Saturday, October 25, 2014

AirBNBing Lake Como -- Northern Italy's Best

Lake Como is one of those rare places that can make you stop talking and just stare.  It reminds you there are still undiscovered places in the world that inspire you to continue exploring. Words will fail to describe its uniqueness.

On this trip, we were reminded of the simplicity and excitement of "discovery".  I realized my favorite days traveling tend to be the days we include the phrase “explore”.

Let’s hike down there and explore.
Let’s just get to the village and explore.
Let’s just walk down at sunset and explore.

Exploring is when there is no definite destination and you aren’t set on arriving.

My favorite memories are the memories when we are in the middle of an experience (good or bad) and you stop to be present in the moment and know you’re going to remember this experience for the rest of your life. That is one of the most fundamental reasons for travel and one general reason we decided to move abroad.  These moments are some of my most treasured memories.

In Lake Como, we found a unique property via AIRBNB in the small town of Vezio. It’s actually a small village built around the Vezio castle that sits perched above the town of Varenna.  We rented out the bottom-level apartment of the home we rented from it’s owner, Claudio.

Our arrival was more eventful that even either of us planned.  We reserved a mid-afternoon train from Milan to Lecco and then continuing north along the lakes to Varenna.

Unfortunately for us and the numerous other gray-haired tourists, there was a problem with the train / track / weather. No one in Italy was surprised there was a problem with the train, but everyone was surprised when the problem wasn't the result of a strike! Instead, an incredibly windy afternoon had blown the roof off a building which landed on top of the tracks which prohibited us from continuing North from Lecco to Varenna.

Instead, as we are kicked off the train along with about 200 hundred other riders -- don't even think about asking for a refund!  We find ourselves in a town that is still about 20 minutes from our destination where we were supposed to meet our owner at the Varenna station.

No other instructions just ‘this is the last stop’.  No one knows what to do, especially the foreigners and tourists.

We were a mass of people curiously looking around the outdoor station for some sort of guidance or suggestion, someone that looks like they are in charge, of which there would be none. #italyproblems

30 minutes later… everyone is still standing around, loitering, expecting someone to tell them what to do. Based on my limited knowledge of Italy travel, I realized these things tend to happen without any reason or explanation and no one is going to feel bad about a bunch of stranded tourists outside their vacation destination. #firstworldproblems 

No buses arrive. Nothing happens.

There are a few taxis coming and going where I presume some of the locals that live nearby could use them. Finally I decide to beg a nice-looking local girl (using my charm, of course) to ask if we can use her mobile to call the only contact number we have for our AIRBNB host.  Fortunately, she says yes (of course she does!) and our host answers.  

Fast forward through a fast-speaking Italian conversation and we are lucky to learn our host (somewhat begrudgingly) is driving to Lecco to pick us -- despite his best attempt to tell us to just get a long and expensive cab. This girl was a lifesaver!

We anxiously wait another 20 minutes looking for a “Blue Citroen”.  Fancy constantly is asking “is that it?” with each passing blue car. Finally, our knight in a sweatpants arrives. I was a little confused by this man in his mid-50s blasting Green Day like a teenage from his car but hey, I guess Green Day is big in Como right now. #loudmusicproblems

On our way to the AIRBNB property we stopped by a small grocery and picked up a few essentials…mainly 5 bottles of wine and prosciutto which was incredibly cheap. We weren't sure if 5 bottles would be sufficient for 3 nights but decided to risk it.

The man, the myth, the legend -- our AIRBNB host Claudio.
Hard to get this guy to keep his eyes open!

Our village -- Vezio

We knew that Vezio was a small village connected to Varenna but didn’t realize it would be one hellacious climb up the side of a mountain to arrive to it (when we weren’t escorted by car by our AIRBNB host).

Lake Como Adjectives

Any attempt to capture Lake Como in words would be difficult.  The lake was easily the most picturesque lake setting I’ve ever experienced.  Our elevated view from Vezio would also provide a unique vantage-point above the lake.

Because of the delay in our arrival, we arrived just as the sun was magestical setting (that's a combo of majestic + magic).

Our incredible private viewing of sunset over Lake Como each and every day.

We decided to hole-up in our apartment the first night with this unbelievable sunset. To watch the sun gently set behind the mountains, while simultaneously watching the evening lights slowly awaken in each small village was unforgettable.

In the morning, our first full day was incredibly windy -- like most windy day in 5 years! Our plans to take the ferry were thwarted as the ferries were not running, but it was a beautiful day.

No ferries on this windy day.

It was so windy it literally blew the sweet ole grandma's underwear off her drying hooks and onto the front yard!
We pretended not to notice.

We made the most of our day exploring the town of Varenna and indulging in a two-hour lunch, followed by one-hour coffee, followed by one-hour lakeside bottle of wine.  It was ‘productive’.  Interesting sidenote, we had lunch in a restaurant that has been the same restaurant in the same location for over 100 years -- I even found the pictures to prove it.  I love stuff like this.

This is a photo of the "Sole" taken 1913.

This is a photo when we went to the "Sole" 2014.

We returned to our basement apartment by completing our first hike up the ‘mountain’, cursing all the way except Fancy always seems to take joy in these grueling hikes (or maybe it's just my complaining).

The next day we woke up early and took the ferry to Bellagio. We wanted to explore the town but we’d also read about an amazing panoramic view “about 15 minutes outside of the city”.

Based on this description, I think Italians are liars, moreover, they fail to disclose the elevation gain in this mis-stated time allotment. Fast forward 40 minutes…and we are still walking and I’m sweaty. We are literally the only people hiking up this god-forsaken road. While I couldn’t convince Nancy to hitchhike, I finally convince Nancy to hop on a public bus —anything must be better than the arduous hike up.

Little did we know getting on a public bus would involve coincidentally riding with 30+ elementary students who happened to be getting out of the school at the same time (the public city bus doubles as the school bus). Of course, we are riding for about 2 minutes before we realize the bus has turned the wrong direction and we are know going the opposite direction. #bellagiobusproblems

We hop off at the next stop and find ourselves somewhere outside Bellagio on the side of a dusty road. Well, at least it's interesting.

We are lost.

Fortunately, the GPS on our iPhone works and we are able to find our location and the march continues. My ingenious plan to take the bus has saved us about 4 minutes and 100 feet.

The hike next to unique Italian signage.

20 minutes later of walking along an inclined road (think Pyrenees mountains) and after getting numerous confused stares by the local drivers we finally arrived at Hotel Il Perlo Panorama and what a beauty it was. It was well worth the hike up (which is saying something coming from me). Even though we arrived a little after Noon, I knew we wouldn’t be leaving this amazing spot for hours.  We made sure to the sample almost the entire left side of the menu and later the right.  The host was incredible friendly and generous and we would recommend to anyone visiting Bellagio that they take the time to get out of the touristy village-center and find this gem.

We sat here for hours.

More photos from the weekend.

Exploring the walkway around Varenna.

Enjoying a sunset with Fancy -- love the way her hair glows in this photo!

Varenna views.

Ferry, bound for Bellagio!

Of course, Fancy is "patiently" waiting at the front, first to get off the ferry.

Arriving in Bellagio.

That's the look I get when I'm taking too many pictures (Bellagio).

Varenna from the ferry.

Sunset form our AIRBNB, overlooking the castle of Vezio.

Fancy decided to hike in her new "hiking" shoes.  I was annoyed since we were walking extra slow, until I was the one that clumsily fell then I stopped talking about her shoes. And she never even tripped once.

Thanks again for your time and following us!

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