Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bellagio and Lake Como

"I ask myself
Is this a dream?
Will it vanish into thin air?
Is there a land of such supreme 
And perfect beauty anywhere?"
H. W. Longfellow

A short train ride from Milan's Cadorna Train Station to Como Borghi and you're in a totally different world. The temperature is cooler, the streets are quieter, pastel hued houses spill down the hillside to the water's edge and Lake Como is as refreshing to the eye as always. I hopped on a ferry to Bellagio which is 45 minutes away. The fare each way is 14.75 euros as of this writing. There were only two lakeside stops along the way and my head turned from side to side as we passed villages, one in which George Clooney lives. As we cruised farther into the lake which is 30 miles long, I held my breath when I saw the snow capped Alps in the distance.


Bellagio is a disappointingly commercial lakeside village. The stepped streets are filled with shops and restaurants. The result of its popularity with visitors is that it has lost its quaint charm. But it is still beautiful and clean with expansive lake views. Pottery shops, gourmet shops, souvenir shops! Bellagio is a shoppers' paradise.

A car skirts its way through this narrow alley, typical of the streets of Bellagio.

Behind this intricately fabricated gate are statuary that whispers in my ear, stay awhile. I like little surprises like this.

The Chiesa di San Giacomo dates back to the 11th century. The darkened interior is an ideal place for prayer and meditation. 

The solid walls and bell tower of San Giacomo betray its Romanesque style.

What a lovely restaurant! But it's empty. Perhaps it's a little far from the ristorantes and trattorias near the harbor where the tourists congregate?

A lakeside walk is in order. Villa Melzi is at the end of this tree lined park.

This must be the "perfect beauty" Longfellow wrote about.

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Images by Charie

Milan - Taking a Second Look

The Duomo of Milan boasts over 2000 statues of saints and one of Napoleon, ( I read this in my Eyewitness Top 10 Italian Lakes guide book) adorning its façade as well as innumerable reliefs. In a rush to enter the church, I had not spent any time until recently to discover the beautiful carvings and the stories they tell.

Sunday at the Piazza del Duomo is always a good day to see the children feed and chase the pigeons. On this particularly warm day, the crowd was out in full force and trying to get a gelato meant waiting in a very long line.

I took shelter in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II where I found a flash mob dancing to the tune, YMCA, by the Village People. It was fun to watch them try to go through the trademark motions of the famous group of the 70s. It made me smile.

The iconic glass dome of the Galleria is quite famous as are the tony shops like Vuitton and Prada that rent space here. But there are other interesting things to check out such as the beautiful mosaic floor and in particular, the most photographed bull in Italy. It's tricky to take a picture of this bull, what with all the tourists spinning and crushing its balls to oblivion. Why? Because to do so would bring good luck. But I doubt this as the bull no longer has balls. lol

Here's another fine example of the mosaic floor. These mosaics are holding well even with the heavy foot traffic here.

The Basilica of Sant' Ambrogio sits in a quiet neighborhood but is easily accessible by Metro (green line, S. Ambrogio stop). The entrance to the basilica is through a symmetrical atrium. Though there has been a church here since the 4th century, the Romanesque façade dates back only to the 12th century when it was rebuilt. In the apse of the church is a gold mosaic of Christ Pantocrator from the 13th century. Also quite interesting is the unique pulpit that rests on a sarcophagus decorated with columns and friezes. 

Perhaps the best revelation I had in Milan is the Navigli District. There are only two canals left from a network that once connected Milan to Switzerland and the River Po, a slice of Venice in the industrial capital of Italy. There are many bars and restaurants along the canals to choose from. But many of the young and hip crowd I saw were just enjoying a beer with friends outdoors.  The Navigli was hopping with people on the weekday we were there. Doubly so on weekends.

Milan is one of the fashion capitals in the world. And many of us aspire to wear a designer dress or a well crafted leather handbag with matching stilettos from one of the exclusive stores in the Quadrilatro d'Oro area. But here's a caveat emptor. "It's horrible when people are only interested in buying labels, because it doesn't bring them the happiness they think it will." Miuccia Prada

Where to stay:
Hotel Felice Casati
Via Felice Casati, Milan
Phone: +39 02 2940 4208
Good location near Corso Buenos Aires.

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Images by Charie

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Highlights of My Italian Summer

The Duomo, Milan

In the next few weeks I'll be writing in detail about my trip to Italy this June. For the moment, I'd like to share some highlights of our visit to this country that calls you, like a siren, to come back for more.

It took more than four centuries to complete the construction of Milan's Duomo. Napoleon Bonaparte demanded it be ready for his coronation as King of Italy. This photo was taken on a Sunday, sunny day and family day.

A short train ride from Milan to Lake Como and a total change of pace. Far from the madding crowd, Lake Como is naturally beautiful and peaceful in late spring. It might be quite a different scene in summer. 

Bellagio, Lake Como

We made a pilgrimage to Padua in the Veneto region to pray at the tomb of St. Anthony. The feast of St. Anthony is on June 13 and we we were lucky to have participated in one of the masses during the 13-day long festivities.

Basilica del Santo, Padua

Venice is such a fragile peninsula that has survived through the centuries. But how much longer can it endure the onslaught of tourists? It was incredibly crowded when we visited. I kept looking and longing for quiet alleys and canals. 

Gondolas on the Grand Canal

If walls could talk! The Colosseo is especially magical at sunset when it's walls turn sienna.

The Colosseo, Rome

In Florence I was quite lucky to catch a magnificent sunset over the Arno River while being entertained by a classical guitarist. Sunset becomes Firenze.

Arno River, Florence

The highlight of highlights was the papal audience on St. Peter's Square. "Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this."

Pope Francis I

Italy, Italy, Italy

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Images by Charie