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Posts from the ‘Menaggio’ category

Romancing the Stone Part II, Menaggio

Menaggio

Menaggio

What a wonderful first night we had! Our apartemento, Le Eriche, is perfect.  With the bedroom shutters and the salon shutters open, a lovely perfumed breeze fills the air.  What a way to wake up to the beautiful sunshine! Today we are headed down to Menaggio, via the local bus. It will pick us up early right outside our retreat or if we want to go later in the day we will walk down the road to the big curve. See (La Bella Lingua post for more info on that) Menaggio is picturesque and quaint with buildings of soft colored patinas of ocher, watermelon, cantaloupe and sage that seem to float in the sunlight. Menaggio is also the place to stay to avoid the hot, hot, hot afternoon sun rays.  Of our three favorite villages, Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna, it is the only village draped in shade late in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the promenade and eating at the outdoor restaurants along the beach. There is also a boat rental shop here, in case you want to rent your own boat to  motor to the other villages and sights, without taking the ferry. Here are some of my favorite pictures of Menaggio!

Menaggio

Menaggio

My Favorite!

My Favorite!

Heaven!

Heaven!

The Shore Square

The Shore Square

Shore Square

Shore Square

Fun Along the Shoreline

Fun Along the Shoreline

Fun for Everyone!

Fun for Everyone!

The Promenade

The Promenade

The Restaurant

The Restaurant

Here is what we came home to every night!  I can not say enough wonderful words to describe the stay we experienced at the Apartment Le Eriche ! Thank you Piero and Fiametta!

Il Salotto

Il Salotto

La Camera da Letto

La Camera da Letto

La Cucina

La Cucina

Il Bagno

Il Bagno

Apartment Le Eriche, Via Per Barna, Plesio, Italy or see TripAdvisor under their B&B of the same name.

Romancing the Water and Stone

The Angel in the Train Depot

The Angel in the Train Depot

For a Valentine’s posting I was thinking of the most romantic spot I have journeyed to.  For me it would be Lake Como, Italy. The romance begins on the journey to get there. This vacation offered everything I consider romantic, a lake and the mountains. The Zurich train depot set the tone for our vacation.  It was one of the most artistically pleasing train stations I have ever been in. The compact green Italian train departed from a lively open warehouse-looking building filled with shops and restaurants and a large flower stall.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The train ride through tiny mountain villages and lakes in the Alps from Zurich to Como went by very quickly because the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Como just in time for an afternoon glass of wine before embarking a Rapido-Hydrofoil to go from the bottom left leg of Lake Como up to the split in the lake, to one of the triangular points of the lake, Menaggio.

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

Como Lakeside

Como Lakeside

During our stay on Lake Como we would be exploring Bellagio and Varenna also. The hydrofoil stopped at several small villages along the lake and it was exciting to see what the other villages looked like from the waters edge.  Villas, surrounded with immaculate gardens and landscaping, were most impressive!  After each stop, to let passengers off, I would tick the villages off in my head. Well we didn’t pick that one. Next…..

When we got to the dock at Menaggio, I knew I had picked the right place. Near the shore and the landing area for the hydrofoil and the ferries, was a hip coffee/pizza/breakfast restaurant with outdoor seating.  This spot would be our favorite spot for morning cappuccino, espresso or latte while we waited for the ferry to take us on various excursions. We would just sit and watch the seagulls and the early strollers.  Nearby was a beautiful yellow villa, Hotel du Lac, and across from that the grocery store.  Perfect! (For more insight into grocery shopping in Menaggio see the post, Il Negozio di Alimentari)

Soon after arriving at the dock in Menaggio, about 4 hours behind schedule, but right on time following Italian time, we were met at the wharf by our host, Piero. Six months previous, I had asked to rent one of his rooms in his B&B, but it was full.  He had suggested an apartment, that he and his wife also rented out, since were staying over a week, and we agreed. We were not exactly sure what we would be getting. Piero had a tiny hatchback car, so we piled the luggage in as best as we could, but SB still had to scrunch up and fold himself over the luggage (and we travel light) that had to be squeezed in the back hatch seat. With Piero and I buckled in the front seats, we set off up the hill.  We went up and up, curve, up, up, curve, tight curve, back up and take a second go at the curve-turn combo. Up, Up, past San Marco, past Ligomena, another tight curve.  Stop. Here we are and the rest is history!

For a week we lived in an outstanding apartment on the mountainside of Menaggio with a heavenly pool and a dream view of Lake Como.  Our neighbors, who stayed in other apartments, came from all over the world.  We had the best time getting together in the evenings by the pool and trying to figure out what everybody was saying! It was fantastic! Enjoy the view!

PS. We traveled from Zurich, Switzerland to Como, Italy because after leaving Lake Como we would be spending a week in Interlaken, Switzerland.  You could fly into Milan and take a train from there to Como to get a hydrofoil to the other villages along Lake Como.

For information about the apartment see: Apartment le Eriche, Via per Barna, Plesio, Italy.

For the B&B see: B&B Eriche, Villa alla Grona, Menaggio, Italy or view on TripAdvisor

La Bella Lingua

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

The first time I went to Italy I knew I wanted to speak the language.  The Italians were so lively, loud and always in full swing. The language was fast paced and musical.  I loved watching the men and women talk, so after I returned home the search was on to learn Italian.  I love learning and knew I could do a computer course. I could go at my own pace.  I thought about Rosetta Stone.  I did a trial course and although I learned many words I was frustrated that I did not know what I was saying, until several lessons in when it would dawn on me what the pictures were trying to teach me.  There is no English in the course, just pictures that I could interpret several ways. I also didn’t learn how to put the words together into sentences. The program was just random words to me.

I looked up some folks on Slow Travel to see if they had any suggestions for learning the language. One man suggested Fluenz with Sonia Gil and I was off to the races. Fluenz Italian 1, started right in with Sonia, an American, teaching the basics that made sense to an American speaker.  All the words were translated in both languages or you could turn then off altogether. You began day one speaking entire sentences.   Fluenz offered tutorials so you knew why you were learning certain structures and how they added to what you had already learned from the previous lesson.  There were writing skills, reading skills, listening skills, recorded speech practice and pictures too. At the end of each lesson was an Italian tip of something to read or something of interest in the Italian culture.  I loved it and couldn’t wait each day to study. I spoke perfect Italian.  In my living room.

Menaggio, Italy

Menaggio, Italy

Off to Italy I went with two years of Italian under my belt. My husband would say to me, “Now you get ready to speak to them.” That right there put me in a tailspin.  I was at the ferry station buying tickets.  I wanted two tickets to Menaggio on the hydrofoil. The woman behind the counter said something I did not understand. It was rapid Italian with an Italian accent to boot. Sonia was so much easier to understand!  As I looked completely perplexed she asked in English did I want return tickets also?  “Ah, what was the Italian word for that?” I asked her.  She told me and I wrote it down.  I would need that phrase again  and again.  As the vacation went on I realized for the most part I could get the jest of what people were saying.  Still in my mind I had to take in the Italian words, translate them in English then convert them and speak the words back in Italian.  By the time I had thought all that through the Italians were speaking about something else. I did better at the restaurants.  I could order and read the menus.  The young people waiting on the tables realized I was an American, so halfway through my sentence they would interrupt me and speak in English. Was I too slow or were they being helpful and wanted to let me know they spoke English?  I think it was both.  They wanted to practice English as much as I wanted to practice Italian.  Finally, I would tell them, ”No, no let me speak Italian. I am practicing.”  Only one waiter rolled his eyes, so I felt I was on to something. I learned very quickly to size up the people I thought I could speak to.  Trying to talk to busy waiters and the ticket counter personnel with long waiting lines was not the place to practice Italian. The twenty minute bus ride from the mountain down to the harbor in Menaggio was perfect. One bus came all the way to the top twice a day, where we were staying . The bus came by very early in the morning to go down the mountain and there was a return trip up the mountain in the evening.  If we were not up and at it for the early bus we had to walk down the mountain to the next little town and catch the bus there. That was a blessing.  The Italians in the mountain village got up early and walked along the road. They were older and in no hurry, so I would Buon Giorno them all.  It was a start.  At first there wasn’t any eye contact and I would just get the nod. Riding the bus was even better.  We were the only Americans on it and the elderly women who road the bus were nonne. (grandmothers) .  Buon giorno, buon giorno I would say to everyone on that bus. We road that bus for a week before we had the weekend driver who asked us if we had a ticket.  “No, we just paid the driver in euros at the end of the ride.” The driver had been so polite he never told us to go find the ticket office and buy a ticket.  I think we became the novelty for the ride down to Menaggio. The women and the driver got used to us, we showed up every day, no ticket and all.  On one occasion returning to the dock at the end of the day it was raining heavily and we had missed the bus back up the mountain. My husband went into the lake side resort hotel, Hotel D’ Lac, and asked the gentleman behind the counter if he could call a cab. That is another story entirely.  (We weren’t even sure there was cab service. We had never seen a cab.)  A Mercedes station wagon pulled up and was I in luck.  The driver spoke no English! Wow I could really practice speaking with him.  We took his card and called him everyday to come get us at the dock.  Eventually we didn’t even have to call him, he would be waiting at the dock for us.  And all the way up the mountain we talked! Then it dawned on me that the early morning walkers probably didn’t speak English and were just as nervous as I was that we could not communicate. So the next morning I just started a conversation in Italian with everybody on the road and on the morning bus.  Just keep on talking and they would come around.  By the end of our stay the taxi driver told me how much my Italian had improved. I just beamed!

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Now I want to say here another great way I practiced speaking Italian.  One of the first things we noticed going up the mountain were all the different colored trash bins along the tiny road.  One for paper, one for glass, one for trash.  They were everywhere. The bus stop, a little down the mountain where we would walk to, covered three things.  The stop was at the corner of the mountain, beside a set of three trash bins and the hairpin curve.  In order to go up the road further and make the curve you had to go slow, stop your vehicle, inch forward turning your wheels, back up and repeat about 30 times and then you were good to go the rest of the way up to where our apartamento was.  This was why the bus only made two trips a day up to our place. So the rock mountain/trash bin area/bus stop was the meeting place for the locals. While you waited for the bus you read the beautiful obituaries, up-coming marriage banns and local festival plans that were plastered on the face of the rock.  You could also talk with the women who waited in long lines in their small cars bringing trash to the bins.  It was a regular hen peck.  There was no trash picked up at the home they had to haul it to the roadside bins.  Here they greeted their friends, caught up on the news of the day and spent a great deal of time taking care of business. It was their town hall. I could talk to the bin ladies while waiting for the bus. Awesome!  No one was in a hurry and they didn’t speak English.  Perfetto!!!

Now I am ready to make another trip to Italy.  This year I started my third year of Italian with Fluenz.  Right off the bat there was no Sonia.  Now there was an Italian woman speaking like a bat out of hell.  I knew the words, but was convinced she wasn’t saying them. I had to go over Lesson 1 many times, boy did I cuss and complain. I thought I would never get it!!!!  But she sounded just like the Italians speaking. (Fast and just skimming over some of the little words) I plodded on.  Eventually my ear was trained to their language.  I am slowly not hearing Italian words, translating the words to English and then translating back. I am hearing the spoken Italian. So I decided to jump in the deep end of the pool.  I will be attending a language school in Montepulciano, Tuscany. (Il Sasso) for almost a month.

No English. Italian only, complete immersion. It is a small town with locals, who don’t speak English. I have been there on vacation so I know the area. It’s really laid back. The administrator has answered a truck load of questions from me. She suggested lodging, was helpful with train schedules and found Verio Neri from the Cucina Povera cookbook for me. (earlier post about that) The students who have attended the school have raved about it. Bring it on. I am ready.

For more information look up Fluenz Learning Languages, I just think it is THE best! and………..the school
Scuola di Italiano il Sasso, Montepulciano Italy (a Tuscany hill town)
internet: http://www.ilsasso.com or Facebook: Il Sasso Italian Language School

The apartamento near Menaggio, Italy, Apartment Le Eriche, Villa per Barna, Plesio, Italy. It is Italian owned and our neighbors were Italian. They own a B&B also, but we stayed in the private apartment!

Il Negozio di Alimentari (Grocery Store)

Sant Antonio, Montepulciano

Sant Antonio, Montepulciano

I was on the plane from DC to Zurich. At the beginning of the flight the seat next to me was empty for a while, then the stewardess directed a young man to the seat.  He proceeded to strip.  One layer of shirts after another, six layers in all.  He folded everything precisely and placed them in a Disneyland plastic sack. As he sat down he added that he was wearing several layers of pants too.  We got to talking.  The young man from Switzerland had been in the US on a student exchange and work program. But, he also had been shopping.  In Wal-Mart.  He told me he had never seen anything like it.  So much to choose from, so cheap. When he was not working he was at Wal-Mart shopping. He had bought gifts for all his friends and perfume for his mother.

On the train from Switzerland to Italy a young couple boarded the train struggling  with huge suitcases almost bigger than they were. I struck up a conversation with the shy young woman from Indonesia while my husband talked with her husband.
“Have you been to the US,”  I asked.  Yes, her husband had studied there.
I eventually got around to, “What did you like best about the US?”
“Shopping in Wal-Mart, my husband would drop me off and I would spend the entire day there.”  Her eyes lit up as she talked about her shopping experiences.

Shopping in Wal-Mart.  I heard it over and over. Visitors to the US loved walking down all the aisles, looking at all the merchandise.  The Wal-Mart that had the grocery store included was a special treat for them. Double delight.

Shopping in Montepulciano

Shopping in Montepulciano The grocery is to the right with red letters on the building

I know what they mean.  My first grocery shopping experience  in Italy was a highlight for me. We arrived at the monastery outside  Montepulciano on a Saturday night and at the welcome/introduction were told the grocery shops were closed on Sunday in Italy.  After the welcome the guests made a beeline to their cars and the grocery store on the outskirts of Montepulciano.  We had to wait a while to get a parking spot.  It wasn’t really a parking lot just a pull in.  Cars were parked  at the front doors of the shop like someone had just dropped someone off so they could run in.  Except no one was waiting in the car.  Finally we followed other cars to the church lot on the corner and squeezed the car into the piggly wiggly parking spaces. There was no rhyme or reason to the parking.  It looked like the cars had just stopped and parked.  It didn’t matter if you were blocking cars or if the backend of the car blocked the road.  Total chaos. It was exciting!  We walked down the hill and into the store that looked on the outside like any grocery store in the US only smaller.   There were not many carts and the store was crowded with shoppers.  In order to get a cart you put a euro into the box on the cart to release it from the line.  The aisles were tiny with just enough room for the cart to pass.  As we zipped around the store I tried to figure out what the items were by looking at the pictures on the labels.  I found peanut butter next to the Nutella.  Was Nutella peanut butter?  There was lots of that. We got to the vegetables and fruit. I’ve learned to watch before I leap.  The women placed plastic gloves on before touching the fruit or vegetables. I followed suit. There was a counter with meats and cheeses that I just pointed to as I made my selections. The store closed at six, hurry hurry. There was an aisle of t-shirts, shoes, mops and brooms. At the check out the woman gestured, did we have a bag for the groceries?  No? Plastic disposable bags  were dispensed, with a fee of one euro.  A deep breath and out the door we went. What did we buy?  It was all such a blur to hurry up and shop.

Uptown Menaggio

Uptown Menaggio

Another time arriving in Menaggio,  late on Saturday afternoon, we walked up the hill from the boat dock.  On the corner was an old building with a grand stone stair entry that faced two sides of the street.  It was the local grocery complete with so many sticker advertisements on the windows one could not see in or out.  While I stayed at the bottom of the stairs with the luggage my husband hiked up the stairs and into the shop.  I waited and waited and waited.  Finally he came out with two cans of coke, Pringle looking chips and candy bars.  What?  “You will not believe that store, it is one way with yellow tape arrows on the floor to direct you through the aisle. I had to go around twice to find this stuff,”  my harried husband revealed. I would get my chance to see the grocery later in the week.

On my visit to the store I found items from the floor to the ceiling.  How you reached the items on the top of the shelves was beyond me.  Everything was jumbled together so I had to go slow and look at it all. There was a vegetable and fruit section with a young woman there to provide you with the plastic gloves.  I had to go around the store three times to find my items, each time passing the cashier, leaving my items, and then going out and in again.  If there was someone behind me with a cart they had to go at my pace because the aisle wasn’t big enough to pass. The store had everything, I just had to really look for it.  Again I paid for my plastic sack.  One thing you didn’t have to worry about was parking.  There wasn’t any. No one would take out a grocery cart. You had to go up and down many steps to get in or out. There wouldn’t be  weekly shopping, too much to lug home at once.  Daily shopping, walk to get there, bring your sack.  I also did not notice any new cars.  The small cars had scrapes, scratches and dents on them. The buildings had swatches of color  on their walls that matched the  colors of the cars. Nobody got too bent out of shape over parking here. Just stop the car and get out.

Shopping in small towns

Shopping in small towns

Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 656Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 679In the smaller villages of Italy the grocery shopping is more defined.  A different shop for selected items.  The wine store, the cheese shop, the butcher, the baker.  I didn’t find a candlestick maker.  These shops tend to be very small and full! Everyone knows everyone. I had a great time.  Enjoy the pictures of the shops in Italy!

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