It's so difficult for me to begin to write a summary of several days of wonderful experiences. This happens everytime we go somewhere and I'm unable to write in the meantime...it just becomes overwhelming. It's the same thing that happens when I am in the middle of such beautiful scenery that I want to catch it all on camera - but then I give up after a while because I feel a photo could just never capture. But here goes. At least the first part of my ramblings on our trip to Lake Como...
On Monday morning we bundled up, grabbed our heavy backpacks filled with winter clothes, holiday snacks, laptops and bath accessories, and headed to the train station for the ride to small village of Varenna on Lake Como in northern Italy. Our first train (Firenze - Milano) was late so we missed our final train by 10 min and had to wait an additional 2 hours for the next one. We fought the urge to explore Milano while we had some time and instead found a small cafe in the neighborhood outside the Stazione Centrale while we waited. Finally, on the train again we began to see a bit of snow, mountains, and finally the grand lake on our left just as we passed Lecca (the larger town on the south east of the lake). Next stop: Varenna.
There was an older couple sitting next to us on the train and we noticed how text-book clearly they spoke. I was curious to hear the accent of this region of Italy as I can now distinguish different regional Italian intonations. This was just the beginning of the pleasant language surprises that awaited us on our trip - everyone seemed to talk slower, clearer, and more defined and deliberate than we're used to hearing. It was very refreshing.
When we arrived in Varenna, the manager of the apartment we were renting met us and welcomed us with a list of tips for the area as we walked along the lake-side promenade and awed at the picturesque town and tranquil lake. The apartment was lovely, complete with a wonderful view of the water, original beams and doors from the 16th century... and a modern bathroom complimented by my #1 vacation request - a tub!
Although the weather was gorgeous (completely cloudless skies the entire time)...it was SO cold! It was a constant battle with wanting to be outside enjoying the beauty, and inside allowing my body parts to return to a healthy temperature. But mostly, the outside urge won - and we were bundled up and by the lake within the first 30 minutes of arrival. *pause for a quick explanation of the title of this post: I read the book "City of Falling Angels" by John Berendt earlier this year about Venice (great read), which inspired me to name Varenna the "City of Falling Erins" being that I couldn't quite stay upright. Either it was the new boots, stiff joints, altitude, or maybe my equilibrium was frozen - but after my first fall on the cobblestone slope by the beach (which broke the lens shutter-protector thingy on our camera), my second fall on a small bridge of the lake-side walkway (which left my knee bruised, scuffed the new boots, and scraped my hand), or my countless other stumbles...but Chris wouldn't let me walk by myself after that on any uneven ground the rest of the trip - especially while holding the camera.*
The scenery was magical: snow-covered Swiss Alps in the distance, never-ending clear water, pastel towns dotting the banks, beautiful green cypress and palm trees juxtaposed along the other bare trees with spidery limbs, a sky that was cloudless for 4 days and constantly changed colors, and clean air. Since it is the peak of the off-season, the town was almost bare...shops, museums and most restaurants closed, very few people on the streets, and only ducks ventured on the beach or in the water.
On Tuesday we bought tickets for the ferry boat and rode across the lake to the center point (Lake Como is shaped like an upside-down "Y" and we traveled in a triangle around the middle) to the beautiful towns of Bellagio and Menaggio. Our first stop was Bellagio, and it was much more amazing than the hotel in Vegas (big shock). Almost as deserted as Varenna, we enjoyed wandering around sans map through the small alleys and peaking in the store windows. There were quite a few more places open here and we were able to visit a Medieval church, cafe, and pastry shop. Instead of splurging for a big lunch, we just spread our money out for small, frequent stops for drinks and bites throughout the day - it gave us more opportunities as well to go inside and warm up as well. I could picture how bustling this town is in the summer with the upper-class tourists milling about in Prada sunglasses and Gucci swimsuits eating gelati.
Menaggio was a bit larger than Varenna and Bellagio and offered a taste of normal daily actives. We happened upon a school just as the students were hurrying out for break and we had a bite of lunch at a pizzeria while several kids came in for a piece of focaccia bread or slice of pizza. There was a big Christmas tree in the main square and they were setting up for a concert later in the day. We took the ferry back to Varenna just as the sun was setting and the town turned a pinkish-orange as we arrived...and I headed straight for the steaming bath.
...more to come in the next post (one of the best stories so far!)