Milan

June 28
Milan is Big City, Big Noise (courtesy of the radio station broadcasting from portable tents in the Duomo main square), Big Heat & Humidity, Big Cathedral (4th largest in the world), Big Shopping.

This is the entrance to the shopping arcade, famous for its famous brandware, and famous because it was the first covered shopping mall in the world–the Vittorio Emanuelle II.

Check out these shoes.
Amor–love, Italian style.

We ate here as it was recommended in Rick Steve’s guidebook. Not bad, for a chain. It’s hard to think clearly about food when it costs so much and the tourists are so tired.

Maro–Italian style.

Inside the shopping arcade.

At the end of the evening, in front of the Duomo.

Certossa di Pavia, Italy

The Certossa di Pavia is about 45 minutes south of Milan and is run by the Cisternian order (I believe) of monks. It has a beautiful cathedral and lovely grounds.

We first entered through this gate.

We do have a straight-on shot of the church, but as usual, it was in renovation so parts of it were covered, obscuring its impact.

This should give you some idea of scale.

The interiors are a soft gray with brilliant turquoise blues, brick-ish reds and golds.

I could have a whole room in this color.


The transept had companion artworks on each end, although different. However both were done in this brilliant turquoisey blue.

The high altar and choir seats.

I liked the wooden fronts to the choir–all inlaid woods in different designs.

The picture at the other end of the transept–the monks presenting a model of the cathedral to Mary and the Baby Jesus.

A lovely fresco in a side room.

The first courtyard. We were being hustled out for their “pausa“–the Italian word for siesta.

The cathedral roofline from the courtyard.

Communal sink for washing up.


The monks lived in solitary confinement in the old days, one monk to each of these little rooms, the food delivered through small doors. Of course, the tour was in Italian, so we didn’t get much of it.

A lovely side-trip in the country before heading on to Milan.

Bergamo Italy

June 26 & 27
Bergamo, Italy

Bergamo is really two towns: Citta Alta, or Upper City (Upper Bergamo) and Citta Basse, the Lower City. It began with the upper city settled by the Venetians in the 17th century, surrounded by a wall with four large gates. The modern city now resides in Citta Basse, and it is a fair-sized city, but not unmanageable, unless you’re a tourist coming in from out-of-town and trying to find your lodgings. Then it feels impenetrable, like the fortress that resides on the northeast corner of Citta Alta.

After we recovered from the stress of trying to find our B&B (which involved multiple wrong turns, heading up a narrow drive and nearly taking out a girl on a scooter and paying the bartender in the bar to use his phone) and then from the shock that it wasn’t really a B&B but a guy who rents out rooms in a modern house (despite the fact that his website looks all charming and cutesy–it’s all business), we went back to Upper Bergamo.

San Giacomo Gate
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

After dinner at a place called Franko’s and few pictures, we went back to our room in the basement and crashed. How do you get this shot with a digital camera and no tripod? Set it on shutter priority and guess on the exposure time (this was about 2 seconds) then–this is the critical part–set it for a delay shutter of at least two seconds. This gives you time to push the button, let the camera stop wiggling from your fingers, and be still for the shot. Of course you have to prop it on something, but hey, I’m improvising. A stone wall and the corner of our tourist map worked for us.

The next day we were more prepared, even after Elizabeth dissolved into tears at breakfast trying to explain to Fillippo that she had to have a phone to call her family and why didn’t this place have one and he disputing that notion saying he’d get stuck with the calls to London, to Brussels and the phone was only to let guests in at the gate and she tried to eat breakfast but it was fake juice and salami and wedges of cheese and coconut yogurt–all on her items on her Ick List (salami for breakfast???), so what else could she do but excuse herself for a private moment or ten of Travel Grief.

And so we began the day.

How hot was it? Hot enough that this customer coaxed the server into cutting off his sleeves.

Hot enough enough that the local who went to Market Day in the local square was still wearing her house dress.

Above is the bell tower from Bergamo. That’s where we were in the previous post when we tried to record the bells of Bergamo. It’s really lovely to look out over the city and it was about the only cool place as the open sides caught all the breezes.

We walked down to the Piazza del Duomo (Church Square) and saw some of Bergamo’s famous edifices. This one, the Baptistry, isn’t so famous, but it is nice with its symmetry and statues of angels.

This is the famous one. Colleoni Chapel. Mr. Colleoni, a very nice guy, promised to build the citizens of Bergamo a better cathedral if they’d let him build this chapel where to put his mortal remains. He built this, and the ornate doorway beside it that led to the cathedral and then died. Of course, I read all this in a Translated-from-Italian guidebook, so I may be a little fuzzy on the details. I think that Bergamo went ahead and built their basilica/church and billed Venice for it (the Vatican?) but were only partially paid.

Dave caught some nice details of the building. Rose and gray and white marble cover the exterior.

 

My shot from above–this looks like a row of sitting Yodas.

Inside the cathedral. Dave’s really good with landscape shots. He rarely took photos before getting his camera–too expensive–he said. All that film and developing. I’ve enjoyed our nightly slide shows on his computer. We sit in bed and go through all the photos we’ve taken for that day.

Ceiling
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

 

Columns
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

Years of children climbing the red marble lions outside have polished them in certain parts.

Dave caught the detail on the outside gate.

Gallery of Imagining. Not really. I’m sure it means images but I like my interpretation better.

A popular treat is Polenta e Osei. I think that means cornmeal and the swallows.

But it’s really like a Twinkie with chocolate filling and a grainy, sugary fondant coating on the outside (the “osei” are chocolate–I don’t know what the white thing is supposed to be–bread crumbs?).

Shot from the bell tower. In one of the gardens, we could see Disney statuettes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We export our best culture.

In other shots you can see a rotunda with a golden statue of St. Alessandro on top. This is the backside, where it was undergoing reconstruction on the roof. The scale of the workers to the building fascinated me.

From the bell tower. It was nice–they had an elevator to ride up in. Dave hesitated for a moment–wanting to be “authentic” about the experience, leaning toward climbing the 56 meters of steps. I didn’t hesitate to push the button for the elevator.

Bergamo Bell
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

This picture was taken from the Rocca fortress in the corner of the old city. It’s really old. It also had nice breezes. (We kind of went wherever we thought there’d be a breeze, sighing when it died down.) I liked the towers all lined up–reminded me faintly of our visit to San Gimignano last year.

Bergamo Street

 

Window Wells
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

 

Dave found this shot of a private courtyard and ornate gate.

 

Three Rooflines
Bergamo, Italy
June 2008

Bergamo Bells

Bergamo’s bells chime at noon and at 10 p.m. We were up in the large tower and caught this sonorous sound (but my apologies on the shaky picture).

In the early days of Bergamo, the gates would close around the city at 10 p.m. and the chiming was to tell the citizens they’d be locked out.

More on Bergamo in next post.

Hot Hot Day on Lake Como

Lake Como—June 25-26th
We left Lake Maggiore on Wednesday afternoon and drove to Lezzeno. I had printed out driving directions from each hotel to the next on Google. These were useless. It’s so American to want to know the name of the road and when to turn left. Instead we learned to navigate the Italian way: find the name of the town and follow the signs.

Lake Como is an inverted Y; I always think it looks like someone running. Como, on the toes of the extended leg and the city where George Clooney, the movie star, has his villa, has Big City feel: traffic, noise, chaos, but it’s where a glimpse of the stunning vistas begin.

The road up to Lezzeno from Como is a Thrill Ride, particularly if you’re the passenger keeping track of how close the side mirror is to the buildings/cliff wall, as Dave will attest. Lots of gasps from his seat and a few from mine as a large city bus nearly took out the driver’s side mirror. I came to a dead stop, kind of winced waiting for the impact of the bright blue bumper into our tiny car, but the bus swerved past us–the passenger side mirror was about 2” from the cement pillar of the building next to us.

I learned to pull over to the let the local, crazier drivers past me and tried to enjoy the scenery. I also tried to convince Dave to not white-knuckle the door handle and enjoy the scenery as well.

Where Lago Maggiore’s hills (where we stayed) rise gradually from the shore to their heights, Lago Como’s mountains are more sheer in their slope, much taller. It’s stunning in the contrast between the flat lake and soaring mountains.

View from our hotel window. The white roofs are the dining pavilion where we had our dinner.

Hotel Aurora, with the owner out front directing parking. I also saw him again early the next morning, picking up the milk bottles from the front door in his jammies. Our balcony window is on the right, first floor.
We could also hear the cheers and groans from the bar (underneath our window in the front corner of the hotel) as the football game progressed. They take their soccer seriously in Europe. We heard it all because we had no air conditioning, only a ceiling fan, and Italy’s been very hot and humid, “calda tropica” as one older woman put it to me.

On our walk after dinner, we saw this house with decorative painting under the eaves. This was one of the better-kept homes in this lakeside town. Lezzeno is kind of like those beach resort towns in New Jersey. A sneaker, wear-your-swimsuit kind of place, with enough regulars to keep the place going and things interesting.

On the first floor balcony, the divider between the two apartments in painted with a scene from the lake.

Bellagio. This town is further up the coast from Lezzeno, and with Dave’s Parking Karma we found a parking place speedily. We walked into town, and maybe because we were tired from the lack of sleep (a hazard of travel), the heat and humidity, we didn’t stay here long. It was very touristy–lots of shops–but with the exchange rate of 1.50 euros to 1 dollar, it cools the shopping passion very quickly. I think if we had stayed in town, and could discover more about it without the legions of tourists (like ourselves), it might have been more charming.

The side streets moving upwards reflect the steep gradient of the terrain.

 


We said good-bye to Bellagio and took the car ferry to Varenna, about a 15 minute trip.

I had originally wanted to stay here, but it wasn’t possible as we were so late in booking, and the only hotel rooms left were the ones that cost sacks and sacks of money.

 

The view from the car ferry.

 

Along the water is this walkway connecting the two parts of the town. (They are more connected up top.) We walked over to find some lunch.

 

After our melon and prosciutto lunch, we toured the gardens of the Villa Cipressi. Apparently touring gardens on Lake Como is a big deal. So we did our part–melting, drip by drip into the languid landscape.

 

Dave took this photo of a magnolia in bloom.

 

And of a radiant cactus.

 

Nocciola–a hazelnut tree.

 

Garden Gate
Villa Cipressi Gardens
Varenna Italy
taken by David Eastmond

 

Camera harmonies–this one’s mine.

 

St. George and That Dragon
Varenna Italy
taken by David Eastmond

 

The above window is from this church in the town square of Varenna.

 

Looking down Varenna’s streets to the lake. I think it’s gelato time. This time I had raspberry and melon and Dave and I shared it.

 

Melon and Raspberry
Varenna Italy

June 2008

 

Happy Holidays!

Menu I

One of the challenges of ordering food in a foreign country is our preconceived ideas about what that food should like—in other words, when we order we are thinking of our American version of this food. Sometimes what you imagine agrees with what is put before you.

Green Salad. That’s it—ribbons of green lettuce that I doctor up with vinegar, oil, salt and a swoosh of the pepper grinder. Pretty straight forward except that I discovered that the olive oil is much milder tasting and not quite as heavy as ours. It also was a clear light amber, rather than the greener versions we have from our grocers. The vinegar is substantially stronger. So my first salad was like eating pickled greens. After that, I watched the server, noticing her proportions (lots of olive oil, one splash only of vinegar) and things went much smoother.

Our lake bass—all rolled up like a camp sleeping bag, decorated with orange rind and pink peppercorns, dressed in olive oil.

The table just over from us had a crowd and when the dessert came out for the woman’s 50th birthday, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I wanted a slice, but settled for a bite of chocolate upstairs afterwards on our balcony, watching the sun set.

They set out a breakfast buffet in the dining room, and we ate it on table on the patio—overlooking the lake. I especially liked the fresh fruit salad and the fruit smoothie. This place is run by a family; the mother of Michelle and Filippo ran the kitchens and the smoothie was her creation.

A sign listing different shapes of pasta, found in a shop in Orta.

 

Gelato. I liked the funky little gelato cups for children.

Bread basket at Hotel/Ristorante Belvedere. The grissini, invented in Turin, were crisp and flavorful. Other places would give us pre-packaged grissini—more of what we get in the States.

This was branching out for us: fish pate. Three different kinds with different sauces, served with toast. Dave said “It was better than I’d feared.”

Then we had pasta: mine was homemade tagliatelli with shrimp, minced zucchini in a saffron sauce. Dave’s was the same noodle with a fish ragout.

The last night his conference had a dinner. The first course was “langostino in Catalan style, with tomato.”

The guests—all scientists at the conference, plus staff and two spouses (I’m one).

 

Second course: risotto with asparagus.

Third course: choice of strips of roast beef atop arugula (they call it rocket), or bass encased in potato. Usually Dave and I have a sort of contest of who has the winning entrée. Since I had the fish, I was the winner.

 

They were serving tiramasu, doused in amaretto for dessert. Since we’re non-drinkers, they brought us crème brulee with fruit.

We knew we had left Shangri-la on our first night away from Lake Maggiore. I ordered gnocchi. Dave asked how it was. I said Trader Joe’s was better. He had a calzone that was pretty good, and I love our blue bottle of water. We had always gotten tap water in Lake Maggiore, but when we asked for it here “Not potable,” was the answer. Yeah, right. Dave won this night.

The breakfast spread included rolls, sliced ham and cheese, croissants, pan au chocolate, yogurts, fruit juices, coffee, tea and chocolate milk powder to be added to cold milk at the cereal table.. We always think of Keagan when we see this, as she loves her “Bunny Milk.”

At the grocery store in the little town of Lezzeno, they sold panna cotta mix, and a whole host of potato chips.

Lunch that day was melon and prosciutto in Varenna, preceeded by “ensalata misto” – a salad with various vegetables adorning the greens. Not necessarily what we’re used to: I’ve seen corn, shredded carrots, tomatoes, curly lettuce (which is like trying to eat spaghetti).

Okay, I don’t know the name of this, but it’s a Bergamo specialty: like a type of ravioli with a cheese/mystery stuffing, slathered in butter and speck (hefty bacon). It was recommended to us. It was okay.

Grocery Stores and Broken Columns–Lake Maggiore area

Tuesday, June 24th–2008

Dave’s off to his conference today, so after a slow start, I decide to wander around the little towns around Lake Maggiore–well, inland of the lake. I head for another lake: Lago di Monte, a short drive from Ranco, where our hotel is. First stop is the grocery store.


I had a conversation with Michelle, who is part of the family that runs out little hotel (12 rooms only–they began with the restaurant 100+ years ago and only added the hotel in 2004) about gnocchi (pronounced nyah-ki, not nyo-ki). Their restaurant only does them on Fridays and sometimes on Sunday, but the Sunday we arrived they “hadn’t had time in the kitchen to prepare.” After talking for a moment about this particular little potato dumpling she said “Gnocchi are your passion, yes?”

Yes. But only good gnocchi. And here’s a picture of all kinds of pasta, especially gnocchi, all lined up for some Italian to take home and cook up. We head to Trader Joe’s for ours.

I feel like a spy, or a voyeur, taking pictures but it’s all so different. Milks and butter, above.

Yogurts. Yogurt is a big, serious business here, if the facings (a grocery store term, meaning how many linear “faces” or spaces a product has on a shelf) are any indication. Dave’s been a yogurt fan for many years and any trip to the grocers invariably means a carton or two of yogurt in our shopping basket. It’s fun to try the different kinds.

I buy a bottle of water, a bag of chips, a loaf of bread and a container of Bel Paese cheese.

I drive to Cadrezzate, and try to find my way to their lake. It’s like a treasure hunt, always, in finding cities and towns and directions. Sometimes you win the prize, sometimes you lose. This church, at the center of town shows the interesting blend of renovation–needed to keep the church operational for the local parish–and the attempt to preserve some history. I wouldn’t necessarily call this successful.

I drove around the back, parked the car and gazed at the lake through a chain link fence while eating my lunch.

The chips have a surprise! Just like our old Cracker Jacks.

A little tiny monster man. He’s about a half-inch tall. Another kind of chip, Wacko’s, has as their prize a charm for the cellphone. I like this game. I can only imagine the pestering that Italian parents get from their children to buy bags of chips. Collect all 15 tiny monster men!

Still trying to find that elusive access to their lakefront, I wander into a cemetery–their gate was next to the gate for the park and I took a wrong turn. I like cemeteries, though, and it is interesting how different this one was from what I’m used to in the United States.

The broken column is a theme, perhaps a life not yet finished? I saw several of these.

The mother’s name on the right-hand picture is close to the children’s grandmother’s name: Benedetto. Perhaps their families are linked somehow? A gravesite seems to be a marble slab, sometimes engraved with the family name, that has a bit of statuary (sometimes a grand bit), an eternal light, an urn, and a vase for flowers. All these can vary.

A bronze rendition of Da Vinci’s Last Supper on this one.

I thought it was interesting that Enrico was noted as having died in the U.S.A. So far away and unable to be brought home to the family plot in this tiny town?

A double-wide gravesite, with a variation of the Christus statue.

Angel beside the broken column. Way over to the side, away from me, a man was pouring water all over the grave he was visiting–rinsing it off–and was removing dead flowers from the vase and replacing them with fresh ones. Some flowers are fresh, some are artificial. I was surprised at how many flowers were freshly laid.

If you are really important and have lots of money, you can have a little house for your relatives. No green grass, though.

I wound my way to another town: Besozzo. It rolls off your tongue nicely, in a sit-on-the-porch-swing kind of way. Besozzo.

Slightly lost, as usual, I look for the Center signs. Some guy was behind me on a motorbike, too close. I turn right to let him go left. He follows me. I go up a little hill and turn right again. He’s still with me. I turn right again and then again and not until I turn into a school parking lot does he turn left–into some institute building. Now to retrace my steps back down.

From below I notice this lighthouse-looking thing and work to find my way up to where it is, driving through several pedestrian only sections (no one was there–pedestrian only means for the visitors–lots of locals drive in the pedestrian only sections, I’ve noticed) by mistake until I see the signs for parking.

It’s in the school parking lot I had originally turned into while trying to evade the motorscooter.

I park, walk around several neighborhoods but can only look at this memorial (for World War I?), not go in. It’s behind a large yellow building, and I wonder what that building is.

Yes, it’s the school. I drive around to the back of the school and there’s the lighthouse memorial.


I’m done driving in cutesy little Italian towns from the moment and head to Gavirate–where Carrefours is located. This is sort of their version of Target crossed with Wal-Mart.

I’m enamoured with their pasta.

Disney Racketeers, er–Marketeers, have garnered product placement in Italy in the form of pasta.
Trader Joe’s stocks this brand.
Our local grocers carry this brand.
But check out these shapes! Snails, rectangular shapes–I want them all.

The Meduse–in the shape of a small pumpkin, or as Dave points out–a jellyfish, went home with me as a souvenir. It may be crumbles by the time we get it there. I also bought the extruded rectangular shape in the previous photo.

And the good news is that I made it back to our little hotel without getting lost at all. This stand of trees is about 5 minutes from the lakeside. Near the lake are towns, away from the lake, farmland. Lake Maggiore has lots of flatland with medium-tall mountains surrounding it.

Hermitage Santa Caterina

June 23
Santa Caterina
On the day we nearly croaked for heat exhaustion (Orta and its island) we got back in the car and recovered sufficiently to think about another place to go visit: Hermitage Santa Caterina.

A hermit built the original chapel on the side of the cliff—88 steps above lake level, but 288 below the top of the hill (yes, about as many steps as are in the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The buildings hug the cliff: a small chapel, and two other small dormitory-type places, which have now been turned in Visitor Reception and the Gift Shop.

As soon as we opened the car door in the parking lot letting all the air conditioning leak out, we almost lost our nerve, but we filled up our water bottles at the small bathrooms at the top of the cliff, noting that they are building an elevator for future guests—obviously a bunch of wimps like me.

I wondered aloud to Dave, as we descended the 288 steps, whether building an elevator would change the Hermitage Santa Caterina as the shuttle buses changed Zion National Parks. More crowds, less filtering.

The roof of the first small building appeared more quickly than we’d thought and it overlooked Lake Maggiore. The first building was a small patio shaded by an old wisteria vine.

Any good historical site has The Requisite Partial Fresco. Here’s Santa Caterina’s.

So how did a hermit, even aided by the church’s money, build something so elegant and perfectly tucked in? Obviously there’s been restoration, but the bones of the place are exquisite.


The buildings seem a part of the lakeside, even though they were slightly above the water level.

A view toward the altar in the chapel.

The chapel is small and I was amazed at how blue the light was—obviously the reflection off the lake water colors the light. Dave took this shot.

Christ calling the apostles to be Fishers of Men is an appropriate theme.

 

Blue light tints this portrait. I wonder if the artist went a little batty trying to adjust the colors to compensate for the cool hues.


At the very back of the chapel is a saint in a glass box with brown socks on his feet. Notice the broken ceiling. Apparently several large boulders tumbled down onto the roof of the chapel and there they stayed for many years, until finally falling through with the miracle that no one was injured. Maybe this is left open to show the damage, and the miracle? I’ve noticed that miracles are really big here in Italy. Virgin sightings are especially popular. The last one I read about was when the man was digging a well and his daughter noticed The Virgin’s face in the watery muck.

This is Dave’s shot of the columns outside the chapel. Mine is the next picture, as I went for the red flowers in the small window above.

If I were to equivocate taste to this wall, it would be a creamy milk gelato with a hint of melon.

Looking back from where we came.