“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”–Giuseppe Verdi (Italian composer)
LAKE COMO, ITALY
The clock is ticking and as we anticipated our departure date of July 31st from Crete, we decided to squeeze in one more short European travel adventure. The pressing dilemma – where to go???? We always talked about returning to Croatia for a summer biking excursion or to Isreal for a tour of the Holy Land but we only had five days and needed to relax. Eventually those nominations lost to the magnetic pull of northern Italy. Not only is it beautiful and scenic (and delicious,) but it was a great opportunity to visit some good friends in Vicenza. We squeezed every last drop of fun and relaxation out of every minute.
When we arrived in Bergamo/Milan airport we took a train to the eastern leg of Lake Como. (Note re: Italian train travel – expect the unexpected, the unpredicted and the miscommunicated – enough said.) Arriving in the little village of Abbadia Lariana on the lake in the late afternoon was a huge reminder that we’d left the heat of Greece behind. The moist chill off the lake was enough to cause us to be thankful that we remembered our jackets. First stop off the train – a local cafe for a good strong cup of Italian espresso which sweetened our mood and made the train mishap a distant memory. We settled into our lakeside B&B (Le Colombine) and put on our walking shoes to trek the short walk to the next village on the lake – Mandello.
Stopping by a local bakery/market, we stocked up on dinner – breadsticks, cheese, and fruit. We topped it off with a bottle of wine from a local cafe and set up our picnic on a waterfront park bench. Afterwards, a short ferry ride back to Abbadia under the setting sun was magic.
The next day we awoke to sunny skies and significantly warmer temperatures – perfect for our full day of boating, walking and sightseeing this area of the lake. First stop, Bellagio. A beautiful city on the lake crowned by palaces and gardens. No wonder so many tourists flock here – that, and the hopes of a George Clooney sighting – none today for us, but plenty of other attractions to see.
We walked the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi, window-shopped the pricey tourist area, and enjoyed people watching. But our favorite stop of the day was the town of Varenna, across the lake from Bellagio. We preferred the more laid back local feel of this historical city and it was refreshing to leave the crowds of Bellagio behind to enjoy our pizza in the Piazza San Giorgio before walking the beautiful gardens of Villa Monestero.
We liked Varenna so much that we scrapped the plans to visit anywhere else and spent the rest of our day and into the evening in this lovely town, walking, talking, breathing in the essence of old Italy.
The first thing I noticed about old Bergamo (Citta Alta – upper city) as we exited the funicular railcar was that it is so tight it’s almost impossible to get a photograph of anything bigger than a shop door. With the exception of a large piazza and vistas from the Fortezza on the hill, most of Bergamo is squashed into tiny alley ways, proud but tired old buildings and cobblestoned pathways. Of course this only adds to its charm and we were enchanted by the this medieval city immediately.
Bergamo is a hill city typical of northern Italy that has spread from its middle slopes upwards and downwardsof levels terraced on a hill. The lower city Citta Bassa is the thriving bustling modern Italian city with an airport and train station. The Citta Alta above the new city is accessible by car, bus, foot or funicular and this is where the old historic city sits and offers most of Bergamo’s interesting sights.
Still another funicular ride (or walk) took us up to the San Viglio Castello. Not much to see here, hence the quiet lack of tourists but it does offer a tremendous view over the city.
An afternoon in Bergamo left us wanting more but we had a train to catch to Vicenza so we headed out in a rainstorm squeezing ourselves under one cheap umbrella purchased hurriedly from a street vendor.
Verona is a quintessential romantic Italian city – and not just because it is the home of the two most famous star-crossed lovers in history. Sure, the big tourist draw is Juliet’s balcony over which she sighed, “Romeo, O Romeo…” which is tucked back into a small courtyard packed with people, vendors and the acclaimed wall of “lover’s locks”. But Verona’s charm extends throughout this old city divided by the Adigi River and connected by picturesque bridges reminiscent of a mini Florence. The small cobbled streets, ancient walls, Venetian and Roman ruins, churches, courtyards, monuments and the remarkable Arena Roman Amphitheater are all a part of Verona’s history and acclaim to fame.
We particularly enjoyed Verona because we experienced it with some good friends from America who were living in Vicenza. We spent a day wandering around the streets together, taking in all the sights, sounds and, of course the tastes of Italy.