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Trip Report Alliteration Gone Mad!! A Brief, But Blissful Break In Bewitching Bellagio And Beautiful Bergamo

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My wife, Liz & I have just returned from a weekend trip to Northern Italy, staying at the Metropole Hotel, Bellagio for 2 nights & then moving on to the San Marco Hotel, Bergamo for one night, before flying home to Scotland the next day.

When it comes to trip reports it seems that most posters express their thanks at the end but, on this occasion, it seems more appropriate to do so at the beginning as this trip was very much a Fodors creation from start to finish.

I first stumbled across this forum by accident around 18 months ago whilst researching a trip to Barcelona. Like many others, I immediately became hooked and had to have my daily fix (actually who am I kidding? I visit this site as many times a day as I can possibly manage!)

As I trawled through the various postings I began to realise that the majority seemed to cover the same, fairly obvious, destinations; London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Ireland, Scotland etc., etc., etc. One less predictable place (to me at any rate) kept appearing, however - Lake Como or, to be more precise, Bellagio. If anyone had asked me about Bellagio before, i would have had a vague idea that there was a Las Vegas connection but, other than that I had never heard of the place.

The more I read, however, the clearer it became that Bellagio seemed to have some sort of magical hold over almost everyone who had visited and so I decided that if Liz & I were able to get away for a quick break in 2005, then Bellagio would be our goal. This was to be our first visit to Italy and it's no exaggeration to say that that Fodors was the inspiration behind the trip. I'd like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has provided such inavluable information, either in direct response to my own questions or in various other posts & reports.

Anyway - let's get down to business.

OUTWARD JOURNEY - SCOTLAND TO BERGAMO
1st April 2005

We live on the outskirts of Glasgow in the west of Scotland and the break was necessarily done on a pretty tight budget as we hope to have a family holiday in Florida with our two teenage boys this year. We weren't going to splurge as our splurge was actually being in Bellagio at all. We few Ryanair from Glasgow Prestwick to Bergamo and as I made the booking early - we booked in October 2004 to travel over the first weekend in April 2005 - we got the bargain price of £27 each return, including all taxes & charges.

One of the accepted drawbacks of travelling with Ryanair is that you generally have to use out of the way airports and I have smugly advised posters here in the past not to worry about this as they are usually pretty well connected by public transport. Little did I know, however, that I was about to get the chance to put my advice into practice when our car broke down the day before we were due to leave! It couldn't be repaired in time and so we were now faced with the problem of how to get Prestwick in time for a 7.00 a.m. flight on the Friday morning. For one resaon or another, however, none of our nearest and dearest were able to take us there (needless to say my legal team is currently redrafting my will even as you are reading this message)& I now found that Prestwick isn't so well connected after all for early morning flights, actually. So, we were up at 3.30 a.m., collected by taxi at 4.15 a.m. and then taken down to Glasgow's main bus station to catch the 4.45 bus to Prestwick. This is the only early morning public transport to Prestwick from Glasgow - miss this and you are faced with an expensive taxi journey as there is no other way of getting there at that time in the morning.

Fortunately, all went well & we got to the airport in good time. The flight was a little late in taking off - 10 minutes or so - but as with every flight I have ever taken with Ryanair we made up time & in fact arived early at Orio Al Serio airport, Bergamo.

And the car? Well, the repair bill came to £550 but don't worry - we returned home to Scotland with 40 Euros & so I only have another £525 to find.

More to follow.....

Jim

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    BERGAMO TO LAKE COMO

    Ryanair advertise Orio Al Serio as being their Milan hub (apparently it's about an hour away by bus) and I got the impression that most people seem to see it as such. The Milan bus ticket desk in the main arrivals hall was certainly busy enough, in contrast to the smaller Bergamo City Tourist Office desk next door where we bought return tickets for the shuttle bus to Bergamo railway station. Similarly, while there was a large crowd of people waiting outside at the Milan bus stop, there was only a handful waiting for the bus to Bergamo, which arrived almost immediately.My Fodors pre-planning paid off right away as, with a confident swagger, I vaidated the tickets by stamping them in the orange box & then watched on in quiet satisfaction whilst the ticket inspector tried in vain to explain the procedure to another group of Brits. As the discusson grew increasingly in volume, I stepped in with the calm, sophisticated air of an experienced world traveller & showed my fellow countrymen what to do. Brushing of the grateful thanks of all concerned, I then sat back and enjoyed the journey into town, which too around 15 minutes.

    The bus dropped us off right outside the railway station, which lies at the foot of the bustling Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, the ciy's main street (named after Pope John XXIII, who came from Bergamo). It was very tempting to have a look around, but our plan was to go straight from Bergamo to Varenna, via Lecco, by train and then on to Bellagio by ferry. As we would be spending the night in Bergamo on the way home, we had decided that we wouldn't spend any more time than necessary on the outwad part of the journey. We had a comfortable waiting time of aroud 20 minutes until the next train to Lecco alowing us plenty of time to get our bearings and buy the tickets. I had rehearsed (and re-rehearsed) how to ask for the train tickets in Italian but on going into the station we found quite a long queue at the ticket office, whilst there was only one person using the automated ticket machine. Privately relieved at havng an excuse not to make a fool of myself, I decided to use the machine & found it very similar to those used at home. The machine had an English language option and so buying the tickets was vey straightforward, although I was a little dismayed that I couldn't find an option to buy return tickets - I don't know if this was a feature of the machine or if I had pressed the wrong button. I knew from research on Fodors that the ticket office at Varenna Esino (to give it its full name) was unmanned & so at some point I would have to consider how to get the tickets for the return journey.

    There was a brief interruption as a notice board fell to the ground with a loud clatter and almost beaned a poor woman who was minding her own business & eating a gelato, but we successfully completed the transaction, validated the tickets in the yellow box attached to the machine & then made a beeline for the printed timetables to find that the train to Lecco would be leavin from Platform 2 (tron.). After some scratching of heads & puzzled looks we spoke to another Scottish family also headed for Lecco who advised us that they believed "tron." meant that the train would be split in two and that we should make sure we got on the front set of coaches. We stood chatting at the platform & learned that they had been regular visitors to Italy over the years. As the departure time grew ever nearer there was no sign of our train and also, other than ourselves, a conspicious lack of people standing at the platform. The teenage daughter went to investigate and shortly afterwards she shouted up to us urgenly from the far end of the platform. We picked up our luggage and ran towards her to find that there was an "extension" to platform 2, slightly round the corner, which had been hidden from our view by the station buildings - presumably this is what "tron." signifies. As it turned out we caguht the train with only a couple of minutes to spare, but if the daughter hadn't gone to look we would certainly have missed it.

    In what was to become a consistent feature with all forms of public transport throughout our stay, the train left bang on time and we spent the journey to Lecco speaking to our new found friends who were on their way to Tirano at the head of Lake Como for a weeks ski-ing. The closer we got to Lecco the more hilly & then mountainous the scenery became and we wondered how on earth people reached some of the more isolated houses & villages we could see perched on the hills in the distance. We had a short wait a Lecco until the Tirano train arrived & as this was also the train for Varenna (the first stop en route) we all boarded together. We had a laugh as we all made en masse for the left sid of the train for the views but as there weren't enough seats available it was areed that Liz & I would sit there & they could then move over after we got off.

    As the train moved north up the lakeshore the scenery grew more & more dramatic but the day was growing fairly grey & overcast and there was a haze over the lake which meant that the views weren't quite as sharp as they might have been. Despite this, it wasn't long before the unmistakable shape of the Bellagio peninsula came into sight on the far side, quickly followed by the rooftops of Varenna jutting out on the promontory up ahead on our side. I'm not sure if I can describe how it felt to finally see these sights for real after having put so much time into researching them & picturng them in my mind's eye. The train pulled into Varenna station and saying goodbye to our compatriots we disembarked. After a quick check to see if there was a ticket machine to buy tickets on the way back (there was) we walked down the hill towards the lakeshore & ferry dock. Resisting the temptation to nip into the Albergo Olivedo to see the famous (or infamous) Laura, we bought our ferry tickets and waited for only a few minutes untl the Bellagio ferry arrived. Having left home some 8 hours earlier and travelled on a taxi, 2 buses a plane and 2 trains to get here, the final part of out journey to Bellago was about to begin.

    Jim

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    This is sounding oh, sooooooo familiar: the train ride to Varenna, the walk down to the ferry dock, the temptation to just bag it and hang out at the Albergo with its resident dog and watch the world and the ferries go by....

    Looking forward to the next installment!

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    Just a quick post to say thanks for the kind words & also to apologise for the many missing letters in my last instalment - I was using someone else's computer & boy, does their keyboard need replacing!

    Will try to post more over the weekend.

    Jim

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    BELLAGIO

    I spent a long time deciding where to stay on this trip. From the start it seemed clear that the mid-lake area was the place to head for, which meant a choice between (in strictly alphabetical order) Bellagio, Menaggio & Varenna. I discounted Menaggio fairly quickly (perhaps too quickly as things turned out) & bearing in mind our limited budget & the absolute necessity for a lake view I short listed 4 potentials - the Albergo Milano & Villa Cipressi in Varenna and La Pergola & the Metropole in Bellagio. If it had come down purely to the Hotel alone, Villa Cipressi would probably have won out but I think that deep down I had made up my mind all along that it just had to be Bellagio. The longish walk counted against La Pergola & so I decided that the best option was a lake-front room at the Metropole, even although I knew that it wasn't one of the more favoured hotels on this forum.

    If I'm being honest, I was just a little bit disappointed by the ferry journey from Varenna to Bellagio. In retrospect, I had read so much about it that maybe it was impossible for it to live up to my expectations but then, as I was to learn, Bellagio has a way of creeping under your skin without you even noticing. The weather didn't help; despite the sun's brave attempts to peek through the clouds, the sky was grey overhead & although the view was undeniably impressive I wasn't convinced that it was necessarily much better than some of the magnificent scenery we have in the Argyll area of western Scotland, albeit on a less grandiose scale. Looking back across the lake, Varenna seemed to lack the colourful lustre I had seen in so many photographs and a cold breeze turned the ferry crossing into what might be politely descibed as "bracing" (in other words it was bloody freezing). This was naivete on my part, of course, as I should have realised that a sail across an Alpine lake on the 1st April was unlikely to be a tropical experience. One of the main things I had looked forward to when I arranged the trip, however, was Liz's reaction when she saw the lake and thankfully, despite the less than perfect conditions, she was obviously delighted to be there. The fact that she didn't want to go inside was a sure sign that she was enjoying the journey.

    As we rounded the point of the peninsula and approached Bellagio itself, the first thing to strike me was the lack of activity. Both the Grand Hotel Serbelloni & the Hotel Florence appeared to be closed and there were very few people on the waterfront as we grew closer to the town. My spirits picked up, however, as we went past the Metropole with its peerless location right slap bang on the lake-shore. The car ferry dock where we disembarked was slightly past the Metropole (the foot-passengers only ferry uses a more central jetty)and as we walked towards the Hotel there were so few people about that I began to wonder if I had misjudged the timing of the visit. Quite apart from the weather, maybe it was just too early in the season to come here. Just as we came level with the Hotel building, however, I glanced over to my right and, looking up one of the picturesque, steep terraced alleyways which are Bellagio's trademark, I suddenly remembered what it was that had attracted me to the town in the first place.

    When I had booked the Metropole online, the rate they quoted me for a lake-front room with a view was approx. 110 Euro per night. The Hotel also offers a few lake-front rooms with a large private terrace on their first floor at a supplement (their website www.albergometropole.it shows these off very well on their "Virtual Tour") but I had been advised that it was not possible to book these in advance & instead I would have to ask at reception when I arrived. At check-in we were offered a room on the 4th floor, but when I asked about a room with a private terrace, I was advised that the supplement would be 10 Euro per person, per night - in our case 40 Euro extra in total. I was sure that this was a higher supplement than had been mentioned in our earlier communications when I had booked, but the receptionist was happy for us to see both rooms and decide for ourselves which one we wanted. She took us first to the room with the private terrace and as soon as we saw it we knew it was the one for us to the extent that we didn't even bother looking at the 4th floor room.

    The room (No. 110) was a good size, with a double bed (actually two singles joined together, but this didn't cause a problem) a sofa, what looked like a brand new carpet and also a very sizeable bathroom with a bath and shower, although the shower connection was attached to the inside of the bath & therefore couldn't be raised above head height. The bathroom appeared to have been freshly fitted & tiled, but the crowning glory was the terrace. Right on the water's edge, it had two deck chairs and a table and these didn't come close taking up even half of the space available. For the money (around 130 Euro per night) this was oustanding value and I would recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone. I suppose a possible drawback might be the proximity of the ferries, which go right past the rooms, but we didn't find them unduly noisy and in fact it was interesting to watch them coming & going.

    The Hotel as a whole? Well, Liz & I are not demanding guests and as a rule we we aren't particularly interested in the Hotel services - my ideal is to come and go with as little contact with reception as possible. Reception staff seemed to be pleasant & efficient and although not all of them spoke English there always seemed to be someone on duty who did - & very well at that. I thought the public areas, such as reception, the bar and the dining room were a little faded looking, but perfectly acceptable. There is a nice rooftop garden with a few sun-loungers & the ouside terrace restaurant offers excellent views of the lake, although I can't speak for the quality of the food.

    If anyone asks me about the pros & cons of the Metropole, however, it will always come back to the terrace and view. There might well be better hotels in Bellagio, but I defy anyone to have a better view in town at a comparable price.

    Once we had unpacked & got our bearings we went back outside to the nearby waterfront cafe operated by the Hotel Splendide for a quick snack - penne for Liz and focaccia for me. It was nothing special to be honest, but it filled a hole before we went exploring and, more importantly, was my introduction to Italian hot chocolate, which is a different beast entirely to the insipid stuff we get at home. I had been looking forward to the coffee in Italy, but the hot chocolate was so good I ended up ordering it at every opportunity. After a quick wander around town, we realised just how much the journey had taken out of us & so we went back to the Hotel for a quick nap.

    We didn't wake up until around 7.00 p.m. & watched TV while we were getting ready. The Pope's illness seemed to be on every channel & as Catholics we were obviously particularly interested and concerned. This held us back a little, but we eventually went out at around 8.30 and found a restaurant up one of the alleyways called La Grotta, which I had seen recommended here as a good budget choice for inexpensive eating. Although it didn't have any outside seating, that wasn't an issue at this time of the year and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal of pizza for me & lasagne for Liz (sorry to disappoint everyone but we're not really discerning foodies!). I also had some gelato with a cherry sauce which was absolutely delcious. I can't remember how much the bill came to but I do recall that it was very reasonable.

    A further stroll only went to prove how quiet the town was, even on a Friday night. Then, however, we heard the familiar sound of Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island coming from the Far Out bar, where there was a jazz trio playing. Although the bar was by no means packed, there was a fairly lively atmosphere inside and we enjoyed listening to the music over a couple of drinks. Fatigue was setting in again, however, and so we returned to the hotel. We sat out on our terrace for a while watching the last ferries criss-crossing the lake and even though it was cold we realised that we were beginning to fall under Bellagio's spell.

    More to folllow....

    Jim

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    MENAGGIO (AND NEARLY, BUT NOT QUITE, LUGANO)

    I am not an early riser by nature - in fact, given the chance I could quite happily lie in bed all day. This irritates Liz intensely, but as I have explained to her many times, this is an inherent personality trait over which I have little control. Unfortunately, I am what is known in the medical profession as a lazy b*****d.

    It's a different story on holiday, of course, because of hotel breakfasts & as I woke to the sound of my alarm at 7.30 I was conscious of a breeze blowing through the room. Looking over, I saw that the terrace doors & shutters were open & that Liz was already sitting out enjoying the early morning air. Although there was still a chill in the air at that time in the morning, the sky was relatively clear & the signs were very promising for a much improved day. We turned on the TV to check on the Pope's condition & although there had been no change overnight, there seemed little hope of his recovery. Although this was sad news, it seemed best now to hope for an early end to his suffering. I'm not sure how best to explain this, but it also occurred to us that if he was to die this weekend we would be privileged to be in Italy for such a momentous event (I hope that doesn't sound uncaring).

    Apparently, in season, the Metropole serves breakfast outdoors on the lakeside terrace, which must be very pleasant, but at this time of year it was served in the dining room. There was a self-service buffet consisiting of the usual "continental" breakfast items - bread, croissants/brioches, boiled eggs, cold meats, cheese, fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, fruit juices & tea/coffee/chocolate. It was a good enough spread & Liz enjoyed it but, being a male in his late 40's from the West of Scotland I am more partial to a cooked breakfast containing enough fat to bring on a coronary. With no choice but go for the healthy option I made a brave attempt to clear the table and actually quite enjoyed it (but don't tell Liz).

    As this was to be our only full day at the lake we were determined to see as much as possible and our main objectives were to visit both Menaggio & Varenna. I was particularly interested in Varenna as we hadn't really seen much of it on our arrival, having simply headed straight for the ferry-dock from the train station. Although we would be headed back there tomorrow for the return journey, our luggage meant that it wouldn't really be practical to go sightseeing. If possible, I also wanted take a walk over the crest of the hill from Bellagio to Pescallo to see the hotel La Pergola which I had considered booking earlier but I didn't know if this was being a bit ambitious. Buying day passes for the ferry, we decided to let fate determine our first port of call & as luck would have it the first ferry to arrive was bound for Menaggio - so off we went. For the first time on our trip we felt the sun on our backs and as we looked back at Bellagio the bright sun showed the town in a completely different light. The ferry headed out towards the middle of the lake and unlike yesterday, the mountains on the far side were crystal clear - the glory of Lake Como was now very apparent.

    We disembarked at Menaggio and walked the short distance to the little harbour next to the Hotel Bellavista where we sat for a while looking over to Bellagio immediately opposite & beyond there, Varenna on the far side. It was really quite warm now & we could have sat there for a long time, but all that sitting & looking was hungry work & so we headed for the Hotel Du Lac for a bite to eat. Although there was still a bit of a breeze from time to time we chose to sit outside at the tables adjoining the main square, the Piazza Garibaldi. The fact that we were the only people sitting outside suggests that maybe the locals weren't so impressed by the weather, but we found it very pleasant. The tea & lemon cake (for Liz) & the hot chocolate & apple strudel (for me) went down a treat and we then walked up the main shopping street, the Via Calvi. At the top of the street we could see the church of San Stefano & we headed for there, stopping off to browse in some of the shops en route. Liz was particularly lmpressed by two shops across the street from each other (but apparently under the same ownership)which sold excellent home & kitchenware & she also bought a pair of sunglasses as these appeared to be de rigeur among the local women. As we walked up the street we were surprised to see another little church on the right hand side which turned out to be Santa Marta's. The church didn't really stand out much from the shops & cafes which surrounded it on both sides & we might have walked right past if the doors hadn't been open. Inside it was small & simply, yet charmingly decorated and we said a short prayer for the Pope. On exiting, we noticed that, in fact, there were a couple of very ancient looking stone tablets on the outside walls which perhaps gave an indication of the building's age.

    We continued our walk & said another prayer for the Pope in San Stefano's church before heading back down to the lake shore & walking along the lake promenade. Menaggio doesn't seem to have too many supporters on this forum (BobTheNavigator being a notable exception) but we liked it very much. It's bigger than Bellagio and although it's attractive in its own right, it's not as picturesque as its smaller neighbour. On the other hand, however, it had an authenticity about it & a spark of life, which we found very endearing. I'm not saying I would choose it over Bellagio, but it did seem more "real", for want of a better word. While it seemed that, in Bellagio, you were just as likely to hear English spoken as Italian, the only native English speaker we heard in Menaggio was the woman who worked in the Tourist Information Office.

    Speaking of the Tourist Information Office, we had completed our walk along the promenade and were considering heading for the ferry to Varenna, when we noticed the bus to Lugano, Switzerland, sitting just off the main square. In my early planning I had considered making this trip but, even although the journey was only around 1 hour each way I had decided that it would have been a waste of our, already too brief,time on the lake. On seeing the bus, however, I mentioned the idea to Liz and she was extremely keen on the idea of going into Switzerland (a country we hadn't visited before) even if it was only for a few hours. We went into the Tourist Information Office, just across the road from the bus, where we found the woman very helpful (later on we were to argue over her nationality - Liz was sure that she was English, but I thought that she may have been Australian, or possibly from New Zealand. No doubt someone here will know her and advise me that she is actually Venezuelan). Anyway, everything seemed to be falling nicely ino place - the bus was due to leave in 10 minutes, we would be able to spend a good few hours in Lugano before catching the bus back & we would be back in Menaggio in good time to catch the ferry back to Bellagio. We thanked her for her help & on the way out of the door, almost as an afterthought, I asked if we would need our passports. She looked at me as if I had asked whether I should put on my socks & shoes on in the morning and explained that, as we would be visiting another country, then of course we would need our passports. This was a blow as our passports were in the drawer of the bedroom cabinet back in our hotel. Obviously it was a stupid question but I had thought, mistakenly as it turned out, that the lack of EC border patrols would allow us to enter Switzerland undocumented.

    We had been given a bus timetable and so we decided to go back to the Hotel, retrieve our passports & then retun to Menaggio to catch the next bus to Lugano. On the ferry back to Bellagio, however, this idea started to lose its appeal. It seemed a lot of to-ing & fro-ing & I was a little worried that there wasn't an awful lot of time between the last bus from Lugano arriving back in Menaggio and the last ferry departing for Bellagio. If there was any hold-up with the bus, we might have found ouselves stuck in Menaggio & so we decided that Lugano would have to wait for another trip. We went back up to our room & decided to have a short rest on the terrace before heading for Varenna. The early afternoon was growing warmer & as we lay back on our deck chairs we both fell asleep (see - I' not the only lazy b*****d in the partnership).

    More to follow,

    Jim

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    Oh Jim (JJBhoy) do continue with your trip report, I just returned from a weeks trip and so just saw your post and have been sitting here reading your wonderful description of your venture in Italy. Do continue please! You make me feel like I am back in Italy.

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    you are answering so many questions - and some I am still to think of! Please keep going - don't stint on any info. I have just posted a question re the Italian Lakes so keep typing.

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    TO PESCALLO & LA PUNTA SPARTIVENTO

    Feeling refreshed after our short nap we headed down to the San Remo cafe next door to discuss our next move. The San Remo has several tables set out on a lakeside terrace & generally seemed to be the most popular cafe in the area, perhaps because it was close to the car ferry dock. It was now around 3.30 on a Saturday afternoon and although there were more people about than before I still wouldn't say that Bellagio was particularly busy. Over some delicious hot chocolate & gelato we decided that the best idea would be to head over to Varenna this evening for dinner and so it was agreed that we would take a walk over the other side of the hill to Pescallo in the meantime. It was still a very pleasant afternoon - quite warm but not uncomfortably so, which was probably just as well given the hike we had ahead of us. I had seen signposts directing motorists to the Hotels Belvedere & La Pergola and so we followed this road up to the top of the hill. This was a mistake in one sense in that we could have taken the much shorter pedestrian route (which we only found on the return journey) but it was such a lovely day that we didn't really mind. The road took us past the Hotel Belvedere which, although closed, was a hive of activity with several workmen & cleaning women milling about, presumably getting the place ready for the opening of the season. No-one seemed interested in us & we took the opportunity to cut through to the back of the hotel & have a look at the gardens & swimming pool area. It was hard to get a sense of how nice the hotel itself was, but the gardens were extensive & there was a fantastic view of the Lecco "leg" of the lake. The swimming pool was still empty (which always gives a place a sense of neglect) but overall we were quite impressed with what we saw of the Belvedere.

    Coming out of the hotel, we continued along the road and just where it turned off down the slope to Pescallo we came to the local cemetery. It sounds morbid, but I always find cemeteries interesting places & even though Bellagio's was small it was still fascinating. As you might expect, the graves were very well cared for and in fact there were a couple of elderly local women laying out flowers as we walked round. It was hard to tell if they approved of us being there or not, but we tried to be as respectful as possible (although I must confess to taking a couple of photographs when they weren't looking). The perimiter of the graveyard was edged by a number of large, rather spooky looking, mausoleums bearing family names & the name Gilardoni was particularly prominent both here and on the ordinary gravestones (I say "ordinary" to distinguish them from the mausoleums - actually some of them were very ornate). The Italian custom of having photographs on their gravestones added to the poignancy and nowhere was this more true than the area set aside for the graves of children. Walking down to the back of the cemetery we came across a rather forgotten looking area containing mostly older graves belonging to non-Italians. One stone which particularly caught our eye told the story of a young English boy (from memory, in his teens) who had drowned in the lake when rescuing his older brother who had got into difficulty whilst swimming. We couldn't help but wonder how such a terrible tragedy had affected the family (particularly the brother) in later years, but I suppose every gravestone had its own personal story to tell.

    We left the graveyard, continued our walk down the hill & it wasn't long before we found ourselves among the small jumble of houses which make up Pescallo. There was no sign of life around La Pergola, but I wasn't sure if this was because it was closed or if they were just having a siesta. As their website shows, La Pergola is in a beautiful position, literally on the lake shore overlooking the eastern leg of the lake. Standing at the little cove next to the hotel, we looked across to the other side of the lake and saw, in the distance, a train heading southwards towards Lecco. With a pang of regret we realised that this time tomorrow, we would be making the same journey. Walking past La Pergola's front door, we came to another little cove on the other side of the building where there was a bench which would have allowed us to sit and enjoy the tranquillity, but there was a problem - swans.

    Now, I'm no ornithologist, but I recall reading as a child that a swan could break a grown man's arm with just one flap - yes, ONE FLAP - of its wings and this nugget of information has stayed with me ever since. Statistically, I don't know how many grown men have actually been the innocent victims of swan attacks, but I have always taken great care not to become yet another statistic. To make matters worse, I am sure I have read somewhere that all swans in the UK (or is it just in England? or maybe just on the River Thames?) are the personal property of The Queen and that it is an offence, punishible by law, to harm one in any way. This has always struck me as grossly unfair since, theoretically, if you are innocently walking home one night only to be set upon by a group of thuggish swans, hell-bent on an evening's arm-breaking, then legally there is little you can do to defend yourself. I realised with a start that, although I had carried a tremendous amount of research for our trip to Italy,I had neglected to establish the legal technicalities of swan ownership in the country. Bad enough to wake up in the local hospital, covered in feathers & with my arm in a sling, without finding out that a crack team of gun-toting carabinieri was waiting outside to lock me up because I had accidentally winged (quite literally) one of my assailants in self-defence.
    Making a mental note to check out where I stood vis-a-vis swan attacks in my travel insurance, I deftly steered Liz away from the cove and we continued on our way. To be honest, I still don't think that Liz realises just how close she came to such danger, but I haven't made a big issue of it - I'm not that kind of guy.

    The street took us away from the shore & up a narrow alleyway edged on both sides by stone walls. As the path grew steeper (and steeper) I realised that this was the pedestrian path back to Bellagio. Although a relatively stiff walk, it was much quicker than the route we had taken to Pescallo, but we were glad we had taken the long way around as it was a much more interesting route. If time is an issue when you are walking between Bellagio & Pescallo then by all means take the pedestrian route, but if you are looking for a pleasant stroll I would recommend following the road.

    The path brought us out on to the Via Garibaldi, the main street at the top of Bellagio and we followed it along to the Piazza della Chiesa where we had a couple of drinks outside the Bar Sport, overlooking the church of San Giacomo. Our energy restored we decided that we might as well go the whole hog and walk along to the point of the peninsula where the two legs of the lake meet - La Punta Spartivento ("The Land Which Divides The Winds"). It was only a short walk, past the back of the Grand Hotel Serbelloni and we soon found ourselves once again standing on the water's edge. The sun was just starting to set and purely by chance we had reached La Punta at exactly the right moment. From there we could look west, across to Menaggio, east, over to Varenna and northwards all the way up the lake.

    There is a restaurant at La Punta (called, by coincidence, La Punta) and we considered having dinner there, but it was still too early and so we decided to stick with our original plan and dine in Varenna. We walked back up the path towards the town and passed by the the entarnce to the Grand Hotel Serbelloni where (although it still appeared closed) there was a large sign welcoming stem-cell scientists to their convention. Wondering how they liked their eggs served in the morning, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up before catching the ferry to Varenna.

    More to follow......

    Jim

    p.s. The stem-cell convention is genuine - I didn't make it up just to shoehorn a rotten joke into my report!

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    VARENNA

    Varenna was probably the one disappointment of our trip, but maybe that was partly our fault because we didn't really give it much of a chance to win us over - perhaps if we had visited it during the day it would have been a bit livelier and more attractive looking. I had hoped to see at least the gardens of the Villa Cipressi (& hopefully get a little peek inside as well) but as things turned out we didn't arrive in Varenna until somewhere around 7.15 p.m. leaving us only two possible ferries to catch back to Bellagio - at 9.00 pm & 10.35 pm. It was getting dark as we walked along the shorefront from the ferry-dock & there were only a couple of people around. Even as we cut up past the Bar Nilus towards the town the place seemed deserted & Liz decided that she didn't really want to spend our last night at the lake in such sleepy surroundings. This meant that our mission was to have dinner over the next hour or so & catch the 9.00 ferry back to Bellagio. As we reached the main square, the Piazza San Giorgio, we passed the Royal Victoria Hotel & seeing that their restaurant seemed to have a good crowd inside we decided to have a look at the menu posted outside. Given that the Royal Victoria is a 4 star hotel I had expected the menu to be too pricey, but in fact they were very reasonable. As it turned out, we were actually in the Victoria Grill & not in the hotel's "posh" restaurant.

    On entering, we found the restaurant to be simply furnished, with red & white checked tablecloths & an animated, informal atmosphere - in fact, just what I had pictured a "real" Italian restaurant to be like. All of the customers we could see appeared to be Italian and indeed our feeling was that many of them were locals as they seemed to be familiar both with each other & with the waiting staff. Having had pizza the night before in Bellagio, I had intended to try something different tonight, but the majority of diners were digging into their own pizzas with great gusto & given our tight time-frame I figured that the pizza would be ready pretty quickly. Following the same reasoning Liz chose the lasgane as it appeared on the daily specials menu. So, pizza & lasagne for two nights in a row - do we live on the edge or not? Told you we weren't great foodies:)

    The waiter brought us our drinks & some crusty bread & it wasn’t too long before Liz had her lasagne as well as a side plate of fries (incidentally, we LOVED the fries both here & the previous evening in La Grotta, Bellagio). I ate one piece of bread and then, although I didn’t particularly want it, I took another as there was no sign of my pizza yet. As I bit down on the bread I felt a sharp pain & realised to my dismay that I had broken one of my back teeth. Naturally, I started to probe away with my tongue & of course the gap seemed huge but, thankfully, after the initial pain when the tooth first broke, there was no further discomfort, even later on when I had hot and cold drinks. My concern over the broken tooth started to be replaced, however, by concern over whether we would catch the 9.00 ferry. Liz was just finishing her lasagne (which was delicious) when my pizza was finally served at around 8.40 which meant that I had 20 minutes to eat it, settle the bill & get back down to the ferry. I am sure the people at the table next to us must have wondered what on earth was going on as I polished off the pizza at breakneck speed and the waiter looked very puzzled to be asked for the bill just moments after serving the meal. We left in such a hurry that I am sure some of the other customers must have thought that we were running out without paying. Running as quickly as possible (bear in mind that we are no spring chickens!) we toyed with the idea of cutting down one of the steep stairways which are a feature of the town, but we weren’t sure if they would take us right down to the shore or if we might end up lost & so we stuck to the main street. As the road bent round we could see the ferry from Bellagio just coming into dock but it wasn’t until we got down to the bottom of the hill that we realised we would catch it OK.

    Back in Bellagio we tried to ‘phone home from the call boxes next to the ferry dock but we couldn’t get any of them to work. Although they have an English language option we kept getting some sort of error message in Italian which we guessed might mean that the boxes were full and couldn’t take any more coins (when this happens at home you can make emergency calls only). We decided to go back up to the hotel to call home from there & check again on the Pope’s condition. We called our own home first & checked that the boys, who were being looked after by Liz’s mother, were OK & then I called my own mother. I had literally just put the ‘phone down when the Pope’s death was announced. It was very hard to know just how to feel; great sadness, obviously, but also a sense of relief that his suffering was finally over.

    We were curious to see how the news would affect the town, but to be honest, there was very little sign that anything had happened. We walked up to the Piazza Della Chiesa but there was no sign of activity at the church & although the customers in the Bar Sport were watching the news on TV there were no obvious signs of sadness. Conscious that this was our last evening in Bellagio, we walked right through the town, up and down the terraced alleyways until eventually, tired out, we ended up back down at the lakeshore. We went over to the San Remo for a final drink, but, although it was still open, there were no customers inside and so we walked on to the Carillion Café, which although not as nice looking as the San Remo was busier inside. The hot chocolate was so good I had a second cup & then we reluctantly made our way back to the hotel.

    Sitting out on our terrace we looked back on what had been a long, but enjoyable day, albeit with a sad ending. It was hard to believe that it was only this morning we had been in Menaggio but we were glad that we had packed so much into the day and had seen so many of the delights that this beautiful area had to offer. Although sorry to be spending our last evening in Bellagio we consoled ourselves that we still had a visit to Bergamo to look forward to before returning home.

    More to follow....

    Jim

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    BELLAGIO TO BERGAMO


    Sunday morning, after breakfast, we bade a reluctant farewell to our room & terrace (oh! our terrace!) and checked out. The hotel reception agreed to let us leave our luggage in their office while we went to morning mass & then did some shopping. Although not quite as nice as yesterday morning it was still pretty bright with just a few clouds scudding overhead. As we were a little early, we sat in the main square outside the church and watched the locals arriving. Although it sounds like a bit of a cliché to say that one of the most enjoyable things about a trip to Italy is the people watching, we had certainly found that to be the case during our short visit. Mass was a pleasant, though low-key, experience and (bearing in mind our lack of Italian) didn’t seem to be especially affected by the Pope’s death the previous evening.

    The main item on the shopping agenda was to buy gifts for the two mums & Liz’s sister back home and having done a good bit of window shopping already, Liz had decided that a few silk scarves would be packed away in the luggage for the journey home. I know that fashion is a subject close to the heart of many Fodorites (God bless ‘em) but I can’t honestly say that it is a particular interest of mine. Nevertheless, even an unreconstructed slob like me couldn’t fail to notice that the shop windows were full of lime green and orange clothes and accessories. The key question, of course, is were those winter’s colours going out, or spring’s colours coming in? And the answer……cue fanfare……

    Sorry, don’t have a clue.

    Anyway, Liz bought a variety of scarves in every conceivable tint of lime green and orange (as well as one black one – don’t know how that got there) all of which were gratefully received on our return. Adding a lime green bag to a similarly coloured scarf she had bought for herself, she looked the part with the black shades she had bought in Menaggio. Realising that it was now, sadly, time to begin our journey back to Bergamo we headed back down the hill to the hotel to collect our luggage only to be met by a surprise – crowds! The area around about the Metropole & nearby cafes could only be described as bustling, mostly with what appeared to be day-trippers – I suppose it’s a Sunday afternoon thing. I had read a lot about how over-run with tourists Bellagio could get in season, but since our arrival it had been so quiet that I hadn’t really appreciated that point. Given that this was probably just a taster of what would follow as the year drew on we began to realise that that coming early in the season was probably a good idea after all.

    We collected our luggage and as we had some time to kill before the next ferry to Varenna we managed to shoehorn ourselves into the one available table on the San Remo’s outside terrace. Although the smoking ban in Italy had been followed 100% in all of the bars and restaurants we had visited, it doesn’t apply outside and unfortunately we found ourselves in the middle of what appeared to be the All-Italian Smoke Blowing Championships being contested by the tables either side of us – at one point I thought that a new Pope had been elected already.

    We moved over to the ferry-dock where the ferry to Cadenabbia was about to leave and just as the barrier had gone down two American couples ran up but were unable to get on. One of the women was a little annoyed because she thought that it had been the Varenna ferry leaving early so I went over and explained to her husband (I assume) that it was OK and that the Varenna ferry would be in shortly. We got talking and I learned that, although the four came from Oregon and Southern California, the man I was speaking to now lived and worked in Luxembourg. His friends had come over to Europe to visit and they were taking a driving holiday around the Alps. As it turned out, he had visited Glasgow last year and he was very complimentary about both the city and the people; I suppose he might just have been being polite, but he seemed genuine enough. When the ferry arrived we boarded together and on the journey over to Varenna we had an interesting talk about travel. He asked if we had visited the US and we explained that we had been to Florida a couple of times but realised that it would be a mistake to think that Orlando was typical of the country as a whole. He made the point that the US was so large and diverse that it was difficult to say where or what was typical and he recommended that we visit the West Coast, especially San Francisco and Seattle. Liz replied that for as long as our boys were calling the shots we would be hard pushed to bypass Florida on any visit to the States. We also discussed the relative spending powers of the pound, dollar and euro and he laughed that, although his friends were finding their trip expensive, he was OK because his salary was paid in euro. I was dying to ask if he read Fodors, but chickened out!

    Disembarking in Varenna, we said goodbye to our American friend, took one last lingering look back over to Bellagio and made our way up the hill to the railway station. Regular readers may recall that I had neglected to purchase return tickets on the journey from Bergamo, but with the shrewd foresight for which I am renowned I had made sure on arriving in Varenna that there was an automatic ticket machine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been shrewd enough to make sure that the machine was actually working. It wasn’t. I knew from SlowTrav and elsewhere that the advice in such cases was to seek out the conductor ASAP but we hadn’t had our tickets checked on the journey out and so I wondered whether we might get away with it on the way back. I was very quickly disabused of this notion, however, when the conductor came into our carriage just as we were pulling out of the station. He didn’t seem at all concerned about our lack of tickets, however and was friendly enough as he wrote us out a ticket for the journey and reminded us to change at Lecco. The rest of the journey was uneventful and shortly before 4.00 we found ourselves pulling into Bergamo where we would be spending our last night in Italy.

    More to follow....

    Jim


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    Holly,

    Would you believe that I'm sitting working on the Bergamo part right now?

    Sorry for delay but this is taking longer than I expected - what I really need is a good editor!

    Hopefully will be ready to post tomorrow.

    Thanks for your interest,

    Jim

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    BERGAMO

    Initially, our night in Bergamo had been arranged purely for practical purposes. The flight back to Glasgow on the Monday morning left at 11.00 a.m. and even if it was technically possible, I didn’t really want to be rushing back from Lake Como first thing in the morning sweating over whether we would make it in time. As I researched the town, however, I discovered that it might well be worth a visit in its own right. The town is split into two distinct areas with the walled, mediaeval Citta Alta (High Town) perched high up on a hill overlooking the modern Citta Bassa (Low Town). Our own regular Fodor’s poster, Patrick, had mentioned previously how charming the Citta Alta was and the more I found out, the keener I became to visit it. For those who are interested, the town’s tourist office has an excellent website (http://www.bergamotour.com/uk/index.htm) with several “virtual tours” which give a good idea of the main sights and landmarks.

    Although most of the hotels in Bergamo are in the Citta Bassa, the hotels which seem to get the highest charm ratings are in the Citta Alta, with the Agnello D’Oro, a small family-run hotel and restaurant being a particular favourite. Much as the area appealed, however, I elected not to stay in the Citta Alta because I wasn’t sure how convenient it would be for the trip to the airport in the morning. I had originally booked the Best Western Cappello D’Oro, mainly because I got a good rate (108E), but also because it was close (but not too close) to the railway station and it would be easy to find because it was on the main street, the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII (Pope John XX111 came from the Bergamo area). A couple of weeks before our trip, however, I noticed that they were offering an even better rate (95E) and so I telephoned Best Western’s UK reservation centre to ask if they would apply the lower rate to my booking. When the agent replied that this wouldn’t be possible because the 95E rate was for internet bookings only, I cancelled my existing reservation there & then, with a view to immediately going back into their website to make a new booking at the lower rate. Before doing so, however, I decided to have a fresh look at all of the hotels in town and this turned out to be a good move. The 4 star Excelsior San Marco, (http://www.hotelsanmarco.com) which seems to be generally regarded as the best hotel in town and had been over my budget when I first looked, was now offering a special weekend rate of 99E for a double room. The San Marco is also on the main street and although it’s a bit further from the railway station than the Cappello D’Oro, the trade off was that it was correspondingly closer to the Citta Alta and so I snapped it up.

    Our arrival in Bergamo couldn’t really have been much more different from that in Bellagio. Whilst the latter wasn’t far short of a ghost town when we arrived, it seemed almost as if everyone in Bergamo had turned out greet us. On emerging from the station, we walked across a bustling square and into the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, which was busy with people, all apparently out for their Sunday stroll and most of who seemed to be going in the opposite direction from ourselves. It was quite a hazy day and ahead of us the towers and buildings of the Citta Alta seemed to almost float in mid-air at the far end of the street. As we walked past a couple of landscaped areas, every available seat and bench seemed to be taken by people talking animatedly. I noticed that these groups seemed to be of all ages, with young and people talking and laughing with their elders and it struck me that this was something we didn’t see much at home, where the different generations generally seem to keep apart. The whole atmosphere was very enjoyable, but the walk to the San Marco was proving to be a little bit longer than we had expected and we were starting to feel our luggage weighing us down. Although we hadn’t really over-packed, we had bought a large suitcase with us which was a bad idea. For possibly the third year in succession we made a mental note to buy more sensibly sized luggage when we got home and then, just when I was beginning to wish that we had stuck with the Cappello D’Oro (which we had already past) we came to the San Marco, set back from the road behind some pleasant gardens. The reception area was impressive compared to our usual standard of hotel and our spirits rose even further when we were informed that we had been given a free upgrade to a deluxe room at no extra cost. I later found out that these rooms can cost between 167E and 250E so our rate of 99E had turned into an even better deal than before. We were on the 5th floor and found the room to be extremely spacious with a good sized bathroom and best of all, a balcony with a marvellous view looking up to the Citta Alta. We didn’t get to see the standard double rooms but I reckon that their weekend offer of 99E is a real bargain if you can get it.

    After a quick break to freshen up, we went back outside and made the short walk round the corner to the funicular station where we took the cable car up to the Citta Alta. Actually, cable car is a misnomer as the carriages don’t actually leave the ground but rather run up a rail set into the hillside. Although the journey only takes a couple of minutes, there are no seats and the passengers were packed in quite tightly, which I suppose might be an issue for some people. If this method of transport doesn’t appeal, you can take a bus or even walk it if you are up to it. On the way up we enjoyed spectacular views of the Citta Bassa and surrounding countryside unfolding below us like a 3-dimensional map and then we found ourselves in the Citta Alta funicular station leading out on to the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe-Market Square). If the Citta Bassa could be described as “bustling” then perhaps the best word to describe the Citta Alta was “heaving”. There seemed to be crowds of people everywhere and later on Liz and I formed the theory (quite possibly incorrect, mind you) that the crowds in the Citta Bassa were locals, whilst those in the Citta Alta were mostly tourists and day trippers. There was a clear flow to the crowd with virtually everyone seemingly heading northwards along the main street, Via Gombito and so, taking a deep breath, we joined the throng.

    Even the narrow crowded streets couldn’t disguise the allure of the Citta Alta and it seemed that around almost every corner there was a little square complete with fountain or statue. Passing by the Hotel Agnello D’Oro we could see why it seemed to appeal to so many and then the road led us in to the main square of the town, the Piazza Vecchia. If you look up Bergamo in a guide book or on the Internet you can bet that you will see a reference to, and probably a picture of, the Piazza Vecchia which is the Citta Alta’s hub. It’s undeniably beautiful but I don’t really think that we saw it at its best. Although there are a number of café/restaurants in the Piazza, only a couple of these were open and in a curious way, although there were many people passing by around the fringes, the actual square itself seemed a bit lifeless. The wastepaper bins around the square were full to overflowing and although people had left their litter lying next to the bins the breeze and blown some of it across the Piazza. Coming from Glasgow, where people are notoriously careless with their litter, I suppose I have a nerve criticising anywhere else, but it really was a pity to see such a beautiful spot looking rather untidy. Walking through the porticos at the far end of the square into the Piazza Duomo we were disappointed to find the cathedral closed due to building work but the adjacent Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore more than made up for this. I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable about either art or architecture, but it had possibly the most ornately decorated interior of any building I have ever visited and was a truly breathtaking sight. Emerging into the sunlight we made our way back across the square and rejoined the human traffic making its way along the Via Colleoni.

    Although it was on the early side for dinner, we were both starving as we hadn’t really eaten properly since breakfast. There are several restaurants in the Citta Alta, many of which are pretty pricey (for our budget, at least) but I had read that Da Franco’s was a good choice within our price range and so we stopped for a look at their menu. The place looked nice from outside and the prices were very reasonable but unfortunately it still hadn’t opened yet and we really wanted to eat NOW. Walking along, it had seemed as if almost every second person was eating sliced pizza (a lot of the litter I referred to earlier consisted of pizza wrappings) and we soon came across the source of this pizza glut. On the right hand side we could see a scrum of people competing to push their way either into, or out of, a small door-way which turned out to be a take-away pizza bakery (sorry, but I can’t quite recall the name – maybe something like Fontana?). The windows were filled with large bakers’ trays of really delicious looking pizzas and the inside was reminiscent of TV footage I had seen of the trading floor in a Stock Exchange – everyone seemed to be trying to push their way towards the counter clutching small pieces of paper. Although the crowd was a bit off-putting, the pizza looked so good and we were so hungry that we decided to act on the principle of When In Bergamo………..and worked our way into the crowd. Although one of the more clichéd Italian stereotypes is their supposed inability (or unwillingness) to queue, we hadn’t really come across this up until now. Here, however, it was every man and woman for themselves and it was only as we got closer to the counter that we realised the pieces of paper were actually receipts for the orders they had already made and paid for at the cashier’s desk near the door. Faced with the prospect of having to fight our way back through the crowd to place our order with the cashier we were considering just calling it a day when I found one of the counter assistants asking what we wanted and so we just gave our order verbally. The girl cut two large slices of pizza from their respective trays with a huge pair of scissors and when she weighed them we realised that you paid by weight – the bigger the slice the more it cost you. It only took a couple of minutes to heat them up and then we paid the cashier on the way out of the door. What had appeared to be a completely disorganised system had actually worked out perfectly well.

    We took our pizzas to another little square of the main street and although they had cost only a few Euro they were both filling and delicious and gave us renewed energy to join the crowd for the last stage of our walk through the Citta Alta. We passed through the Piazza della Cittadella where we spent some time browsing at a local crafts market and then, passing through a large gateway we found ourselves out on hillside of the Colle Aperto, which seemed to be a natural conclusion to the walk. From there, it’s possible to take another funicular even further up to the very top of the hill, but we chose to stop here and sat on a bench overlooking the city walls and, beyond them, the hills leading down to the Citta Bassa in the plain below. We sat for some time with a couple of gelato cones just enjoying the view, but it was now getting a little colder and we decided to retrace our steps back into the town. The crowds were thinning out now and we again passed by Da Franco’s which was now open. After our pizza and gelato, however, we didn’t really feel that we could sit down to a meal and so instead we stopped at the Bar Donizetti for some tea and hot chocolate. It was now early evening and there was definitely a chill in the air. As we went to catch the funicular back down to the Citta Bassa, we stopped to have a look in the café inside the station and noticed that there was an empty table on the outside balcony and so we decided to stop and have another drink and enjoy the view. The view really was sensational but although the spirit was willing, the body was weak and we were finding it just too cold to sit out any longer. In the circumstances, we ordered bowls of minestrone each and then moved to a table inside. The minestrone was warm and filling and it occurred to us that between the soup, the pizza and the gelato, we had actually had a full 3 course meal – just in 3 different places!

    If you visit Bergamo, the Citta Alta is an absolute 100% must which will stick in your memory for a long time, but it might be best to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Make sure you stop off in the funicular station café even if only for a drink and try to get a table on the outside balcony – it must be a real joy in the summer.

    We took the funicular back down to the Citta Bassa and stopped off at the hotel again to put on some warmer clothing. Walking through the streets of the lower town was pleasant, but there weren’t many people about and all of the shops were closed. We headed for the Sentierone, where I had read most of the cafes were located, but looking ahead we could see people milling about outside a church and as we got closer we saw police cars, bright lights and TV cameras. Our curiosity getting the better of us, we went inside the church (which turned out to be St. Bartolomeo’s) and found that the place was absolutely packed to the extent that we could only just get inside. There was a poster pinned up in the porch and even although we had virtually no Italian we could see that this was to be a memorial service for Pope John Paul II. Standing among the crowd at the back we could see the TV cameras positioned at various strategic points throughout the church and then the service began. Judging by their red caps, the service was led by two cardinals and although we couldn’t understand what was being said, it was a beautiful experience, the singing in particular. After around 20 minutes standing, however, we were beginning to find the heat unbearable (remember we had changed into sweaters earlier) until we simply had to go outside for some fresh air. We weren’t the only people feeling uncomfortable and as we went out we could see a teenaged girl, lying on the ground just at the door, who presumably had been overcome by the heat. Along with several others, we stood outside listening to the service, which was being relayed by loud speaker and indeed we could see pictures from inside the church on the TV monitors outside. Shortly before the service ended, an ambulance drew up and the young girl we had seen earlier was wheeled into the back – it was hard to see what condition she was in but we couldn’t help but feel concerned that an ambulance had been considered necessary. As the service ended and the crowds began to come out, we watched the TV reporter doing his link to camera and we couldn’t help laughing at the antics of some of the children desperately trying to get their faces on TV.

    Many of the people who had been at the service made for an elegant looking cafe nearby and so we decided to join them. As usual, we had hot chocolate and tea although, (unlike in Bellagio and the Citta Alta) the young waitress seemed quite bemused by the fact that Liz wanted hot tea with milk. She brought around a dozen different types of tea bag, all of which were obviously flavoured or perfumed, except for one which we couldn’t quite work out. Needless to say, whatever it was, it turned out to be extremely pungent and quite impossible for Liz to drink. We enjoyed ourselves watching some very elegant looking old women getting stuck into their gelatos and then went back outside. It had been a long day and we were getting tired, but we went for a short walk around the Via XX Settembre, which seemed to be the main shopping area, before heading back to the hotel. There was free internet access in the hotel lobby and so I made a quick stop to check on the football results back home (calamity! Celtic got beat), e-mail some relatives in Canada and of course, check into Fodors, where I posted a “Good Evening From Bergamo” message. We went to bed tired, but happy after an enjoyable and memorable day in a beautiful part of the world.

    Not very much more to tell now but, like most of this report, this part has gone on for far too long so, as usual, more to follow……

    Jim

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    Truly a fun read. I'm another fan of Menaggio as a place to stay, though we spend a lot of time on the ferries between it and Bellagio and Varenna when we go there.
    I understand what you mean when you say that this site got you to take a trip somewhere. We just returned from the Dordogne area of France having been spurred on to do that by the many glowing (truthful) reports of the area. Glad you have joined the ranks of the fans of Lake Como. Thanks for an enjoyable report on a favorite area.

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    Thanks again to everyone for your kind comments.

    I'm afraid the report is far too long (about as long as the actual trip itself!) but I didn't keep a journal or take any notes and so the only way I could remember the details was to more or less retrace our steps.

    Anyway, I should be able to finally bring it to a close early next week. In the meantime, it goes without saying that I would be happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

    Jim

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    Excellent Report! Loved the details.
    You've sold me... Northern Italy here we come!

    By the way - I live in Orlando - so if you need any info, suggestions etc for your next trip with the family - email me. lindy386@eathlink.net

    So happy you enjoyed your weekend!

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    LindyE,

    Thanks so much for your kind offer. Our Florida plans are still a bit unclear at the moment because of the cost - the £550 car repair bill we got on our return from Italy hasn't exactly helped our budget!

    I'll keep a note of your e-mail address just in case, however :)

    Hopefully I'll be able to post the final part of my trip report tomorrow.

    Thanks again,

    Jim

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    HOME AND CONCLUSIONS

    I awoke next morning to the sound of Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk” on the hotel’s radio alarm and thought, half-asleep, what a nice way to start the day. When Bebel Gilberto’s “Tanto Tempo” followed it occurred to me that either I was at home and had dreamt the whole trip, or else the hotel staff had ransacked my CD selection. The next track was Mariah Carey, however, which was enough to make me pop my head out from under the covers to find the off switch.

    As we were only staying for one night we hadn’t fully unpacked and so it took us no time at all to get ready for breakfast. The San Marco’s breakfast room is up on the top floor and their website shows a lovely roof garden where apparently breakfast is served during the summer months. Even though I had realised that they probably wouldn’t be serving out on the roof garden this early in the season, I had hoped that we would at least get a chance to take a look. Unfortunately, however, we found that the entire top floor & roof area was closed for building work and so breakfast was served in the hotel restaurant (which, incidentally, is reputed to be one of the best in Bergamo, but is closed on a Sunday). The hotel advertises a full American buffet breakfast, but we found it to be much the same as at the Metropole in Bellagio, with the addition of some rather sorry looking sausages and rashers of bacon. Given the rate we paid we could hardly complain, but if I had paid full rate I think I might have been a little disappointed in the breakfast – it was OK but nothing special. The whole breakfast arrangements seemed a little bit disorganised – for example, they had to open up another section of the restaurant because there weren’t enough tables ready – but maybe this was because it wasn’t being served in the usual place.

    Breakfast aside, we were very pleased with the San Marco, with the reception staff deserving a special mention for their friendly and helpful attitude. We hadn’t been looking forward to the walk back down to the railway station to catch the airport shuttle bus, but as we were checking out the receptionist advised us that the bus actually stopped off first at the bus stop right across the road from the hotel. There was a timetable at the bus stop and although the traffic was busy (we had checked out at around 9.00 a.m. to catch an 11.00 a.m. flight) the bus arrived bang on time.

    There is a very large shopping mall right across the road from the airport and we toyed with the idea of paying a visit but we couldn’t find how to get to it. The road was too wide and busy to cross and so I’d guess that there is an underpass but it didn’t seem to be signposted and we weren’t bothered enough to go looking for it. Going through security, two separate people just in front of us were found to have scissors in their hand-luggage (not nail scissors, but “proper” sized ones – you have to wonder what planet these people live on) but I didn’t see any action being taken by the security staff, other than confiscation of the offending items. When I bought a hot chocolate in the airport café and found it to be weak and powdery I finally realised that our Italian trip was over.

    Looking back, I had invested so much time in preparing for this trip that it would have been easy for it to have been an anti-climax. And yet, it wasn’t: despite the generally cool weather, both Bellagio and Bergamo were everything we could have hoped for and the fact that we struck it lucky with both hotels just made it all the better. I know that there is a school of thought that you can over-research a trip, but I found it very satisfying that so many of my plans fell into place and that, in the main, I knew broadly what to expect.

    Will we go back? In general, I have an aversion to going back to the same place twice – well, not exactly an aversion, but there are so many places to see that it seems a waste to go over old ground and my natural curiosity always drives me to try somewhere new. In Bellagio’s case in particular, however, I just can’t imagine that we won’t return there sometime. In fact, Liz was so smitten that I think it is inevitable that one day we will find ourselves once again sitting out on the terrace of Room 110 of the Metropole – sooner rather than later if she has anything to do with it. On balance, however, I would probably go at a different time of year; from what I gather either late May or early September seem to offer the best compromise of having good weather and yet not being too busy. I would also encourage anyone reading this who is travelling through Orio Al Serio airport to consider staying in Bergamo itself, rather than just heading automatically for Milan. I haven’t been to the latter, of course, but Bergamo itself is definitely worth the visit.

    One thing is for sure……..we will positively, absolutely, definitely return to Italy. Many things won us over – the scenery, the way of life, the food, the hot chocolate(!), the cheap and reliable transport (at least that’s how we found it) but, above all, the people. Almost without exception we found them to be friendly, helpful and polite and although it’s easy to say that most of the people we dealt with were in service industries and therefore had a vested interest in keeping us happy, I have travelled enough to know that isn’t always the case. Our lack of Italian wasn’t a problem at all, except to make me feel rather ashamed at my feeble attempts to learn the local lingo – not the first time that’s happened on a trip, but this time I might actually do something about it. Next time I go to Italy I intend to be able to hold some sort of conversation with the locals beyond Per Favore, Grazie and Prego.

    And that’s about it really – thanks for your encouragement and I’ll be happy to help further if I can.


    Jim


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    JJBhoy-I too LOVED the swan story. If you are familair w/ the tv series Seinfeld there is an incident w/ a bird that hasn't observed the unwritten law about avoiding cars and people as George has killed one and then is forced to drive the wounded pigeon to a vet to impress a woman. I had a similar experience wherein a goose (they make pillows out of them right?) flew INTO the side of my car. He/she paid w/ its life but I had to pay 750.00 USD to fix it and our insurance co. kept saying "and then it flew into your car, is that correct?". Others much nicer than I wanted to know if I attempted mouth to beak,etc. Heck he cost me a bundle!!!

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    Diz,

    I typed the first couple of parts straight onto Fodors, but after making so many typos I typed the rest onto Word documents and was then able to do spell checks & corrections before cutting & pasting them.

    Jim

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    Jim

    Your post brought back great memories. My wife and I (Aussies) visited Bergamo in early summer of 2004 for a weekend away while working in London. We stayed in Stresa becuase an old Sicilian I had worked for when younger told me that I must visit the Borromean Islands. We stopped over in Bergamo because Ryanair flew there. Our hire car took on a life of its own and followed the signs to a car parking station in Citta Bassa. The first thing we did in Citta Alta after stepping off the funicular was have a coffee on the outside balcony of the Funicular cafe. Magnificent! Thanks for bringing it all back!

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    I'm topping this post, which I just discovered this morning while planning my own trip to the Italian Lakes, because its a great trip report. Jim, your writing is fantastic and I really felt like I was in Italy with you.

    Tracy

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