MAY 30

We left our Sorrento hotel even earlier than was necessary to catch an early metro train into Napoli. So much earlier were we that we even caught an earlier one which put us into Napoli to catch a earlier than expected train from Napoli through Rome to Firenza. Taking our luggage with us we maneuvered our way to Massimo's shop to take the final fittings of our leather jackets before he sent then home by post.

Everything went smoothly and we headed back to the train station where we could check the time of our next train so we would know how long we had to linger over lunch. At the station the departure board indicated that a train was leaving for our destination in four minutes. Grabbing a sandwich in the meal car we watched the scenery to Milan. Our connection in Milan for Varenna was also well timed and we landed in Varenna at 7:10pm.

 

We had reserved an apartment for the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th of June but had arrived early thinking we might be able to add three days. The apartment was not available until the following night, so we stayed in their hotel for this first night. Marina, the owner/manager misunderstood our request for additional days and calculated that we wanted to stay four nights ... only earlier than expected.

We left it that way so are options would be open.

 

MAY 31

Marina said the apartment would be ready after breakfast. It is a two bedroom apartment on the sixth (top) floor with a living/dining area and a small kitchen. With the main bedroom sleeping two plus a crib, the "children's room" sleeping three with two single beds plus a top bunk, and the livingroom having a daybed plus a trundle bed below .... this apartment would suit a family just fine.

The views from the "children's room" and bathroom is of the lake. The view from the living/dining room is of the hillside past the railway station. There is a balcony just large enough to stand on with a clothes line strung between the side railings. We moved the dining table over to the window and got settled in.

Shopping for groceries in a small town, in a foreign language and not really knowing what you are looking for, or even what you might end up with, is a very special part of European travel. Pointing and saying "please" and "thank you" in the appropriate language goes a long way. 

Not sure how to pronounce all the numbers can be solved by holding up fingers ... remembering in Europe they start counting with their thumb as one; not the index finger as we are used to doing in North America. Learning to say "small" ["petite" in French and "piccalo" in Italian] is also helpful because most things [i.e. cheeses] here are not prepackaged. 

The big supermarkets have most things we expect to find in such stores back home ... with many of the same brands. The smaller stores (usually a third the size of our common "corner store"), however, have to be selective as to what they display ... the items locals use a lot and in the sizes they desire. So, things like paper towels aren't found in these small stores, but there is usually a good selection of wines and larger bottles of olive oil. 

Although these small stores might carry a bit of this and that like cheese, salami and bread, each store seems to specialize in certain products ... this store might have a wider selection of sausages and cheese while the other store close by will carry some but display more fresh fruit and vegetables. Self service of fruit and vegetables is frowned on ... the shop owner will follow you around as you point and say how many you desire. Shopping times are different as well. Most stores in these small towns shut down for a couple of hours in mid-day to allow the owners some time to enjoy their lunch and families.
We got a bird's eye view from our apartment as to how very nurturing an Italian family can be. We looked down into the the back yard of a family with mother, father, three boys about the ages of six, four and two; plus grandmother and grandfather. The interactions were loving, caring, very patient, low keyed instruction ... a joy to observe. When the adults were not tending the children they were nurturing their small garden with its neat rows. When father appeared mother would tell him of the children (could not hear but hand gestures were telling) and then take him by the hand to the garden and proudly show where budding plants were starting to show in the weed free dirt patch.

 

JUN 01

The plan was to stroll to the next town and on the way see the "milky river" ... that was the plan.

Varenna is built on a rock promontory shadowed by a low mountain topped by castle ruins. Varenna's past is based in medieval times with a church in the town's main square dating back to the 10th century.

We started out by going into the main square where we purchased our groceries yesterday to visit the tourist information centre. Finding it closed we guessed the direction we should take and proceeded to follow the directions of the white arrows that were marked at intervals along the way. We turned up a road to the cemetery.

Since doing genealogy we find cemeteries are kind of neat places to take a stroll ... they give an interesting snapshot of the local population. Wars and epidemics take their toll at certain times and the dates present themselves en masse. Here we found evidence of W.W.II and noticed that women outlived men and the women reached ripe old ages. Pictures on the gravestones make it all that more personable. On a land bench above the graveyard family mausoleums lined up against the mountainside. 

As we left the graveyard another North American couple entered. They were on their way to the abby turned castle (Or castle turned monastery and now in private hands.) and said, "It says here," pointing to a map from the tourist office, "that it's a twenty minute walk. When we get there we will have a well deserved lunch in the restaurant and be in time to watch the falconer's demonstration."
They entered the level graveyard as we made our way up the stairs. At the top the trail split.  The wider and seemingly more traveled trail turned right and went behind the mausoleums ... we followed it as it twisted and turned and climbed ever higher on the side of the hill until it came to a cross path. 

The information we had was not clear and a talk with a young couple approaching from the downhill fork said that it lead across the little river and to the village down by the lake.

We had originally set out for the village and the little river, but if, according to the lady at the graveyard the castle, restaurant and falconry were only another ten minutes uphill then we would head uphill. So up the narrower steeper path we climbed.
We paused at the little Fiumelatte River just above where it gushes from the ground. This 250 meter (800 foot) river is in the Guinness book of records for being the shortest river. It only runs six months of the year and when it does, it runs so swiftly, so cold and frothy that it appears white, therefore, its nicknamed "the milky river".
We continued to climb, thinking with each turn the castle would come into view but each turn just presented another hill to climb. We couldn't hear anyone coming behind us, nor had we met anyone coming downhill ... they all must be staying at the castle for the falcon show. A few sprinkles of rain hit our faces and felt good. As it began to come down harder we started to look for a place to take shelter until it cleared off a bit.
Terry saw ahead an overhang of rock under which there was a shallow cave. We spread out our picnic cloth and took refuge. From our daybag we took the makings for a little picnic while Terry told Sherrie of the forts he had built with his friends in similar outcroppings above Lillooet when they were all young boys. One such fort even had a water spring coming from within. So magical was this special place they had named it "Toyland". We felt this refuge also deserved a name in keeping with it's natural beauty, the distant view of the lake (which today blended almost seamlessly with the grey misty sky), and the memory it was creating for us. We fittingly named it "Villa del Craggy".

The rain let up shortly after the picnic supplies were repacked and we once more headed upwards and upwards still. At one point a falcon flew over. The castle must be close. Just up ahead a rock wall came into view and then another like tiers on a wedding cake. Sherrie (not an uphill climber) was grateful. Walking a level path below one of the rocked retaining walls, we expected to see the castle above us as it had been a couple of hours (including our time at Villa del Craggy) since starting up the narrow path from the junction. 

Instead of a castle the path led into a clearing where young olive trees had been planted and the view opened to the lake about 800 metres (about a half of a mile) below. The pathway started down and then came to a dirt road at a turn where it went up and it went down. Thinking "we just can't be that far from the castle now ... and we have come this far ... lets head up. Up we went for about thirty meters and the road petered out. Back down we came around the corner and past the trail we had taken from Villa del Craggy. Even farther down we finally saw the castle .... in the distance ... far below us. It took us some time to walk down and when we came to the path leading back up to the castle said "we may not have been to it ... but we've seen it!" and continued our way back to Varenna.

Before heading to our apartment we backtracked to the main square and bought pasta, sauce, cheese, meat, bread, salad, and wine from the little stores to make dinner for ourselves.

 

JUNE 2

It was a festival day in Italy so most businesses were closed. It was a good day to go to Lugano, Switzerland ... just as a day trip from Varenna ... so that's what we planned. Just like yesterday ... plans don't always come off quite as one intends them to do.

We took a boat across the lake to Menaggio where we hopped a bus and headed to Lugano. 

The scenery started to change. The mountains became higher and more rugged. Homes changed as well. The use of wood giving them a more alpine look.

The bus was waved through the Italian side of the border. After going through a tunnel, the bus emerged at the Swiss checkpoint and stopped. 
It was at this point when we realized our passports were locked away in our suitcases in the locked apartment. The only thing we had was Terry's driver's license (at least photo ID) and Sherrie's bank card (not at all useful as ID).
The guard collected our meager I’D offerings and got off the bus and conferred with another. We became the other passenger's focus of attention. Are they wanted criminals escaping from heaven-knows-what? 
The guard returned to the bus and motioned us to get off. Heads turned and eyes watched. One man called out, "It's the firing squad for you!" The only kind words came from the lady sitting ahead of us who was aware we had forgotten our passports. When we left the bus, the others were left to speculate. There we stood. Our first visit to Switzerland. The bus pulled away. We watched it go and wondered, "what next?" A tall Swiss guard approached and asked in English, "you left your passports at the hotel?". We nodded "yes" and Sherrie put a finger to her head and added, "dummkopf". He laughed and said something to the young guard who had so nicely kicked us off the bus, and in essence out of Switzerland. The young one suggested that we have a coffee at yon café and wait for the bus which would be by in twenty minutes or so. So, in the direction he pointed, we walked a few more meters into Switzerland and had drinks on a patio overlooking a Swiss lake with a view of the Italian Alps.

Thoughts raced through our minds: What was going to happen when we got on the bus here and the Italians stopped us at the Italian side of the border tunnel? Would they allow us back into Italy without our passports in hand? 

If they called the hotel, the hotel could only identify Sherrie because they only needed one for their records and her's was it. Would that mean Sherrie might have to return leaving Terry in no-man's-land? Can you imagine some of the fantastic scenarios we concocted during our wait? Twenty-five minutes later we boarded the same blue bus with the same driver, went back through the same tunnel and held our breaths. The bus slowed down behind a car in front. The guard waved the car through then looked up at the bus and waved it through as well. We looked at each other with eyebrows raised .... perhaps just a bit disappointed that the international intrigue was over so anticlimactically.

Back in Menaggio we settled into a gazebo on the promenade to have a picnic. 
After we had finished feeding ourselves as well as the trout and ducks that gathered below us, we sauntered along the promenade and beyond through a lakeside park. 

At the far end of the park there were fishing stations jutting out from the shore. Each station had a board walk out to a platform. Literally a "board walk" -- a plank about ten inches wide and twelve feet long. The platform, raised above the level of the lake is only big enough for one person to stand, with a fence guard to lean against ... like the prow of a small boat which gave Terry the inspiration to do his Titanic impression.

Licking on a gelato, we walked back to the ferry dock and caught the next ferry to Bellagio.

Lake Como is shaped like a man. Varenna, where the apartment is, would be near the hip on the right side and Menaggio would be near the hip on the left side. Bellagio would be the man's crotch.
Already inhabited in prehistoric times, Bellagio was the summer residence of the Roman patricians and then of Lombardy's noble families who built magnificent villas here. In the past Bellagio has enchanted Longfellow, Twain, Shelly and many more poets, artists and musicians plus the wearers of the deep pockets who have built The Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Being in the centre of Lake Como, Bellagio has a mild climate and temperatures do not fall below 6-7C in the winter nor higher than 25-30C in summer and mitigated by the light breeze that is typical of Lake Como. 
We looked through some of the shops crowded with tourists and then walked out of town to the park (at the tip of the crotch) that is called Punta Spartivento [the point that divides the wind"].
From the breakwater we could see both Menaggio and Varenna and watched a fisherman trying to catch lake trout using pieces of baguette for bait.  What else would a Italian trout want ... spaghet? 
He was not successful while we were there ... perhaps these trout were the same ones which shared our lunch.

The weather continued to clear through the day and our arrival back in Varenna was very picturesque. We may not have had the day that was planned ... but we had a great day.

 

JUNE 3

A lazy day to enjoy Varenna.  We did a last load of laundry ... washing by hand and then hanging out to dry on the balcony's clothes line.

We walked around the village, watched ferries come and go and strolled along the promenade which was the gift of a local who got lucky in an Italian lotto.   It is amazing, peering into Lake Como, how many trout can be seen at any given time.
Returned to the apartment, had dinner while viewing our Italian neighbour family; folded the laundry and did our initial packing for an early departure in the morning.

To finish off our enjoyable stay in Varenna we walked back down to the lake again, along the promenade and ate a gelato at lakeside while we watched the sunset.

 

It has been a good stay.

 

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