Northern Italy In a Week!

We enjoyed our first 2019 visitor from the States in February, with one week to explore and show her northern Italy. With the visit coinciding with Kevin’s winter school break, we put on our running shoes (and for La Scala, our fancy shoes!), and spared no time to show our friend all we could of the area we now call home!

Bellagio on Lake Como

Looking back on the week, it’s no wonder it took us almost a week afterwards to recover! See “Florence in February” for specific details about our time in Florence.

Our friend Bethallyn had the most ‘can-do’ attitude I’ve ever seen, and she was up for whatever we offered, from a visit to see the Last Supper across town on her first day of arrival (practically running to make it there), followed by a late night at La Scala for a beautiful choral performance, then being a guest the next day at my language exchange class with lovely Italian speaking women. These rushed days were followed by a multi-day trip to Florence and Lucca, where she and Kevin scaled towers and of course paid a visit to a science museum (they are both science teachers, after all), and we all enjoyed a magical bike ride on top of the city wall of Lucca which might have been the highlight of a trip filled with wonder.

And that’s saying a lot, because we also fit in a trip to the Lake Como region, gazing at the beautiful snow-filled mountains and experiencing the lake region empty of the masses of tourists one finds in the summer.

Tickets to the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci are hard to come by- we luckily scored some tickets on the first day of Bethallyn’s visit, so there was little rest for the wicked or weary. Bethallyn was game for a big day, so off we went to the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. We will never tire of seeing this incredible fresco that holds so much emotion and perspective.

Next was a visit to the Duomo and a quick bite to eat atop the Rinascente department store, taking in the beauty of our surroundings before B/A and I left Kevin at the door of La Scala for a special choral and orchestra performance in one of the world’s most famous opera houses. We sat in a box surrounded by velvet and enjoyed the music, feeling thankful for the opportunity.

Monday was the one and only day Bethallyn got to sleep in. Once up, we headed to the Duomo where she and Kevin went to the top of the Cathedral and then visited the church inside while I prepared for my language exchange class. Kevin and Bethallyn joined me for the class and were our ‘guest speakers’. We discussed family traditions and ate some wonderful Carnivale treats made by one of the ladies in the class.

Next was dinner in the neighborhood and a somewhat early evening (nothing is too early here, because you can’t eat dinner in most restaurants before 7:30 pm!), as we prepared for an early train ride to Florence the next morning.

Sforza Castello at night

Florence was a whirlwind of fun. Read the blog specific to it. We broke up the time in Florence with a day trip to Lucca which was as wondrous as the time when Kelly, Becky, Grandma Suz, Kevin and I visited it almost 17 years ago.

In Lucca, we rented bikes and circled the town atop the medieval wall, enjoying the snow-capped mountains in the distance and the church steeples and gardens inside the town’s wall. The weather could not have been more perfect.

Adventurous Kevin and Bethallyn scaled yet another tower while I happily waited on solid ground. We ate a terrific lunch, toured churches and piazzas, and declared that this might have been our favorite part of the trip so far. The train trip back to Florence gave us some time to rest before we enjoyed another great Tuscan meal and another day of sightseeing in Florence.

Upon our return from Florence, we had one more day to fill before Bethallyn was scheduled to return to Georgia, so we decided to take a day trip to the lake region, starting first in Varenna, then taking a ferry to Bellagio, and ending our day in the town of Como.

We didn’t head out that morning before we took a quick tour of the Friday neighborhood market I have discussed in previous blogs! We cut our train schedule to Como very close (running to catch our train, which is not the most fun, and barely making our train!), which I probably should shoulder the blame for, but it makes for a better story to say that Kevin wanted to check out the ‘street market’ underwear sold at various stands, and we almost missed the train because of that! I bought my usual produce from my usual favorite vendor, and you can’t rush that- no one appears to be in a rush at the market! We brought my purchases upstairs to our apartment and headed towards the train, moving as rapidly as we could. We made the train with mere minutes to spare, mostly because the train was a few minutes late. WHEW! I would never have heard the end of that if we had missed it!

Kevin and I had visited these lake towns in the Fall, but it’s very different in the winter when many restaurants and shops are closed and there are few tourists. The sky was crystal clear, with shades of a beautiful blue, and the snow-capped mountains surrounding us.

We had to improvise for lunch, as our first choice restaurant (La Punta) was closed for the season, but we didn’t suffer from our next choice. The ferry rides to and from the various towns let us peer into beautiful villas as we rambled by, and in Como we stopped by the Como Cathedral, called the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which was built between the 14th and the 18th centuries. Construction of the cathedral began in 1396, 10 years after construction began for the Milan Cathedral (or the Duomo, as we call it). The predominant feature of the Como Cathedral is Gothic, but it also has Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque elements as well. I have become a fan of works by Bernardino Luini, and there are several paintings of his in the church. It’s worth a visit to see the church inside if you go to Como.

We returned home, ate at yet another neighborhood favorite restaurant for dinner, and got Bethallyn back to the airport the next morning, with all of us limping and exhausted from a whirlwind week. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. Memories are made from these times, and when we are unable to travel like this, we can look back and be grateful for the times we could enjoy everything Italy has to offer!

Tired but happy