Adventures in northern Italy

One reason we went to Milan was because we knew it was close to Lake Como!  So on our final day in Milan we headed to the Milano Centrale train station… isn’t it a cool building?  It was seriously just amazing!

Milano Centrale

Milano Centrale

From there we hopped on a train bound for Lake Como (The train’s end destination was Zurich!  It went right through the Alps apparently!  We of course got off long before that.)  As the train progressed north it started climbing and clearly gaining altitude.  We started seeing more and more mountains all around us… we were definitely getting into the foothills of the Alps.

The scenery was beautiful!  In case you don’t know a lot about Lake Como (which I didn’t before we actually went), it’s shaped like an upside-down letter ‘Y’, and there are little cities all along the coasts.  Most of the trains stop at the city of Como, which is on the lowermost tip of the left foot of the ‘Y’.  Prior to going I read up on all of the cities along Lake Como, and Bellagio seemed to be the prime destination since it was situated right in the center of the ‘Y’ where all three legs of the lake met.  We figured we could take a train or a bus from Como to Bellagio.  When we got off the train in Como, we found ourselves on a little train platform.  Far from the giant stone buildings we were used to, this train station seemed tiny and only had four platforms, none of which even seemed busy.  We could see the Alps around us… it was GORGEOUS!  It was also a lot colder than in Milan since we had steadily been climbing uphill on the train pretty much ever since we left Milan.  The air felt so clear and crisp and cold… very invigorating.  We investigated the tiny train station and found it was equipped with a little tobacco shop and a little cafe.  We found the bus station outside and figured out which bus we were going to need to take to Bellagio.  It was pretty cold waiting for the bus since the station (like all of the stations we went to in Italy) was half outside and wasn’t heated at all.  I suggested that maybe we should take a taxi to Bellagio since there were a couple of bored-looking taxi drivers hanging around the train station.  Mike hesitated.

“We should figure out how far away it is first.  It could wind up being the most expensive taxi ride we ever take.”

I shrugged.  “It’s just a lake.  And Bellagio isn’t at the other end of it… it’s right in the middle.  It can’t be that far.”

Mike shook his head.  “There are big lakes.  Maybe this is one of them.  Let’s wait for the bus.”

When the bus showed up, we jumped on.  I was happy to note that the bus was heated.  We were actually the only two people on the bus which felt a little weird.  It made us feel like we were on the wrong bus or something, but the driver was able to communicate with us (despite his limited English and our non-existent Italian) that he was going to Bellagio.  So we sat back and made ourselves comfortable.

As it turned out, Mike was completely right about Lake Como being huge.  The taxi would have been the worst idea ever (if the taxi drivers would have even taken us).  The bus wound slowly up a long, narrow, winding road right along the coast of the lake.  The houses and buildings were crowded right up to the edge of the road.  Literally.

Could this building be any more squished into the available space??

Could this building be any more squished into the available space??

The buildings were all pretty much squashed between the road on one side and the cliff on the other side that fell steeply down rocky crags to Lake Como below.  It was pretty insane!  In many places along the road, there wasn’t room for two vehicles so the bus would honk and go forward or (if the driver heard someone else honk) he would pull over at the first available shoulder and wait until the other vehicle had gone by.  In a few places there were stoplights at either end of long one-way stretches and you could only go when your way had a green light.  The bus had a very melodic two-tone honkity-honk kind of horn that seemed to announce its presence on those windy roads very descriptively.

We saw amazing scenery on our way up, up, up the rocky road that wound along the coast of Lake Como to Bellagio.  After the bus had been driving for 20 minutes we passed a sign that said we were entering Torno.  I consulted the little map I’d bought at the tobacco shop at the train station.  We were maybe a quarter of the way to Bellagio… we were in for at least an hour ride!  We settled in and started to take pictures to capture the scenery as best we could.  (Mike will post lots lots more pictures of Lake Como… I’m just posting a couple from my collection.)

A little town across Lake Como

A little town across Lake Como

The Alps... gorgeous!

The Alps… gorgeous!

After we’d been on the bus for about 45 minutes the bus driver stopped by the side of the road and got out of the bus.  Uncertain, Mike and I assumed we were at the end of the line and started to get out too.  He shook his head at us.  “Another driver comes.” he said.  And then he started walking up a side road and disappearing into the distance.

Um.

Mike and I looked at each other.  We were out in the middle of nowhere.  Well, not nowhere.  There were houses around (although probably full of people who only spoke Italian).  We weren’t in the wilderness.  But we were sitting in a vacant bus by the side of the road and were not at all certain that another driver was coming.  It’s a good thing Mike and I are both go-with-the-flow kind of people.  🙂

Fortunately a few minutes later a man came walking down the same street that the other driver had walked up.  He got into the bus and, after a brief nod to us, fired up the bus and continued the rackety climb up towards Bellagio.  All in all, it was kind of a crazy journey and we ended up spending more time on the bus from Como to Bellagio than we did on the train from Milan to Como… crazy!  But in a fun, adventurous, good way.  🙂

When we finally reached Bellagio we were ready to get up and stretch our legs.  We had a late lunch/early dinner at a local restaurant, enjoyed the scenery, and snapped pictures.  It was pretty quiet up in Bellagio since February is really their off-season (probably the equivalent of visiting Mackinac Island in February), but that was kind of nice.  It was scenic and not overrun with tourists.

Then we had to figure out how to get back to Como.  After asking around in English and getting answers in Italian, we were finally able to understand that we had to buy return bus tickets at a newspaper stand.  The woman at the newspaper stand rattled off a bunch of times that the bus was coming by, but since she was speaking Italian we only kind of understood what she was saying.  We were able to look at the bus schedule ourselves to figure out which bus we wanted to catch though, so that worked out surprisingly well.  Numbers are apparently the same in every language.  At least every Latin-based language.  Our ride back was beautiful as well!  We got a different view since we were coming at everything from the opposite direction, and the sun was getting close to the horizon so we got some gorgeous sunset pictures around the Alps.  Back in Como, the Italian Festivale was apparently now going full-force in Como because whole families were crowding the streets wearing costumes and masks and celebrating.  It made Mike and me excited to get to Venice and celebrate too!  🙂  The bus driver had to honk the horn a few times so that people moved off the road long enough for him to get through.  Fun!  🙂

Back at the train station, trains were leaving for Milano Centrale about every half hour, so we didn’t have to wait too long.  It was cold in the station, though, especially with the sun now setting.  We walked up and down the station to keep warm until the train came.  We arrived back in Milan late, and we were hungry.  We located a very Americanized-looking steakhouse in the Milano Centrale train station so we went in and ate lots of veggies and Mike got his first steak since coming to Italy.  🙂

All in all, it was a very fun and adventurous day!

And then we had to make sure we were all packed because we planned to leave for Venice early the following afternoon.

When we woke up the next morning, it seemed colder than usual and as Mike turned on the TV to watch BBC (the only English channel we got) I looked out the window to see that it was snowing!  And not wimpy little snowflakes.  Good-sized, stick-to-the-ground, if-this-doesn’t-stop-soon-someone’s-going-to-have-to-shovel kind of snowflakes.  We went to Cafe Nico one last time before we left Milan, and Mike savored his cappuccino.

Mike taste-tasting his Italian cappuccino!

Mike taste-tasting his Italian cappuccino!

Then we checked out of the little, old hotel in Milan with our strange corner room that had angles in weird places and the window that opened both left and right as well as up and down.  And we trudged the couple of blocks to the Milano Centrale station carrying our bags in the snow.  We were starting to feel like nomads, carrying our bags across Italy.

Nomads in Italy!

Nomads in Italy!

Except that then we saw a few real nomads on the train and we realized we were distinctly un-nomadic as evidenced by the fact that we didn’t have giant steel-frame backpacks and we had both showered in the past 3 days.  🙂

The only thing that could make Milano Centrale even more gorgeous was a fine layer of new snow.

Snowy Milano Centrale station

Snowy Milano Centrale station

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long for our train.  By this time we were pros at taking the train and only showed up about ten minutes before our train was scheduled to leave.  Definitely better than the train ride from Rome to Milan where we got there forty-five minutes early and had to wait for the train in the cold wind!

Although someone offered to help with our bags, we didn’t give him the chance to take them.  We had learned our lesson from the Rome to Milan train ride.  🙂

It snowed throughout the two and a half hour train ride to Venice.  I kept thinking it would stop snowing, but it didn’t.  When we arrived in the Venice Santa Lucia station around 4pm it was still snowing.  As our train crossed a big bridge across a bunch of water to get to Venice with the snow falling lightly all around the train, it felt like we were entering a magical place.  Which Venice pretty much was.  🙂

Entering Venice!

Entering Venice!

To be continued… I’m thinking another two blog posts will finish up our Italy trip so stay tuned (assuming you aren’t all ‘Italy’d’ out!  🙂

Ok, time for a little non-Italy catch-up!

Mike and I got a lot done this weekend.  I got the bathrooms cleaned, which for some reason felt like a giant accomplishment.  Mike went into his computer room saying that he wanted to re-install Windows on his computer for “a fresh start”.  I didn’t see him again for multiple hours.  I poked my head in at one point to ask if he was hungry and he looked at me, clearly preoccupied.

“I just ate a few minutes ago.”

“Nope.  Actually you ate four hours ago.”

“Oh.  Well, I’m not hungry.”

I left him alone for awhile until around 8pm when he called me, saying he needed help.  I went in.  He explained to me that he was concerned that he’d ‘compromised’ the Uninterrupted Power Supply.  He explained to me what he’d done and asked if I thought it was ok.

“Yes, it’s fine.”

“Really?  You’re not just saying that?”

What kind of a question was that?  Of course I was just saying that.  If he doesn’t know what damages a UPS, I certainly don’t.

I hedged.  “Mike, you don’t even care about the computer you’re trying to protect with the UPS. How important is this really?”

He turned back to the computer screen and double-clicked on a pdf document.  The document came up, but most of the print was way too small to be able to read.  From the title of the document I saw that it was the instruction manual for the UPS.

“Mike… no one reads that.  I don’t even think you’re meant to.  Look at the size of that font.  If you zoom in on the text those probably aren’t even real words.  It’s probably just scribbles made to look like words so they can say they’ve included a manual.”

Mike proceeded to zoom in on the manual and he squinted at the screen.  Suddenly his face brightened.  “This says the UPS has a circuit breaker.  Maybe everything’s ok after all.”

He disappeared under the computer desk.  I waited for awhile, but everything was quiet from underneath the desk.  Eventually I gave up and left, taking his silence for a good sign.

Over the weekend we also went to Kabul for the first time.  It’s one of the few Afghan restaurants in Seattle, and it was amazing!  We arrived Saturday night without a reservation, and it was very busy.  The owner came out and offered us each a complimentary glass of wine while we were waiting.  That was a nice touch!  The waiter was really friendly, and the food was just so good!  The food almost seems like a mix between middle eastern and Indian, leaning more towards the middle eastern spice-wise.  It was such a great experience… we both loved it!

In other news Mike and I have been really tired since DST kicked in.  How is it that one hour can make such a big difference?  I think I’m slowly starting to adjust, but it’s not easy.

Monday night I cooked dinner and made broiled chicken with herbs.  I modified the recipe.  I added onions, extra sliced garlic cloves and used dried herbs instead of fresh.  It was delicious and Mike really liked it!

Ok, this post is already way too long.  🙂  I hope everyone has a great weekend!  🙂

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Filed under Italy trip, Seattle Restaurants, Travel

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