Big Lake, Big City

2013-09-29 03.43.56(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Sunday, September 29.

We’ve woken up to intermittent rain – the most since our trip began. It’s also the coldest it’s been so far.

Some of the people on our tour decide to stay indoors today, while the rest of us soldier on as planned.

By the time we reach the town of Como – and our docked tour boat – the rain is steadily coming down. Luckily for us, the boat is covered. with a little overhang at the rear for us avid photographers.

Despite the inclement weather and low cloud cover, the views are still impressive. Our guide, Anna (a Brit who’s married an Italian), tries to point out some of the lakeside villas.

One villa, owned previously by a Russian aristocrat, is back in Russian hands after being purchased by a wannabe oligarch. Another hosted singer John Legend’s wedding to model Chrissy Teigen just a couple of weeks before. One lavender-coloured vacation home is occupied by an Italian singer who fancies herself to be a bit of a big deal.

2013-09-29 03.56.42The place of most interest to my newsie sensibility? The villa owned by Silvio Berlusconi – home of the infamous “bunga bunga” parties.

(It’s the white one in the upper left-hand side of the photo – nestled in the landscape, but not too out of sight to escape our cameras.)

Apparently, we’re told, it wasn’t all that easy for him to score a spot along the lake as one might think.

And waaaay off in the distance, past a tall red crane and nestled amongst the foliage, is George Clooney’s abode – or so says Anna. Too bad he isn’t home. I’m sure some of my tour-mates would be more than happy to drop by and say hi.

2013-09-29 04.34.50The rain finally lets up partway through our boat tour, and completely stops by the time we return to dry (or, more accurately, damp) land.

Anna then leads us around on a brief walking tour of “downtown” Como, highlighting the church, as well as a couple of main streets.

After being let loose, Mom and I walk around for a bit, then we head to the town square to rest our feet and eat our smuggled, handmade sandwiches from that morning’s breakfast buffet.

I decide a gelato would complete this meal nicely, so I tell my mom I’m going to get one from the shop just off the square. Mom warns me not to. Franco, just before we were let loose for free time, told us he’d have a treat for us when we re-assembled in a bit. She thinks it’s going to be gelato.

We’ve already had free gelato once this trip, so I brush off the suggestion and proceed undeterred.

I’m finishing my cone just as we’re walking back in the direction of the gelato shop to meet the others, and am caught red-handed by Franco, who asks me in a scolding tone why I’ve gone and bought gelato, since that is what the treat is.


So, I wasn’t listening. I sheepishly return to the gelateria for my second cone in 30 minutes.

2013-09-29 08.58.42We briefly return to the hotel, then it’s on to the lovely city of Milan.

We unfortunately won’t see Milan in its glory as a fashion capital, as we’ve just missed Milan Fashion Week by mere days. We’ll just have to make do with the other sights the city has to offer.

We’re outside Sforza Castle waiting for our local guide to arrive, when a guy selling scarves approaches me. I tell him I have no Euros (which is absolutely true – I’ve left my wallet on the bus), so he asks if my mother will buy one for me.

She retorts, “Who said I was her mom?” (He responds that we look alike – a discussion/debate I’ll save for another time, for those who actually know me.)

But he doesn’t slink away.

He continues chatting us up, telling us he’s from Gambia, is attending school here in Italy and trying to earn money for tuition, rent, and so on, and not having much luck with going the usual route of applying for jobs, despite knowing four languages.

Do I believe him? I believe there’s truth in what he’s telling me. Which parts are false or embellished, I can’t say for sure.

He wishes us a good trip, and tries his luck with other members from our group.

2013-09-29 09.04.43Eventually our local guide, Marika, arrives and takes us through Sforza Castle (called Castello Sforzesco in Italian).

We start in the castle’s museum, which houses various relics, including pieces of mosaic tiling and old sculpted mouldings.

Using us as interactive “pieces”, she explains the story of the castle (later a citadel) under Italian and Spanish rule.

2013-09-29 10.20.47We move on, looking at huge tapestries, and craning our necks to gaze at old ceiling frescoes which (I believe) were once painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

We also get a close look at Michelangelo’s “unfinished Pieta”, standing alone in its own section for display.

Marika tells us this was Michelangelo’s last sculpture, which he stopped working on six days before his death.

The definition is interesting. It’s so very well-defined on the bottom half of the sculpture …

And so roughly carved on its upper half.

It’s almost as if it’s a representation of the artist’s genius literally fading away, as his life did.

Next, it’s off to visit the world-renowned La Scala opera house (actual name: Teatro alla Scala).

2013-09-29 10.44.45Sadly, we’re not allowed to take pictures of the actual concert hall. But please believe me when I say it’s absolutely something else.

Wouldn’t it be something to experience a concert there, in a box seat, just once?

Marika takes us through the theatre’s museum, giving us tidbits about La Scala’s most beloved resident musicians and singers – including Maria Callas, who died the year I was born. (Just imagine if she didn’t fall in love with Aristotle Onassis.)

Our guide walks us over to the city centre, through probably the fanciest (and probably most unaffordable) galleria mall I’ve ever seen, and into the square situated right next to the monstrously massive Duomo.

2013-09-29 11.20.04It’s the largest cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Italy (if I understand correctly), and only one of the biggest (and oldest) churches in Europe.

If the Duomo’s exterior wasn’t intimidating enough, the interior is downright overwhelming.

High vaulted ceilings that seem to go up forever, frescoes and sculpted mouldings too numerous to count … and all this while a mass is underway. (I could have taken pictures, but I didn’t want to spend 2 Euros. Sorry.)

After developing temporary cricks in our necks from looking upwards and gawking (okay, so maybe I’m the one gawking), Mom and I go outside for some (relatively) fresh air before joining our group for the return trip back to the hotel.

Next: the Tuscan region, and the one place I’ve been looking forward to most of all … Florence.