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Lago di Como

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There is no time like the present. And to make use of the limited time I have here, I’ve made a commitment to myself to go exploring every weekend, at least one day. This Saturday it’s a trip to Varenna and Bellagio on Lake Como.

The temperature is brisk, but in exchange there are no hordes of tourists and that is something to be treasured. I get the 09:20 train to Tirano that takes about an hour to reach the little village of Varenna. It is a beautiful, pastel-coloured village on the side of Lake Como and when I arrive mid-morning, there is hardly a soul around except for a few Italian tourists and an annoying street vendor, who tries to sell you woollen hats when you’re already wearing one and then launches into a lament about needing food for the bambini. He’s on repeat and approaches everyone with the same refrain. Nobody is buying.

I meander through the village, observing the soft and warm colours of the buildings  – not how I feel! I’m grateful for my warm boots and wishing I had put on soft-shell pants instead of jeans. After a walk around and a warm coffee at one of the few open establishments, I decide to take a ferry across to Bellagio, where I suspect there will be more options for lunch. It takes a mere 15 minutes to putter across the lake to famous village of Bellagio. I can’t imagine what the tourist hordes must be like in summer and I’m glad I can experience it in quieter times, even if it must be spectacular in summer.

Bellagio is another pastel-coloured dream, with tall cypress trees and narrow staircases leading up from the waterfront to the piazza. I walk around scouting for a nice place for lunch and eventually settle on a cafe near the waterfront. The sun has finally come out and I take a punt that it will be warm enough soon to enjoy sitting outside. I order a Negroni for aperitivo to be followed by a lasagna. The Negroni arrives with various appetisers and so do the sparrows, intent on securing a few crumbs or more. A couple two tables to the left of me lose part of their sandwich to the intrepid birds. Their size belies their strength and one has to pay close attention to the food on the table to ensure it doesn’t go ‘fly about’.

I bask in the sun for a while, taking in the views and savouring the warmth of the sun. Eventually I move to take the ferry back to Varenna, from where I take the train back to Milano. As the sun gradually sets on Lake Como the colours change to steel-blue greys as the train winds its way along the lake. Approaching Lecco nature treats me to a magnificent alpenglow on the nearby mountains, a fitting finale to a very nice day out.

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Saldi

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Just a stone’s throw from my office is the famous Via della Spiga where you find all the renowned fashion houses. I took a stroll through there this afternoon after work on my way home, but carefully avoided stepping inside any of the shops. Even with the Saldi on (post-Christmas sales) the prices are still out of my reach. The most extravagant I’ve been this week is buying a cashmere sweater on sale from Benetton (it is magnificent), but Dolce & Gabbana would be a bridge too far (in more ways than one).

Instead, I got my thrills buying a kitchen knife and cutting board on my way home today. Yesterday the daily thrill involved finding burrata in the corner supermarket. Burrata is a type of super-gooey mozzarella cheese. The outer shell is solid mozzarella and once you cut through that you get to the soft texture on the inside. Burrata with crusty bread and glass of Valpolicella – heaven on a stick. Completely inappropriate for dinner of course, but who cares when it tastes this good?!

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A return to Italy

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Sometimes the gods give you wings.

After two years back in Australia, I’ve been given the chance to work offshore again, at least for the next six months. Yes, I have exchanged the Australian summer for a European winter, but who wouldn’t if your temporary office is in Milan, Italy?! It is a nostalgic trip for me as well, having studied for a year in Bologna many, many years ago.

I arrived on Saturday, a blue sky day with perfect views of the snowcapped mountains on our approach. My accommodation is in a stylish old building and my office is in the city centre at walking distance. The typical Italian atmosphere I remember from Bologna has not changed and is equally felt here. Even in the cold winter weather,  people are out and about, rugged up and tucked into their warm coats.

I walked around the city centre on Sunday, where all the Christmas stalls were still out on this last day of the festive season. Sunday was Epifania, commemorating the visit of the three Magi to Jesus. Here in Italy it is known as the Befana, a broomstick-riding old woman who brings gifts to children. Lots of tourists were out and about and I warmed up my camera fingers by taking a few photos around the Duomo.

Having been a terrible blogger in recent times, I will try to post a bit more often, reflecting on life here in Italy. Best intentions and all that!