arrivederci, italy

still no better weather to see us off from the hotel du lac.  we ate one last toast-free and fresh orange juice-free breakfast (our respective grouses) and finished the packing.  lou went off to get the car while i settled up with the rather gloomy owner, or rather, son of the owners who had been in charge on our honeymoon.  as i guarded our luggage i noticed he checked people out without any cheerful word of thanks or wishing them well on their onward journey.  giacomo would have been horrified!  at the last moment as lou was taking out the cases ‘gloomy’ suddenly started to talk about ‘the diary’ and diving into a cupboard presented me with a print of the hotel and a birthday diary, full of pretty prints of bellagio, something i will use and treasure.  family run hotels are a quirky bunch with a certain charm.

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we drove down the como side of the lake ignoring the bleating gps.  in como she became demented as we followed signs to the motorway on our own as the road she wanted us to take was closed with no deviation signposted.

then a familiar motorway drive in the sun towards milan, turin and then a right turn for the aoste valley.

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through the mont blanc tunnel (sweaty palms) and out into clouds on the french side.

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not much snow on mont blanc this time, i noticed.  onto annemasse to a hotel we hadn’t used before.  no wonder i couldn’t find the campanile on the internet.  the place where it used to be is now an empty piece of waste ground!

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the comfort inn lived up to its name, pretty and pink with tea and coffee (take note ibis styles) and biscuits (take note hilton maidstone).  there was a special dinner and breakfast deal with a nearby restaurant of which we took advantage.  that night we ate a three course meal, with a choice of two ‘plats’ for each course, wine and coffee included and no pasta in sight!

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fifty years plus one day

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the promised brighter weather didn’t materialise so there was no sentimental wander through the grounds of villa melzi stopping to take a photo of lou in front of the bamboo or me sitting on a bench by the lake’s edge aka 1967.   no rediscovery of san giovanni and its little harbour, the site of more photographic re-enactments.  nor a walk to la punta, the very tip of the bellagio penisular where i had posed a la lesley caron in a carelessly tied headscarf and lou had posed moodily, leaning on the harbour wall.  instead we battled through the rain and unexpected gusts of wind to the car in the hotel garage to retrieve some extra layers of clothing.

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IMG_20170910_101042136_HDR.jpgmuch warmer now, we climbed up a nearby alley looking for a wine shop and the wine we had had the night before.  not the same label but two bottles from the same area were pressed upon us by the smooth talking salesman.  (i wonder how many people turn up looking for ‘the wine we drank last night’?)  he insisted that it was one he supplied to our hotel and, sure enough, it was the wine we were offered that night in the hotel bar.

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outside the hotel again we settled at a table near an overhead heater, (yes, it was that chilly), and ordered coffees.   a boat came in opposite and suddenly we were surrounded by damp tourists, jostling each other, sorting out brollies and generally milling about like headless chickens.  one group of elderly italians were being ordered about by a lady in a green anorak and squashy hat.  we sat tight and waited for calm to return.

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the rain beat down and our room and tv was a cosy refuge to while away the time until we could decently eat lunch!  we climbed the steps…again…to the restaurant with the ouvrier style lunch we had spotted earlier.  we got there in the nick of time as people arriving after us were reluctantly turned back out into the rain.  despite being so busy the service was smiley and thoughtful.  having asked for our omelettes to be cheese free the waiter came back to say the chef was asking if he should hold back the mozzarella from the salad starter.  no, no, we chorused!  AND they found some earl grey tea after i politely refused the ubiquitous english breakfast.

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back to our room for the afternoon and the final stage of the tour of britain on the telly.  the white horses on the lake were subsiding but the car ferry was still ploughing through waves that frothed over the bow.  a lot of wet feet on the car deck i’m guessing.

We had booked an outside table for our evening meal but alessia, our waitress, (i asked) had decided we would be too cold despite the heaters so had reserved a table inside.  she had made sure it was in the window so we could still watch the action, people and boats!

we enjoyed the meal far more than the one upstairs.  the menu was almost the same but the ambience was better.  the upstairs dining room, despite its wonderful views of the lake, is too lofty, too austere.  alessia looked after us very well.  she and her sister, who works alongside her, both grew up near varenna, where we had called yesterday en route to menaggio.  when we chatted about bologna and the lovely giacomo she asked for his address as she has friends there.  with our coffee came two offered glass of limoncello.  hic!

 

 

 

 

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Golden oldies

Not all the tourists left by boat.  Quite a few stayed behind to carouse the night away in the many bars and restaurants.  A lake view comes with the downside of being above the town square and colonades full of outside tables, very popular for enjoying the balmy evenings.  The double glazing didn’t help deaden it much so it was about two in the morning before things were quiet enough for me to fall asleep.

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We woke up to mist on the lake and the first boats starting their many crossings of the day.

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Breakfast was eaten surrounded by the sound of English being spoken, English speakers from around the world judging by the accents.  There was not a lot of choice of tea, English breakfast being in the ascendancy.  With ITV and BBC channels on the in-house TV it was becoming clear who is the focus clientele.

Out to sort stamps for some postcards and for Lou to buy a lovely necklace and matching earrings made of Murano glass i had been lusting over the night before. 🙂 Then to buy tickets for the ferry to Menaggio.  It was damp but warm so we hoped the day would be ok for some strolling.

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It was fun to be back on one of the boats.  We had enjoyed a trip up the lake on a beautiful paddle steamer in 2002, the year of our 35th anniversary.  We camped at Menaggio that time so had some happy memories of that visit.  The ferry goes via Varenna on the opposite side of the lake to Menaggio so we got views up and down each arm of the lake as we crisscrossed it.

The rain was a bit more noticeable now so brollies up when we disembarked.  Along with several passengers we walked along to the tiny harbour looking for coffee.  Luckily there was a bar/hotel with a large awning where we could sit in the dry.

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Lou spotted a tiny tourist office and it had some maps of the village in a box outside.  We thought we had identified the campsite we had stayed on but when we came to the place we remembered during our amble it had clearly moved a little farther on.  I hope it has better loos than before. 🙂

We walked along a pretty promenade along the lakeside checking out lunch menus, popping up and down our brollies.  There was an interesting monument to something but I couldn’t get any clues as to what from its plaque.

About to abandon the search we came to an alley (the motif of this trip) and found an unprepossessing pizza place.  However, on its menu on the wall it offered ‘misti di Lago’, fried fish from the lake.  I love fritti misti so I was sold.  Inside it was very homely and busy, always a good sign.

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The walls were lined with wine  bottles and photos of the area. The service was cheerful and efficient, two girls whizzing about and going downstairs for orders when an unseen bell rang.

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Two plates of fish, a salad to share, beer, wine and coffees to finish….spot on.  Off to find a ferry home and this time it was a car ferry.  I took a photo of Lou as we boarded, a replica of one I took on honeymoon.  Not just the cars that have changed shape! 🙂

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A lazy afternoon, well, why not?  The rain got heavier and heavier and we were pleased we had booked the hotel restaurant for our evening meal.

To make some space I toiled up a steep alleyway to buy some teabags.  No redbush but Lipton’s yellow label is preferable to English breakfast, a tea I can’t stomach.  A happy time ‘windowlicking’ as the French say and back down the now treacherously damp cobbled alleys.

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A lovely meal at a first floor window table watching the lights and the last of the boats and then coffee down under the colonades.  We may be old but we can party too….

 

 

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Bye bye, Bologna…buon giorno, Bellagio

Giacomo popped out of the kitchen with a plate of fresh pineapple and told us we needn’t check out until the afternoon if we wanted.  Obviously no clients due in today.  He showed me the odd fruit I’d ignored yesterday and disappeared saying he would open one, a very good fruit from Mexico originally and full of vitamins.  He came back and had peeled all five!  Full of pips and tasteless sadly.  I hope he can use the remaining four in one of his smoothies.  We had a repeat of the red fruits one alongside the fresh orange mix.

Leaving was prolonged as he couldn’t find his card machine so Lou went down to the nearby (thank goodness) ATM.  Then Giacomo presented me with a rose, two commemorative Bologna mugs and two small paper carrier bags, ‘for the journey’.  He would have taken our suitcases to the carpark but we insisted he had done more than enough. Fond farewells all round.

Later inspection of the bags revealed bananas, pastries, four cartons of juice and three bags of typical Bologna biscuit goodies.  Spending all his profits Lou said but very generous and thoughtful.

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The GPS had its own ideas of how to pass Milan and, despite signs to avoid it, took us almost to the centre.  Finally she plumped for the Lecco road and we drove towards the mountains expectantly.

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The road up the left/west side of the Lecco arm of the lake is one we were unfamiliar with and there were two or three long tunnels and many bends to negotiate.  A bus came bearing down on us blowing its horn round one bend.  A car who had been following is a bit too closely started to keep a decent distance behind us!  The views up and across the lake were stunning, camera clicking all the way.

A rise in the road away from the lakeside and we were in Bellagio.  The GPS took us right the edge of the lakeside amongst car parking, bus stop and bars and gave up.  Used to this after Genoa we parked up and walled to the hotel through crowds that resembled rocamadour in august!  Calmer inside the hotel we checked in and got the map to bring the car to outside for unloading. Easier said than done!  We had to drive right around the pedestrianised centre of Bellagio.  Glares on all sides as we crept along trying to avoid small children and dogs.  Unloading achieved we had to repeat the trauma to get to the hotel’s secure parking. Luckily we could follow another car so he got all the grief.

Up in our room we threw open the window on the view we remembered.  Bliss.  The guys on the desk had told us the tourists go by six o’clock and, sure enough, we watched the exodus onto the boats from the little dock opposite the hotel.

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Walking around later we were unable to find Lou’s warmly remembered grappa shop.  I had forgotten how many steeply stepped alleys there were.  Younger knees back then.  And so busy.  Even fifteen years ago it hadn’t been this packed.

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But the magic was still there.  We grabbed a table at the water’s edge and enjoyed an aperitif and the sound of water lapping against the stones.

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Later we found a restaurant for the evening meal and they had a long list of grappas available.  Lou found the one he liked and was brought a large glass!  Bad news, the grappa shop was long gone, good news, the wine shop next door sold it.  So Lou had his bottle of precious liquor and I had my room with a view.  Result!

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Seen one, seen ’em all

We approached the breakfast table with some trepidation this morning and were not wrong.  Fresh pineapple, raspberries, blackberries and prickly pears had joined the roll call of fruit.  Instead of one glass of fresh orange juice we each had a smoothie of mixed red fruits and a pastry each, bien sur.  But no butter for Lou’s toast or milk for my tea, although a box of decaffeinated earl grey had appeared.  I reckon we feel stuffed just looking at it all!

Today or, rather, this morning was visit churches morning.  Lou was biting the bullet for me.  Lots of tents going up in piazza Maggiore but no idea why.  First stop was not a church but the Teatro Anatomico, the dissection theatre of Bologna’s university of which they are immensely proud as it was one of the first in Europe.

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Our ticket took us into a part of the huge library where I breathed in the musty smell of old books, enticing but no touching!  The ceilings and walls of all the corridors were covered in paintings of professors and commemorative blazons.

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From there it was on to San Domenico to gaze at his marble tomb, part of which was carved by a young Michaelangelo.  The church was lofty but quite plain as suited a friar, I suppose.

Next stop San Stefano, not one church but seven, all built in and around one another.  I was reminded of Saint Basil’s in Moscow which is also several churches in one.  There always seemed to be another door and another cloister.  Lou had stuck his head inside and made the memorable comment ‘oh, not much to see here’.  I found loads to see…and photograph, of course.

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This tiled floor, for instance, next to some faded frescoes.

Frescoes was what took us to our third church of the morning, described as a ‘delicate’ church dating from the 14th century with some masterful frescoes.  Already grumpy from a cup of tepid, and the most expensive, cappuccino in Italy and being aggressively pursued by a male beggar (there are a lot in Bologna) I was umimpressed by the gloomy interior and searched in vain for frescoes.  Rejoining Lou outside I finally looked up under the colonade in front of the church.  And there they were and all down one side as well.  Quite a walk back to Sala Boursa and a visit to the only public loos before I could even start to think about lunch!

Feeling much relieved and calmer, we retraced our footsteps of yesterday to via clavature where we had passed people sharing platters of cold meats and cheeses outside a couple of cafes.  A friendly waiter took our order but managed to bring me sparkling white wine instead of white wine but, hey ho.

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Sitting sideways to the passing pedestrians we could both indulge in people watching. 🙂

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A long relaxing lunch rounded off with my latest aftermeal drink, a macchiato.  Like a mini capuccino.  ‘where next?’ sighed Lou.  The canal.  I had read that there are seven secrets in Bologna but the only mention I could find was of the canal.  Apparently you had to peer through a hatch on via piela.  We found ourselves close to yesterday’s wander and found not a hatch but a wall.  We could lean over and see another bridge further away.

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That was my list done but I hankered to go back to San Stefano as I spotted after leaving I had missed another church.  Lou huffed and puffed but stomped off in that direction.  We passed the two towers again that symbolise Bologna.  Asinelli and Garisenda had punctuated all our wanderings as all roads seem to radiate out from them.  We had opted not to climb the 498 steps to look at the view. The staircase is said to be pretty scary: wooden and narrow and with two-way traffic.  Add the lean factor….. Garisenda is shorter but leans more.  Surprisingly not open to the public! 🙂  Not many photographers have been up Asinelli either it would seem as no postcard exists of this much vaunted view.

At San Stefano I hurried round to the church I had missed…and found my way barred at the open door.   So I had to peer to see the assortment of column tops, some dating from Roman times but couldn’t make out any 6th century mosaic tiling.  I rejoined Lou where he sat on a low wall in the shade and watched a group ‘follow the flag’ out of the piazza.  I’ve cream was needed we agreed.  After slurping down coffee gelato it was back to the apartment by way of a postcard stop.  No pastries arrived so we had space for dinner later at ristorante Bertino just up the road.  Greeted like old friends we ate well and watched the buses go by.  As we left, the effusive owners told us to be sure to come back to Bologna.  We will but only after dieting first! 🙂

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‘all you need is love….tra la la’

Our landlord has a small dog who looks like a dirty white version of Dougal from magic roundabout.  I expected to hear him barking but no.  As we went into the breakfast room he was imitating a heap of dirty washing in his master’s bedroom.  When Giacomo went out yesterday we could recognize ‘aron’s’ barking in the street below.

Breakfast was a sumptuous spread. I had said I like fruit to start the day and was greeted with a plate of strawberries and grapes, a platter of two types of melon and a large bowl with apricots, plums, apples…..!  I counted eight assorted yoghourts plus two Panna cottas and two creme caramels. On each of our plates was a bilberry tart. An embarrassment of riches.

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Resisting the urge to just sit stuffing our faces all day we walked back down to piazza Maggiore to explore the building we thought yesterday was for students, the Sala Boursa, which has a large open space inside under an ornate ceiling.  Under our feet we could see archeological remains and asked how to get down to them.  It is possible to walk on suspended gantries over remains of early Bologna dating from the early centuries BC.  There was evidence of subsidence and I remembered reading that Bologna once had a network of canals.

From there we located the tourist office and asked for a leaflet about the former Jewish ghetto.  As it was now eleven o’clock it was time for the Beatles photo exhibition.

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Not far to walk and held in a beautiful building full of frescoes and decorated ceilings.

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The photos weren’t too bad either. :).   Beatles music accompanied you round and my foot was tapping and some quiet singing took place!  Very interesting and some good photos of 60s Liverpool as well.  I wrote on the comments wall and we each posed on the chair provided for our own Beatles shot.

Back out in the by now hot sunshine we went in search of the Jewish quarter, not as easy as it seemed.  Bologna has its share of confusing alleys and side streets too.

A pause for coffee and more fresh orange juice and we pressed on.  Ultimately I noticed signs on the wall to help ‘direct your feet’ but it took Lou to work out which direction to walk! The alleys here were narrow but cheerful, decorated in burnt orange and some buildings were only two stories high.

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Very different from Genoa’s six and seven storey apartment buildings.  We found half of the landmarks on our leaflet and decided lunch was in order but a light one!  Back towards via clavature with its many eateries.  Settled at a table amongst other couples of a certain age, I chose mozzarella and tomato salad while Lou had cold cod salad.

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Plus a beer and a glass of dry white which is becoming the lunch time norm.  Afterwards it wasn’t far to the ticket office of the three centuries of Bologna in photographs exhibition that I had found online.

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This was in a subterranean gallery under the square.  I was really pushing my claustrophobia button!  The displays were very informative and set out chronologically including old film footage plus four British royal air force photos of dropping bombs on Bologna.  You feel vicariously guilty for smashing up medieval monuments!  By the time we got to the end we were exhausted.  Time to go back for a cuppa and a little zzz.  About an hour into the zzz Giacomo tapped gently on the door and, apologizing for maybe waking anyone up, presented us with Danish pastries.  So kind but we weren’t sure we could find room.  Late supper we decided!  We did persuade him that we were happy not to have fresh towels everyday, six between us is perfectly adequate.  I mentioned I drink decaffeinated tea and kicked myself as I knew he’d go out and buy some (he did!).

So a lazy couple of hours waiting for the pastries to go down and checking out nearby restaurants online plus the plan of campaign for Thursday’s gawping.

After going the long way round to a trattoria only six minutes walk away we carefully chose our menu for the evening.  Fat chance, my veal was finished as was Lou’s choice of pud and our preferred wine, the only white on the menu.  Rose doesn’t seem to exist in Bologna.   We ended up sharing a plate of ham and melon (fabulous) and I tried capaccio beef for the first time while Lou had tagliatelle  ragu. The owner(?) said he had opened a good white ‘for a glass’ earlier and we could have 50cl or two glasses.   We plumped for the 50!  We were entertained by the performance he went through decanting red wine for one party and the food that arrived at every other table in a big wooden ‘wheel’.  What were we missing?  Cold risotto and grated truffle it turned out.  No great loss we decided.   An interesting evening but we won’t be going back.

 

PS At the end of the Bologna photo exhibition they had a photo booth and asked if you would pose for a photo to add to the Bologna photo archive.  We did but decided on a Victorian style ‘we are not amused’ pose.  They emailed the result to us…  🙂

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Bologna or bust

The car was fetched from the garage and we piled in the suitcases and an assortment of bags.  The peacocks don’t or can’t travel light!  We’d asked the girl on reception the most direct route to the autostrada which was just as well as the GPS wanted to take us back all around the town.

The road after Genoa takes you through the Cinque Terre, a beautiful region of high wooded hills dropping away to sparkling sea, a cliche but true.

After Parma the scenery is flat and unappealing but it was only a hundred kilometres to Bologna.  At the peage the machine decided to say no so we sat, fuming and embarrassed until help arrived.  The machine behaved then!

Happily for us we quickly found the b and b.  Too quickly as we were early by at least half an hour of the time I had texted the owner.  He’d asked and I’d guessed!  A phone call and he was soon there.  We all drove to a nearby carpark to leave the car and back to the apartment.  Giacomo, for that is he, lets out a room and ensuite as a b and b and delightful it and he are.

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Nothing was too much trouble.  He disappeared and came back with cold prosecco, water, chocolate mousse, Danish pastries… And a map on which he proceeded to note interesting landmarks and good places to eat nearby.  We were overwhelmed by it all!  He added some juice cartons and a bottle of wine to the already groaning side table in our room.  Going hungry is not an option.

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Once settled and full of mousse, prosecco and pastries, we walked down to the town centre.  It was different to be on busy roads after Genoa.  Lots of bicycles locked up in rows and lots of young people everywhere.

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The big piazza is huge and the buildings around it are too.  A different feel to Genoa, these buildings are fortress like and dark brick with lots of imposing arches and long colonades.

I headed for the huge church because Giacomo had said it had a meridian in it.  I was confused but it turned out he meant sundial, the biggest in the world.  It stretches right down one side of the nave and it is a long nave!

After that we drifted around the streets that wind their way around the piazza which are full of clothes shops and restaurants.  (Giacomo has just brought us Danish pastries! We had heard Bologna is famous for its food!)  We are further from the action than in Genoa but the extra walking is unlikely to burn off all these calories.  For our evening meal we took our host’s recommendation of the nearest restaurant whose tortellini is renowned. Lou had the tortellini in broth and I had tortillone in butter and sage, the difference being mine was spinach and ricotta filled and Lou’s was ham and cheese.

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Naughtily we had pud, mine was the best creme caramel since Jean Pierre stopped cooking at the auberge and Lou had ‘english trifle’.  We slept well despite the novelty of traffic noise below the window.

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