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
|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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
|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
backtracked to the main square and bought pasta, sauce, cheese, meat,
bread, salad, and wine from the little stores to make dinner for
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
|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
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
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
||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
| 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?
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.
A lazy day to enjoy Varenna.
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.
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.
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.
been a good stay.