We all woke up at 7 today, which would potentially sound like we are refreshed, but quite the opposite. Absolutely none of us slept well at all. Everyone was wide away most of the night or tossing and turning. I think and hope this is the jet lag cutting loose and maybe we will be more accustomed to the time for the rest of the trip.
We had a pleasant surprise in the taxi cab on the way to the train station. We found a taxi driver leaving a restaurant and asked if he was available. His English was quite good and he welcomed us in. We hadn’t really realized that there weren’t other taxis around until he said that we were lucky, as buses and trams were striking until 12:45, so getting a taxi had been nearly impossible. He assured us that the trains were running fine.
The driver asked where we were from. When we told him Jacksonville, Florida, his first response was “Lynyrd Skynyrd!” That was definitely not a response we were expecting. It turns out, he loves Southern Rock and says that he grew up on it. He spoke about the Allman Brothers (also from here) as well. He then told us this fascinating story about how he couldn’t afford a guitar, and one day in the guitar shop, Larry Johnson Jr., who was a blues musician from America who came to perform in Europe, saw him looking guitars. He ended up buying him the guitar and hiring him on to do four European tours over six years playing with Johnson’s band. His band opened for ZZ Top, and Billy Gibbons told him that he played La Grange better than Gibbons did. He also opened for BB King! Our driver released an album in 2010 and was kind enough to play the CD on our way to the train station! (By the way, you can read about other encounters like this we had in Italy by going to the post, 13 Experiences in Italy.) We also discussed how other countries like China pay a high social and environmental price for the luxuries the Western world buys cheaply, that a plastic bottle takes 900 years to disintegrate (but that’s good because if we can figure out how to do something useful with the bottles, landfills will be a good resource for them), and we talked about a medical treatise from the middle ages. He was an excellent guy and I would probably be good friends with him if we lived closer (or if I knew his name!). In fact, if anyone knows of the taxi driver in Milano who plays in a Southern Rock band, please comment below! 🙂
We made our way to the train station and bought our first regional train tickets! The tickets were cheap. We purchased roundtrip tickets for maybe 10 Euro apiece. Perhaps that was one way, but ultimately, the price was inexpensive. It turns out that we had accidentally bought first-class tickets, which is fine, but we didn’t realize that until later after we had arrived in Como!
We hadn’t had breakfast when we boarded the 10:20 train to Varenna. There was a little confusion for us when we got there as apparently Italian trains don’t post what platform number they’re going to arrive at until right when they arrive, and then you have between 3 and 6 minutes roughly to board before, without any fanfare or warning, the trains depart. So, while we had arrived early to get tickets and figure things out, we were very confused when we couldn’t find where the Varenna train would arrive. As a side note, I’ll be making another post about train travel in Italy soon, so I won’t go into excessive detail here. Still, we found our train and boarded and were set to arrive at 11:23-ish.
We had a table together, which was nice, and while we really wanted to watch the countryside as it went by, the view at the beginning wasn’t too exciting and we were exhausted. We napped off and on.
I have a couple of disclaimers here before I really talk about our experience. By far this particular day stands out as a very special day from our trip. While I enjoyed many moments and locations from the rest of our journey, our day trip to Lake Como will forever be something I remember. I can’t describe how beautiful it was. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. I’d imagine it would rank as one of the most beautiful places on Earth, no exaggeration. Because of the profound beauty, perfect weather, being with my father and my husband and sharing the experience with them, I have had a very difficult time writing about Lake Como! So, please excuse my clunky attempt. I hope that the pictures do this beautiful place justice.
When we got closer to Varenna, my ears began to pop as we passed through tunnels and increased our elevation rapidly. The view outside began to change and we all perked up a bit. Across from our side of the car were blue-green rivers and lakes set inside very green jagged mountains. Pretty red and orange towns stood out against the green mountains, perched along the waterways and climbed the side of the mountain face. These went by rapidly, and by the time we reached Varenna we had seen at least a hundred of these beautiful villages. I didn’t realize that we were seeing the narrow part of Lake Como and that the rivers and lakes we passed were all part of Lake Como and not separate at all.
We arrived in Varenna. Yes, it was busy with tourists such as ourselves, but being there made me understand why. The weather was just warm enough to invite a nap in the sun, and there was a lovely crisp background to the air when the wind blew. Even the wind was beautiful, being a gentle breeze that made you want to close your eyes, face into the wind, and breathe, and yet not enough to mess up anyone’s hair or blow anything off of tables. Just perfect. The sun was bright and shining with just a few clouds in the sky. There was even some kind of haze on the lake that I couldn’t quite identify, not just right above the water but all in the sky in a pretty way. I’m pretty sure now that the haze was evaporation from the lake that stayed in the valley between the mountains, forming translucent clouds that merged with the sky. The cliffs of the mountains were sharp and offered definition, but were softened by the green moss and trees growing everywhere. The water was blue-green, on the green side, but if you looked down by the shoreline it was clear. The lake was formed by glaciers, and is up to 1,300 feet deep in some places, so in the center the lake takes on on a dark blue appearance, fading to dark green the closer to shore, merging with a beautiful blue, and finally clear where the shore laps up over fall colored stones that taper out graciously under family boats and up to public areas to sit by the shore. Ducks and beautiful white swans swam the lake and little happy birds sang so proudly, settling by lunch venues hoping for a treat from the tourists. There were bright pink, purple, and yellow flowers everywhere, walls of green ivy leading to garden gates, and jasmine in the air. Varenna is situated in a wide part of the lake, hovering above the shoreline like the other small towns, and across the lake were many other small villages, all connected by a ferry system. Off in the distance are taller mountains with very high peaks, and on them were the reminders of winter snow. These are the Italian Alps, and on the border with the Swiss Alps, and provided a hand-painted background to all the beauty around us. Through the green mountains were cut rivets that carried large streams of melting snow and ice into the lake, forming small rivers through towns crowed by beautiful bridges and surrounded by parks. Could this place possibly be real?
The paths in Varenna wound along the water passed stores, small hotels and restaurants, and up stairways to the less trafficked areas of town. The most beautiful path through town was called the Greenway dei Patriarchi. Stone tunnels wrapped around blind corners and went dark with the blue bright water of the lake creating a beautiful view through cut out windows. The paths then wound back into the light or into the shade of an awning above a restaurant or shop.
Please excuse my less than stellar recording of this experience, but I was so overwhelmed it was hard to focus. If you want to see the walk we took, check out the video below. The Lake Como portion ends after the walk, around 6 minutes in.
We ate near the water and had a good lunch. The view was the best and the weather ideal for outdoor dining.
We then wandered down to the ferry, which was supposed to leave at 12:55 according to a timetable I’d found when we had first come into town. We took our time getting to the ticket office, thinking we had missed that boat, but when we got there, the upcoming boat was to Bellagio, so we bought return tickets as well and then boarded. Downstairs was hot, so we went upstairs, but had to sit apart as it was very populated. I should point out that the boat was not on the schedule, so either they were running ahead or behind, but more likely, in Italy it would seem that no one cared for exact times on regional trains or ferries.
We reached Bellagio and it was equally beautiful, but with many more shops. Bellagio had many of these blind corners that would unexpectedly turn out to be steps, quite steep and tall, often to the level where the church was located. Bellagio had lots and lots of shops and many more hotels and is definitely more populated than Varenna. No, no we didn’t see George Clooney, but Paul bought me a calligraphy set and I bought small stationery set. We stopped for ice cream near the church to rest and refresh, and the strawberry was incredible and dad loved it. Very friendly and kind people here.
We headed back to the ferry around 4. There are four ferry stations at Bellagio, so I went to ask which ferry would be for Varenna in person as I didn’t trust the time table. It turns out one was about to pull out, so we hurried hurried hurried over and made it on. We had to stand on the deck but it was pleasant in the wind, if perhaps slightly too sunny. The boat went to Menaggio first, but we didn’t disembark. Next time we return, which I hope is soon, we sill explore Menaggio. In fact, after some research recently it turns out that Menaggio has much more to do than Varenna and is less expensive than Bellagio.
When we returned, we stopped at park by the lake to pass a little time before our train, eventually heading back a little early around 4:40 for our 5:20 train departure.
I wanted to ask the lady at the very small train station about first class, as I wasn’t sure there was a first-class train despite our first-class tickets, but while I was in there, a train came and she said it was the Milano train. I panicked, as they only stop for two or three minutes max at regional stations, and found dad and Paul who were also anxiously waiting for me to show back up. Luckily we got on board. It turns out, according to the monitors, our train wasn’t 30 minutes early, but rather 30 minutes late! Again, this did not seem to overly bother any of the Italians around us.
We found first-class, but it was just a little bit more legroom and otherwise not necessarily worth the price, as it cost 3.5 Euro for that upgrade. We slept a lot on the ride back, and the peacefully quiet train was exactly what we needed.
We got back to the room and realized that we had made a mistake with Paul’s data plan. Basically, we forgot to have him close out of all his apps, so all day things like Google Maps were draining data and he was completely out after only a few days into our trip! I compulsively close mine so we still had one phone with data, and Paul made the decision to use WiFi only the rest of the trip. This actually worked out perfectly fine. We didn’t need anything on the internet other than the occasional map, and it was nice to take a break. Still, we learned our lesson for next time!
We went back out for dinner, and I ordered foccacio and what I thought was an appetizer of sliced meats. They brought me a place the size of a very large pizza out covered in meat, and another with just the bread! We headed back to the room to pack as we were so tired, and tomorrow we go back to the train station here in Milano to depart for Roma!
My impressions of Milan? It is 10:30 at night and there is a huge performance nearby on the street behind us at the back of a bar or something. It is crazy loud inside our AirBnB, with a microphone and screaming young people outside. Paul and I went out for drinks and we realized that this whole city is so very young. We are ready to leave and explore the rest of Italy, especially after today’s adventures. If we came back to Italy we would spend a week or more at Lake Como, and likely no days in Milano, or perhaps a day trip in to see the Last Supper. There’s nothing wrong with it per se; it just isn’t our vibe. Busy, crowded, loud, young, and hip. New York could be described by these standards, but I’d take NYC any day over Milan. Surprisingly, they smoke like chimneys here. Maybe it is an Italian thing, but smoke has been blown in our face almost everywhere, including restaurants. It’s weird to go somewhere and have ashtrays on the table still. We didn’t notice this as much in Varenna, but I’m concerned the rest of Italy may be the same way. I guess we will find out when we go to Rome tomorrow!
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