Hello everyone, we have literally just walked in the door from our trip to Italy, so I thought I’d update you all on that and other recent happenings, no point ‘prevaricating about the bush’ (10 points if you know where that reference comes from) and leave it another month, by which time it would all be well out of date. Although it is 11:30pm and I might not stay awake for much longer.
Sooo, where to start. Melinda and Phil came to visit us for 5 or 6 days the week before last – Melinda is the next in line for the RAIA national presidency, not that I’m bragging about connections or anything. The second female and youngest ever president – congratulations to her! Looking forward to seeing what changes she can make during her presidency. We had some very nice dinners and caught up a lot, although Melinda’s problem knee managed to disrupt their sight-seeing intentions. She saw quite a bit of the inside of our flat – exciting stuff! Hopefully it doesn’t impede the remaining 5 weeks of their European travels too much.
We spent the past week in an apartment in a lovely villa on the shores of Lake Como in the Lombardy district of Italy. We had an apartment between 5 of us, it was supposed to be 6 but at the last minute one of our crew unfortunately had to pull out. The weather of the first few days was a bit London-like, but it cleared up beautifully on Wednesday and we sweltered our way through the rest of the week. My tolerance for temperature variations is very narrow, I went from being too cold to breaking out in heat rashes in the space of a few days – it’s never quite right! Lake Como is indeed a really lovely part of the world, the scenery is just magnificent. The mountains run along the length of the lake and off into the distance, providing a stunningly picturesque backdrop to any occasion. It’s quite near to the Swiss border so the mountains must turn into the Swiss Alps eventually – we saw snow-capped mountains off in the distance. The lake is I think about 50-60kms long and about 2-3 kms wide, in the shape of an upside-down Y. The city of Como is at the bottom left leg of the lake, and we stayed in a town called Mezzegra just outside of a village called Tremezzo which is about half-way up on the western shore of the lake, just opposite Bellagio which is considered to be the jewel in the crown, although I personally preferred Como to Bellagio as it’s less touristy. Mezzegra is quite remote, in that it took about 4 hours to get there from the airport outside of Bergamo, near Milan. We encountered more forms of transport in getting to the villa from the airport than I ever have in one day before – buses, plane, trains, funicular, ferry boat, car and walking – quite an exhausting achievement. The whole area of the Lake is very touristy, and surprisingly pedestrian unfriendly. I guess most people go there by car which meant that most of the transport links are predicated on car/boat use rather than public transport/walking. Some parts of the villages are amazing little old stone buildings with winding narrow streets, just how I imagine an old European hill town to be, however you have to seek these out as they are almost like a hidden sub-hierarchy to the major web of car links, which I believe have impacted quite badly on the functioning of these towns as they have turned previously pedestrian- or cart-width lanes into narrow two-way streets, with no room for footpaths. We risked our lives numerous times walking along the sides of roads with stone walls or hill-side drops on one side and car/tour bus/truck traffic whizzing past on the other, it was quite hair-raising approaching blind corners that were barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic, wondering if a bus was tearing along towards you on the other side. The public transport was also a tad erratic, with buses a rarity particularly on Sunday and Monday. However once we figured out the bus and ferry timetables a little better, discovered a few walking paths, and found a local taxi driver called Paolo, we were able to get around reasonably well. Much of our time was spent mooching about villages, eating pasta with tomato sauce (not a huge variety of meal choices for the no pesci, no carni, no formaggio types), drinking the local vino rosso, slurping on gelati at every opportunity, visiting manicured gardens, and taking endless photos of the ever changing moods of the mountain/lake scenery.
Our villa-sharing flatmates went off for a day of golf on the Monday which unfortunately was accompanied by continuous drizzling rain, making it a hard slog especially on a mountain-terrain course, while Justin and I walked 8 km south of our villa along the Greenway, a delightful walking path through mountain and village scenery. Oddly the Greenway ended without warning in a place called Colonna, a very pretty town to see, but unfortunately not on the ferry route and not serviced by buses that day, so we had to walk another 2 km precariously balanced on a mesh walkway 20m above the lake on the edge of the freeway with trucks roaring past, to the next town where we could catch the ferry. Hairy stuff!
The highlight and principal reason for the trip came on Wednesday, when we bussed 50mins to Como to catch the train into Milan. After a day of sightseeing including the fabulous Milano Duomo – the trip up to the rooftop is amazing and well worth the 150 steps – we went to the Arena Civica for the Radiohead concert! Apparently the Arena was originally an old Roman entertainment venue so that was pretty cool anyway, and to see our favourite band play there was just fantastic! I have to say, they are excellent live. We had an epic journey to get back to our villa after the concert, including catching the last train out of Milan, changing to a bus at Saronno, and a 2am taxi ride from Como along the lake with a full-moon rising over the mountains.
While the rest of our holiday-mates recovered the next day by lounging around the villa, Justin and I headed back to Como (the birthplace of Alessandro Volti – as in Volt – as in the inventor of the battery) to see another Duomo, a 10th century Basilica, the city gates from the same era, and a well-regarded modern building (the Casa del Fascio by Terragni – apparently an architectural must-see although we couldn’t really see why??). And we rounded off the week with a day in Bellagio on Friday, with a 12th century Basilica, more manicured gardens, more gelati shops and more waterside restaurants serving more pasta with tomato sauce. All in all a very lovely location with stunning scenery, well worth the visit but probably would have been worth hiring a car to see more things further afield, and a week was more than enough time to see the main sights. I have now realised that I am a traveller who needs a mission and a goal, I like to see sights and learn about the history and culture of the place, and I get a tad restless if the raison d’etre of a place is Relaxation. I feel a bit guilty just sitting around when there are historical sights to see! I’m sure Justin will fill you in with his take on our trip. Photos will follow…
ciao for now, jane