Switzerland. Not Zermatt or Lucerne, but Italian-influenced Lugano, on the shores of Lake Lugano. This was my 12th country, which doesn’t seem all that impressive given how much I love to travel. I’ll have to work on that. 😉 When I started planning this trip, and realized how close Lake Como is to Switzerland, I knew I would have to spend a day there. From Varenna, you can take the ferry across the lake to Menaggio, where you catch a bus to Lugano, a little less than an hour away. I had to set out early to catch a ferry to Menaggio that would get me there in time to make the 8:30AM bus to Lugano. No ten hours of sleep for me last night, but that’s okay.
For a trip that’s very easy on paper, there are a surprising number of logistics involved. Some places have ticket counters, such as ferry terminals and major train stations, but for other things like buses and local trains, you have to find a ticket agent like a tabacchi or a newsagent. I knew there were a few places to buy a bus ticket in Menaggio, but copied some pretty clear directions to a newsagent that was also close to a bus stop. The reality was I’m glad I got there with plenty of time to spare because it’s not easy to navigate a completely new place when you’re on a schedule. I was afraid to leave the bus stop to find food once I got there because I didn’t want to miss the next bus.
Once I was safely on the bus it was easy to relax and enjoy the twisting, winding road over the border to Switzerland. Crossing the border into Switzerland is little more than a formality. Two guards got on the bus, walked through, then got off. And just like that, I was in Switzerland. Once in Lugano, I realized it is a little bigger than I was expecting. First stop: food. I had asked the very nice woman who works at the hotel about the ferry/bus schedule ahead of time and she had offered to prepare me a breakfast to take with me since I would be gone before breakfast started today. But I felt like something different and ended up waiting until Lugano to find a little cafe where I ordered a chocolate croissant and hot chocolate. No language barriers with “chocolate”! And holy cow!! I thought the hot chocolate at the hotel was decadent. It doesn’t even hold a candle to what I had this morning. It’s basically like drinking a rich chocolate pudding. YUM!
Then it was off to the tourist information office. I had only a couple of must sees on my list, so it was a matter of finding where those were and figuring out what else there was to see. I ended up wandering the streets of Lugano, window shopping and picture taking for about an hour. Lugano is definitely a shopping mecca… think Gucci and Prada. One of my must-dos was a ride up the funicular to the top of Monte Brè. The top provides stunning views of Lake Lugano, albeit a bit hazy today. While waiting for the funicular to take off, I had about a 15 minute conversation with the gentleman riding up with his delivery of wine for the restaurant at the top. He knew a couple of words of English, and I could make out a little of what he was saying, but we made do with hand gestures and simple words. We managed to cover everything from his trip to New York City in January to the weather and languages spoken in Switzerland without really understanding each other’s language.
After a quick visit to the top of Monte Brè, I was faced with the decision of how to spend the rest of my time in Lugano. I had planned to spend the afternoon walking to the village of Gandria along the lakefront, but I threw that idea out the window. Instead, I stopped at the supermarket I had passed and picked up the makings of a picnic lunch/snack to enjoy at the park on the waterfront. I had walked through Parco Ciani this morning, and the most beautiful tulips you can imagine are all in bloom in every color of the rainbow. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. After I ate my crackers and yogurt, I walked around the park, wandered the streets of Lugano, and generally took in the city until it was time to return to the bus stop.
I can’t really explain why I liked Lugano so much more than Bergamo. They’re both cities, but Lugano is much cleaner and it has the lake and beautiful parks. Even the money here is beautiful. European money is much more colorful than American money, but this is incredible. I was forced to take out CHF50 (Swiss francs) from the ATM because it was the smallest amount allowed and the funicular only takes cash. I didn’t even want to break the 50 because it was so pretty. But the CHF20 is even more colorful. I keep currency from all of my travels as souvenirs, and I was able to hold onto the CHF20 to bring home.
Back in Menaggio, I stopped at the market by the ferry and bought a container of hot chocolate mix (Did I mention I also bought some at the supermarket in Lugano?) And some candy. I read online that the hot chocolate here has some type of thickener in the mix which makes it much richer and thicker than what we’re used to. I can’t wait to try it at home! Dinner tonight was at Borgovino, a tiny restaurant (think no more than 10 tables) on a tiny alley a couple of streets up from the lake. The restaurant itself is cute, but I chose to sit at one of two tables outside along the alley to enjoy my gnocchi Gorgonzola and tiramisu.
I am already feeling that familiar struggle that comes near the end of every vacation: I love it here and want to stay longer (arriving in Varenna on the ferry feels like coming home) but I also want to be home in my own bed and comfortable surroundings. Tomorrow is my last day here, followed by a full day of travel to get home on Saturday. I purposely left tomorrow open to decide what I want to do as I go along. I have a couple of ideas, but mostly I just want to soak up every last second of my time in Italy.