Camogli

As we head out of town, the skies (which previously had so diligently guarded the condensation therein) finally relented to the swelling pressure, and the rain began it’s descent. Coming in waves as we drive the convoluted streets into the town of Camogli (that’s pronounced ca-MO-yee, with maybe the faintest hint of and ‘L’ between the “MO” and the “yee”), the rain finally lets up and becomes a drizzle as I execute the finest parallel parking job in history, coming within inches of the rough stone wall on the narrow winding road down into town. This is, of course, after driving down into the town once, not finding parking (or even being sure that we were in the right place), driving out of the town, looking at the crude map of Camogli given by the hotel, firing up the GPS, inputting an intersection as the destination, and following the GPS back to where we were.

Of course, this finely executed parking job was a bit too far from town. Sooooo, we get back in the car, drive to some free parking lots and find our first SUV-like vehicle mostly parked in it’s space, but not enough to allow us to park in the only remaining space in the two free lots. I’m not ready to give in to the pay-lot yet, so we start heading back to our original spot on the hill and find one a bit closer. After deftly parking yet again, we head into the soggy (but currently drying) town.

We start into the quaint, quiet town down a tall and narrow street. Not much happening here other than the occasional puddle. We decide to take a long steep staircase down toward the sea. As we enter the sea-front road and begin to pass some shops, nature decides to oblige our unconscious desire for more water and the clouds begin to relieve themselves. On us. A lot.

The beginning of Noah’s flood is too much for us to bear any longer (especially with no umbrella), and we duck under the closest shop awning. Hey look! It’s a gelateria! I resist, but Nancy gives in. We sit on a bench outside the gelateria, Nancy licking away at her single scoop on a cone, for several minutes. Through the deluge, we watch as people walk by covered by blankets, towels and (occasionally) an umbrella. Apparently we’re not the only ones unprepared.

Deciding that we can’t sit there and eat gelato all day in the rain, much as we may like to, we make a dash in the rain to the next awning. Hey look! It’s a bar! Nancy resists, but I give in. Well, on second thought Nancy has a beer too. We get our drinks and some prosciutto and a basket of semi-edible bread. The proprietor turns on some music on a DJ rig and Santana begins to fill the air in a hip-hop remix. Not bad… but the bread leaves us wanting. Finishing out drinks, we press on into what is now a drizzle.

Without the pressure of trying to stay dry, we hit a few shops (read: Nancy hits a few shops as I tag along). Knick-knack here, scarf there we go through pretty much everything the seaside has to offer. Looking at the time, we start thinking about dinner. A strange closet of a restaurant catches our eye, mostly because it’s lit up with red and dim lights internally, but it’s closed and to prove that there is no one to take our reservation, we knock on the door and get no reply.

Deciding to take one of the shop keeper’s bits of advice, we plan to go to one of the restaurants on the seafront at either end of the street. We’re looking for a bit of seafood. None of the places is open yet, so we decide to explore the next tier of Camogli. We stumble across a wine bar across from a bar that is oozing smooth bass onto the street. With nothing to stop us between now and dinner, we elect to step in for a drink. The bassist/owner informs us that he’s not open yet, but there will be live jazz and drinking later that evening. We decide to try our luck with the wine bar instead.

Success! As we sit down at one of the tables halfway into La Cantina Della Bossa, the Julio Iglesias look-alike owner gives us the wine menu. The place is nicely decorated, perfectly lit and some Ibiza-like chill music is playing in the air. We fit. Taking a look at the menu, we decide on some local wines that don’t disappoint. Well…. does this smell corked to you? Nancy’s not sure, but I’m usually pretty good at picking up the TCA in a wine. I take the wine up to Julio and say, “E posso il vino e cappo.” A dubious look. Which wine was it? Eh… I don’t know I wasn’t paying attention that closely, but I’ve got a 50/50 chance. It’s this one. He pours a glass. Sniffs. “No! E fantastico!” I’ve guessed wrong. The entire time, he does not smell the glass that I’ve brought to him, but he pours me a new glass of il vino fantastico and pushes it across the bar dismissively. We’ve lost our Julio card.

A new face (possibly Julio’s son) brings out some snacks for our wines. A tuna puree, olive tapenade, toasts. Then, fried mozzarella stuffed ravioli, fried zucchini blossom, meat stuffed fried olives, fried something else and something else fried. We order another round of drinks and inquire if they do dinner. They do and they start serving in 30 minutes. Great! We drink and wait and talk about the day as the 30 minutes passes into oblivion.

Enrique comes back to take our dinner order and does his best to explain what some of the handwritten menu is. We order a type of pasta called trofie with pesto (a specialty of the area) and gnocchi dish with polpi (which we learned was octopus). Both are excellent and the pesto is the greenest and smoothest that we’ve ever seen. A little red haired nonna (and I mean red hair) sits down next to us and orders her usual: two deep fried ravioli with mozzarella (these are much bigger than the snack version) and a glass of red wine. Her english is very good and she recommends that we not own a house and that we travel a lot. She finishes the night with a grappa and wishes us well. We do the same and order a plate of her ravioli.

Finished with dinner, we head across the way to the bar with the bassist. We order a couple of pints (well… half a litre each) and pick a table close to were the action will be. As we listen to the trio crank out standards on their sax, guitar and bass, we pick up a Scrabble set and begin to play as we drink. We do our best to play in Italian, but despite the excess of certain letters for the language, I am unable to get the right combo for words that I know. Nancy eeks out “duomo” across the board with a smile, and I continue to pull unfavorable letters and drink.

Eventually we head back to the hotel and I use the bidet the only way I know how: to do laundry. Our 6 days of socks and underwear fully washed and rinsed, I hang them to dry on multiple surfaces to dry. Exhausted from the labor (and possibly overeating and drinking) I join Nancy in bed and crash.

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Il Giorno di Como

Today we arise around 7/8am. For some reason, the bell tower at the abbey likes to ring their bells at 6am and again at 7-something. As though sensing that this was not enough of an alarm clock, the town garbage collector steps in with his truck and lack of respect for silence.

We get up and shower in the 6 square feet of space that passes for our shower and tub, then head to breakfast. If we had read our itinerary more closely, we would have realized that breakfast was included with our stay. Yummy cereals and yogurt soothe the tummy after a long flight and full day of adjusting to the time difference.

Next, we’re off ot the car to head to Bellagio on Lake Como. The GPS really seems to like the the neighborhood next to us, as it keeps detouring us through it.

After two toll booths and three autostrade, we arrive at Como Sud and start the serpentine journey to the center of the lake. Fun and stressful is how I’d describe it. I don’t think that I blinked more than 10 times in the 45 minutes that it took to drive to the end. Narrowing lanes (down to one lane at times), oncoming traffic, stopped cars (in the middle of the road (down to one lane at times)), and pedestrians, cyclists and nonnas with shopping carts (sometimes all three) keep me on my toes along the winding, blind-turn road guiding us to Bellagio. From a performance and handling perspective, I wish that we were in a sports car, but given the conditions, I’m appreciative of the smallness of the Ford Focus.

Bellagio is nice. Touristy, but nice. Nancy manages to make her first clothing purchase: a scarf at an “outlet” store near the top of the hill of shops. I have a feeling that the word “outlet” does not naturally exist in the Italian language, and as a result get the feeling that this could be a tourist trap. However, the prices are decent, the quality of the garments good, and the chain-smoking shopkeeper is a friendly lady who doesn’t speak very much English, but understands it enough to help us learn a few more words in Italian.

After that, we realize that the ferry boat to villa Balbianello that we’ve purchased tickets for is leaving in 15 minutes… and we’re hungry. As we descend the 60 foot mound of shops, we spot a small bar/panini shop and duck in. We manage to get a sandwich (and even manage to get it heated up, since we’re not paying attention to what the person is doing) and take it to go. We quickly scarf down the panino in the 5 minutes that we have left while we’re waiting at the dock, then hop on board the ferry. After 4 stops along the way and a water taxi, which apparently is the only way the villa is accessible (hidden cost), it’s all worth it. The villa and it’s grounds are beautiful. There’ll be pics later on.

Nancy managed to grab a gelato on the way to the villa in the quiet and peacefull town of Lenno. On the way back to the dock for the ferry (which we see docked at the pier) she decides to get another gelato, while I continue on to hold the boat for her. Deciding that buying a gelato isn’t the best use of her/our time at this point, she catches up with me in time to see the boat leave. We must wait 10 minutes for the next one. Deciding that buying a gelato is an appropriate use of her/our time at this point, we head back to the gelato stand and she gets a double scoop. Porco! :)

After getting back to Bellagio, we hop in the car and head back toward Como, looking for an Osteria along the way. No luck. We get into Como Nord, still looking. Still no luck. As Nancy mentions that the city reminds her of Oakland, I realize the futility of trying to find a decent place to eat at random along the road in a city this size and start following the signs for the autostrade.

We get back into town (Orta San Giulio) and hit up a little restaurant that wasn’t open during the last two nights: Jazz Cafe. It’s easily the best deal in town. Combined indoor and outdoor seating, smooth jazz, good food and inexpensive wine make this a winner.

We hit up the local enotecca and after a 50% success rate on the wines there, we call it a night. Tomorrow… our castle awaits.

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