Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hey, isn't that George Clooney?!!!

The train has stopped, I hope not for good because we haven't gotten far from the station and we just left Lake Como after a wonderful few days in the "pearl" of the lake, Bellagio. A little town that straddles a promontory overlooking all three arms of Lake Como.

The thing that strikes you when you step off the train in Varenna, just across the lake from Bellagio is the wonderful quality of the air, the freshness, the smell of flowers and the birdsong that is a constant companion for the whole time you are near Lake Como.

But I forgot to mention the train station! After Verona, we hopped the train to Milano the next morning. When you arrive in Milan, it has quite the effect! The Statzione Centrale in Milan is a huge  building, built by Mussolini in 1931 to awe the people and convince them of the need for a strong, (fascist) state.

We had some time to kill so Rose found a comfy spot to wait and read her book and I took my camera with the 8mm fisheye and walked around, it was fun standing amidst the bustle of a very busy station and trying a few different things. Black and white, a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the people, looking straight up with the fisheye, bending the columns for distorted effects and things like that.

Milan Central Train Station

This was one of the few times that I didn't have an internet train ticket for the next leg of the journey, so we picked up a ticket at the machine and were more than a little confused by it. We spent a little time trying to decipher it, but there was no train #, no track # and no time of the trains departure! I'm sure someone somewhere could decipher it but we sure couldn't. The helper guy was nearby so we got him to figure it out for us and even he had to look it up in a handy little book that he carried with him.

But getting back to Bellagio, that could be our new mantra, every year, back to Bellagio! Lake Como is amazing, beautiful clear water, lovely gardens and villas and tiny picturesque towns every kilometer or two and gorgeous snow capped mountains in the distance, surrounding the lake. And if you like, you can hop a train for a day trip into Switzerland.

When we arrived in Varenna we made our way to the ferry landing and hopped on the first car ferry to Belagio. After a quick 15 minute trip on a nice clear day, (and about 200 images later) we arrived in Belagio. Trying to catch a taxi took a while, they're pretty laid back around here, but we soon managed it and in 5 minutes we were at Hotel Nuovo Miralago, a charming little 12 room, family run hotel on the other side of a promontory that we came to love, (and dread a little, as you have to climb over it to get to town) over the next few days.


You can't hardly take a step around Bellagio without hearing that the bigtime movie star, George Clooney likes to come here and he eats at such and such restaurant, and stays at this or that hotel. Even if you're like me and couldn't care less, you still end up catching a glimpse now and then of someone who just might be that guy, and find yourself thinking, "is that George Clooney?"

Every time we would see a Ferrari drive down through town it was hard not to stare through the windows to see who the fancy pants rich dude was, but later we discovered there was some kind of Ferrari rental outfit in town and any boob could rent one.

Alas, we never spotted anyone famous, but we loved everything about our hotel; from the very sweet lady and her son who run it, to the incredible view from our terrace, to the price of only $100 euros, to the yard/lounge area lit by candles in the evening, to the staff who brought us up a tray with tea and snacks when we arrived and especially, to the breakfast!
By far the best breakfast we've had since we arrived in Italy and probably for months before that.

The heavily laden table covered in home made cakes and pastries and pies, OH MY GOODNESS! Some of the best brioche we've ever tasted, covered with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and filled with jam or chocolate nuttella spread. It was hard to walk away from that table, but we tried our best to find some room for fruit and yogurt as well. I'm sure that everyone thought we were nuts, posing with the pastries, photographing the packaged toast (for contrast) as well as the beautiful table covered with fruit and pastries and other goodies.

Breakfast at the Hotel Nuovo Miralago!

Of course Rose complemented all of the staff and anyone who would listen, but when asked if the pastries were homemade, the lady replied, "oh, not so special, I make them at night."
Not so special! They were special enough that Rose couldn't get over these things and threatened to write a sonnet about them. "A sonnet, I'm not sure I even know what a sonnet is," I said. At that another gentleman who we had chatted with a bit, spoke up to Rose. "Maybe you should start with a haiku!"
So here goes,
"We love their dusted, suggary tops,
their filling and their flake,
our visit to Bellagio, better did they make!"

What did you expect? We're not Japanese and we're not poets, that's the best we can do!

The other highlight of Belagio, in a long list of highlights, was meeting a lovely couple from London at dinner that first night. We did the usual picture exchange, (which we've done a thousand times since) "would you like us to snap a picture of the two of you?" And of course being nice people they would offer back to snap a picture of us together and we started talking up a storm about gardening and anniversaries (our 30th and their 39th) and photography and their home in London. Some people, you just seem to have lots to talk about, and we enjoyed meeting Keith and Christine.

At breakfast the next morning, who should be there but the same couple, they were also staying in the same little hotel and over the course of the next couple of days we bumped into them twice more and enjoyed a lovely evening of pizza and conversation with a spectacular view, just a 5 minute walk from the hotel. Both of us now have a standing invitation to visit, them if they are ever in Canada, and us if we're ever in London.

One of the things that we had read about and also had recommended to us more than once was to take a tour of the Villa Serbelloni grounds.
Our first full day there was sunny so we walked over and signed up with Anna, a very opinionated, transplanted Brit, who met and married an Italian guy while traveling in Africa and thereby wound up in Bellagio, Italy.

Most of the time we walked the tour, (over 5 km) Anna and Rose talked, and talked and talked while I constantly lagged behind, in serious danger of being left behind and stranded in the super secure park, run by the Rockefeller foundation.
Apparently this wealthy American lady named Ella Walker married an Italian prince and loved this property and the town so much she dedicated herself to helping the children and people of the area. When she passed away, she left the property to The Rockefeller foundation but...she had a provision in the bequest that the town would always have access and that is how come we were able to visit the grounds.

View from Villa Serbelloni, looking back at our hotel. (dead center behind the marina)

We also loved walking over to the Villa Melzi, just outside Belagio, with their beautiful grounds sprawled along the lake, including a grotto and pond and all kinds of statues and a lovely little private chapel.

The next day was pouring rain so we got a late start but eventually made our way to town and hopped a ferry with a mid-lake ferry pass. First stop Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, but even firster, lunch!

Villa Carlotta was really nice, crawling with tour groups and school kids of course, but very nice. It was kind of like a snooty Butchart Gardens (Victoria, Canada) with a bamboo forest and a misty valley that looked straight out of Jurassic Park, we kept expecting little curious dinosaurs to pop up out of the bushes and start gnawing on our legs.

From Villa Carlotta grounds
After checking out the Villa full of extremely ornate ceilings and beautiful art, we made our way to the dock and hopped a ferry to Varenna. We loved Varenna too, with it's beautiful little promenade lined with restaurants and Gellatto stands, ($2 for 2 scoops) and since the streets going up looked very steep, Rose found a shady spot to read and I went exploring. Of course I found my way to the main village piazza with the church, (I can never resist a church in Europe).

We were super sad to leave Bellagio, but for George Clooney, Rose and I, next summer it's "back to Bellagio, right George?"

All contents Copyrighted by the author, Doug Petry


  1. Haha, Bellagio sounds perfect! I would love to visit and stay there! Sad you didn't meet George. We could have used an open invitation to visit him. ;p Sounds like you guys are having a great time! I can't wait for you to come home!

    1. Miss you too, wish you were here, you'd love it!

  2. Fantastic. Just looking at the food I'm gaining weight. So you didn't run into Uncle Perry(Como) ,my favourite. Probably you kids don't even know him!!

  3. No we probably wouldn't! The food has been great, but Rose has been doing a little cooking now and we're both enjoying that! We walk so much, that helps a little.

  4. I am in Bellagio now. Very hot, a bit hazy, but quite beautiful. Spent the day in Varenna at the Monastero grounds, an extraordinary place where sicentists sometimes have conferences (Fermi gave lectures there), but open to mere mortals such as myself for 8 euros, and well worth it. But if anyone is coming--beware that parking is a nightmare, as is driving up through Como. Take a train, or park somewhere and come by boat!