The Allure of Lake Como

If you need beauty and relaxation in your life visit Lake Como.

We recently spent a week in Lake Como. Loved it! Maybe because there was some real effort to get there, the final destination was even sweeter.

The previous week we visited Rome and of course it was wonderful, delicious and crowded. We had plans to visit Lake Como because we heard it was it was a special destination with expansive views, cooler weather and less crowds.

To get there first we took a train to Milan, then changed trains and went to Malpensa Airport to pick up a rental car. There my husband got behind the wheel of the very large rental car. Then the harrowing journey began. I am a nervous driver and passenger. The narrow roads and dozens of tunnels, bridges and hairpin curves along Lake Como were frightening. Together we navigated our way to our gorgeous Airbnb in Perlado. Perlado is a very small mountainside hamlet overlooking the town of Varenna on the shore of Lake Como. There were no less than a dozen hairpin turns up the mountain to get to the Airbnb. The views were spectacular, the area very quiet and the hike down into town was invigorating.

We are a competitive couple so we tried to beat each other’s Fitbit step count each day. I recently purchased a new Fitbit Versa and I have to say I just love it. It’s colorful, easy to read, versatile (lots of clock faces) and it gives me all of the information I need. Features include music, heart rate, step and mile count, calories burned and a bit of motivation. I bought mine on Amazon. To check it out just click the link below:

Fitbit Versa from Amazon
Fitbit Versa from Amazon
The road in front of our Airbnb is not for the faint of heart

The medieval town of Varenna was charming and much less touristy than it’s pretty neighbor of Bellagio. We enjoyed our mornings sipping cappuccino in the cafes along Lake Como. We found taking the ferry from Varenna was simple. For about 15 euros a day you can have unlimited trips across the lake to neighboring towns. The ferries come typically every 45 minutes and the trips across the lake were special as well.

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The cutest little coffee shop in Varenna recommended by our Airbnb host

From our Airbnb we were able to hike down to the town of Varenna, using a picturesque route filled with flowers and stone steps.

The stone stairs that lead down the mountain to Varenna

We explored the nearby towns of Bellagio, Menaggio, Cadenabbia, Vezio and Bellano by foot, by ferry and car.  We hiked as often as possible to go off the beaten path.  Although we visited the tourist destination, enjoyed shopping and sightseeing some of our best memories are when we are on foot discovering the charm of these beautiful towns.

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The gorgeous tulips in Mennagio
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Wisteria hysteria in springtime.
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View of the seaside village from Villa Monastero

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the beauty of Bellagio.  The food and wine were terrific and the shopping was incredible.

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Wine at a lakeside cafe in Bellagio.
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Visiting the waterfall in Bellano

Only a short drive, with lots of tunnels and narrow roads bring you to the  steep gorges and turquoise waterfall at Orrido di Bellano.

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For only a few euro you can visit Orrid di Bellano.

One of the best things about visiting Lake Como in early May is that it gave us an opportunity to rest, to relax, to breathe and to appreciate our surroundings without an agenda.  We took each day as we were given.  If it rained in the morning, we wore rain coats and adjusted our day accordingly.

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I love the look of the old church in Varenna with the fog  in the background and the trees in the foreground.

We had been traveling for nearly a month when we arrive in Lake Como.  Following two cruises with twelve ports and time in Rome it was time to recharge and live like a local in Lake Como.  Staying in an Airbnb allowed us to feel the local culture, and get a little taste of the Italian lifestyle.

If you would like to try Airbnb here is a discount link.

AirBnb Discount

The year in review

This has been an epic year for my husband Greg and I.  I retired from a teaching job that I loved, learned to live with my husband full time, started blogging, traveled extensively and rekindled my passion for photography.

My husband and I have learned the dance of being retired together.  He has his hobbies and interests and I am learning to take time to do the things that I love.  First I had to figure out what those things were (writing, photography, crafts)  but now we give each other space, so that later we want to spend time together.  This year our European travels have included Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Amsterdam, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.  My husband and I are very different people, he is quiet organized and cerebral and I am spontaneous, outgoing, and attention seeking.  But the one thing that we agree upon is that we both passionately love to travel and meet new people from around the globe.

For this blog  I decided to include some of my favorite photographs from the year.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

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View of the Vatican at night from our balcony

This was a special gift we enjoyed nightly in Rome, our Airbnb was located in a fabulous area with shops, restaurants and so many sights to enjoy.

 

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A wonderful dinner at Alfredo e Ada with a young California couple in Rome

Sometimes you find you stumble upon a real gem of a restaurant, a family run place with homemade pasta and delicious specialities offered each night.

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Greg, enjoying a sweet gelato at the end of the day

 

The location of our Airbnb in Florence was just steps from the Ponte Vecchio.

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Pointe Vecchio in the evening inFlorence

The sheer size and beauty of David was worth the trip to Florence.

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Michaelangelo’s David

We spent five days in the beautiful area known as Cinque Terre, where we enjoyed the spectacular scenery, hiking and seeing the beautiful cities clinging to the cliffs..

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Manarola on the Cinque Terre coast
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My attempt at an “artsy” photograph from Nessun Dorma
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Trattoria Dal Billy a fabulous restaurant with even better views
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I love this photograph of a lovely Italian lady checking out the neighborhood

Following Cinque Terre we rented a car and explored Siena and Tuscany.

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Appetizers and wine with views of Siena from our backyard.
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Sienna at sunset
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Tuscany landscape

It was a great pleasure to turn in our car in Rome and board the Celebrity Equinox.  No unpacking for a week and we were able to visit some great new places on the way to Barcelona.

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Grass growing on the top of the Celebrity cruise ship
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View from the hilltop town of Eze, France
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We loved the sangria, beer and olives in Mallorca
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Street view near our flat in Barcelona
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La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece

After a week in Barcelona we took a flight to Geneva, Switzerland to visit friends and see much of the pristine beauty of Switzerland.

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“The Void” on Mont Blanc, France
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Fabulous times with friends
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Sunflower fields in Switzerland

We left Switzerland and headed for a few days in Amsterdam, a city we loved because of its beauty, accessibility, friendliness and rich history.

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Greg standing by the canals in Amsterdam
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A different point of view
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Zaanse Schans windmills

Next, we flew to London for a few days before we boarded a cruise to the British Isles.

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The band playing Queens’ “Fat Bottom Gor;s”
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Belfast’s famous murals
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Falling for Giant’s Causeway with my friend Brooks
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Looking up from Giant’s Causeway
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Nearing the end of our journey, taking time to snuggle together.
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One last stop before we fly home, a lucky detour to Stonehenge 

 

 

I hope you enjoy seeing some highlights of Europe 2016.  I promise there is more travel to come in 2017.  I wish you all a wonderful, happy and healthy new year.

Touring          Tuscany

Siena from our cottage
Tuscan countryside
This week we have visited the Tuscan countryside towns of Siena, Buonconvento, San Quirico D’ Orcia, Montepulciano and Viterbo.  We picked up a rental car in Florence and began driving towards Siena.  It is very interesting to drive in Italy.  Immediately after we pulled out of the impossible tiny spot onto the ridiculously narrow road we were passed on both sides by motorcycles.  Greg is the calm, passive driver needed to avoid an international incident in this country.  Many times during our drive he would merely take a deep breath and continue driving, while I was yelling at the driver that cut us off or monitoring the pedestrians who stepped in front of the car. Because I am a bad driver we never considered the option of me driving in Italy.  I was the navigator, reading the Google Map directions and telling Greg what was coming next.  We did amazing well on the highways and the country roads.  When we attempted to locate sites in Siena, a beautiful city about fifteen minutes from our AirBnB, we ended up listening to the voice on the Google Maps and driving in circles time after time.  When we looked up from the cellphone we realized that there were signs clearly posted telling us where to go.  

In Siena we visited the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral in the center of the old city.  Because we are chronically early we arrived prior to the ticket seller.  We enjoyed our new daily habit of enjoying a cappuccino before getting in a very short line for the tickets.  The cathedral was spectacular and the fact that we could enjoy it without massive crowds made it even more special for us.

inside the cathedral completed 1348

Italian Gothic and Romanesque architecture
In Siena we were lucky enough to be take a private cooking class featuring Tuscan cuisine at La Scuola di Cucina di Lella.  The school was located in the center of Siena and included a four course hands on cooking class and a fabulous lunch with vino afterwards.  It has alway been a dream of mine to learn to make pasta.  We began with a hearty soup, vegetables, pici (a thick spaghetti like pasta), a pecorino cheese sauce, grilled steak with dressing, and almond biscotti with sweet wine for dessert. Lella and her chef/translator Fredrico were knowledgable, patient, complimentary and just a pleasure to be with.  

We spent three glorious days outside of Siena at an Airbnb.  The cottage was situated on a hill outside of the city with magnificent views of the countryside and the town of Siena.  This cottage also came with a lovely garden, hammock and table and chairs to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the countryside.

Our little yard in Tuscany
 
We left Siena for Viterbo a town about 120 kilometers away.  Along the way, we stopped at a few little hamlets to enjoy the countryside and unique towns.  We purchased some wine and olive oil and just took our time and enjoyed the journey.  Our last stop prior to Viterbo was Montepulciano, a town sitting atop a mountain with spectacular views and world renowned wine.  I had reserved a wine tasting and light lunch at Cucina  de Ricci.  We were given a tour of the wine cellar, that went back to Etruscan times and then were treated to a fabulous lunch and even tastier wines.  


Tomorrow we leave Italy and cruise to Barcelona, the journey continues…..

Seaside Sights and Siestas

A respite at the ruggedly beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy

 

We enjoyed our visit to Florence.  Although brief, our three days were packed with sightseeing and culture, lots of culture.  At times it seemed as if there were too many treasures to take in.  Our next destination is Cinque Terre (five lands), encompassing five picturesque villages along the Mediterranean. Once we left the Florence apartment, we walked along Via Panzani with our luggage and backpacks and were soon joined by many other travelers making the half mile trek to the Florence train station.  Upon arrival to the train station every few minutes there were announcements to beware of pickpockets, however there appeared to be no policia to dissuade the thieves.

Once we exited the train in Manarola (the village within Cinque Terre), we followed the tourists through a tunnel and up many flights of stairs and ramps.  One tourist asked if she could hire a Sherpa to carry her luggage up the hill. As we entered the center of the village, a lovely young woman approached us and said “Nancie?”  We were elated to have found our destination.  By the grace of God, Francesca carried my heavy suitcase up  the fifty-four stairs to our new flat.  That was quite the workout, it is no wonder that all of the women in this village have killer legs, no need for stair masters here.  We have gorgeous views of the town, and except for the construction next door, we would have a sea view as well.  We decided upon Cinque Terre, because it is simply beautiful.  Around the village we see spectacular views of the colorful homes clinging to the mountainside, at the edge of the sea.  Time for rest and relaxation.image
By about five o’clock many of the day-trippers and excursionists have left the village.  Although some shops shutter their doors awaiting the next rush of tourists, many stay open and offer simple fresh seafood and pasta.  We explored the village, found a great place for an aperitivo and took tons of pictures. We shopped at Terre 5 Coop for beer, wine and groceries a few times, so  I was upset when the door was closed in my face and I was told “we are closed now”.   I completely understand the importance of a siesta, I embrace the siesta.  However when the door was  reopened for the local man behind me, I felt a bit put off.  Following siesta time we again visited the market to buy some more supplies and get some bananas for breakfast.  When Greg picked up a couple of bananas, the woman behind the register began complaining loudly about “Americanos”.  We know we are tourists, guest really  in another country, so we approach everyone with pleasantries, buongiorno, grazie, Etc. Next we were then told “no credit cards”,  even though we used credit for the previous two days.  I am now boycotting that store for the next few days, but I don’t think they will notice.

We sleep like we have never known sleep here.  The sound of the waves crashing on the shore and our complete exhaustion is  enough to ensure a sound sleep. Both of us were anxious to do some hiking here in Manarola.  We ventured to another village for an early morning cappuccino and then onto another small town for a much needed lunch and vino.  This seven mile hike was spectacular.  My Fitbit tracked one hundred forty flights of stairs and 18,000 steps. These hikes are unlike any we do in Arizona.  The climb is straight up, and we hike through wine vineyards, olive groves, forests, all along narrow mountain trails.  I do not like edges!  While hiking, I avert my eyes at the edge of trail, with the perilous drop off into the sea below.  Greg enjoys all of the journey.  He is unafraid of edges and is not clinging on to grapevines like me.  He walks  behind me with the GoPro.  He claims that he’s there to catch me since I am about as surefooted as a three legged jackass.  However, I’m pretty sure he just wants to document my untimely passing for the insurance company.

Greg and "the edge"
Greg and “the edge”

Rome in the Rearview 

Reminiscing about our time in Rome and Florence.

imageWe had a wonderful time in Rome. This ancient city makes you take a look at everything around.  The architecture, the windows and even the streets have a story and history to tell.  You realize what a small part you have in the greater universe.  I insisted on visiting The Vatican again with a Skip The Line Pass.  Although this helped avoid the outside lines, the masses of humanity inside was hard to contend with.  People were everywhere, there really was no space  nor time to contemplate  in the Sistine Chapel.  We were basically herded in and eventually moved along like cattle.  Looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is incomprehensible to me that one man could paint that masterpiece in just four years.  I wonder what mark, if any I might leave on this world when I am gone.  Later in the week we met a couple who visited the Vatican the day after we did, to their surprise, the pope said mass in Saint Peter’s Square and they even had video of him in the Pope Mobile.  Timing is everything.

There is no bad food in Rome.   Prices were very reasonable and food quality ranged from very good to spectacular. I really loved the pace of meals in Italy.  There is no rush.  We are typically eating a long, late lunch and then a nap ( a completely underated activity) followed by lots and lots of walking and a late dinner around nine.  Lingering at meals is encouraged.  In the restaurants there are no televisions, often you join a table with others and conversation is the entertainment.  It seems as if there are modest little eateries in every direction.  Italians were friendly and welcoming to Americans.  One of our favorites was a family run restaurant restaurant named Trattoria da Alfredo e Ada.  The menu was recited by the waitress of what was freshly prepared for  that evening.  The food was so fresh and delicious we both were pleasantly surprised when the bill, including drinks and cookies to dunk in red wine came to twenty four euros.

We left Rome for Florence, a smaller city with some of the greatest works of art in the world, great shopping and more wonderful food to try.  At the train station an older gentleman saw we were a bit confused and offered to show us where to meet the train.  He beckoned us to follow him to the numbered platform, although he spoke no English he gestured for us to wait for the train there.  Then he promptly demanded we pay him for the “service”. Greg have him three euros but he wanted more.  I just told firmly told him “no” and he left us alone to search for some more lost travelers he could scam some money from.

The high speed train to Florence was comfortable, quick and a pleasant experience compared to the hassle of getting to Italy from the US. We are now in a larger apartment right in the center of Florence.  It has rained on and off  but has not really stopped us from exploring the city.  I admire the Italians, they love eating out in their sidewalk cafes, and are not dissuaded by weather.  The outdoor cafes are crowed at ten o’clock even in inclement weather.  We were without raincoats and getting drenched in the downpour.  Some guys were selling cheap umbrellas on the street.  Greg told the first guy, we didn’t want any but, as the rain continued and his natural GPS was fading I insisted on buying one from the next street merchant.  Originally the guy wanted ten euros for the umbrella but we bargained him down to four.  We left with a semi functioning umbrella, walking the streets of Florence.

For the past few days we have meandered the crowded streets of Florence exploring the neighborhoods and piazzas. It is International Fashion Week here in Florence.  Everywhere we look. there are beautiful models, wearing high fashion clothing and impossible high heels wandering around everywhere except the restaurants.

We visited The Duomo, The Uffizi, and The Accademia Gallery.  Greg is not really a big museum guy, years ago when he was in Paris for business he visited The Arc d’ Triumph, The Louve and the Eifel Tower in half a day.  I’m pretty sure he was wearing roller blades.  Since he is just the greatest husband ever we did the Grand Tour of Florence. Tomorrow we leave Florence for the coast of Cinque Terre.