Monday, August 18, 2014

lake como

I was pretty excited for a change in scenery, and to be headed to the mountains! As I started my journey, it seemed unreal that in three train transfers I would finally arrive to see Lake Como and the Italian Alps up close and personal. I know I’ve said what a pain in the ass Bertha has been, but she really caused an issue on this leg of the trip. On my second train, the one from Genoa to Milan, I had to have a reserved seat. Fine, sure, no problem. What I didn’t know was that on this type of train the seats are basically in compartments, six seats in each. You have to find your “carriage” number, so I was train car (carraige) number 4. I boarded on one end and I was barely able to lift Bertha in all her glory up the steep three stepper onto the train. 

As I looked around, I was utterly perplexed. There were not only people standing there, but luggage EVERYWHERE. I looked down the skinny aisle and asked someone random, “where are the seats?” They pointed at the compartments on the other side of the doors. Ohh.

In compartment number one there was a lovely American family. Thank god. I think they saw my confusion, and Bertha, and asked what seat I was. I showed them my ticket and the dad delivered the bad news. “You have to go all the way down to the other end.” Crap.

It was a little like a double dare obstacle course except not fun at all. And I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I had to get from one end of this train car to the other down a skinny ass aisle littered with other people’s luggage..with Bertha in tow. Oh and I had about 6 Japanese people behind me waiting to get through too. I made it about halfway when I encountered a compartment of sleeping people, who had haphazardly left all of their very heavy, wide luggage in the way. 

I couldn’t go through it. I couldn’t go under it. I had to go over it. Me and the Japanese guy behind me lifted Bertha with all our might. It wasn’t pretty but we managed and I only had half a train car left to go! Several more instances like this and I finally found my seat. My seat was smack in the middle of a family, including a five year old boy. The woman on the end sucked in so I could get by with Bertha and I actually said out loud in frustration, “Really? Can you just move over one?” Thankfully she did. I sat on the end, holding onto Bertha the whole time because she was too big to go up top.

The train ride from Milan to Varenna, the little fishing village I had chosen to stay in on Lake Como, was pretty amazing. I picked it because it was a little more off the beaten path than the major towns like Bellagio and Menaggio, but it was still easily accessible by train and ferry. Once the lake came into view and the towering Alps surrounding it, I forgot all about the horrid train ride with compartments and Bertha. I was here!

I had originally booked a hotel through a couple weeks earlier, only to have them say a few days later that they overbooked for those dates and I was out of luck for a room. Rat bastards. Luckily I had found a small bed and breakfast through airbnb, (no thanks to and the owner actually picked me up from the train station in Varenna to haul me and Bertha to our humble abode for the next 36 hours or so.

Two more flights of stairs later, Bertha and I were alone in our room, and the windows were wide open to reveal a fantastic view of Lake Como. 

It was the cheapest place I’d booked on this trip so far, and the best view. I was exhausted. And starving. I had traveled most of the day again lacking snacks. After a quick stroll to the lake to check it out, I picked up a pizza and a beer and headed up to the terrace on the roof of the B&B. I watched the sunset and ate the whole pizza. It was magical, on both accounts.

I had planned to wake up right before sunrise since I had such a great view right out my window. The alarm went off and I stumbled over to the window. It was of course beautiful, but there were some nasty clouds hovering. Either way, see a sunrise,(kind of?) CHECK!

As if on cue, it started lightning. A minute later it was raining…in my room. do I shut these kind of windows? I did my best, closed the latch circa 1705, and it was still raining in the room. I couldn’t get them to stay shut and the puddles on the floor were getting bigger, oh, and it was 6am. I rigged one window shut with some teabags and a spoon I found on the desk in the room. I wasn't MacGyver, but it was my best effort. It held, for all of 2 seconds. I used every towel in the place. Housekeeping was going to have a ball with this one later.

It rained most of the morning and I was disappointed that my one full day in Lake Como was going to be rained out. My budget was starting to get really tight, and I had to complete my mission to make it to Switzerland. I tried to find some cheap things to do. First thing on my list was a short hike up to Castello di Vezio (Castle of Vezio), above Varenna. I started just as the rain was letting up. It was a pretty easy, uphill hike but pretty wet from the earlier downpour. 

fallen flower

This is where I discovered the world’s largest slug. By discovered I mean almost stepped on. Maybe he wasn’t the biggest in the world, but it was the biggest slug I’d ever encountered.

Anyways, enough about slugs. I reached the castle to find they charged to go in and see the views. Of course they did, what was I thinking?! At least it was only 4 Euro.

I walked in, and the views were just spectacular. 

You could see for miles and it really was just so beautiful. 

"Passion" statue

I walked up to the top of the castle via rickety bridge and spiral staircase. The views were even better up there.

After my wet hike, the weather started to clear up even more, and I was famished. The one restaurant I knew I had to try while in Varenna, was Il Cavatappi. It was the restaurant suggested to me by the Australian couple I’d met in Lucca whilst eating my salami pizza! Since I was avoiding eating dinner out at restaurants alone, I figured I’d stop in for lunch. And boy what a lunch it was! I had read about the caprese salad with burrata. It was delicious. I also had homemade ravioli with eggplant and smoked cheese and it was one of the best meals I think I have ever had. Thanks Australian couple! 

I knew I wanted to see Lake Como from the water as well, so I decided to take a quick jaunt over to Bellagio on the ferry.  It was the cheapest way to get on the water, and I could see one of the other major towns on the lake. Everyone else in the area had the same idea, and we were packed like sardines on the ferry. I couldn’t even snap a picture. On the way off, I was accosted by a stroller and some guy accidentally grabbed my boob. Most action I’d gotten in weeks.

Bellagio was fancy. Damnit, I thought, I should’ve brought a sweater to tie casually around my neck.  I spent all of 20 minutes wandering the streets, past ridiculously expensive shops and restaurants. Then I was ready to go back. I waited again for the ferry, and was so glad I had picked Varenna with it’s small village charm to stay in, over one of the bigger Lake Como towns. On the way back I was first in line to get on the ferry so I snagged one of the end seats and was able to enjoy the view as I had originally planned.

Bellagio from the lake

Varenna from the lake

Afterwards I knew I had to get what was to be my last gelato in Italy...

Because tomorrow I was headed to... SWITZERLAND!

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