The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris
We weren't sure this trip was going to happen. Trip planning has two
elements: where and when. As stand-by travelers, we know that you can't choose both, so we usually choose the 'when' and let flight/seat availability dictate the 'where'. Our travel buddies picked a weekend, then decided to change to the previous weekend, then they backed out entirely. We still had the weekend free so we started looking at flights. Our friends had been leaning toward a trip to Germany and a bicycle ride along the Rhine, so we gave that some consideration. The flights to Brussels also looked decent although it would be Tony's third visit to Belgium in a month. At the last minute our travel buddies opted back in and suggested Milan as a possibility. As it turned out, Milan was the only flight to Europe that looked like it might have enough business class seats to accommodate a party of 5.
We had time for some refreshments in the busy train station while waiting for our train.
On the train, we took out our travel 'bible', a 2009 version of Rick Steve's Italy guide. We looked across the train to see our companions bringing out the 2008 and 2012 versions of the same book. We all had a little chuckle over that. We sat on the left side of the train as Rick Steves advised. The scenery was very pretty, but it was difficult to capture from the window of the high speed train. It was also very frightening to be standing at the window readying the camera when the train entered a tunnel.
The weather was beautiful in Varenna. We drug our roll aboard suitcases down the hill from the train station to the first hotel we came to, the Hotel Beretta, a Rick Steves recommendation.
The price was right and they had a nice balcony room available that would accommodate a triple and make a good gathering place for our group.
We took the small but comfortable double room next door. The rooms weren't clean yet, but they let us drop our bags inside anyway. We noted that the hotel was a one star hotel and commented that we had decided we are two star people. Thankfully this was one of the nicer one star hotels we have found.
We over ordered, as we usually do the first day of a trip and had lots of pizza left over. We continued our walk along the waterfront, noticing the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We stopped for refreshments at Varenna cafe and Nilus before discovering the Bar Molo, our new home away from home. The free wi-fi was the draw as we are all now tethered to our electronic devices.
We commandeered a table and then split up to explore, leaving some to hold the table. The cobblestone streets made the town seem so quaint.
The hotel Villa Cipressi had beautiful terraced gardens which we later learned required a €4 entrance fee. BJ didn't know this and wandered past the desk clerk who was on the phone, so she got a free peek.
In the center of town was the obligatory church with a clock tower that seems to be required in European towns.
We met back at Bar Molo and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beautiful weather. We noticed that the trees in the courtyard appeared to be camouflaged, like our friend's shirt!
As evening approached, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed the sunset on our balcony.
Dinner was at a Rick Steves recommended place, the Osteria Quatro Pass.
We ordered an appetizer of the local specialty, dried salted river herrings served with polenta, to split. BJ ordered an appetizer of marinated Lavarello lake fish. There was a mix-up with the orders and we ended up splitting BJ's dinner, then they served her the river herrings as her entree. It wasn't bad, just not what she had in mind.
The others had ravioli with leek sauce, a fish assortment and lasagna. We shared cheesecake and tiramisu to finish the meal.
We reviewed our day over a nightcap on the balcony before heading to bed.
Sunday, we awoke to another beautiful day. We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 9AM, but BJ awoke several hours before that, so she took a walk to Fiumelatte, the next town.
She found a big waterfall in Fiumelatte and not much else.
She decided to continue her exploration by looking for a different route back to the hotel. She discovered a footpath that led her up above the railroad tracks and rewarded her with a great view of Varenna.
The path led to a cemetary.
BJ made it back in time for breakfast with the group at the hotel. The hotel included breakfast in our rate because we were staying 2 nights. Breakfast was sweet rolls with jam accompanied by cappuccino.
After breakfast, we climbed to the castle at the top of the hill. It was a long steep climb. We found a shady spot to take a break about 3/4 of the way up.
We paid our entry fee to the castle and were greeted by an owl in a cage at the entrance.
There were some eerie looking figures scattered around the castle. The information we read said that they were tourists who allowed themselves to be draped in gauze and immortalized with plaster of Paris (They represent the ghosts that inhabit the castle).
There is a beautiful view of the lake from the top of the hill.
We had fun exploring the castle.
We climbed to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding countryside.
We stopped for a beverage in the courtyard outside the castle before heading back down the hill.
By the time we got back down into town, the clouds had rolled in and the temperature took a sharp drop. We bought tickets on the ferry to Bellagio and then decided we had time to run back to the hotel to get a warmer jacket.
We marveled at the prowess shown by the bus driver who wedged his bus onto the ferry, with barely an inch to spare on each side.
We were glad we had our warm jackets when we disembarked in chilly Bellagio.
Bellagio has more shopping than Varenna and was also more crowded, even though it was pretty early in season.
We found the Vecchio Borgo for lunch. Our pizza lovers shared a couple of pizzas while others tried the eggplant and lasagna. After lunch, we split up and did some sightseeing.
Later, we met at the Splendide on the waterfront for refreshments and to watch the soccer game before catching the ferry back to Varenna.
Dinner was at Borgovino, a tiny restaurant on the same street where we had eaten the night before. There were several substitutions, but the food was excellent. We had gnocchi, shrimp pasta and penne arribiatta followed by tiramisu.
We stopped by our favorite Bar Molo for a nightcap and to get our wi-fi fix. They had heaters out in the courtyard and blankets for us to wrap up in. The waitress told us that Il Molo is only open from Easter until the first of November. Something to keep in mind if we come back in the winter.
Monday, we checked out of the hotel thinking we would train to Como and then to Milan, but at the train office, we found that to get to Como we would have to go almost back to Milan. It would be better to take a boat to Como so we discussed that, but ultimately decided to walk to Fiumiatta. We stowed our luggage at the hotel and took the scenic walk along the edge of the lake.
We stopped to take pictures of the waterfall and then had refreshments at the only restaurant: Hosteria del Platano. We took the path BJ had found the previous day to the cemetery. We took a stroll through the cemetery and peeked into the chapel.
Back in Varenna, we took turns at the ATM, and then decided to complete our trip at our favorite waterfront restaurant, Il Molo. We had lunch of eggplant, lasagna, spaghetti and a wurst, planning to catch a 2:37PM train, but it was such a beautiful day, we decided to enjoy or time by the water and wait for the 4:37PM train.
We had trouble finding seats together so we sent one of the group to scout out the back of the train. A text came back that she had found some and we should join her. We bumped and jostled our luggage through about 10 cars of the moving train before we found her. We opened a bottle of wine and shared it with a woman sitting in our section. She was very friendly and offered us advice on things to see in Italy. She said we should go to Sicily in February for almonds and citrus. We thought that was a fine idea since it is easier for us to travel standby to Europe in the winter. She also advised we go to Navalie in Milan.
We went ahead and got our train tickets for the airport before we left the train station in Milan for our hotel. We found the Hilton & checked in. We had redeemed points for our stay. Our friend, who we jokingly call our travel mentor, had turned us on to the Hilton Honors program. By getting a Hilton Honors branded American Express card and achieving a certain minimum spend each year, we have been able to maintain diamond status which usually gets us an upgrade to the executive level, including access to the lounge with all sorts of refreshments. We were a little disappointed with the Milan Hilton. The desk clerk advised that she could only upgrade one of our rooms, but would allow us to take our guests to the executive lounge, even though they usually only allow one guest per member. This is much more restrictive than other Hiltons that we have frequented. The lounge had heavy hors d'oeuvres though, enough to make a meal of for some of us. Others had to go out for one last (very expensive) pizza in Italy.
Tuesday morning, we caught an early train to the airport. It was a long walk to the gate and we had to board a bus to get to the plane.
We were thrilled to see that we had lie-flat seats in business class so we could get a nap on the way home.
Another great trip! We are truly blessed.
BJ and Tony