May 19, 2003—We took off from New York City and landed Milano. DiAnn was sick with a headache and chills, but after a nap in the airport, we were off to take a bus to the train station. The bus ride was our introduction to the unfathomable insanity of driving in Italy. The bus went into tight spots and drove at top speeds tailgating large trucks on the highway. Milano's Central Station looked like a train station you would see in a very old movie. It was so big, we had to walk in every direction and up and down the stairs a few times to figure out where to buy tickets. We bought a railpass to use throughout our trip. We ate our first panini sandwich and waited for our train to Varenna on Lake Como. The scenery on the train, seeing mountains and glimpses of the lake, was enough to make our mouths drop open. But the regular travelers on the train paid no attention at all. We got off the train in Varenna and walked to our hotel down by the lake: Hotel du Lac. We walked downhill from the train station, were a little unclear which way to turn at a sleepy intersection, and eventually came to the town.
We came first to the cobblestone town piazza (photo above—that's me in the black & white striped shirt), then followed a winding path along the water, dragging our suitcases behind us. When we encountered a man trying to pull an elderly man in a wheelchair up a hill, Paul offered to help him. He refused, saying, "Merci beau coup," then spoke to his wife in Italian saying something about the "Cinese" (chee-nayz) who offered to help him. We laughed. As if we wouldn't know Cinese means Chinese! I wanted to say, "Giapponese, you knucklehead!"
One of our first views of Varenna as we walked the cobblestone streets and alleys to our hotel.
The weather had become hot and humid, so by the time we reached our adorable hotel, we were ready to collapse. The room was two flights up, which wasn't easy with the luggage (they showed us the elevator when we checked out!), but the view from the room was spectacular. It was a balcony with a vast view of the lake and the island villages of Bellagio and Menaggio on the other side. Everything was brand new in the bathroom, so I guess the days of having to bring your own toilet paper to Europe are over.
We each took a shower to cool off, and we each pulled on the strange string in the shower, wondering if it turned on an exhaust fan. While Paul was showering I got a phone call from the front desk wondering if everything was OK. I started telling the young lady how beautiful everything was, and she said if we're OK, we should stop pulling the emergency string in the shower!
Feeling refreshed, we took a walk to another part of the town, passing by an old monastery, to see Fiume Latte ("Milk River", above), the shortest river in Europe. It was very picturesque. There was nothing else in that direction, so we headed back toward the town square to eat at one of the outdoor cafes (below) and enjoy the sunset. We had a bottle of wine that we'd bought in the Milano train station, so we went back to our room to enjoy that and the box of candy they'd left for us. Mmmmm. Fruttini.
Bar Il Molo (photos from their web site)
Web site photo of our Hotel Du Lac in Varenna. Our room is in that top row of windows…the second or third, I think.
May 20, 2003—We ate breakfast in the hotel dining room overlooking the lake, then took a ferry over to the village of Bellagio. The tourism office in Varenna had given us a pamphlet with a walking guide to Bellagio, so we followed that and saw all the important sites such as a teeny tiny ancient chapel.
Ferry from Varenna to Bellagio. The photo was taken by a Chinese couple from New York City sitting next to us.
One of the first things we saw when we got off the ferry in Bellagio was a jewelry store with the name Leone on the window (DiAnn's grandfather's name), so we took a picture of that.
At the bottom of a wide, meandering stairway called The Ditch was a store with the perfect souvenir for DiAnn's son, Chris: exactly the type of Mini Cooper model he had been searching for. Later we bought a little 3-D scene to remember the village by, and it was that same view of The Ditch that we had seen when we found the Mini.
Paul stands in a windy spot at the end of a long road in Bellagio. Varenna is seen in the background.
Here are three post cards of Bellagio. How could I mail them? I want them.
After a long, scenic, lovely walking tour of Bellagio the skies turned dark and the weather turned threatening. It began to rain as we took the ferry to another village called Menaggio. We didn't have a guide for this village, but the traffic was interesting to watch. It was completely crazy with large (for Italy) trucks trying to maneuver the windiest roads in the area. DiAnn is in this photo above the 2nd white planter from the left.