Well, that was quite a weekend! I started Friday with a peach, croissant, and cappuccino before heading off to Termini to catch the train to Milan (and on from there to Como). Right after I had settled on a place for lunch and taken my seat outside, a huge thunderstorm (including hail) broke out. I was under cover, but the rain was so heavy that all of us who had been outside had to move inside. The meal itself was excellent—a couple of caprese sandwiches and glasses of wine.
I then took a ferry to Lenno and a taxi boat to Villa Balbianello (the taxi boat is quite a racket—they only let you walk on certain days so that the only option for getting there is often the taxi boat). This is the villa where scenes of Star Wars: Episode II and Casino Royale were filmed, and it is fabulous! The gardens and views are amazing, and I took a tour of the villa itself—formerly owned by Guido Monzino (an avid collector/explorer—he went to the North Pole and most of the way up Everest) and something of a museum to him. It even has secret passages between the library and changing room!
Things on Lake Como, like in much of Italy, end up taking longer than you think they will or should, so you just have to roll with it. I wasn’t able to do much else on Friday. I had some gelato in Lenno while waiting for the ferry back to Como, where I took a bus straight to the hostel because it was raining. The hostel was very nice and welcoming, and I had a full and cheap dinner of pasta, wine, zucchini, some sort of fried meat, and ice cream (and talked with some Aussies on holiday).
For breakfast Saturday I had orange juice, bread, cake, cereal, and really good hot chocolate. I walked along the lake, stopping in front of Villa Olmo and continuing into the town of Como itself. I bought some supplies and did some local shopping before heading to the funicular up to Brunate. At the top, I had some trouble finding the beginning of hiking trail I was looking for, but eventually figured it out. I hiked the first half of the “Dorsale,” or ridge, trail from Como to Zelbio, and the views are amazingly gorgeous. I could not do the “per creste” versions of the trail (I tried one, but it was too steep and I turned back to the regular trail). There were “refuges” along the way for refreshment, including a popular sunbathing spot at Sormano, but despite a stop there for lemon torte, my legs and feet were absolutely dead by the end of my walk down the road to Zelbio. Zelbio is a cute, small, family-oriented town and the National had a good restaurant/gathering place where I got pizza and beer for dinner. Oddly, there was no shower curtain in my room, but the weather was wonderful. I decided that evening to abandon the second day of my hike.
I had a good breakfast at the National Sunday (orange juice, cappuccino, croissants, cake), then set off on what turned out to be a long, tricky walk down to Nesso (I was aiming for the 11 a.m. ferry to Bellagio). The whole town is on a steep hill, so it exists in levels, and I made a couple false descents to the water before finally finding the ferry landing a couple minutes before 11. Alas, no ferry came over the next hour (I found out later in Bellagio that there was a ferry strike all day Sunday!). After I heard a woman explain to someone else that there was “no boat,” I did see some folks jumping off a nearby stone bridge; when I went to check it out, I could see the ravine it crossed leading up to an amazing waterfall.
My new plan was to take the bus, but I had to wait a couple hours so I got lunch overlooking the lake (prosecco, ravioli with creamed spinach, strawberries & gelato). The bus was incredibly crowded (probably because of the ferry strike), so I was sitting on the bar on the steps up front. However, you can’t buy a ticket on board, so the driver forced me off to buy one at the next stop (happily, with the help of a pair of girls from Portugal & Latvia, the driver waited for me and I did not have to wait 2 hours for the next bus). Once in Bellagio, I walked around and explored the shops before walking down to the Gardens of Villa Melzi—gorgeous (I keep using that word, but it applies each time)! I also went to the public beach and got to swim in Lake Como in the late afternoon sun looking at Bellagio on one side and Villa Balbianello on the other! I walked back through the gardens on my way to catch the ferry to Cadenabbia for the evening (the ferry strike lifted in the late evening for “essential services”—this is a frequent thing in Italy—announced & limited public transportation strikes).
My hotel, La Marianna, was lovely, and I had nice room with a wrap-around balcony. I partook of the full fixed gourmet menu (with 25% discount as a guest) at the attached restaurant, Cucina della Marianna. The view right on the lake of Bellagio was amazing, as was the food—prosecco, caprese salad (creamed in a glass—hard to explain, but very tasty), herbed bread, crepe/rabbit lasagna, game hen rolls & zucchini, and peach salad in jelly. I also got to chat with a couple from London, Mark & Victoria, late into the evening, and we all tried grappa (a bit strong and not great). Overall, one of the most interesting days I have experienced.
Monday I rushed breakfast a bit (eggs, cereal with strangely thick milk, cake, and orange juice) so I could catch the 8:20 ferry in Tremezzo (after a short 1-2 km walk)—I was hoping to move my trains up so I could have some more recovery time at the Centro in Rome, but it would have cost 40 euro, so I just hung out in Como for the day. I walked along the water, sat and read, and explored the shops more (and got a banana and some “cookies” gelato). My train to Milan was late (and overbooked—I had to stand the whole time), so I missed my connection to Rome and had to take a later train. Of course, there were no seats, so I had to sit on the floor the entire 3.5 hour trip (it should have been 3, but there was a delay while something with the train was repaired in Florence)! By the time I made it back to Rome and took the 75 to the Centro, I was too late for dinner so I got some pizza, and then went out with Mike and Nicole to get some ice cream cake at the local kosher shop. It was a bit of long, crazy end to a pretty amazing weekend. I definitely need to go back to Lake Como for a longer vacation one day soon!