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Posts tagged ‘Menaggio’

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 Pizza Stone III: The Cooking Class

The Wharf at Varenna

The Wharf at Varenna

I have a pasta maker/roller/flatener (my made-up word) that has been stashed under one of my cabinets and as yet, has never been used.  Making pasta looked so easy when I saw it demonstrated at the local Saturday market in my hometown!  I thought if I took an Italian cooking class that I would finally get the hang of pasta making. On this beautiful Italian day we (SB is manly enough for this) are headed to Varenna, (population 800) to a cooking class with Chef Moreno at Ristorante Il Caminetto in Perledo. He teaches the basics of Italian cooking including pasta and regional specialties. The ferry has become our friend.  Every morning we are up and out the door to the bus, chatting with the Italian nannies as we all head down to Menaggio.  Then at the dock we sip more latte, espresso or Coke (for SB) and watch the world go by as we wait for the ferry to arrive.  I could really get used to this lifestyle!

Varenna is even more laid back then Menaggio. I love the grand yellow hotel at this dock location too.  It seems very large, but when you look at it from the side, how narrow it is!  Check out the video I made! There are several groups of people mulling about the dock and soon we see a man in a chef’s apron, who has come to reign us all in. His son’s have arrived in various vehicles from the mountain village to retrieve us and take us to the restaurant. I can see why on the trip up.  I thought the drive to Menaggio was twists and turns, but this road comes in first place.

At the Restaurant Caminetto we are greeted with wine and home made cookies as we wait for everyone to make it up the mountain. Chef Moreno washes up (his hands and arms) and washes down the wooden table ( a good 20 minute scrub) while chatting along the entire time about his life in the village and life as a chef here. Then he begins to prepare the dough: flour, scant water, eggs, flour, knead, eggs, flour, knead, roooooooooll! Repeat! And repeat! Rooooooooooooll every which way with the longest, skiniest rolling pin I have ever seen! What no pasta maker?  He would never consider it!  We started at 10 am in the morning. We laughed, we roooooolled, we pinched, we patted, we made sauce with tomatoes from his garden, and we ate several servings of our makings and drank a lot of wine in between! We had the best time and then finished up with a stroll through the petite mountain village.  It was 4pm! Taxis have been dispatched to return us to Varenna. We have a woman cab driver. She  looks like a housewife who got the call to come fetch us. I can’t believe they have cab service here!

Back in Varenna, we stroll to the left of the dock, into the neighborhoods, to find the local train station.  How about that tree? Then we back track and go to the right of the dock into the village shopping and main restaurant areas. Eventually on another day in Varenna we would go to the tippy top of town and visit the local church and eat pizza under giant smooth barked trees. This is HEAVEN!

For information about Chef Moreno and Ristorante il Caminetto visit: http://www.ilcaminettoonline.com  Price includes transportation to and from the Varenna dock landing, the lesson, and lunch including wine, cookies and coffee. A must do!

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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