The Ride of my Life, Bellagio, Varenna and a Long, Long Boat Ride

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July 27th 2012
Published: July 30th 2012
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Beautiful waters of Lake ComoBeautiful waters of Lake ComoBeautiful waters of Lake Como

And their heeling powers that was so refreshing. **Photo courtesy of Nancy photography (after I had to teach her not to take videos instead of photos)
Back in the 16th century there was a traditional rite of passage; so to speak, that many young aristocrats took throughout Europe called the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour consisted of exploring the Europe and learning new topics that books or professors could not teach. Through first hand experience, students on the Grand Tour would learn about foreign culture, languages, and history by immersing themselves in new lands. The tour usually start in England, then went south passing through France and Italy, then coming back up through Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. There was one city/region that was a little different from the rest. A city that was north of Milan in the Lake District, called Como. Como is a picturesque town that sits on the southern most tip of the Lake Como, and that is exactly where my Grand Tour had taken me.

Today, Como has over 85,000 residents and 89% are Italian, they don't take kindly to immigrants, and for our sake, tourists. This bodes well for keeping traditional culture intact and unaffected by others. Nancy thought they were so rude, but I didn't really have a problem with them. They seemed like saints compared to the French.
Bellagio Bellagio Bellagio

The little town that makes you never want to leave.
Nonetheless, we were to spend four days in this absolutely beautiful region, exploring the lake, surrounding mountains and various towns located along the banks of Lake Como.

As the sun rose on our first morning in Como, we were awoken to a rather loud noise. The church bells from a small chapel across the street erupted at 7:30 in the morning, alerting the town that morning mass was to begin. They must have really wanted people to attend mass, because those church bells were louder than tornado sirens. The noise caused from the massive steel bells reverberated off the narrow stonewalls along our street making each note erupt into our tiny apartment, creating the loudest unofficial alarm clock in the world. In protest of the loud bells, I made a small pot of Italian coffee instead of attending the morning mass.

Feeling awake after the strong coffee, we decided to get a head start on the day to beat the summer crowds. After doing some research, we decided that the middle of the lake would be a great place to visit. Lake Como, if you look on a map, looks like an upside down Y. At the axis
Promenade Promenade Promenade

Prettier then Vegas?
of the three lines (the middle of the lake) had three towns that were a must see. Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio. There were two ways to get there to the middle of the lake. One way was to take the slow scenic boat route, and the other was to take the bus that was more like a roller coaster ride. At the time, the ladder option was most appealing so we bought two tickets and in just under an hour we would reach Bellagio. The real Bellagio, not the one in Vegas, I don't think you could take a bus there from Como.

The bus trip over to Belliago was more like a Formula 1 race. As we flew around hairpin turns, gravel was thrown over the cliff sides and tumbled down into the lake below, on each bump all four wheels left the ground, and the bus driver would honk his horn to warn on coming traffic (or unfortunate pedestrians) warning them that he was not going to stop for anything. As I sat in the front row I witnessed this fine driving performance. I don't think the he ever took his foot of the accelerator. A young woman who must have been a friend of his began chatting with him, and like all Italians he had to talk while incorporating his hands leaving the bus driverless for a few seconds. It was incredible how well this driver knew his route, my bet is he could do it with his eyes closed, but I was not going to challenge him to that while onboard. This hour bus ride consisted of 56 near death experiences, a million terrifying turns, and one queasy feeling dude. I hate to admit it, but that dude was me. I felt like a bucket of chum after the winding roads tossed and turned my large breakfast and coffee around in my stomach.

Finally arriving in Bellagio the bus driver, who hadn't even broken a sweat, opened the doors and all the passenger stumbled out. Even though I felt like garbage, I couldn't help but be totally amazed by this glorious town. It was obvious why Las Vegas had wanted to create a town like this. Huge Villas lined the promenade, narrow streets with steps guided tourists through the village to various boutique shops, all surrounded by towering mountains that gave off a feel
Verenna Verenna Verenna

This path led to the city. One of the reasons it was even nicer then Belliago was the lack of crowds.
of seclusion from the rest of the world. My body was yelling at me just to sit down and rest. So I ended up just getting a sandwich, and coke, while sitting in the shade near the marina, while my mum shopped, and I couldn't have been happier. It was so relaxing just to sit and enjoy the ambiance.

After my sandwich and coke, I had gained some strength back and we decided to go to another town across the lake, Varessa. Thankfully there was a water shuttle, so we wouldn't have to risk our lives again going on another bus ride.

As we pulled into Verassa, it was hard to register what my eyes were trying to tell me. Prettier then Belliago? How is that even possible? Right then and there, I decided that Lake Como was the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life. The scenery was so vast, and different that it is hard to describe. It was like someone took all of my favorite bits of separate places and mixed them into a pot and created the perfect place. The lake reminded me of Lake Tahoe in California, the surrounding mountains were like those of Kauai, Hawaii, and the villages surrounding the lake were similar to those of Florence. Ah it was incredible.

Trying to soak in all the beauty we had worked up an appetite. Finding a little restaurant on the water, we had our daily serving of pizza, (pizza was our staple in Italy, along with bread and wine). With each bit of my pizza I was feeling better and better, and the queasiness was shaking off from the morning bus ride. There was a panoramic view on top of the mountain that I wanted to get to, but that surely would have taken everything out of me, so we ended up just walking around the town checking out the scenery. After a few wrong turns, we stumbled upon a little path (that was probably privately owned), we found a small rocky beach. The cool blue water was calling me to enjoy its pleasantries. As I emerged from the beautiful water, I felt like a million euros. It rejuvenated me and I was ready to make my trip to the top of that near by mountain with the panoramic view.

Giving Nancy my backpack, I found the footpath,
View from above. View from above. View from above.

On the right you can see the outskirts of Varenna
and began a steep trail run up the mountain side. Nancy was just going to meet me at the boat dock, thank goodness she didn't come along with me, it was extremely hot, and the rocks were hard to traverse over. The town below was getting smaller and smaller below me with each stride. Side note; there are a billion lizards in this region! Literally with each step I took, I could hear the brush on each side move as they ran to safety from being crushed by my clumsy feet.

Finally arriving to the top (without stepping on a single lizard), I was rather surprised. The only way to see the lake from above, you had to pay to get into a garden where a castles ruins were still standing. No way! I didn't even think to bring money, but there was no way they were going to stop me after I spent all that energy to get to the top. Looking around, I noticed no one was looking, so I picked up the pace and snuck in. I figured if they said anything I would just flee.

The castle at the top of the mountain was built during the 11th century while Como and the surrounding towns were in a war against Milan. Milan was trying to reign over the small cities surrounding Lake Como, because of the resources that they had, but mainly for their silk production. In the end Milan won and made all the cities pay large taxes. As the castle was crumbling away it stood atop the mountains, looking rather wise while protruding over the tree line. As I got to the top, I couldn't believe how far I could see. For miles and miles, you could see past mountain ranges, covered view the beautiful lush green vegetation, you could even see the rocky Swiss Alps reaching for the sky. The water below was a deep blue as the bright sun penetrated through. I could have stood there for hours, but I was afraid that the statue of a knight in shinning armor was going to feel the presence of an intruded and come alive to get me. So I booked it down the donkey path leading back to Verassa, to meet Nancy at the boat dock.

The boats on Lake Como were the perfect way to get around...if you weren't in a hurry. They are extremely slow, but the scenery is unprecedented.The only problem was that there were three different maps, five different timetables (in Italian) that made zero sense, making it rather difficult to understand what boat to take. Buying two tickets back down to Como, we began the waiting game. Our tickets said we were departing at 4:10. It 4:05 and a boat was just docking and the crowd began to linger over to it. So we followed them figuring they were going south as well. We gave the ticket taker our tickets and he just said no, wrong boat, its that one. Which one? He didn't tell us a time or a dock number, or anything for that matter. Confused, we asked the woman at the information desk what time we were leaving, she said 4:39. 4:39? The ticket says 4:10? Whatever, we put our trust in the information lady, she knew best. Another boat came in at 4:25, and it was headed south. Maybe this was ours. We tried to get one that one too, but the man on the dock said no, wrong one. We were so confused! There weren't any other boats coming towards our dock and we could see a large portion of the lake. I wouldn't have really cared if we missed the boat because Verassa is so beautiful, but the 4:39 boat (or whatever time it was) was the last one to go south towards home. If we missed it, there would be literally no way for us to get home, other that to swim, but I left my flippers and gills back at the apartment.

Bewildered, and laughing, we just waited for the next boat. Praying to boat gods that the right one would come soon. 4:35, one came chugging in. This had to be it! We gave the same man on the dock our ticket, and he didn't say anything and let us board. Yes, we had made it on the right one! Just to make sure, we listened to the captain over the PA as he announced all the stops. No joke this is what followed-Stops at (in Italian), Menaggio, Bellagio, Cadenabbia, Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo, Lenno, Campo, Isola Comacina, Lezzeno, Sala Comacina, Argegno, Brienno, Nesso, Careno, Pognana Lario, Faggeto Lario, Urio, Moltrasio, Torno, Blevio, Cernobbio, Blevio, Tavernola, and Como. Trying saying that five times fast! Actually just
Castle Castle Castle

In the doorway stood the statue of the knight who was ready to make me pay...for not paying.
try and say it once! This was surely going to be a long, long boat ride.

I grabbed a seat in the sun, while Nancy took shelter in the shade to escape the dying summer hear, and we begun the long, slow haul home. I thought I would get annoyed by the slowness of the boat, but soon realized that I was more relaxed on that boat than I had been in a long time. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go, and the scenery was out of a movie. I just sat with the warm sun on my face and arms, reading my book, as the hum of the engine, and the waves rocked me into a trance. Every once and awhile I would look up and be mesmerized by the environment that had engulfed me.

Literally, two and a half hours later, we arrived in Como. I almost didn't want to get off. Where else can one go and be so at peace with oneself? Como was definitely winning me over. Even if it wasn't full of famous museums, beautiful art work, giant cathedrals and world renowned food, it was worth every second of my time, and I soon began to realize why it was considered to be a stop for the Grand Tour so long ago.

Additional photos below
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Sunset Sunset

After our long day of beautiful sights, we were rewarded with this bad boy.

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