Lake Como! Varenna!

So, we have found our seats on the huge Airbus 380 and, miraculously, the third (aisle) seat remains unoccupied. Soon a flight attendant stands near us waiting to direct people to their seats. No one else comes, so she starts up a conversation with Dianne. It is the usual, “Where are you from?”


She seems interested. “What part of Ohio?”

“Findlay, south of Toledo”

She seems even more interested. “Really? My grandmother lives in Rossford! Have you heard of it?”

“Our daughter and her family live in Rossford!”

Well, from that point on we had new friend on the flight crew. Her name is Jessica and she lived for many years in Texas. With her new job at Emirates she has moved to Dubai. But, she misses her family, so we said we would be happy to take a note to her grandma. She said she had a better idea. In a while she came back with one of those red hats the flight attendants wear and put it on Dianne. It was a perfect fit! Then she invited us up to the crew quarters for a photo op. We took many.


She had a Polaroid and soon she had mounted the picture into a card holder and dated it for her grandma, who is 96 years old. We promised to hand deliver it in about a month when we got back.

Last Thursday, we made good on our promise. Jessica’s grandma is the classic sweet, old lady. She has lived in her house in Rossford for 80 years!


She was very glad to get the picture.

Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, it was a wonderful flight to Milan. Malpensa Airport, however, is not in Milan. It is 30 miles away. Our travels in Italy were to begin at Milan Central Station. In order to get the the Central Station, you take a train called the Malpensa Express. And, it is possible to buy tickets on line for that train. We were supposed to arrive in Milan at 12:15, local time. Our train to Varenna was to leave at 2:20 pm. This seemed like plenty of time, so I booked the Malpensa Express for the 12:45 run, which seemed like more than enough time to cover 30 miles. When I booked the train, though, I found that the Express is not really an express at all. It is a commuter train with a number of stops. The entire run takes about 50 minutes and only leaves at hour intervals. So, if we missed the 12:45, we could jump on the next train, but it would be a miracle if we caught the Varenna train.

As it happened, however,  our plane arrived early. It was a quick process to get our luggage,  go through Passport Control, find the train and get on board. When we arrived at Milan Central Station we found that the Express stopped at a track some distance from the others, so we engaged in an orderly sprint to get to the main tracks.

Here is one thing VERY cool about Milan Central Station. They have an app! One thing we learned from our previous travels in Europe is, just because you buy a ticket to Varenna, doesn’t mean you will see Varenna on the Board that shows arrivals and departures. What you will see instead is the name of the last stop that train makes. In our case, the last stop was Tirano. That is good to know, but actually, since we had our tickets already all we really needed was the train number. So, you look on the board, find your train number and wait for the track to be assigned. When it is, off you go! But, on the app not only do you get the train number, is you click on a little track icon it will show you every stop that train makes on its way to Tirano. Believe me, that adds considerably to the peace of mind of the guy who buys the tickets!

In no time at all we were on the regional train to Varenna! I should point out, that on none of the regional trains (operated by Trennord) did anyone ever so much as look at our tickets. On the high speed trains, they always did.

If you talk to someone who has been to Italy, most of them will talk about Lake Como with that far-away look of dreamers. They loved the place! So, this seemed like the perfect location to unwind and get used to the time difference. The village of Varenna was recommended by Rick Steves and when he does tours, they go there. I don’t remember exactly how we settled on the B&B “…Il Giardino Sul Lago”, but the reviews on TripAdvisor made it sound like just the place we were looking for, even if the name doesn’t exactly work the magic. The manager is Julie and when I told her what time our train would arrive, she said she would meet us at the station. Which is a good thing, because here is the entrance to the B&B:


 See the sign? Well, there isn’t any. But here is the room:
Down the hallway is he boudoir, to the left is the very spacious bath. The place was spotlessly clean, but the best was outside:
It didn’t take long to settle in.
Our room was to the right of the last palm tree.
The Alps were just a short distance away.
The village of Menaggio is directly across the lake. The other side of the mountains is Switzerland. DSCF9339
This B&B was originally owned by the Pirelli family of tire fame. One of the Pirelli’s to whom it was handed down, apparently got religion and decided to give it to the Catholic Church. The Church, however, had all the properties it could handle already, so they, in turn, decided to sell it. No rich buyers, it seems, came forward, so it was sold in sections. Julie, our excellent host, at the time was living with her husband elsewhere in Italy. Her husband heard about the sale and pressured her into agreeing to sell their current home and buying part of this one. Then he ran off with some floozy, leaving Julie to manage this place. Fortunately their piece included the basement, which she turned into a B&B. And that brings us to today.
Julie is very outgoing and extremely funny. She is British by birth and still maintains a distinct British accent. She joined us on the patio from time to time and was very helpful explaining the ways of the area.
After shaking off most of the cobwebs in our brains, we decided to go for a walk and check the place out. From our room there is a gradual climb which takes you to the public square, Piazza San GiorgioDSCF9225
The centerpiece of the piazza is the Church of San Giorgio, but, as you enter you pass by an even older church, the San Giorgio Battista (Saint John the Baptist).
This church dates back to the eleventh century. Records show that it was extended in 1151.
The frescos on the walls date back to the 14th century the one below is a couple hundred years younger. DSCF9222
After stopping in here, we decided to stroll along the lake shore. The main street out of town was decorated with pennants to celebrate a bicycle race that had been held the day before. DSCF9226
Soon we were in the country
Below is the beautiful Villa Monastero, now a convention center. Each year a physics conference is held here. Years ago, Enrico Fermi was the presenter.
Another shack we passed along the way.DSCF9236
I think it’s safe to say that money has found its way to Varenna.DSCF9232
In time we found our way back to the piazza and decided to stop in at the main church, San Giorgino:
This church was consecrated in 1313, which was a year that spelled trouble for all of Europe, the beginning the the Little Ice Age. The result was steady rains and a four year famine. But the worst was yet to come. Thirty-four years later was the beginning of the Black Death. Before it was over, 35 million people, a third of the population of Europe, would be gone. Just to give you some historical perspective.
Today, however, it is simply a beautiful little church. So, we went in to rest our bones and noticed there were others doing much the same. Before long a lady came up to us and handed us a small piece of paper which announced, in Italian, of course, that there was going to be a concert by the organist Ennio Cominetti, who apparently was in Varenna as part of a circuit tour of organists sponsored by the region of Lombardy, which includes our town. Sure enough, in about 5 minutes a guy comes in, sits down at the organ and starts playing. Want to hear some of it?
After the concert we thought it would be a good idea to buy a bottle of wine to take back to the room. Across the the church was this little market,
I opened the door to go in, though, and found that it would only open part way. Why?
This lady parks herself behind the door! It appears she has no other function. We came back to the store a few hours later and she was still there! Maybe this is an Italian version of Eldercare.
This is a store where every square inch is occupied by something. Generally, something yummy!
If one of Varenna’s citizens wants to actually go shopping in a supermarket, they have to take the ferry over to Menaggio.
Well, that’s enough for now. Next we will visit Bellagio.

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