A Travellerspoint blog

EPISODE NINETEEN: Lago Como, Bellagio and Beretta

Lake Como is shaped in an upside down ‘Y’ and is one of the larger lakes in Italy. It’s shores are dotted with villa upon villa belonging to the rich and famous. Even the Hollywood clan has been spotted vacationing here. George Clooney owns a house in Bellagio and is photographed frequently on his motor bike as the many paparazzi snapshots displayed in shop windows testify.
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Bellagio is on our destination list and the narrow winding road that leads there has some spectacular scenery. The “Pearl of the Lake “as it is known locally has many claims to fames. It shares its name with the well-known casino in Las Vegas that was inspired by the village. A scene in one of the Star Wars movies was also filmed here.
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Arriving in Bellagio after a 32km scenic drive initially seems somewhat of an anti-climax. Having visited the area before in high season the memories that was left was that of a bustling energized village with 180 degree steps winding up from the central square in every direction. Every shop keeper would be outside peddling their wares.
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This is not the picture that greets us. We are visiting out of season and it is clear that Bellagio is slowly awaking from a winter slumber. The streets are literally being unpacked (extensive paving is being done for the tourist season) and only a few small cafes are open. We practically have the whole village to ourselves. What a joy, we have a quick Panini (sandwich) and espresso at a street café, buy a take away gelato (ice-cream) and wander the streets and alleyways unhindered.

After exploring Bellagio we head down the other leg of the ‘Y’ in search of a town called Gardone Val Trompia. If this name rings a bell for you, you will definitely know what I am about to say next. Gardone VT is the home of the Beretta factory and every Beretta is proof marked with the town’s name.
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Arriving in Gardone we head straight to the factory were hubby (being an avid gun enthusiast and weapons instructor) has his moment of Italian heaven. Beretta dates back to 1526 and the Beretta family are currently still directly involved with the factory. Even though the brand has major international status and various military and law enforcement contracts, they still want to make themselves approachable to the man on the street. Hubby is welcomed with open arms and on showing them his credentials he is escorted on a mini factory tour as well as a viewing of their in-house collection. His experience is complete when we visit their merchandising facility and he gets to go home with some lovely Beretta goodies.
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That night we book in at the local hotel in the neighbouring village and probably have one of the best totally unexpected (since this is not predominant culinary country) meals of the trip so far. It is not the uniqueness of the menu rather than the amazing quality and freshness of the produce the impress. The tagliolini is freshly made with lots of garlic, prawns and spicy ham. We must stop ourselves to lick out the plates and smile as some of our fellow dinners use the bread to mop up the delicious sauce.

A memorable Carpaccio follow topped with rocket and parmesan shavings and you are left to you own devises to dress it with olive oil and lemon. A testimony that simple yet fresh and quality ingredients make a meal exceptional. Hubby opts for the guine fowl casserole served with dainty tomato gratins and enjoys every morsel.

Hotel Marcheno is highly recommended with friendly service, great food and large rooms. Tomorrow we are off to Verona – city of Romeo and Juliet!

Posted by L and H 13:46 Comments (0)

EPISODE EIGHTEEN: Shopping - two countries one day.

large_DSCN1487.jpgIt is Monday in Milan and today is shopping day! We head off to Corse Buenos Aires, one of the main shopping streets in Milan. My favourite shop Desigual (as you know by now) has a big branch there. There after we will visit Fox town one of the outlet malls just outside Milan in Switzerland!
Desigual does not disappoint, we will concern ourselves later regarding luggage and weight issues. If there was any doubt that fox town would be our next destination it is irradiated when we learn that there is a Desigual outlet store- I am in shopping heaven.

Fellow South Africans would appreciate our childlike joy with the idea of traveling in more than one country in the same day. With all the borders open in Europe is a matter of just driving through the border post and there you are a whole new country. About an hour’s drive north of Milan we find ourselves in Mendrisio, Switzerland probably mostly known as the home of at least 160 outlet stores all housed in an enormous mall called fox town.

Lunch was a quick bite on the road (left overs from yesterday’s elaborate picnic) shopping waits for no one! Hubby is overjoyed to oblige, for the pure pleasure of visiting another country in the same day. Exhausted after a fruitful day we head back to Italy and find a quaint little inn – Albergo Arcade about 500m from the town of Como at the foot of the lake with the same name.

We are famished and the eccentric inn keeper looks as if he dates back to the building of the Inn (about 1850) himself. He offers us a room saying “It will be 50 euros, breakfast not included, which we do not serve in any case”. Fortunately dinner is served in the downstairs dining room and soon we are very cosy with a glass of local vino, a zuppa (soup) of the day and some ossobucco (calve‘s shins slowly braised) and lumache (snails) and fungi (mushrooms).

A word of advice, always travel with a phrasebook in a country where you do not fully understand the language. We have noticed that very few people in the smaller centres understand English and on this specific occasion the menu had a lot of potential pitfalls featuring kidneys, hearts and livers, which we happily negotiated past, with the help of said phrasebook!

Posted by L and H 13:29 Comments (0)

EPISODE SEVENTEEN: Picnic in Pavia

Day two of our weekend starts with a shopping trip to Rozzano, a suburb of Milan. The supermarket might not be Peck Emporium in Milan bit the selection is still staggering. We are trying to stock up for a picnic later in the day but quickly find that we wander along the shopping isles in amazement at the variety available.

Take the simple Mozzarella for example. There are at least 7 different brands of normal mozzarella then you ad in the smoked and buffalo versions and you could open your own formagery right there! The cured meat and other accompaniments are a joy to any foodie and we walk down the aisles in food heaven.

There is the option to have your wine of choice bottled in your presence and we choose a lovely Montepulciano rosso. Dolce is not forgotten so loaded with cannoli, fresh strawberries and Ferrero Rocher pocket coffees we head off the Pavia for a picnic feast.

Pavia is a university town just south of Milan. If you venture past the industrial looking outskirts you are rewarded with a beautiful city centre that dates back to the 13th century, making the university one of the oldest in the world. It is only in Europe that you can picnic at the foot of a castle built 700 years ago and we do just that. Indulging in the local produce on a balmy Italian afternoon you can easily transport yourselves back to ancient times and for us there on the castle lawns time stands still for a few hours. All too soon we have to head back to the city and greet our friends as they rush towards the station on their way back to London.

Grazie mille! We had a superlative weekend.
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Posted by L and H 01:52 Comments (0)

EPISODE SIXTEEN: At last Genoa- heading for Milan

Disembarkation runs smoothly and we fondly say goodbye to our home of 20 days and 6440 nautical miles ( 1 nautical mile = 1.8km). We head to the airport to collect our hired car only to learn that very few things happen in Italy before 9 am and that 10 o’clock is actually a much more civilized time! Eventually kitted out we head to Milano were we will link up with good friends that are currently living in the UK.

We chose not to take a GPS and are traveling the old fashioned way with maps and road signs. Great fun, if you are not trying to find a specific hotel on a specific street in the greater Milan (one of the biggest and busiest cities in Italy) and that specific street is not on your map! We quickly get to practice our measly Italian on every shop owner that is prepared to give us elaborate directions. But the universal language of hand gestures is well practised, even in Milan and with not too much ado we arrive in the city of fashion.
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We are overjoyed to see our friends and together we hit the streets of Milano! If you have never been to Milan and you only have a short time in the city, you cannot miss out on a visit the Duomo. The gothic cathedral in the centre of the city is majestic and the biggest of its kind in the world. The thousands of statues and little spires represent the outstanding architectural design of its time. A visit to the Golden Quadrangle just next to the Duomo gives you a glimpse of the city’s elaborate fashion industry and is a brand lover’s shopping mecca!
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The impressive Stazione Centrale and Castillo Sforza are both worth a visit with the latter’s defences designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Having soaked up as much as we can of the old city we head off for an aperetivo, a very welcome Milanese tradition. For the amount of just a cocktail (between about 6 pm to 9 pm) you get a selection of nibbles that in some places could even constitute a meal, all included in your fee. We opt to have the meal as well and good pasta, risotto and some seafood soup is ended off with a great tiramisu and coffees.
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Bellissimo!

Posted by L and H 01:46 Comments (0)

EPISODE FIFTEEN: Palamos and the Mountain Wind

Palamos is a resort like village in the Costa Brava region of the Spanish coast. When we disembark we know that we are in trouble, it is a lovely sunny day but the wind is blowing so hard that it is difficult for us to walk. We are only supposed to be in the port for a few hours so we need to get going and make the most of it, despite the weather.

Wrapped up like Eskimos we head for the beacon that we have now become familiar with all over the world. Palamos has a lighthouse and we consider ourselves “Lighthouse Hunters”. Whenever we get an opportunity to visit or photograph one of these iconic beacons we are there. On this windy, near stormy day it is no exception. The construction of the lighthouse began in 1863 and it was inaugurated in 1865. Today it is known as ‘el moli de sa Punta’ and the light stands at 11 meters above the ground and 22 meters above sea level.
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We opt to wander through the narrow streets of Palamos but the weather stays miserable and the wind seems to be getting stronger. The local market is of interest with an assortment of fresh fish, each competing for the ugliest looking fish of the day award. A great selection of cheeses and cured meat complete the selection.
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We get back to the ship just before official departure time. Unfortunately due to the worsening weather and the now extreme strong winds our departure is delayed. More announcements follow through the course of the afternoon and it seems that the notorious mountain wind has claimed another victim. We will not be going anywhere until further notice! As we were meant to finally disembark and end our journey the following morning at 10 am in Genoa this announcement creates some chaos. Passengers roam up and down the hallways, trying to pry information from staff. Unfortunately the answer is literally still blowing in the wind!
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At last we depart only at 6 h30 am the next morning, with first light. The previous night was supposed to be our last on the ship and everybody had said their goodbyes already. Genoa seems still very far away and queues start getting longer to phone or use the internet to change onward travel arrangements. The mood gets even more sombre as it is finally announced that we will spend another night on board and only disembark at about 6 am the following morning.

For us it just means moving our car hire pick up one day ahead and enjoying the hospitality of the MSC Melody for yet another night!

Posted by L and H 14:10 Comments (0)

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