Friday, April 30, 2010

Planes, Trains and Boats

Tuesday, April 27

We used FF miles for this trip, so of course we had to fly unbelievably out of the way before actually arriving at our destination (ie, Austin to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Milan).

The first leg went well - had picked a particularly enjoyable trashy novel to read on the plane (because what else is there to make the time pass quickly?) about a federal prosecutor and a US marshall. Stopped in Chicago, where we had a 2.5 hr layover, ate lunch, got a chair massage, and found out our plane was late. Then our plane was delayed some more, and then some more, and even though we should have had 2 hours in NY to make our connecting flight, we were suddenly scheduled to land five minutes past when our Milan flight's doors would close. Panic starts to ensure, gate agent tells me to go down and pick up the "rebooking" phones and call. Steve with American Airlines is on other line, extremely unhelpful. Steve wants to rebook me for 24 hours later (apparently, only one flight per day to Milan). Hang up on Steve, Two other women show up to make a similar phone call - turns out there are seven of us on the Chicago flight needing to get to Milan. Wait and see if they find someone more helpful than Steve on the other line. Turns out no. Do find out from one helpful agent, Elissa P., that there is an Allitalia flight 2 hrs later, and she thinks in NY they will re-book us, but they can't do it from Chicago. Decide that we would rather be stranded in NY than Chicago with family and friends, so hop on next flight. Our two new anti-American Airlines (or at leat, anti-Steve) friends are headed to the Cinque Terre to go hiking for two weeks, and they are a lieutenant and captain with the Madison sherriff's office. Linda talks to us mid-flight, and apparently she runs marathons for fun, so she is going to give her partner her pack and take off running to try and hold the flight. This works for us. After a disturbingly bumpy landing, where my plane actually jolted from one wheel to another and then back again a few times, we taxi forever and a day, and then a lovely announcement is made for everyone but us to stay seated so we can hop off for our flight. So we run, Linda a bit faster than I, and run and run and run and finally make it from gate 37 to gate 2, and magically, our plane is still there. Even more magically, our luggage make it on board, and seven hours later, I have landed in Milan. The food was nasty, the movies blah (Up in the Air and 17 Again - really - I mean, who, who, who would want to see this movie??) but otherwise the plane ride was uneventful.

Wednesday, April 28

Seems odd starting a new day here, since I never really slept exept for an hour on the plane. I actually got a passport stamp for Italy, which was kind of exciting. This passport hasn't been nearly as many places as my last one, so its been feeling unloved. Plus. they don't stamp the way they used to. We took the Malapanesa Express Bus to the train station, and saw what must surely be the ugliest parts of Milan in the process. The highlight was the "Sexy Shop," which really isn't much of a highlight at all. Exchanged some money and the Euro exchange right now is just painful. Took the train to Varenna, which was our destination for the day. The train ride was just under an hour, and the first 1/2 was an extension of the Worst Highlights of Milan Tour. All the graffiti.. ugh... and the parts that are in English are just wrong, like "F*ck In Asshol."  (although, on second thought, maybe that is what they meant?) I dozed a bit - jet lag catching up with me, and when I opened my eyes again, suddenly the ugly was gone and it was ... spectacular. Lush, green mountains, and crystal blue waters. It was Lake Como, and it was every bit as beautiful has I had imagined it to be. We saw some castles near Lenno, and I was tempted to hop of for a bit in this town - its definitely worth a future visit. But Varenna, and its promise of a shower, was calling.

As we approached Varenna, we are waiting near the exit doors when a man in his fifties approaches us. We start talking, and he is a professor who visits Varenna frequently to teach a class. He offers to walk us towards our hotel, and since I'm with my red-belt husband, we agree. Turns out 'Claudio' is the highlight of our day. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and helpful and was full of great little tidbits about Varenna and Italy. I'm still feeling guilty for thinking I was about to be robbed at every corner we turned, but he was great. He told us which restaurants are the best, which shop keepers are honest, pointed out the shortest river in Italy, where we would catch the boat taxi to Bellagio, and the perfect beach to sit and read. Our hotel, Hotel du Lac, was about a 15-20 minute walk from the train station, and if course, my room was not ready (it was only 11 am so I knew it was a long shot, but stilll... I really wanted to clean up a bit). But we left our bags and went our ways. First stop was the Villa Capresi. We toured the gardens while we waited for noon so we could eat lunch, and I don't think I can even find words to describe how breathtakingly beautiful this place was. The wisteria was just as fragrant as you can imagine, hanging everywhere. And the views of Lake Como... we had clearly died and gone to heaven. Lunch was incredible, we sat outside with white tablecloths, had wine, barley risotto, beef stew and gnocchi.

After lunch, we wandered over to the Villa Monatsero, where more beautiful gardens awaited us. We were a bit annoyed we had to pay 10 euros to see them (about 22 USD) but there were a LOT more to these gardens then at the Villa Capresi. Next, we walked around the town of Varenna, and found a quaint little Church that was built in the 12th century, Chiesa di S. Giorgio. It steeple can be seen in many of the photographs of Varenna, towering over the rest of the town. It was time for some gelato - had I mentioned its been a bit on the hot side here? Carl went with (what else) chocolate, while I opted for Sour Cherry. Like so many towns built around a lake, Varenna is a very steep town, with lots of long staircases that look as if the stones will crumble underneath your feet if you step on them. We walked back down one of the stairs towards our hotel, and our room was ready. Its often hard for me to get excited about European rooms - they are always smaller than I want them to be, but this one wasn't too horrid, and it came with our own balcony overlooking the lake. And our bed was actually two twins pushed together, a plus, since most European rooms are a max double or queen size. After I freshened up and Carl napped for an hour, we took the boat over to Bellagio. It was ... eh. Its a tourist town, a big tourist town, just one junk shop after another, mixed in with a restaurant here and a hotel there. We weren't impressed, so we only stayed for about an hour before we hopped back to sleepy little Varenna, which is much more our speed. Our hotel had a lovely little bar, so we sat outside and decided that since I was in Italy, I needed a Bellini. They call cocktails "Long Drinks" in Italy, so I was expecting a long, tall glass, especially since that's how they come at the Macaroni Grill. Hotel du Lac's Bellini came in a martini glass. Go figure. Still, it was delicious, and I was sitting in a wisteria covered bar overlooking Lake Como, so I made do. We did more walking, and soon realized that no place serves dinner before seven pm. We did find a wine bar that was open, so what else could we do but go inside for a glass of the house red. This was a wine bar frequented by the locals, it reminded me of an Italian "Cheers." People would walk in, and they would say, in unison, "Ciao, Claudio!" Wine is truly the drink of choice here - some of the people stopping by were in their paint-splattered overalls. Any country that favors wine over beer is a-ok in Annalynn's book.

We had had two recommendations for the Lido Restauant for dinner (including from our beloved Claudio), so even though it was the restaurant furthest away from our hotel, we tried it out. We both opted for pasta, Carl's was the tastiest, a Pasta sauce with paprika and peppers mixed in. We shared a liter of wine (yes, we are apparently drinking our way thorugh this trip) and a tirimisu for dessert. And then they bring us two shotglasses of limoncello as an appertif with the bill. Again, I love Italy. I'd fogotten just how much I love it. We stumbled back to our hotel, and congratulated ourselves on surving our first day of jet lag until 9:30 p.m.


  1. Annalynn, Italy sounds amazing. I'm so glad you're blogging while you're on vacation. Can't wait to read more. Lake Como, maybe you'll run into Clooney....

  2. David from EnglandMay 1, 2010 at 4:26 AM

    Annalynn, it sounds wonderful! I love Italy too. I have visited Lake Garda - which was great - but my dentist (of all people) recommended Lake Como as being far superior.I couldn't argue with him at the time! Have a fabulous trip.



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