We savored our first panini at Centrale Stazione while waiting to catch the train to Varenna, a town along the eastern shore of beautiful Lake Como. The Italian breads are so good! Sandwiches are prepared simply with no sauces. The fillings “speak” for themselves.
From the Varenna-Esino station in Varenna, we made our way to our hotel (Villa Cipressi, known for its gardens) where our tour was officially to start. A message posted by the reception desk requested that everyone on the Rick Steves tour should assemble at 5:30 at the Hotel du Lac for wine, snacks and introductions. We couldn’t unload our luggage in our room fast enough to take the walk along the lake, a picturesque and very quaint pathway lined with private villas, tourist shops, restaurants, a gelateria and ferry dock where the path terminates. We had our first gelati (coconut and hazelnut). Even in the afternoon, the air was still hazy and laden with moisture that contributed to the high humidity.
At the appointed time, we met our guide, Robin, and the other tour members, a small group of about 25 people, mostly couples but a few singles, too. The orientation concluded with a walk to the ferry terminal where Robin explained in detail the options we had to explore on our own tomorrow, then handed out our ferry passes. We could feel the excitement building as our Italian holiday was officially to start.
Robin, our tour guide, gives us an orientation and hands out tomorrow’s ferry tickets
Lake Como is a beautiful lake, 30 miles long and, at its deepest point, 1,350 ft, the third largest lake in Italy. It is narrow and shaped like an inverted letter Y. The Mediterranean climate here insulates it from temperature extremes. The northern portions of the lake encroach on the Alps.
Our first introduction to a typical Italian breakfast was at Princi next door to our hotel. Princi makes fresh bread, focaccia and pizza, as well as pasta and meat dishes for lunch, and is open 24 hours, including Sundays.
Princi sells bread, focaccia and pizzas all day
For breakfast, the idea is to order espresso and a sweet or savory pastry and then consume everything, standing at counters. We had a savory foccacia (tomato and quattro formaggi) and Americano espressos. Wonderful!
Foccacia and espresso
Before taking the train to Lake Como where our tour official would begin, we tried to locate La Scala without success. Maybe it would have helped to have a map.
Via Speronari, 6
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We arranged the tour to Italy through Rick Steves. After weeks of anticipation and taking an informal conversational Italian course at our local community college, we were as ready as we’d ever be. This was our first trip to Europe.
Our flight to Italy was comfortable, though long. SAS service is so much better than any US airline’s. We got fed twice between Chicago and Copenhagen (dinner and breakfast) and got upgraded to business class on the Cophenhagen-Milan leg, where we got fed yet again. Nice warm rolls were served on both flights. On the other hand, United Airlines served us a tiny bag of pretzels from Seattle to Chicago, and passed out a list of other snacks we could purchase. How do foreign airlines do it? We went through two sunsets from Seattle to Milan.
Would you believe it? Emboldened by the conversational Italian class, my first Italian words were to a ticket agent at Malpensa International Airport: “Bon giorno. Vorremo due biglietti per centrale stazione.” I even shocked myself. Later, I was trying to figure out how to feed the ticket in the turnstile when a helpful person showed me.
We arrived in Milan at 9 PM after finding the right subway to the Duomo area from Cadorna station and taking a long time trying to find our hotel. Our hotel (Hotel Speroni) was just off the cathedral plaza. After unloading our things in the hotel room, we went for a short walk around the beautifully lit Duomo before turning in.