I spent an absolutely lovely couple of days in Como - I think my time here has been the highlight of my trip so far. The lake is stunningly beautiful, breathtakingly so, I gasped when I first saw it, then found myself just sitting and looking, drinking it in. The town of Como itself is gorgeous - wide cobbled streets & squares with good restaurants, bistros and high quality shops. Lovely old buildings, two of the most beautiful churches I have been in in Italy (the duomo and San Felipe). It has such a nice *feel* to it, it's so Mediterranean, relaxed, safe, clean, tranquil yet buzzy. A fair number of tourists, noticeably more English than Germans here, but nice English. Not the chavvy ones. A few obnoxious Americans but you get that in many places.
My first sight upon arrival in Como was not actually a good one. I exited Como San Giovanni to find myself faced with a migrant camp. I've never seen one in real life before, but there was no doubt what it was. They had taken over a vast green area in front of the station with tents pitched everywhere, lots of sleeping bags on the ground. Many people, all black, quite a few sitting with their heads in their hands. It wasn't a happy place. I thought the camps existed next to borders that they cannot cross, not sure why there was one in Como - proximity to Switzerland maybe? Looking at the map, clearly this is the reason! The town of Chiasso in Swizerland is just one stop down the railway line from Como. So I guess all the people camped here want to get into Switzerland? I wonder why... I personally would prefer to live in Italy. Surely if they're fleeing war and persecution they should be glad of refuge in any country..
It was a bit of a mission to get to my B&B - busy bus ride. But I have not regretted for one moment choosing the one I did. It was set on a hill with views out over the lake, a double room with private bathroom & an amazing breakfast for €45 / night. The host couldn't have been better - friendly, helpful, but not intrusive. She talked Italian to me, so I could practice and even taught me a few new phrases.
I had from midday in Como, by the time I walked back into town. After visiting the Duomo and Chiesa de San Fedele, I climbed the 720m mule track to the hilltop village of Brunate. It was a hell of a climb! In 30C heat, the only other people I saw on the path were SERIOUS WALKERS with hats and poles. To be honest, I wasn't expecting it to be so steep, it was literally continual steps upwards - the steps were rocks in woodland or green overgrown paths. It was after a saw a mini scorpion, then a less than mini snake slither out of my way, that I realised it was a serious walk & that perhaps I wasn't being entirely smart to do it alone, in the mid afternoon heat, in my sandals, with only a half a bottle of water. But I thought this is italy! How wild can it be?! I enjoyed it immensely. I LOVE a good hill climb. I rarely get to do proper hiking these days and the few times I have done it I've been with a group and need to keep stopping so the less fit members can rest. I am very fit and rarely need to stop and rest so it was fab to be able to just keep going as long as I could. A real test of endurance. Reaching the end of the path, I still had to navigate to the funicular station (the means by which everybody else in Como reached the top). It was through a village comprised of big houses with big gardens, set back from the road, with signs "vigilanti il cane". There were dogs. Big barking scary ones. Italians obviously like to keep dogs as guard dogs more than in the UK..
Successful conversation in Italian with the guy in the cafe at the top - I asked for a ticket, he said one way or return, I said one way please I just walked here up the hill. And he was suitably impressed! The 7min funicular down was fun, for the fact of it highlighting the altitude to which I had climbed. I normally eschew funiculars but definitely deserved to return on this one.
I found a vegan gelato shop & had the best vegan gelato since I've been in Italy - coconut milk coconut (to die for), chocolate fondente (my fave) & refreshing mango sorbet. Dinner was eaten sitting looking out over the lake, before walking some more and back to the B&B.
Friday was boat trip day! I got a "free circulation" ticket for lake Como. Basically enabling me to take as many boat trips as I want within an area. There is a limit to how many places a person can visit in a day. It just about worked out cheaper to get this type of ticket, although I paid extra for the servizo rapido from Como up the lake in the morning then back down again at the end of the day. I departed at 9am. The servizo rapido is fun, it goes fast!! When it gets going it rises up on sort of water skies and literally skates across the water! It doesn't have an outside seating area (presumably because it's going so fast it would be dangerous?) but the views are still good out of the windows. Como is just stunning. Absolutely spectacular. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The lake is flat and turquoise with steep mountains rising on every side, tiny villages cluster at the base, then forests, then bare rock sticking out at the top, so high that clouds cling to them for most of the day, then blue skies above. The houses are pastel colours, peach and beige and pink. Little tall buildings all higgeldy piggeldy and then amazing lakeside villas that must be worth billions.
My first stop was Bellagio, a cute charming village with steep narrow cobbled stepped streets rising from the lakeside enticing me to walk up, then along the upper road the views down this narrow alleyways, between tall Italian buildings to the lake and mountains and blue skies beyond. I think Belaggio is the most touristy. There we a lot of shops selling Como silk, pelletarie (belt shops), pasticcherie (cake shops), gelaterie (dur), bars & cafes. A lovely dark "Romanesque" church (I've seen a few of these, need to look up what it means!). I spent an hour and a half wandering here, took a million photos that will not do justice to its beauty.
My next stop was the equally charming Varenna on the east shore. As the boat pulled into Varenna I had a successful conversation in Italian with one of the bronzed ship workers (they're very posh, wear suits & proper smart captains hats!). He based me with a rope and said sorry, so I said "nessuna problema". I was taking a photo into the sun, that he pointed out wouldn't come out well. I said I couldn't change the direction of the sun, and that the right side (into the sun) was more beautiful than the left. He told me I was more beautiful than the sun. LOL (swoon). I really loved Varenna. I had planned to visit the house and gardens of Villa Monastre, expecting it to cost €4-5 but when I turned up it was €5 for just the gardens or €4 for the villa or €8 for both. I didn't know what to do, there was also another villa €4 for the gardens and I couldn't decide which to visit, so I ended up visiting none. It didn't matter really, I enjoyed wandering round Varenna. I spent €3 on a nasty artificial tasting gelato. In retrospect I should have just gone to the damn villa, but never mind. Live and learn. Hopefully.
Last stop was Menaggio. I didn't really make the most of that place. I walked along en shore then back through the town, but I was anxious to catch the 3pm servizo rapido back to Como so got back to the dock too early & wasted 25mins sat on a wall there. I was back to Como by 4pm. It would have been a better use of my day ticket to visit another place too and not return to Como til 6pm but I get tired. Also constrained by wanting / needing to have dinner at 5pm and I knew what I wanted to buy and from where in Como whereas another village would have been an unknown entity with no guarantee of food I could eat. Oh to be a laid back less anxious person!!
It was ok though, I had my dinner at Como then revisited the amazing gelato shop for another coconut-fondente-walnut gelato. It was so amazing. I was tired by then!! And glad I came back to Como when I did - maybe I am smarter than I give myself credit for, I know my limits.. I sat on a curb, tapping into some free wifi then headed for the B&B, only to do a 180 and go to sit by the lake for another hour. Como is captivating. It is a lake that I could watch for hours, days, weeks, years. It's a magical place that I have fallen in love with. If I win the lottery I will come back here like a shot. I would almost consider starting to play the lottery so that I have a chance of winning, in order to return here. I had to tear myself away from the view, when it was getting late and finally time to leave. It is not a cheap place to holiday, but it's taken my heart and I will return.
I'm somewhat apprehensive about Bologna / Rome now, both being busy urban cities, after the calm and tranquility of the lakes. Hopefully I will be able to appreciate them for what they are. I only actually have one day in Bologna as I am taking a day trip on Sunday to the town of Ravenna, to see the mosaics that it is so famous for and I'm very much looking forward to this.