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Sleeping in until 07:00 looked like an option as we went to bed last night, since Hotel Adler starts breakfast at 07:30. At about 06:20 however, the water pipes in the building started squealing as people began having showers. That combined with the dawn sunlight streaming straight in our east-facing window made further sleep difficult. But what a morning! Our balcony with the view certainly beat the window in Rome which looked out at someone's apartment across the street.
Morning view of Milan from hotel room
We went down to the ground floor where the breakfast room was located and had our breakfasts. Unlike Hotel Rimini, there was no buffet, but a basket on each table with a bread roll per person. The staff guy took drink orders and brought us a sweet croissant each. Michelle had white coffee and orange juice, and I just had the juice, since they didn't have any herbal teas. With no returning to the buffet for seconds, we finished quite quickly, though it has to be said the bread rolls were far superior to any at Hotel Rimini, with a chewy crust and soft doughy centre.
With this brief breakfast out of the way, the plan of action for the day began in earnest. We packed the essentials and walked to the nearby Lepanto Metro station, where we caught Linea 1 to Stazione Nord, where the Ferrovie Nord Milano trains (a different company to the state-run Ferrovie dello Stato) leave for Como. At the biglietteria a woman was arguing in English with the ticket-seller about not getting the right change, and continued to do so while I waited in the queue for three other people to get served, bought our own tickets, and left for the platform. A helpful Italian woman had approached quickly when the ruckus broke out to try to translate and help sort things out - seems to be the sort of thing people do here.
We were lucky in that a train was leaving for Como at 08:40, just 3 minutes after we had bought tickets, so we rushed to the platform and got on, finding seats easily in the upstairs section of the mostly empty train. It pulled out of Milan, heading north towards Como, the Alps, and Switzerland. We passed through the extended suburbs of Milan, then into countryside dotted with numerous small towns, looking quite nice with individual houses with yards amongst the ubiquitous apartment blocks.
View of farms on the train to Como
As the train headed north it climbed slowly in altitude and soon a change in the kinds of trees which were dominant became apparent, with large-leaf trees being replaced by more mountain-adapted species. At one point we moved into some flat farming country, and on the horizon was our first glimpse of the Alps - massive mountain peaks in the far distance covered by snow. Very impressive, even from such a distance. We could almost hear Fraulein Maria singing with the Von Trapp children.
After a few local stops we pulled into the picturesque lakeside town of Como. The town lies at the southern tip of Lago di Como, nestled in between moderate mountain peaks which rise at a slope of about 45° from the lake, leaving almost no flat space for building on, so a lot of the buildings step up the hillsides on switchbacked streets. Around the lake shores are many other tiny towns, forming an almost continuous arc of quaint villas and colourful houses along the entire visible shoreline. The mountains in the immediate vicinity were not tall enough to have snow on them, and they obscured any view of more distant, taller ones.
View across Lake Como, from Como
Having read in the Lonely Planet that the ferries which criss-cross the lake between the various towns are timed to connect with the trains, we hurried across the road and along the scenic waterfront to the ferry ticket office. After some confusion as to which ferry companies ran which services, sorted out by a helpful lady working to assist tourists at one of the ticket offices, we secured return tickets to Bellagio. The ticket seller waved at us to hurry to the ship right next door, which was boarding passengers. We raced over and were amongst the last on before it steamed out on to the lake at 10:00.
On board the ferry on Lake Como
The ship was indeed a steam ship, with a fire visible below decks and a huge crankshaft turning twin paddle-wheels mounted on the sides. The voyage was quite sedate, with the ship stopping at several of the towns along the way, all very picturesque in slightly different ways thanks to the ever-changing scenery as we moved north along the narrow lake. By around the time we passed the town of Argegno, the twists of the lake opened into a straight stretch, giving a long view across to distant Alps on the horizon, enormous peaks compared to the ones immediately by the lake, and all topped with large blankets of snow. The air was a little hazy unfortunately, but the view was still magnificent. In the middle distance, just behind some of the nearest peaks were medium-sized mountains, their tops poking above the tree line, and a few with traces of snow in shaded valleys.
First view of snow-covered Alps, from the ferry
A few stops later and we were at the so-called "pearl of the lake", Bellagio. The town sits on a spit of land which juts into the Y-junction of the lake's shape, and is also built up the side of a steep hill. It seemed very touristy, but it was easy to see why people liked to come here. The town itself is beautiful, and the surroundings could not be more perfect, with water on three sides, steep green hills around, and those splendid Alps in the background.
Steep street in Bellagio
We walked down the waterfront and, being hungry since the time was now after 12:00, we sat in a pizzeria and ordered penne all'arrabbiata for Michelle and pizza prosciutto for me. The penne was very spicy, similar to the one at the Colosseo in Rome, and the pizza was huge, falling off all sides of the large plate on which it was served, and also good. As we left the pizzeria, Michelle bought some coffee lollies she spotted at the counter, and I had a cup of strawberry and chocolate gelato.
Another steep street in Bellagio
We did the tourist thing and wandered up the steep stepped paths past numerous shops: Upmarket fashions, souvenir trinkets, and various ristorante and trattorie. Along the high street the next stairway down looked intriguing to Michelle so we took it back down to the waterfront. Michelle was feeling a bit unwell at this stage, but I wanted to explore a bit more so I went up the next stairway, around the back of the town and down again, meeting up with Michelle after seeing an interesting church and a very swish hotel with, of all things, a swimming pool and palm trees against the backdrop of the snowy Alps. I found Michelle and had to show her this extraordinary juxtaposition, so we went back to the hotel to have a look. We stopped at a terrace where we planned to sit for a few minutes just admiring the view across the lake while we waited for our return ferry, only to have a hotel employee come over and scold us with a barrage of Italian. Although the actual words were opaque, the drift was clear, so we left the hotel's terrace and want to wait closer to the wharf.
Swimming pool, palm trees, and snow-capped mountains
Michelle decided to use a toilet, so I waited by the street, noticing about 50 motorcycles go past in the space of a few minutes. We concluded there must have been some sort of motorcycle club doing a tour of the area. Michelle was feverish by this time, and craving chocolate, so we bought some Bacetti at a cafe, and I pointed at what looked like an interesting cake slice in the display, discovering outside that it was a vanilla sponge soaked in what tasted like champagne, with a sugary cream layer, coated in chocolate. Quite nice.
We had a bit of a wait for our ferry, and it started sprinkling with rain as we sat. We rushed to the covered ferry wharf and waited the last 10 minutes or so there amongst the crowd of people. The weather up to now had been hazy and partly cloudy with a sort of high-level haze, not really indicative of rain, and with the sun shining through fairly strongly. As we boarded the ship - a diesel this time - and took seats upstairs there were a few more spatters of rain and then it stopped.
Leaving Bellagio, from the ferry
The trip back was spent mostly inside, since Michelle was feeling chilly with her fever and wanted to nap. This ship stopped at fewer places along the lake, but ended up being late back by about 20 minutes, at around 18:00. We walked quickly to the railway station and boarded the train for Milan which was waiting there. We expected it to leave at 18:14 according to the timetable, but it left more than 5 minutes early, so it may have been the previous train waiting for the ferry to arrive.
The trip back to Milan was spent writing postcards for people back home. From Stazione Nord in Milan we rode the Metro back to our hotel and relieved ourselves of all the things we'd been carrying all day. Michelle had a bit of a rest and then started feeling better. For dinner we decided a simple meal from McDonalds, just around the block, was a good idea. I went out for take-away. Ordering was interesting: I knew how to ask for what I wanted, but not how to specify take-away. I mimed the action of bagging and taking away the food and used the American term "to go" since I guessed that was more likely to be understood. The man helping the girl who was serving me (as she seemed to be learning the ropes) said, "Ah, take-away!".
As we ate our decadent American meal in our hotel room, the sky clouded over darkly and rain began falling. Before long it had developed into a full-blown and quite intense thunderstorm, with huge flashes of lightning and wind blowing the outdoor venetian blinds so they rattled. We've been lucky that the only heavy rain we've seen so far has been from the comfort of a hotel room after another long day of sightseeing.
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