Leaving Lake Como, Exploring the Back Country

B5B085C9-7B9E-4E54-9F6C-38DD82CC25D8We were ready to leave Colico just after 9:00 on Monday morning but had to wait for the landlady to arrive to collect the key.
While we waited I took Mo for a short walk – there’s a railway just across the road and just beyond it is a bike/walking path that seems to go for miles.
The landlady finally showed up and we got on the road around 10:00. We took the most direct route down to Lecco, which involved a lot of tunnels, than basically traced back the route we’d followed coming north – south and around Milano, then southeast past Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, then south through the Apennines and past Firenza and on to Lago Trasimeno.
Rather than get to Perugia right at the afternoon rush hour – and as they’re doing so much roadwork – we went down the west side of the lake and home to Papiano on a less busy route.

Tuesday was mostly spent waiting for the fireplace guy to come – I did take Mo down to the village for a little walk, but didn’t do much else. The fellow never did show up, so it was a bit of an unproductive day.
Wednesday morning Colin got a response to his email about the fireplace guy – he said he’d be here today around 5:00. We spent part of the day going down to Ponte Rio, which is very near Todi – there’s a store there that has an excellent butcher so we picked up some lovely looking lamb chops for dinner.

On the way home we were diverted due to road work, and spotted a village on the hill to the west that looked interesting. We thought it might be worth a visit, but could we find it? We put what we thought was the location into the GPS and drove and drove, but realized we were off-track.
We chose to take a smaller road home and that turned into a bit of an adventure – it’s a good thing Colin’s new car has 4-wheel drive and we weren’t in a hurry. It actually would have made a pretty good mountain bike trail.
We found out that not all of the surrounding countryside is cultivated – I think the ground is too rocky. Other than the odd empty and crumbling house the inhabited farms were very few and far between.
We did eventually reach open areas and farms again.
Back in civilization we stayed around the house – it was quite nice out so I tried sitting on the terrace to read but the mosquitoes drove me back inside. The fireplace guys arrived around 6:30 – only a day plus one and a half hours late. There were two of them, and one had helped put the air conditioning system in last May so that was a bit reassuring.

Between their tiny bit of english, Colin looking words and phrases up on his phone, and a couple of sketches done they understood what was wanted. They looked up the existing inside chimney, which apparently has to be demolished, climbed up thru the skylight in my bedroom to look at the roof, and announced that they could do it.

They have to report back to Leroy Merlin, who will be arranging everything for Colin – a stainless steel pipe has to be ordered, then the work can proceed. Colin tried to impress upon them that it’s urgent as he needs to leave for England by the end of the month – hopefully they understood that part.

Beautiful Stressful Lake Como Drive

5FCF573C-F718-4F54-81A2-2207E49FF876Got up at a decent time, had a cup of tea on the terrace, packed up and left the apartment to go for breakfast again at Il Ghisallino restaurant.
We stopped on the way so I could take a photo of the cannon in the churchard at the bottom of the street – the muzzle of it is stuffed with flowers. Why fire shells that kill when you can send missiles of beauty and love instead?
Returned the key to Florianna and enjoyed our cappuccinos and croissants on the terrace as the amateur Grand Fondo happened on the road below us. There’s about 1,500 riders, and they’re following a different course than the Lombardia yesterday, but are still using the climb to Magreglio. There was a food stop just across the road, at the parking lot in front of the church and cycling museum, and since they’re not actually racing many of them did stop and get refreshments.
We wandered over to the church so Colin could have a look inside before we headed down the mountain to the town of Bellagio, which is right on the northern tip of the promontory.
The fairly long walkway from the parking area to the church is covered with cobbles, but had a pattern of thin bricks along it – Mo didn’t like the cobbles and was so cute walking along the bricks instead.

The road down to Bellagio is over 8 km and was packed with hairpin turns, so the climb up it must have been horrible for the racers yesterday, as well as the Grand Fondo riders today.

The town of Bellagio is very pretty – its been the vacation destination of many rich folks over the years going all the way back to the Roman times. This area doesn’t get really cold in the winter – even though it’s in the Alps – and doesn’t get that hot in the summer. Ideal combination of lake, mountains, scenery and weather – if only there weren’t any crowds as I bet it gets very busy in the summer.
Our plan was to drive south along the promontory, which is the east side of the western arm of Lake Como to the city of Como, then all around the lake going up the western side to our next destination of Colico, which is right near the northern end of the lake. I’d really wanted to see all of the lake, so this was my idea – sounded like a great plan and a beautiful drive…but…
…between a combination of hundreds of amateur cyclists – going in both directions, sometimes – an extremely narrow road with a rock mountain on one side and either rock walls or drop-offs on the other, and crazy impatient Italian drivers – dickheads!! – it was pretty close to the worst drive we’ve ever had.
The scenery, from my point of view in the passenger’s seat – was awesome, but it wasn’t at all enjoyable for Colin – super stressful to have a driver come up behind and get totally outraged because there was a cyclist ahead of us and we wouldn’t pass until it was actually safe to do so – at least without sideswiping the bike and sending them hurtling over the rock wall/cliff into the lake far below.
The relatively short drive to Como took almost two hours, and needless to say our plan for the day changed. As soon as we finally arrived in Como we went east towards Lecco instead of west and stopped at a cafe for a mental health break. I bought Colin a cappuccino and double mint chocolate gelato to try to calm his nerves a bit. It had been an extremely unpleasant drive and we needed to regroup.

After our little break we went through Lecco and veered north, but rather than take the lakeside road we took the other one a bit east that went through the Valsassina pass. It was a lovely drive, and totally got us away from the crowds of crazy drivers.
We did end up having to follow the lake a bit to get to the town of Colico, which had a lovely boardwalk all along the lakefront, with several nice restaurant/bars around a nice big piazza. There was a bit of a market happening and lots of people enjoying the sunshine and fresh mountain air.
There were dozens of sailboats and para-gliders and the little ferry was shuttling back and forth across the lake – it was beautiful.
We had a leisurely and relaxing drink outside at one of the restaurants – not the cheapest, but very nice – and I guess you pay for the location. In general it reminded me very much of home although the mountains are bigger.
Colin got ahold of the lady he’d rented the apartment from and she told him how to find it. It’s on the main road just before the town.
The apartment is quite nice – it was a small front yard and a larger back one, a nice new bathroom and fairly large kitchen/living area. Colin and Mo got a decent sized bedroom and I got the sofa that pulls out into a bed.
After we’d settled in a relaxed a bit we went out to get pizza for dinner. We ended up at the same place as before and they sent us upstairs to the pizza making area – Colin got the Hawaiian. It was pretty good – nice thin crust and tasty smoked ham with asiago cheese on top. I took half of mine home for breakfast and lunch tomorrow.

Il Lombardia – the Race of the Falling Leaves

510E9FC8-6A8E-432E-AC72-1AC5F26D4678DA396A16-BB2D-44A6-A464-1DA183147257Got a fairly good sleep – the folks upstairs were up and making noise very early, but it’s an older building and not that soundproof. I made a cup of tea – very small, as they only expect people to drink espresso or cappuccino here, I guess – and went out onto the terrace to do a little bit of stretching as the sun peeked over the mountains to the east.
We got going around 10:00 – first took a drive past the church and down the hill a bit – the racers will be coming up it about 5 hours from now. We turned around after about a mile and came back up to about 300 metres from the top and parked in a pull out on the left hand side. There’s a large group of Pantani fans two corners below us – I suspect they’re having beer for breakfast.
We then walked up to the restaurant that we get our free breakfast at – also owned by our landlady Florianna. She was very happy to see us, and we got a table outside overlooking the main road and just down from the church and cycling museum. Breakfast was very simple – cappuccino and croissant – but the location more than makes up for any perceived lack.
After eating and sitting for awhile we walked across the road and had a wander through the museum.
It’s a really excellent display of old bikes, photos from over 100 years ago, winner’s jerseys from many of the Italian races, including the Giro jersey won by Cdn Ryder Hesjedal in 2012.

After our lovely museum tour we headed down to the car and setup the flags as well as the table and chairs. The breeze is pretty good so hopefully the flags will fly well.
I then took a walk down the hill a bit to the Pantani corner – they welcomed me very warmly and fed me BBQ pork ribs and red wine. One lady spoke a bit of english so I stayed for a little while and chatted.
Upon returning back to the car I had a little more to eat – unfortunately I’d forgotten to bring some forks for the greek salad I’d made, but the boiled eggs were good and you don’t need a fork to eat carrot sticks or peanuts.
My next trip was up the hill – I walked with an American fellow that had passed the car and stopped to chat with us. He and his wife are in Italy for a year on an extended traveler’s visa – wish I could get one! Once we’d reached the top of the hill he left to find his wife, and then I heard my name being called from across the road. It was Florianna so I crossed over to say hello. She then told me to follow her and led me into the little church.
It wasn’t what I expected – it was quite small, and was really a church to cycling, with old bikes mounted near the ceiling, lots of photos and jerseys – kind of like a smaller version of the museum.

It was quite crowded, so she grabbed my hand and led me to the back, then through a side door. There was a little old man there, and his job was to stand on a chair and look out of a small window to see down the hill when the racers are coming. When he sees them he rings the church bell so folks know they’re getting close. I got up on the chair to have a look out, then he held my arm as I stepped back down.
I then went back to the car as the racers were expected to arrive shortly, and I’m glad I did – they were ahead of schedule and arrived around 2:55. There was a breakaway of four, followed by a couple of solo racers, then the peloton only two minutes behind. I tried out the nifty flash that Colin got me for a late birthday present – the racers often have their heads down as they ride and it leaves their faces in shadow, so I was quite pleased with the results.
About third man back was last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali (in orange/red and blue), followed very closely by current world champion Alejandro Valverde (in white jersey with rainbow around the middle). Cdn Michael Woods – third at the world’s just two weeks ago in Innsbruck – was about the middle of the pack.

After we took down the flags we drove the short distance up the hill to the restaurant and watched the last 70 km of the race on their tv. It was eventually won by Frenchman Pinot, with local favourite Nibali coming a very impressive second – he did, after all, fracture a bone in his neck at the Tour de France in July (an accident caused by an f’ing ‘fan’!!) and had it cemented together so he could ride again.
Following the end of the race we went back to the apartment for a bit, then returned to the restaurant for dinner. We chose the set menu, which turned out to be about three day’s worth of food for me. It began with polenta, which was three very large tasty pieces, with a slice of sausage of some sort. The second course was a delicious fettuccine with potatoes and cauliflower, and the main course was roast beef with gravy and sliced roasted potatoes. I tried my best to eat as much as I could, and Mo did her best to help.

North to Magreglio

Yesterday was mostly getting ready for our next little trip – buying a few groceries, etc. We managed to leave this morning right at 9:00.
As usual our destination was entered into the GPS while I followed our progress north using the map book.

We took the toll-highway most of the way, skirting Firenza, Bologna, Modena and Milano. Right around Reggio Emilia we passed the train station that looks like a wonderful origami sculpture.
After Milano it was regular highways until just south of Lecco, where we were slightly mis-directed because of road work that Miss GPS didn’t know about.

We got back on the right road, then partway between Lecco and Como we turned north towards the interior of the ‘peninsula’ between the two southern arms of Lake Como. Once again we took a very circuitous route through one of the villages, but eventually were cruising in the right direction to the town of Magreglio.
Since we’d arrived fairly early we went for a drink (ie: coffee for Colin, red wine for me) before trying to track down the apartment. There’s a small church and a bicycle museum right at the northern edge of the town, and it has a pretty good view of part of the lake and the mountains beyond.
There’s also a really cool monument/statue to cycling right at the top.
There are, of course, many cyclists around the town – a whole group arrived at the cafe just before we left. A local fellow was reading the sports journal, which is on pink paper – the colour of the original sponsor of the Giro.
Some of the arriving riders spoke English and some sounded German as well as other languages.

We drove to the apartment and called the landlady, who arrived about 3 minutes later. She showed us the place – it has a large kitchen, two bedrooms and a nice bathroom, in addition to having a nice large private terrace. She seems very nice and is into cycling – there are lots of photos and prints on the walls as well as other cycling paraphernalia all over the place.
We brought our stuff in then walked down about a block to the local supermarket to get a few things. Dinner was pretty simple – fresh pasta with tomatoes. Fairly early bedtime.

Lunch at Il Ristoro, Wine at Passignano

8B0E0726-30BA-4632-A7D9-75CC8C071D76Had a couple more kind of lazy days – mostly sat around reading as Colin did little things out on the terrace. He’s sanded the hand rails and lower gate and painted them black – they look much better. Went with him to Marsciano and got a couple of little plants and a square pot to spruce the terrace up a bit more.
The ‘reclining nude’ statue in Marsciano still has her new hands and necklace, and is still holding a small globe – we stopped so I could take a photo in case they get stolen again.
Across the road from where Colin has to park in Papiano there’s a large plowed field that seems to have a resident cat – it’s a beautiful creamy-brown coloured little one and I imagine the field is full of mice or something because he’s always hunting in the field or the grass at the edge.
After getting the small plants in their pots and setting them on the stairs to the lower gate we tidied up and headed out for lunch.
We drove to the south shore of Lago Trasimeno and then went east to the village of Monte Buono where the restaurant ‘il Ristoro’ is – that’s where we stopped one time last October when Colin first came to the area to look at the house, and he’s been here once or twice since as well.

It was just as I remembered – you place your order either at a small window before you enter the restaurant, or go inside and crowd into a very small cafe-type room that has a coffee bar. You have to squeeze thru to the far end – it actually isn’t far, but takes a minute to get to because of the crowd – place your order, which you choose from the menu on the blackboard above – they give you a small pink piece of paper with a number on it and then you go and pick your table.
It was a lovely day so we chose to go outside. There were quite a few people there, both inside and outside – I was impressed by how busy it was. After a short wait one of the waitresses came out with placemats and cutlery calling ‘vinti siete, vinti siete’ – ‘27, 27’ – which was us. We waved her over and she just kind of dumped the placemats down in a pile – I set them out myself.

A short while later she arrived with the wine, then came our bruschetta, which was delicious. The restaurant has several resident cats – I think one is the mother and there’s 3 or 4 kittens that are all very cute. They scamper around the restaurant’s playground, and sneak past Mo when her back’s turned.

Our main courses arrived – we both got pasta. I chose the tagliatelle with meat sauce and it was just as good as when I got it last year, although I didn’t get the dish of parmesan cheese to sprinkle over it this time. The portion was larger than it looked and even though it was very delicious I wasn’t able to eat all of it so Mo lucked out.

When we were done rather than going straight back to Papiano we drove north along the east coast of the lake to the town of Passignano. When we were coming home from L’Eroica on Sunday we had left the highway and passed through the town – it had looked interesting so we wanted to visit it.

38FA6C79-AB2D-4F25-A42E-8B0ED809C5D6There was a fairly large parking area right by the lakeshore, and a lovely wide boardwalk that we followed west for quite a ways.
There are benches all over the place, and we passed through a small park that had some nice statues, and some kind of weird-looking ones.

Colin read on a plaque that the strange ones were done by a student of Picasso – that explained it.

We then wanted to stop for a quick drink – there are lots of bars across the road from the lake, as well as touristy souvenir shops. A big thing here seems to be hand-painted plates and little cups, etc.

The first bar we went into said they didn’t sell wine by the glass but only by the bottle so we continued on, turning down a small road away from the lake.
We found a really nice patio outside another bar and sat down- we eventually got our wine. After a nice little break we walked around and looked at a few of the shops – more boars, including some very cute little stuffed toy ones.

Upon leaving the town we got headed in the wrong direction on the highway, so had to take the next exit and get turned around.

Awesome L’Eroica

The last couple of days were relatively lazy – Friday because we just wanted to do nothing, and Saturday because it poured rain off and on the entire day.
Sunday we got up really early – 6:30 – so we could make the drive up north of Siena to watch the annual L’Eroica bike race. It’s a completely different kind of race than I’ve ever been to before – each participant rides a bike from at least 30 or so years ago – some much older – and they have to dress as one would have at the time. An acquaintance of Colin’s – Jay, from England – was riding in the event. There are several different courses, from short to medium to very long, and there were several thousand participants.
We were just getting ready to leave the house at about 7:20 when Jay phoned – he’d gotten about 20 km into the medium-length course when he encountered a problem with his handlebars. He hadn’t taken all of his tools with him, and because it was a really odd bolt no one else could help him either. We were going first to pick up Jay’s wife Alison at the place they’re staying anyway and she had the tool.
We left Papiano in a light rain, but fortunately the rain lessened the further we drove and by the time we passed into Tuscany it was starting to clear. We keyed in the GPS coordinates for the ‘village’ of Adine but realized that something was once again wrong – it was directing us to go past Siena to the west, but we knew we should actually be turning before Siena and to the north somewhere.
We followed the signs to the beautiful village of Lecchi in Chianti, then a bit further to where Adine was supposed to be. There really wasn’t a village – just a few farms and other buildings along a white dirt/gravel road. We stopped at the first large house, and an old lady came out to see what we needed. She suggested that we might be looking for the house along the road and up the next hill. She mentioned that there were no addresses, but that each house had a name instead.
Just then Alison returned Colin’s phone call, and she came walking towards us from around the corner of the house – she and Jay are staying in a lovely little stone cottage that used to house the chickens and some other small animals.
With Alison along we headed back down thru Lecchi in Chianti and on towards the town of Gaiole in Chianti (the ‘in Chianti’ is part of the name for many villages and towns in the area). Jay had been pretty good with his directions, so we turned before the town and took the road to Castello di Brolio, which was where he’d had to quit riding. It was slow going as other riders were all heading the same way we were – they didin’t stop the traffic in either direction for the event so we had to be extra careful.
Jay was lucky to have been able to stop where he did – there was a cafe and tables and many of the riders were stopping there for beverages, including beer and wine.
The tool Alison had brought did the trick – Jay was on his way again after about 30 seconds of work. He had originally wanted to do the 130 km route but was going to do one of the shorter ones because of his 3 hour delay. While he went off riding Colin, Alison and I sat down at the cafe for a cappuccino and some people watching.
Some of the bikes and outfits were so interesting – and I called it a race but it really isn’t. Just participating is the point, and showing the different types and styles of bikes and how they’ve changed over the decades. Folks come from many countries – I saw shirts that indicated Romania, Croatia, England of course, and many others.
The cafe itself was dedicated to cycling, with posters and photos on the walls, as well as a classic old Bianchi. Outside was a Dawes, which is an old English bike, and apparently a bit unusual and of very high quality.
There was a couple on a little Lambretta motorcycle that were doing full-on repairs – they had a crowd around them needing assistance with their bikes, and they weren’t even at the white gravel sections yet.
After our little break we drove back down the road and into the town of Gaiole in Chianti and tried to find parking. There had been cars lining both sides of the road for the last 2 miles as we neared the town but we thought we’d lucked out at a little parking lot just as we entered the town. But we were just getting out of the car when we were told we had to move – it was for official cars and police only, although no one had prevented us from entering. The fellow was very nice and told us to follow the road we were on until we passed the stadium, then go to the right and there would be parking.
We found a large field that had hundreds of vehicles parked in it, but after driving slowly around the first part we gave up and went a bit further down the road. Right at the sign that points to the village of Vinci we pulled in and it was much better than the other field had been. We parked at the end of the first line of cars, and it was now warm enough to change into my rah-rah skirt and take a layer or two off the top.
As we walked thru the field towards the town we stopped to admire a couple of very old vehicles – one of the men recognized the maple leaf on my backpack and I heard him tell the others it meant I was from Canada – I confirmed this for him and he thought it was great that I was here for L’Eroica.

The three of us made our way into the centre of the town – there were food and beverage booths set up all over the place and people everywhere.
Boar is big around here – there were at least three booths that specialized in it.

We were all hungry and since it was around noon we chose a restaurant just past the finish line and actually had no problem getting a table outside. I chose the ravioli with ricotta and braised spinach in a truffle cream sauce – it was absolutely fantastic. Along with a nice glass – or two – of the house red wine, sitting in a lovely town in Toscana (Tuscany) surrounded by avid cyclists and enjoying it with excellent company I’m not sure what could possibly be better. Alison very kindly told us that lunch was her treat!
After we finished eating we walked further up the main road of the city centre – it was wall-to-wall people with bicycles just having a good time and enjoying the atmosphere. All of the cafes and restaurants were doing a booming business and everyone seemed to be having a great time. There were a few tandem cycles, as well as some recumbents.
Alison phoned Jay and he was only about 5 km away from finishing so we found seats at another outdoor cafe/bar and sat down with a drink to wait for him to arrive.

He had no problem finding us and after spending a bit more time sitting we headed back through the crowds towards the car – hundreds and hundreds of riders were still arriving.

We eventually made it back to the car, and because of the amount of traffic and how slowly it was moving we thought it would be a good idea to go the other way when leaving the parking area – not necessarily a good idea.

Miss GPS kept telling us to do a u-turn and we kept thinking that the road we were on would eventually wind around the hill and get us back onto another road that would lead us to Lecchi or somewhere else – but noo – Miss GPS was actually right and we did end up having to turn around and go back through the town.

The traffic wasn’t as bad as we expected, only stopping completely a couple of times as the road was very narrow, cars were parked on both sides, traffic was trying to come and go, and there were people and bikes all over the place.

181AF4D8-3A3A-4912-B080-D46EE16A3AD4We finally cleared the town and got Jay and Alison back to their cottage. We said a fairly quick goodbye as it was still a 2-hour drive home for Colin.

We kept passing cyclists for miles and miles as we drove back towards Umbria – they must have taken the long route and still had a good hour or two of riding to get to the finish.
As we got to Lago Trasimeno we thought it would be nice to follow the lake for a bit so turned off the highway – it was very lovely but then we chose a road that ended up leading us back to Perugia so it wasn’t much of a short-cut after all.

Back at home we were both still pretty full from lunch, and a bit tired from having gotten up so early so didn’t really have dinner. Colin packed it in around 8:30 while I managed to stay up reading until around 10:00 – tired but very satisfied with what had been a wonderful day.

Revisiting Trevi

Left this morning with Colin to go back to Leroy and Merlins so he could complete his business, then we continued on to the revisit the lovely town of Trevi.
On the way there the traffic backed up a couple of times – they’re doing roadwork in places, but the worst part ended up being a flat-bed truck with a digger on it that had ended up on its side across the right-hand lane and the emergency stopping lane and bashed in the barricade for several meters. It was leaking liquid from more than one place – I just hope no one lights up a cigarette nearby.
Miss GPS took us on a very strange route – if we’d been in the campervan we would have had a problem, but we got there in the end. It’s market day in Trevi and the large main piazza was partially full of tables and displays. We also noticed a lot of barriers up or ready to be put up.
We walked around the small market then headed further into the town to piazza Mazzini. This one has a fairly large grandstand setup – it seems there’s a festival coming up starting tomorrow and I guess they’re having a play or something.
We looked at the menu in front of one of the restaurants and decided to have lunch there. Colin chose the pork liver with roasted potatoes and I got the tagliatelle with boar ragout – both excellent choices it turned out.
Shortly before we were ready to leave a couple sat down at the table next to us – they were Americans and had heard us speaking english so struck up a conversation with us. They are using Perugia as a base for their holiday and the wife is taking Italian lessons – her teacher recommended this restaurant to them. It’s always a good sign when a local person eats at a place and likes it enough to recommend it to friends.
I had spied an ‘i’ sign on a building across the piazza so when we left the restaurant we headed over and it was, indeed, a tourist info office. The young lady inside spoke very good english and informed us that yes, there was a medieval festival starting tomorrow and there are all sorts of events going on over the next couple of weeks.
We picked up a couple of brochures, one of which had to do with the white numbers we’ve seen on a lot of the buildings and houses here. If you look the number up in the brochure it tells all about the place and its history – very interesting.
There was a beautiful orange cat with orange eyes sitting in a window looking out at us as we passed by one place – looking more curious than concerned.
We walked around a bit then back to the car – stopped in Foligno to get some groceries, and at a Decathlon store so Colin could get a couple of things. Back at home in Papiano we were both still stuffed from lunch so only had a bit of cheese and a few cherry tomatoes for a late snack.