Gap Year Days 61 – 64
We were excited to get to the Lake Como region. There are so many beautiful photographs of the lake and surrounding area on the internet and this was one of the “must see” places on my list before we left home. As we searched for accomodation, we had to take boring things such as needing a washing machine into account, so we ended up in an AirBnB in the small town of Lierna.
Lierna is on the main train line from Milan, and it was an easy train ride to get to. We did have a small altercation with a rail employee as we were leaving Milan. Strangely enough the last two stations on the Metro line do not use the same ticket as the whole rest of the system. We only went four stops, to get to the end of the line to meet the train to Lierna. We could have instead gone miles in the other direction, changed trains three times and got to the main Milan station, got on the Lierna train there, and we would have had the right ticket! Anyway, the employee didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Italian. After some (what sounded like) harsh words and our vague looks, he gave up (I think) and waved us through. My research later told me we had underpaid by all of €0.60 for the two of us.
The temperature had become quite warm in the last few days so it was a sweaty walk to find our AirBnB. The only redeeming factor was that it was downhill from the train station! To our joy we discovered just over the road from where we were staying was a beach bar on Lake Como. But before we could enjoy the beach, we had to buy some supplies. It was about 1.5km from us into the tiny centre of town. Luckily our AirBnB supplied bikes for us to use during our stay, so we hopped on them and made our way into town. I hadn’t ridden a bike for years, so this in itself was an adventure.
Finding the supermarket was the first challenge. When we did find it, we realised why it was so hard to find – it was closed! There was a tiny store across the road that was open, and we were able to get at least enough from there to make a quick pasta for dinner. This was our first reminder that we were now in a small town, and shops are not open all day, every day, like we have become so accustomed to. We would have to time our shopping carefully to ensure we were here when the supermarket was open.
We put a load of washing on and walked over the road to enjoy the sun, the lake and eventually, watch the sun go down.
You are probably wondering why I keep mentioning the washing – well it was about to become a huge pain in the bum! We had been hanging out for this washing machine for about ten days now, things were getting desperate. On getting back to our apartment after the sun had gone down, we discover that while the machine appeared to fill as we left, it did not actually turn. We had a whole pile of soggy washing that was still dripping wet. This load included all our heavy clothes, such as jeans, that we would never hand wash because they take too long to dry if not properly spun out. We squeezed them out as best we could and decorated our balcony with them.
By the time they dried about 24 hours after we put them in the machine, they had started to get that smell clothes get when they have taken too long to dry! I hand washed some of the lighter things again, but the jeans would have to wait until the next stop! Luckily it was hot and we wouldn’t need them. This long term travel thing has so many ways that hours are sucked up. It really is a different beast altogether than a two week holiday!
After heading down to the supermarket during it’s opening hours the next morning, we decided to catch the train to the next town of Fiumelatte. This town is the home of the shortest river in Italy. It is about 250 metres long, and only runs for about six months of the year during the warmer seasons. It appears out of a cavity in the side of the mountains and flows straight down to Lake Como. The name literally means “river (Fiume) milk (latte)” and it is called this because it looks milky in colour. As we walked towards it, we heard it before we saw it. For such a small river it certainly makes a noise as it comes down the side of the hill. It was not as full as it can be when we were there, but I can imagine that after local rains it would really be roaring.
By the time we were ready to make our way back to our apartment, our choices were to wait almost an hour for the next train, or to walk the five kilometres back. We decided to walk, thinking it would be lovely walking along the lake’s edge. Except there is no path along the lake’s edge! We had to walk along the road between the two towns. The very same road that twists and turns and ducks through tunnels. It also appears to be the favourite practice stretch for anyone who is hoping to be a F1 driver in the future! There is very little shoulder on the road either, since it is between mountains on one side and the lake on the other. We were taking our life in our hands, but the lake views along the way were worth it!
It was again quite warm, and the walk was mostly out in the sun, so when we came across an even more beach-like part of the lakefront I pulled my shoes off and waded into the water – to very quickly wade out again! The temperature might have been 30 degrees outside, but it was about 10 degrees in that water. It was freezing. No one else seemed to notice though, as there were quite a few people happily swimming around in the water. My next thought was to walk along the shore, but only a few steps later I was pulling on my shoes again. The pebbles on the beach here soon got the better of my spoilt Aussie feet.
On arriving home we again made our way down to the beach near us. They didn’t even pretend to have sand here, there were just steps down into the lake. We pulled up a lounger each under the umbrellas, ordered a Spritz and relaxed in the shade. Simon hadn’t put his toes in the lake earlier, and when he got too hot decided to take a dip. He jumped right in, and within 30 seconds was back at our seats, claiming his toes were now numb. I laughed and may have said something like “told you so!”. His defence was that there were piles of kids happily swimming, so he figured it couldn’t be too bad. Kids never feel the cold, and these were all European kids, so even more acclimatised! That lake is surely fed from water straight from a glacier somewhere.
The next day we had planned a full day! We caught the train to the picturesque town of Varenna. This is one of those beautiful multi-coloured towns that are often featured when reading about Lake Como. We had a short look around before getting on a ferry to Bellagio. As a tip for this area, ferry tickets can be bought as a day ticket offering unlimited rides back and forth across the lake in this area. Therefore it is much more economical to do everything in one day rather than trips across the lake on different days.
Bellagio is world-renowned as a tourist location. It has five star hotels and is often linked to Hollywood actors and royalty. It is filled with international shops, and a plethora of restaurants and cafes. The beautiful little town is instagram-worthy and endlessly entertaining if you enjoy people watching. We took a walk around and ended up in an area clearly not meant for tourists. It was also a dead end, so we traipsed back the way we had came. We had hoped to cross the peninsula without walking back to the main part of town, but clearly that is the only way to do it.
We enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch, and made our way back to the ferry to discover we had just missed one. It was an hour to wait for the next one. There’s no better way in Italy to waste an hour than sit at an outside table with an espresso, and possibly a gelato, and watch the world go by. We seem to spend a lot of time in Italy this way.
When we arrived across the other side of Lake Como at Cadenabbia we made our to Villa Carlotta. This seventeenth century house was at one point owed by Princess Marianne of Nassau who gave it to her daughter Carlotta as a gift when she married Georg II. This was when it was named Villa Carlotta. Georg is the one who was right into gardening, so the magnificent gardens are mostly thanks to him. They are particularly renowned for the camellia’s and rhododendrons. These were not flowering on our visit, but the gardens where still my favourite part.
The house was typical of many other villa’s, palaces and museums of the time. It is filled with interesting and beautiful artworks, furniture and other bits and pieces the family owned. In this case there were also lots of musical instruments, because the family was friends with many well-known musicians.
Entry to Villa Carlotta and the gardens was €10 each. If you are looking for more information, please go to their website here.
As we made our way back to Cadenabbia along the lakefront some of the local wild life caught our eye. There were some unusual ducklings that spent most of their time diving down into the water. In the water itself were fish big enough to eat the ducklings if they had tried, but when we left all ducklings were accounted for and mum was leading them off into the distance.
We were hoping to walk around Cadenabbia for a while, perhaps get a drink at one of the many grand hotels along the waterfront, but the weather decided otherwise. The heaven’s opened, and we scurried to the shelter of the ferry first back to Bellagio then to Varenna instead.
The rain was actually really refreshing after the warm and humid day, so while we got pretty wet getting to the train, we didn’t mind. Only 7km down the track in Lierna, it had not rained a drop, and we soon dried out as we walked home under hot and steamy skies.
One of the things that happens to us with long term travel is that soon we were forgetting what day of the week it was and what the date is. With no work week schedule, these soon go out the window. As we returned, I had heard an announcement at the train station about a train strike. I have shrugged it off thinking we were not travelling that day so it wouldn’t affect us.
We woke the next morning to my Dad’s birthday. To speak with him we needed to call around 10:30am our time to catch him in the evening in Australia. By the time we had our chat it had dawned on me – the train strike was the next day! Right as we were trying to get half way across the country to Padua. The rest of the day ended up being almost a write-off, with me researching what our options were and how we were going to figure this out. Oh the joys!
I loved the Lake Como area, and I am positive I will be back! Next time I will stay in one of the luxury hotels, dine where George Clooney does and shop until I drop! Or at least I’d like to! I might just have to settle for a midrange place in Varenna or Bellagio.
All the little towns along the lakefront have good train connections. It is necessary to be a little more organised as they run less often that other parts of the country. Trains from Lierna to Varenna for example only run once an hour. Trains into Milan and further north tend to stop only at selected stations, so it is important to check which ones stop where you want to go.
Ferries across the lake, and even to further afield towns on the lake such as Como, seemed to be regular enough and plenty of different options were available. There were easy to read timetables available from almost everywhere on the lake that provided tourist information.
Wifi was available wherever we ate while out, but we had no need for it so didn’t search any further. It was not available at either the Lierna or Varenna train stations.
Casa Lunika AirBnB
$104AUD/night for one bedroom apartment.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.