Italy 2018: Day 1

Car, plane, bus, train…. it was worth every minute of the 18 hours it took to get to this week’s vacation destination: Varenna, Italy. Seriously. I am typing this as I sit on the outdoor patio at Bar Il Molo overlooking gorgeous Lake Como and gorging feasting on my first authentic Italian pizza.

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Bar Il Molo, Varenna

I was inspired to visit Lake Como because it was a stop on Season 29 of the Amazing Race. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if today’s first few hours in Varenna are any indication of the week to come. Varenna is a small village with about 800 people. It’s built on the side of a hill and there are no automobiles in the main village. Most of the “streets” are actually narrow alleyways made up of cobblestone steps. But its ferry connections to the rest of the lake and train connections to Milan make it very appealing to tourists. Apparently the town becomes very sleepy once the tourists leave for the day.

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Varenna, Italy

The trip to get here was no picnic. I took a “redeye” flight from Boston to Dublin at 5:45PM last night, arriving in Dublin at 4:30AM (11:30PM at home, so it can hardly be considered an overnight flight). Even though I’m not visiting the UK this week, I managed to find a scone with fresh cream at the Dublin airport. Next it was off to Milan’s Linate airport. I was able to catnap for part of that flight and woke up when we were high above the Alps. Linate is far from a modern airport with remote airplane parking stands and shuttle buses to take you to the terminal (which seems to have only about 3 actual jetways). Immigration was a breeze and my suitcase was already waiting when I arrived.

I wasn’t sure how long the rest of the journey would take, but I only had to wait about 10 minutes for the shuttle bus to leave for the 25 minute journey to Milano Centrale train station. Driving across Milan made me glad I didn’t plan to spend any time in the city. It was crowded with people and cars and seemed to have graffiti on every available surface. I wanted to buy my train ticket at the ticket counter but with the long line I figured I’d attempt to work the self-service ticket machine. There were a couple of guys by the machines helping people. One of them talked me through buying a ticket, directed me to the right platform and told me exactly how many stops I needed to stay on the train for. Turns out he was looking for a tip. I handed over 1 euro and 20 minutes later I was on my way to Varenna (a little over an hour away).

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Welcome to Varenna!

Varenna’s train station is about a 15 minute walk outside of town but I decided to hoof it because the weather was warm and sunny. I immediately regretted not packing my sunglasses (“I don’t think I’ll need those on this trip…”) and stopped to buy a pair from one of the small stalls at a roadside market. I took the lakeside pathway into town on the advice of a woman at the tourist office and it was the perfect introduction to Varenna. Coincidentally, I also audibly introduced myself to Varenna in the form of dragging my suitcase along the cobblestone walkway. I’m sure the cafe diners enjoyed a little background percussion while they enjoyed their meals.

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Home Sweet (Italian) Home

After a quick shower in the world’s tiniest shower stall (I exaggerate, but this bathroom is really small… I kept knocking my arms on the walls while I washed my hair), it was off in search of food. Bar Il Molo fit the bill in terms of ambiance, though I must say the pizza was a bit disappointing. Thankfully, I have several more days to find the perfect slice of pizza. After dinner, I tried some Italian gelato and walked around the rest of the town for a bit. My hotel room has a beautiful terrace on the lake with some inviting chairs, so I will spend a little time there and then call it a night!