set out with a clean slate and with an itinerary of only the most pleasant stuff to fill my day!

(View out one of my three windows)


The B&B where I am staying (I was wrong to call it a hotel -- it has only a few rooms and interaction with guests is certainly a priority should you need advice and help) -- it takes breakfast seriously.

Here is the breakfast table (which is actually made of doors, of the kind you see in Como and any number of Italian towns, like for example the one below)...



(In the summer, you can eat breakfast or sip a pre-dinner aperitif outside, at one of these tables...)


The hosts have the usual cheeses, salumis, breads, cakes, fruits, yogurts all on display for you, but in addition, they mix you up veggie coctails and fruit drinks and infused waters and, too, they make a warm main dish -- today's was avocado toast with a poached egg.


This immediately takes away the problem of where and when to eat lunch. A full meal in the morning will hold me 'til dinner.

And now I have a day of exploring before me. So... what do you do if you find yourself at the tip of Lake Como? The answer is -- it very much depends on the time of the year.

With the help of my hosts, I've identified several villages I'd like to get close to. You hop on the ferry and get off when you want to.

But, I'm here in the off season. The ferries run in the morning and in the evening for people who rely on them to get to work/school/stores. In the day -- not so much. Maybe two runs to the more distant places and that's it. And so I have to wait quite a bit to catch my ferry and then coordinate my hop off - hop on schedule with their very limited service.

Hey, but what a pleasure it is to be here in the off season! I can imagine that with crowds and a relentlessly warm sun, things can get pretty stressful in midsummer. Not today.

As for the ferry wait -- there's plenty to do in Como in the interim. With the old city mostly closed off to traffic, walking is magnificent!


And the sun-splashed colors -- sublime!


I visit the Duomo. I take no photos because honestly, you have to be really impassioned about very old churches to enjoy someone else's snapshots of cathedral interiors.

And then I walk some more. It's a chance for me to really get the grid of the city down pat. No more getting lost!

(Meet a native of Como, Alessandro Volta. Whaaat? You don't know who that is? Think electric batteries! He invented the first one some two hundred years ago.)


Oftentimes, long walks in new places give me a chance to get at least a glimpse of what it's like to live there. I see people. I can watch, listen. But Como is tricky that way: you can't assume that even the Italian speaking people are locals. They could be Italian tourists. Como, after all, is just a short skip away from Milan. It is very much a tourist destination.

In many ways, the town is positioned at the least attractive point of the lake. Like the other regional bodies of water in northern Italy, Lake Como is long and skinny (about 30 miles in length and never more than a couple of miles across). Como is at the base and you really have to round the first corner to see pretty much anything of interest. Otherwise, standing at the town's waterfront, all you see is this:


Nice enough, but you need to go around many a bend to look at something that is more than just "nice."

Like for example this...


... and even further north -- this... (Lake Como is quite close to the Alpine peaks. When they appear, your jaw drops.)


I only take the ferry halfway up the lake -- first to Lenno, then to Varenna -- but in that stretch, I see such enormous beauty, that I just cannot take my finger off of the camera's shutter release. The light itself is dazzling and it has an enormous impact on how you view the mountains, the villages, the water. Shadows move across the hills and peaks, houses fade in and out of your field of vision -- it's all rather magical!

I get off at the village of Lenno, because I know there is a pretty park, with a villa that is open to the public. Here, you can see them from the boat.


When I disembark, I realize that these wee towns have very little in common with Como. They are tranquil. Restful. Quiet.

I'm one of the few who gets off at Lenno, and as I try to find my bearings, I come across the path to the Villa. It's an easy half hour walk. Easy, but so very beautiful! And guess what?! The wild primroses are blooming their heads off!


After the city rush of Cuomo, Lenno feels decidedly closer to sane. And the views are all yours, at every step.

(Well, they also belong to the statues that gaze out at the lake 24/7)


(Looking south...)


(Looking north...)


My next pause is in Varenna. But before the boat pulls in there, it makes a stop at Bellagio. This is where the hoards get off (and later -- get on), this little town, made perhaps crazy famous when Las Vegas put up its own glitzy version of this Italian wee gem.


I turn away from Bellagio and face the colorful houses of Varenna.


But, the boat schedule being what it is, I don't have much time to take lengthy walks here. I take a lakefront stroll, buy myself an ice cream cone...



...  and retreat back to the  boat landing for the trip home.


The boat pulls into Como just at the aperitif hour. I meander home, stopping at some kids clothes stores, smiling to myself as I marvel at how quickly they're all growing. Primrose is catching up to her big cousin! Or at least it feels that way, as I buy each girl the same sweater, only a few sizes apart.


It is my last evening in Italy and I would have liked to have gone back for that Americano aperitif at the bar I popped into yesterday, but honestly, I am tired. I settle in to do some photo work in my hotel room. Never fear! The hosts make excellent cocktails here as well! This one is with berries and juices and it is delivered to my room with  a tray of cheeses and snacks. Heaven.


For dinner, my hosts recommend Crianza -- a restaurant outside the ancient city walls, but still a mere ten - fifteen minute walk from where I am staying. It serves food from the Puglia region and that's just such a treat for me. Ed and I had visited that southern area some time ago and I have quite the strong memories of our time there.

Food in Italy is completely dictated by regional preferences and traditions. Yesterday's Tuscan fare had little in common with today's Puglian foods. I wont say one is better than the other, but I will admit to liking Crianza even more than yesterday's da Rino.

For one thing, it is a better run operation. If yesterday's meal took three hours, today's took 1.5. That's just about perfect for a solo diner. Three is too long. One is too short. The pace of tonight's dinner was as good as it gets.

And, the room was packed. It was the first time since I've come to Como where I felt sure that all the people in the room were locals. 

Not least of all --  the food was fabulous: the kind of stuff that has touches of imagination and creativity (a panna cotta over lime jelly and with salted crispy capers for dessert!), but, too, does the basics perfectly. My seafoods were just dusted with breadcrumbs before being fried. The effect was so light and airy that you needed nothing more but a squeeze of lemon over the dish to make it perfect.

I walk home full. And I don't get lost! Or at least I know how to recover quickly when I take a wrong turn. (The streets are narrow and dimly lit. Here's a dad walking home late with his daughter, who is on a scooter -- all a shadowy blur, barely visible as everything and everyone eventually fades into the darkness)


I'm sure tonight I will get my first good night's rest of my trip! It just feels like the day has stripped away layers of stress and hurry. And there is no rush anymore for me. I've seen people, I've explored new places. Tomorrow, I fly to Paris.