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

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

Apr 6th, 2005, 04:33 PM
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Alliteration Gone Mad!! A Brief, But Blissful Break In Bewitching Bellagio And Beautiful Bergamo

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
JJBhoy is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 05:04 PM
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Jim, I look forward to reading your report on Bellagio, one of my favorite places in Italy, and Bergamo which is perpetually on my to-do list.
Jean is online now  
Apr 6th, 2005, 06:16 PM
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Please, sir, can I have some more?
kopp is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 05:37 AM
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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
JJBhoy is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 05:51 AM
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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!
Intrepid1 is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 07:28 AM
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Love your trip report so far, looking forward to more!
hunnym is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 09:17 AM
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Love your descriptions, I feel like I am seeng it for the first time too. I love that area!
SeaUrchin is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 04:22 PM
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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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Apr 7th, 2005, 06:43 PM
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Jim:

More this weekend? You're a tease! Can't wait to read the rest!
moneygirl is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 05:20 PM
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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
JJBhoy is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 07:02 PM
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Thanks very much for taking the time to post in such detail, Jim. I loved your last installment!!!!
hunnym is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 07:21 PM
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More, more!!
-another Fodoraholic
TexasAggie is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 08:13 PM
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This is great, Jim. Sounds like you had a nice trip. More, please!
Holly_uncasdewar is offline  
Apr 9th, 2005, 10:00 AM
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Excellent! I'm on the edge of my seat patiently waiting for more...tap, tap, tap go the fingers...not yet?

kopp is offline  
Apr 9th, 2005, 01:19 PM
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... and, so, Bellagio claims another happy victim. More, please.
Jean is online now  
Apr 11th, 2005, 05:31 PM
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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
JJBhoy is offline  
Apr 11th, 2005, 07:42 PM
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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.

LoveItaly is offline  
Apr 11th, 2005, 11:40 PM
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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.
schnauzer is offline  
Apr 13th, 2005, 04:32 PM
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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!
JJBhoy is offline  
Apr 13th, 2005, 10:16 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,134
Thanks Jim, I love this report, esp. the Swan Song.
SeaUrchin is offline  

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