Meandering in Milan

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Last weekend I had a visit from an old schoolfriend who was keen on visiting Lake Como and Bellagio. We took a different approach from my excursion a week ago and jumped on a train from Milano Cadorna to Como first. Coming out of the station you go left on the waterfront to find the fast boat to take you to Como. Unfortunately I had erroneously aimed for the 11:10 boat, but we found out it only ran on Sundays, so we had to wait until 12:25, which gave us time to explore Como first. It’s a bustling little town with an impressive church, stalls in the market place and many shops and cafes. The latter were a blessing, as it was actually very cold and grey and suitably powered up by cappuccino and hot chocolate after our sightseeing walk, we took the ferry to Bellagio.

That was a great trip and I highly recommend this approach. The ferry takes about 40 minutes and stops at various villages, one more picturesque than the other, even in grey and overcast weather. We admired the precision throwing skills of the ferry staff who would manage to get the rope loop around the hook at each location without fail the first throw. In Bellagio we walked around for some views first and then found a cosy and warm restaurant to fuel our bodies up again against the cold. Sadly this Saturday the weather really wasn’t conducive to sitting in the sun sipping a Negroni. The boat trip back to Como went fast and this time we were in the front seats (inside!) with a great view of our entire journey.

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Sunday was spent sightseeing in Milano. We headed out first for some breakfast at a pastry shop in the centre (pistachio croissants, anyone?) and then headed to the Duomo to see if we could secure tickets. The queue for buying the tickets seemed to be at least 30 minutes and the queue for getting in looked even longer, so after a brief war council we decided not to proceed with the Duomo, but instead keep walking, and enjoy the sunshine outside. We walked to the Castello Sforzesco, an impressive castle in the city that features multiple museums. We ignored the museums and explored the park behind it instead, soaking up the sun.

That put us close to our lunch venue on the rooftop of the Triennale building. A bit upmarket, but with a great view over Milan from its terrace (both inside and outside). Beautiful food too and we indulged in a spinach salad with burrata and walnuts and a fine glass of wine. After that we had to walk off the burrata and walked over to the Navigli – the canals of Milan. I didn’t know there were canals here, but someone told me about them and I can confirm this is a great place to walk around, have lunch, coffee or an aperitivo. It’s a picturesque location and we whiled away a nice hour there before heading back to the apartment. And so ended another weekend.

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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?!