Tag Archives: Italian

Varenna- The Dream Part 2: An Italian Adventure

Varenna is a small community on Lake Como in the Northern part of Italy.  It looks like a picture and I couldn’t believe it as we got out of the car.  It was everything I dreamed Italy would be with colorful homes, historic hotels, stairs leading down to the water and locals everywhere. It was beautiful!

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We left from Milan and as we drove through the tunnels to Lake Como each glimpse got more and more beautiful. We arrived on the afternoon of Thursday, September 29th for a two and half day stay and when we pulled up to the hotel I almost died!  It was perfect! We stayed at Villa Cipressi and when walking up it was clear that this place had been around for a very long time. It was a noble’s home built between 1400-1800 and turned hotel in the 1980’s or so. The key to our room was a regular old school key with a large gold weight with green fridge attached. The rooms were somewhat small but bigger than the rooms in Milan. There was a large window that overlooked the lake with amazing views. We left the hotel to explore a bit. About a 1 minute walk from the hotel was a small square. There were a few small restaurants and cafes. We sat down and ate cheese, meats, melon wrapped in proscuitto and had Italian beer. There were local Italian kids running around, laughing and playing. Afterwards we walked around for hours. This place was everything I thought it would be. The stairways led to peoples homes and up to main streets as well as down to the lake. We walked up and down so many of them and I took so many pictures. It was like art in every direction I turned. My dad and uncle grew out their hair just so they could get Italian haircuts.  There was a great little salon with a woman who had faded red hair and a very friendly smile. She didn’t speak much English but their haircuts came out great! It was such a cool experience.

We ate dinner at different places every night. The first night we had pasta and while everyone else had dessert I got a cheese plate!  I love cheese and when in Italy you eat cheese. We ate breakfast every morning in the breakfast room in the very downstairs of the hotel.  It had an old fireplace and looked like old serving quarters with huge steel doors where you entered and exited.  The hotel had a large botanical garden which overlooked the lake. We walked and ran through these gardens and found so many historic things. Statues, old gates with locks and chains, beautiful plants and little pathways all around the hotel and through the garden.

One of the days we took the ferry over to Bellagio, another small more famous community on the lake. We ate lunch on the lake and walked up and down the stairways there. It was bigger than Varenna and there were a lot more people. I was happy to get back to our side of the lake after a few hours.  We spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Varenna, eating gelato, embracing the Italian culture, drinking coffee in the afternoon and eating at little restaurants hidden in allies. It seemed like I could have stayed there forever.

One day we decided to do some laundry. We walked to a wash, dry and fold place just off the main street. The woman working didn’t speak any English but we managed to drop off the clothes and find out the pick up time. It cost about $15 American dollars to wash one load of clothes. It’s not cheap! My sister and I spent that afternoon by ourselves. We walked all over the place and had so much fun taking pictures and embracing the fact that we were there together.  That night we ate at a very small restaurant with mostly outdoor seating. Al Prato was the name and it was situated in the middle of beautiful Varenna homes on a street just off the main square. The food was good and the service was great! It was a dining experience we all loved and will never forget. It was dark and there was just a bit of lighting from a few lamp posts on the walkways. We had such a great time that night.

One afternoon we sat outside at a small cafe in the middle of the square. It was filled with locals. I think we were the only Americans there. It was so loud with all these people laughing and talking and smoking. It was a little surreal sitting there. It was like time stood still a little bit and we were in another universe. We drank espresso, enjoyed all the culture around us and watched the little local kids run around. It seemed so simple and slow. It wasn’t like anything I was used to.

Our last morning in Varenna we ate gelato for breakfast and took one last walk around this beautiful place. My sister and I both agreed that when we go back to Italy in a couple years, Varenna is where we will stay. In all the cities we stayed, Varenna holds the most memories. The meals, the walks, the exploring, the haircuts, the laundry, the locals at the cafe… It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Part 3 of our Italian Adventure is set in the place where our family started centuries ago. It was our favorite place in Italy.

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Twenty Hours in Milan- Part 1: An Italian Adventure

September 28th 2016 was the day I landed in Italy. We left LAX on Tuesday, Sept. 27th at 8am and arrived the next day in Rome at 9:15am. (Fun Fact: Italy is 9 hours ahead of California.) It was a long couple of flights but the second I stepped foot into that Italian airport, the discomfort and exhaustion were gone. I had finally made it to a place I’d dreamt about for most of my life. I’d been planning for this trip and on my 30th birthday in February my dad surprised me with it.  Five of us set out on more than just a vacation. My dad, husband, sister and uncle were ready for an experience of a lifetime. And there was so much more waiting for us than pasta and gelato… I would soon meet my 6th cousin and 11 other distant relatives. To call this an adventure is an understatement and I’ll explain why in this 6 part post.

img_0325After landing in Rome, we rented a 9 passenger Mercedes van (Siciliy by Car) and drove a long 7 hours to Milan. The drive was rough as all of us were so tired but looking out the window and imagining all the wonderful things we were going to experience in the next two weeks kept us going. We arrived in Milan at about 5:30pm. Milan is a crazy city. Motor scooters and cars zipped past us honking.  So much of the city is covered in graffiti. There was a lot of construction and it took us a while to get to our hotel in our huge van.  But when we pulled up it was so exciting to finally be there. We stayed at a quaint boutique hotel situated on a surprising quiet street near the city center. It was yellow with dark brown shutters. Plants lined the second and third floor balconies. Hotel Gran Duca di York was the perfect hotel for us in Milan. (I booked all our hotels on Booking.com.) We had dinner at a locals spot called Trattoria Milanese that our hotel recommended. The tables were full of Italians talking, laughing and eating.  We were the only Americans in the place and the waiters didn’t speak English. Welcome to Italia! The food was amazing. Probably the best meal of the trip. I had spinach and ricotta stuff tortellini tossed in olive oil. It was so fresh. It was by far the best pasta I’d ever had. We all enjoyed our meal that night at this restaurant on a small hidden street around the corner from our cute hotel.  As we walked back I tried to take in every moment. I’d been waiting to be here in this moment for so long and I was with people I love so much. The streets were quiet and deserted. We walked slow and enjoyed each other’s company. We hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours and it showed. The rooms at the hotel were small. My husband, sister and I were in one room. My husband and I shared a twin bed which was less than comfortable but it didn’t matter because we were so tired and we were finally in Italy! I Facebook messaged my cousin before bed and we confirmed our meeting time and place for October 1st. I was almost too excited to sleep but then again I hadn’t slept in so long and I needed it. I went to bed that night feeling a little different than usual. My gratitude, happiness and anticipation were at an all time high.

The next day we walked the streets of Milan. This city was very alive in the morning. People commuting to work, parents walking their kids to school and locals rushing for coffee. We met a guide named Fabio right outside the Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the Last Supper which was an experience I can’t describe. Fabio was a peppy guy with a great personality.  He spoke good English and his sense of humor was even better! He guided us into the room where the last supper was painted. But before that he gave us a great history lesson on Leonardo da Vinci and his painting method. The building that houses the Last Supper was severely damaged in WWII by bombs but the wall that it was painted on was left standing. When we got inside it was silent. To see something so old and historic was amazing.  Watching my dad look up at this beautiful work of art, that his mother would have given so much to see, was something I will never forget. I could only imagine what he was thinking in those moments. I highly suggest going to see this if you ever make your way to Milan. After 15 minutes inside we exited the building and walked to the Duomo di Milano. It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in real life and the largest church in Italy. It was surreal standing in front of it. There is military with large guns surrounding the building and they check you out before going in. We got our tickets and walked into the most beautiful church. Stained glass, huge pillars, statues, pews and holy water. We walked the perimeter inside and then headed outside to get to the roof. We chose to take the stairs which was an experience all it’s own. There were hundreds of stairs in a very narrow winding stair case shaft which was barely wide enough for two people. When we got to the top it was breathtaking and unbelievable. The building of this Duomo started in 1386 and took six centuries to complete. Mark Twain visited in 1867 and wrote, “They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.” This statement seemed so true. This Duomo was magnificent!

We ate lunch at a little touristy spot, unfortunately, but we were so hungry it almost didn’t matter. We had pizza and caprese and I had my first Italian cappuccino.  We then walked back to the hotel and stopped for some strawberry and mango gelato. There were so many yummy treats! The gelato was pretty good but nothing compared to what we were going to have later in the trip. We checked out of the hotel after a mini photo shoot in the middle of the street. We were sad to go but we packed up and headed out to the next place on the map. Next stop… Varenna, Lake Como! (Our 2nd favorite place it Italy. I can’t wait to share our favorite.)

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Italian Adventure.

Have you experienced Milan? I’d love to hear about your favorite hotel, restaurant and memory.  Share below 🙂

 

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