06 September 2011
On the Road to Find Out 4
(Continued from Part 3.)
"Are we going hiking again?"
"No Hank, we're not going hiking."
Only three days after returning from the hinterlands we packed the car again and hit the highway. Far from the maddening mountains, away from cattle and cane, this time we were headed for sunnier shores. We were to meet friends of ours traveling from Chile at Lake Como. They had been skipping around Spain and Italy for three weeks and had worked their way up to Lombardy from all points south. Though los padres were traveling sin niñas we haven't seen them for almost three years. Como was the place of choice to reunite.
The place on Lake Como to meet was a place called Bellagio. Now, I've been to the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas and it seemed strange to me that the Italians thought to replicate something like that in their own country. I always figured them to have better taste but I guess I'll have to reconsider.
As it turns out, they didn't even copy it very well. I mean, I guess the natural lake mimics the nine acre, manmade pond that taps water from an aquifer that was once used to irrigate a golf course in the middle of a desert. Fine. I didn't see a single giant water fountain, though, that dances to the music of Whitney Houston, Lee Greenwood, Celine Dion, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In fact, there wasn’t much noise of any kind. And I don't know where they tucked the Eiffel Tower away but it was nowhere in sight for our entire trip. Nope, from the start I could tell this was going to be a different kind of vacation, one without gambling or prostitutes or gold-plated stretch Hummers. As soon as I reconciled I was ready to enjoy myself.
We've been in these parts before, Italy, that is, not Vegas, and without either the Chileans or a seven year-old. Also, not exactly Lago di Como, but two lakes to the west at Lago Maggiore. Back in 1995 we hitchhiked through the area and I pulled out the journal to find out what I thought of the place.
30 April 1995
A definite negative aspect to hitchhiking is never having any time to read or write. You're always moving, always busy, always active. Apart from that, you can't beat it.
So we left Switzerland headed for Northern Italy. Our first ride took us from Sursee to Luzern; nice man, friendly. Our second ride turned out to be a whole day's experience in itself. We were picked up by Gabrielle, a 23 yr. old construction worker from the Ticino area of South Swiss, who enjoyed punk rock (original punk), driving incredibly fast, and new experiences. He drove us about an hour and a half to his city. He didn't speak German; the people of this area speak Italian, French, sometimes German. Wendy spoke in Spanish to him the whole way. I tried to understand and threw in a few bad French phrases here and there. We had a great time. We laughed a lot and really enjoyed the company. We exchanged beers at his town before he dropped us off.
It took us another four rides to reach the town of Cannobio. We are camped close to the Lake Maggiore, a huge lake in both Switzerland and Italy. It's very beautiful.
Last night we ate the obligatory pizza and drank red wine. While mine was not quite what I had in mind--a combination of black olives, capers, some very salty, very fishy, sardine-type thing, and garlic. It was too strong and not very satisfying. We walked around the modified cobblestone streets, walked down by the lakefront, walked through the town.
It rained all last night. The American Camper held up adequately enough but it was still frustrating to know that the tent, parts of our sleeping bags, and various other things would all be soaked the next morning. Wendy couldn't sleep because of this frustration. I don't know if a better tent would help or not. It is pretty depressing to feel drops of water on your head only an hour after the rain starts. We chose to stay here again tonight. I feel like I could spend my whole life in a small Italian town like this.
Tomorrow we head southwest toward France.
What is that proverb? The more things change the more they remain in a constant state of change? Something like that. For the record, I am now completely sold on olive, caper, garlic, and anchovy pizzas. It's still beautiful there, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Still rains from time to time and whether you have a cheap tent or a cheap hotel room you can still find yourself a little wet.
To hitchhike in your twenties assumes that you do it because while you want to travel you really can't afford to, so paying for transportation isn't an option. It's true that 16 years ago we had very little money but a big desire to see as much of Eastern and Western Europe as we could on something like twenty dollars a day. We slept in a cheap tent bought at an American military PX in Germany, ate very little food, traveled by our thumbs, and accepted anything offered to us from the kindness of strangers. As a payoff, we now own a cache abundant with vivid stories and memories.
To travel in your forties with a small family assumes that you can afford a roof over your head and a decent meal now and again. In Italy, even without much money you can easily find good food. Throw a few more euros into the pot and the quality to price ratio increases substantially.
In addition to food, traveling on less of a budget means that along with a decent meal you can afford a decent drink of wine served in its very own bottle. One of the smartest things I did on the trip that I'll take complete credit for was to walk into the cave (both the hole in the ground and storage cellar type) of Aperitivo. Browsing in the back room I managed to dig up a mini-flight of Cà del Bosco Curtefranca Bianco.
Cà del Bosco is in Lombardy, the same geographic region as Lake Como, but specifically in the Italian wine appellation of Franciacorta. Wines made in Franciacorta are mostly of the Champagne-styled bubbly type and Cà del Bosco is the undisputed leader in Italian sparkling wine. In fact, Cà del Bosco is so good at their craft that in 2002 the influential Italian food and wine journal, Gambero Rosso, named Cà del Bosco winery of the year.
Cà del Bosco also makes still wines and what I uncovered was a small stash of a seemingly simple Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc blend called Curtefranca. For whatever reason, Aperitivo was holding a couple bottles each of the 1993, 1996, and 1997 vintages. I'm a sucker for good white wine and I'm little crazy for white wines with the ability to age. While Chardonnay fits that requirement Pinot Blanc is not especially known for its aging abilities, but for 35 euros I had to give one a try. Crisp, a pale to straw yellow, and with plenty of acidity to sustain it, at 15 years old this wine could easily pass for aged Chablis. Delicious. Aperitivo's inventory of these wines is now down to a bottle or two. Thank you, me.
I suppose there is more to life than food and wine but at the moment I can't remember what they are. Ah, yes, children and friends! They seemed to do well on the trip, too.
Henry kept busy and happy directing tourist boats and swimming whenever and wherever he could.
Los Chilenos kept busy and happy by taking a trip to Milan to visit family from the Old World; taking boat rides across the lake to other villages not so influenced by Las Vegas; demanding that I drive them to Lake Como's capital, Como, on a hot Sunday; and otherwise indulging me in my whims to duck into wine bars and eat long, expensive lunches. They're good people, those Chileans.
The welcome party in Varenna:
The Monumento ai Caduti in Como, a monument to Italian soldiers killed in World War One, and an example of Rationalist-Fascist architecture:
Another nice, albeit mellow trip. No, there was no hiking and very little rain. No prostitutes. Not even George Clooney for that matter. Just several pretty days surrounded by good friends and family, nice scenery, and enough activities to keep stomachs satiated, heads light, and bodies content. More reasons to be thankful we live where we live, do what we do, and are cognizant enough to take the time to enjoy it all. In that respect, it doesn't get much better than Lake Como. Maybe Las Vegas could learn a thing or two from a place like this after all.
(Continue to Part 5.)