Sunday, November 27, 2005


“Quel ramo del Lago di Como…,” famous first words of Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi, that is Romeo and Juliet. I could do no better, and most likely much worse than Manzoni in the first two paragraphs of his masterpiece:

“THAT branch of the lake of Como, which extends towards the south, is enclosed by two unbroken chains of mountains, which, as they advance and recede, diversify its shores with numerous bays and inlets. Suddenly the lake contracts itself, and takes the course and form of a river, between a promontory on the right, and a wide open shore on the opposite side. The bridge which there joins the two banks seems to render this transformation more sensible to the eye, and marks the point where the lake ends, and the Adda again begins—soon to resume the name of the lake, where the banks receding afresh, allow the water to extend and spread itself in new gulfs and bays.

The open country, bordering the lake, formed of the alluvial deposits of three great torrents, reclines upon the roots of two contiguous mountains, one named San Martino, the other, in the Lombard dialect, Il Resegone, because of its many peaks seen in profile, which in truth resemble the teeth of a saw so much so, that no one at first sight, viewing it in front (as, for example, from the northern bastions of Milan), could fail to distinguish it by this simple description, from the other mountains of more obscure name and ordinary form in that long and vast chain. For a considerable distance the country rises with a gentle and continuous ascent; afterwards it is broken into hill and dale, terraces and elevated plains, formed by the intertwining of the roots of the two mountains, and the action of the waters. The shore itself, intersected by the torrents, consists for the most part of gravel and large flints; the rest of the plain, of fields and vineyards, interspersed with towns, villages, and hamlets: other parts are clothed with woods, extending far up the mountain. “

Over the years Como has been one of the favorite destinations for the well to do across Europe. Located on the Swiss border the small city has been a vacation retreat since the times of the Roman Empire when Julius Cesar would bring his troops for rest in the summer time. The rich and famous would build Villas to vacation away from the big cities of the north building vacation home that parallel the great palaces of Milan, Monza, Torino, Florence and Rome. Today is not much different. Just recently several movie stars have decided to purchase properties on the lake and spend a good part of their time there.

Just about anywhere along the lake shores you go you can find villas with palatial parks, marvelous buildings, incredible architecture, finished with heavy dark wood, gold inlays, walls covered with heavy cloth, tapestries and beautiful drapes. Most of the lakefront properties have a boat garage directly on the lake making access discreet and comfortable. Public transportation uses ferries to connect the towns scattered around lake Como to the city itself and run about every 15 minutes.

Athena has not really liked riding in the car except when very small. When she was just over one year old, every time she got into the car she would throw up. What a difference from when we brought her home from the hospital. She would never sleep… Either she nestled into my chest, her tiny hands gripping my chest hair (it is amazing how strong babies are), or she had to be in the car. As long as the car was moving she would sleep through anything. Put her down for a second and her eyes would be as big as a lighthouse beacon and twice as bright.

Things have changed very little over the years, as we wind through the little towns on the final stretch to Como from Bergamo I am thinking about the fantastic cheeses in this area. I can see Athena in the rear view mirror barely holding on. Fortunately we are in the last few minutes and shortly we will descend into Como. As we break out of the wooded area the abandoned mental hospital is on the right. At one time this had been a normal hospital but was converted to a mental hospital in the late 60s only to be completely abandoned when legislation made mental interment illegal. I never could figure that one out but it saved the government a lot of money.

Just after the hospital the road starts descending quite quickly and follows the mountain to the right. Close eyes on Athena to make sure she does not lose it. There is absolutely no safe way to stop on this road. A few more minutes and we arrive in the main square. There is a public parking facility right next to the primary square in front of the lake.

The sun is strong but it is still quite cool. September in Como rarely gets above 65 degrees and the humidity off the water makes it seem a bit cooler. At night the northern breeze from the Alps drops the temperature into the high 40s. Not really cold enough for a coat but a light jacket or sweater is a good idea both day and night.

As we park the girls are excited to get out of the car. It has been almost an hour because of the increased tourist traffic on Sunday morning. First stop is the cemetery, the girls' grandmother is buried there and we stop in on a regularly to change the flowers and clean things up. The Funivia, kind of an elevator on a slant, is anchored close to the parking lot and stops very close to the cemetery. We could take the steps but it is quite an endeavor.

As most cemeteries in Italy the cemetery of Como has numerous works of art, primarily sculptures, but the girls want to see their grandmother and get back down to the lake. A quick stop and we are ready for a fun day. Georgia immediately spots the “Pedalo” manual powered paddle boats and wants to go for a ride. Go for a ride means Daddy peddles and everyone else rides as they quickly tire. My mind raced to the time we had peddled well past the port’s protective wall and everyone became extremely tired and cranky. It had been about 45 minutes out there so the return was quite the feat.

Fortunately, it is a bit chilly to hit the paddle boats and I steer the family towards the hydroplane boats. We sign-up for the complete trip around the lake. It takes a couple of hours and they serve lunch on board. This is definitely something worth doing. As we leave the port we pass in front of villa Olmo just before Cernobbio. There are so many beautiful villas. Rachele asks why the houses have part of the house that jets out into the water. Just about that time we pass by one of the open extensions and she can see the water inside the structure. I explain that this is actually the garage. Most people who live right on the lake have a boathouse for their boat. Most of the time it will be the primary method of transportation. She looks on with awe as we pass one with doors open.

The food is pretty good on the boat but not the reason to take the hydroplane. The Lake of Como is huge and sits between the mountains. The views are spectacular with the Alps jetting straight up out of the water. The numerous towns along the lake are somewhat cutoff and you can find everyday life situations that seem reproductions from the 1800. As we pull back into port the traveling fair has started opening its rides. The sun is starting to set and the city is lighting up.

A few rides, some cotton candy, and we are off to the main square. By this time the kids are really tired but before we head home I wanted to see the new silk products. The silk from Como is famous around the world. The city has a silk museum, hosts many trade fairs and has over a thousand companies that work directly with the silk industry. A quick walk through the main square and down via Volta. The colors are vivid and highly contrasted. They do such beautiful work.

Silk scarves are one of my favorite presents to give. They are usually appreciated by women of all ages so I buy them when I find something I like. Today is no exception, a gold chain pattern on a sky blue background with cobalt blue medallions. Right now I have no idea who will receive this but I like it and I am confident I will find the proper occasion.

The day has gone. The kids are happy to pile back into the car. This time they will not even perceive the length of the trip. Tired and happy they will sleep the entire way home.


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