Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lake Como, Italy

There are so many little villages around Lake Como and each has it's own personality and style. We spent 3 days there with Go Ahead Tours and it was long enough to realize that 3 days wasn't nearly long enough to explore this area. It was just an appetizer!
 I'm a water baby so I was thrilled that we had so many water views along our way. The little marina's were dotted with the wooden Italian boats I would come to adore. Church spires dominate the skyline and yet still can't compete with the Italian Alps behind them. 
 Chances are, while you are visiting, you are driving from one location to the other. While driving around try to catch the mini details that are on the side of the two lane roads around Lake Como. There are plenty of stairways that lead down to more homes or water access points that have beautiful carved posts like this one.
 Ok, so funny story. All the way around Lake Como there are views such as this one that you can see across the lake. From your vantage, even in a tall bus, the best you are going to see of the side you are on is usually rooftops and chimneys due to all of those trees that you see in this photo. Well, we are driving from the hotel to the town of Como and our guide announces that we are currently passing by the villa that George Clooney owns there. So everyone stands up and cranes over to see the home...or should I say, the chimneys of the home. It was down there...somewhere. We joined our fellow tourists that first time, saw that we couldn't really see anything and that, unless Mr. Clooney  himself dashed along the side of the bus, our chances of seeing him were slim to none, we sat down again. Over the next couple of days, driving here or there around the Lake, our guide would announce each time we were near Mr. Clooney's villa...and each time we would watch as people would stand up, not us, and crane over AGAIN to see..well, chimneys. Seriously, each and every time we passed. And, I'm STILL not sure which was his house! Too funny!
 But what we could see was seriously charming. The details are just amazing. I would have loved to have had the time to find out what each detail meant on the buildings we passed on our way to Como. 
This is the Duomo of Como. Beautiful indeed but it was the blue lapis that charmed me. I would have loved to have taken a ton of photos of this Duomo but, sadly, my battery died. Yup, I'm a cautionary tale. Old fashioned film cameras run on easy to find batteries. Digital cameras run on hard to find batteries. I looked all over Como for a battery and never found one. I ended up buying two box cameras to take photos of Como and our trip out to Bellagio. I learned, quickly, to charge my battery up every single night, something I'd never had to do at home, and, after this trip, to carry another charged battery with me. In fact, I now have 3 batteries that I carry with me and 3 different SD cards...just in case. When it comes to once in a lifetime trips you don't want to take any chances. It was a very hard lesson for me to learn. 

So, since I don't have a photo of Bellagio to show you I will share with you a story. We took a wonderful cruise across the lake to get to Bellagio. I was thrilled to see the villa where a James Bond movie had been filmed and Bellagio was beautiful. We walked up the steep stairs, shopped in the shops so we could bring home gifts from the "real" Bellagio, not the Las Vegas version, and then stopped at an outdoor cafe for a coffee and light snack. The simply gorgeous 20-something waiter tried his best to understand "iced coffee" and I tried my best to remember the Italian for "ice" (ghiaccio) because this was what my mom was hoping to have for her drink. I had ordered a cappuccino and some cookies for us to share and all she wanted was an iced coffee to go with them. Ice isn't a normal item in Italy. They consider it very bad for the digestion so everything is chilled in a refrigerator but not served over ice. So we did our best, all three of us, me, my mom and the waiter, to figure this little issue out when he suddenly brightens up and says "Oh Si, Si...ICE coffee!" and heads off to the kitchen to get our order. To our absolute delight he brought her back a tall hurricane glass filled with coffee, vanilla gelato topped with whipped cream and a rolled cookie! BEST iced coffee EVER! Best mix up in communication ever as well! 

This was when we decided that you must have to be gorgeous to be a waiter in Italy. Every single one we have encountered on our trips there has been simply stunning. This is also when we instituted the HIOTD (the Hot Italian Of The Day). Crass, to be sure, but fun! We would not make a big deal out of it but wouldn't pass up an opportunity to covertly share our HIOTD with each other each day. Naturally, many of them were our waiters! 

From here we traveled to the Italian Riviera so next week I'll introduce you to Santa Magherita Ligure. 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Villa Carlotta, Lake Como, Italy

Close to our hotel on Lake Como is the famous Villa Carlotta. Built in 1690 by the Clerici family, this beautiful old Villa is home to a beautiful botanical garden and features world class artwork inside it's many rooms. Unfortunately you are not allowed to photograph inside so today I'll share with you some of the views from outside this beautiful place. (click on the photos to see the larger version)
The Villa sits right on the edge of the lake with only a small two lane street separating it from the water. There are many grand homes in this area but none feature the grandeur of the front gates and garden area like Villa Carlotta does. 
 Statues dot the front of the fence line with many of them representing some fairy tale or other. I loved the wings on this one!
 The Italian Renaissance is very clear in some of the styles you find in the statuary around the perimeter and inside the gates of the Villa. 
 The romance of Villa Carlotta starts at the gates. I counted six statues at the entrance but was told there were even more if you follow the fence line.
Inside the gates you find this beautiful little entryway garden.
 I was fortunate enough to be able to hang out near this fountain in the early morning while waiting for my fellow travelers to make it up the staircase to the inside of the Villa. Patience is how I get so many photos without many, or any, people in them. The bonus is that I also get a few moments of total peace and solitude while waiting!
But the staircase was my highlight of Villa Carlotta. It's romance swept me away. 
 Each level of the staircase had a hidden feature. One of them had this little pond of turtles!
 They were actually quite friendly and came right up to me. Of course he was searching out food and hopeful that I had some, I didn't, but it was great anyway!
 One of the levels had more Calla Lillies. There were some at the bottom level as well but not as beautiful as these tucked back into what surely must have been a fountain at some point.
 About halfway up I stopped and looked back and was just enthralled! The gates plus the lamps and statues were just so beautiful it took my breath away!
 I continued up to the top and nearly stepped on this little guy! As I walked around the gardens, which, sadly we didn't have nearly enough time to tour, I kept coming upon more and more lizards!
 Looking back from the very top you get a beautiful view of Lake Como, the manicured greenery, the gates and fountain below. Beautiful!
 It was clear that the gardens were very manicured. Curving waves of different flowers wound their way around the building pathways. 
Spring is apparently the time of year to go. The Villa is known for it's azalea bushes and, as you can see here, there is a good reason why! They were in full bloom and simply gorgeous.
I'm a "flower person" so I really loved walking through the gardens. There are several "wooded" pathways as well but we chose to spend some time in the gift shop before leaving as well as taking a bit of time to walk along the waterfront. But I simply loved Villa Carlotta and would love to go back again someday.

Next week we'll head into the town of Como! In the meantime you can always follow me on Instagram and get new beautiful views every day! Just follow shutterbugtraveler there!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lake Como Italy

One of the reasons we love to go with Go Ahead Tours is that we are afforded more than enough time to wander off by ourselves wherever we are..and we are very prone to wandering off! After checking into our hotel we had about 3 hours before the group dinner. We could have taken a nap after being up over 22 hours flying to Italy and then taking the bus to Lake Como, and several of our fellow travelers did just that, but we decided we needed to turn our internal clocks around so we chose to explore our area instead.
 From the beach I spied a castle turret! I just knew we could find our way to that neighborhood and figured we had enough time to go explore. We are ever so happy we did!
 We wandered up and around the cobblestone streets and soaked up the beautiful views of the neighborhood. There were lots of these little winding streets. As tired as we were it was wonderful to be able to slowly make our way up the hill and see these beautiful and charming homes along our way.
 I think there are two types of traveler. One is the traveler who enjoys the beautiful sights, enjoys the relaxing pace, enjoys hanging out with their companions. The other is the traveler who is also fascinated by the country, culture, art and history of where they are traveling and this type of traveler soaks up every bit of information and revels in the realization that a simple cobblestone path, such as this one, has been walked on for centuries by thousands of people in all types of dress on their way to all sorts of activities and jobs in their daily lives. My imagination is always momentarily awestruck before it starts picturing what those people looked like and what they were doing! 
 Details. This is what sets Europe apart. The details like this aqua colored gate. The wrought iron lamps with their curlie-ques and animal faces, the flower boxes with red geraniums, colored doors and gates and more make up the picturesque beauty of Europe. I discovered this is Italy and have not found another country in which this is more true than Italy. (Keep in mind I've never been to France so I may well change my mind when I visit that country! LOL!)
 As we were walking up the hill to the castle we noticed several pathways down to the beach. This neighborhood seemed to be welcoming you back to Lake Como at every turn!
 At the top of the hill was the Castle! My very first castle in Europe! I was truly giddy with excitement. On a narrow street that didn't allow me enough room to capture the entire building I was limited to photos that caught pieces of the castle. I love this one the most because it gives you a taste of all the small details like the turret, the wrought iron gate, even the arched windows.
Ok, so I get a lot of weird looks when I photograph the signs in front of historical buildings. But here I am, several years later, and I can "remember" what this castle was all about. I can just enter the words into an online translator and find out, once again, that this was built in the 14th century and known as the Tower of Rezzonico for the royal family of Rezzonico and currently is home to the church of the Magi Kings which was restored in the 17th century. If you are a traveler like me you are currently swimming in the idea that this castle was built in the FOURTEENTH CENTURY!!! And the most recent real renovation to the church there was done in the SEVENTEENTH CENTURY!!! Makes my head and my imagination reel!
 To our delight there were beautiful garden paths surrounding the castle. To our disappointment we were there on a day when the gates were locked and all we could do was enjoy the vantage points from there.
 But what we were able to see looked lush and beautiful. 
 Finally we were able to take one of those paths back to the Lake. I love the medieval feel of this walkway with the stone arch and walls as well as the cobblestone pathway.
We were rewarded by this beautiful view of Lake Como. The Italian alps, the boats, the architecture, it all makes up for a wonderful, serene view. We were so tired that this was sheer bliss to just hang out at this viewpoint...till we realized we were about to miss dinner if we didn't hurry up and get back to the hotel because we had been wandering for almost 3 hours! 

Next week we'll head off to the town of Como, tour Villa Carlotta and then onto our lake tour to Bellagio! Until then you can always get beautiful photos every day on Instagram. Just follow shutterbugtraveler on there. This week we are in Hawaii!


Friday, October 4, 2013

Lake Como, Italy

I have traveled all over the United States. In fact, the only state I have yet to visit is Alaska. When I was a kid, driving all over the US was a way to have a great vacation for little money. Coming from blue collar stock this was a wonderful way to see the world. We were also THAT family. Biggest ball of yarn...yeah, we saw that...biggest iron skillet...yup, been there...you get the idea. So I'm one of those people who love to go off the beaten path and explore just to see what there is to see. But Europe was out of my reach. Another one of those things about me is that I'm a bit claustrophobic. Flying is hard for me. Totally worth it to get from point A to point B but, for years, the idea of spending 10-14 hours in an airplane just paralyzed me. So I've been happy to travel the USA and see what we have here, dilly dally along the edges of Canada and Mexico...basically see whatever I could see in a car or a short plane ride. 

Then my mom went to Greece. She got bit by the European bug called International Travel. The whole time she was there she kept wishing I was there and seeing what she was seeing. Knowing how much that would mean to me as a photographer, when she got back home she began to plan this trip to Italy and to take me along with her. Well, when someone says "Hey, wanna go to Italy?" you don't just say "No"...you swallow down your fears and GO FOR IT! This is when we found Go Ahead Tours and have happily traveled with them since.

My first taste of Italy was Lake Como. Yes, the land of George Clooney and his vacation home. Funny story about that one later. First some photos...(remember to click on the photo to see the larger version!)
To get to our hotel we actually started on the road above the lake and worked our way down to the main road that encircles the lake. We travel in very cushy motorcoaches so I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery! This was our first view. 

There were times when we got to a switch-back and were able to see the other end of the lake as well. Check out the huge stadium! This is downtown Como. You will see other photos of that town on another day but today this blog is all about arriving in the Lake Como district.

 When we arrived at this hotel I thought it looked a little bit like an Embassy Suites here in the US. But I was soon to learn that it was very, very different. This is a family owned business and it is designed to be more like you were staying at someone's home. The rooms are sparse with older furniture...not like 1960's but more like 1901. The sheets are starched white with frilly covers. There are no tv's, no telephones and no digital alarm clocks. Just a small room with two twin beds and a modest bath. This was also to be the place where we had some of the most amazing food in all of our tours of Italy. The Sage Gnocchi was incredible!
 The gardens of this hotel were charming. The first glance at the property reveals a modest Inn but once you begin to walk around it you see that every free space has flowers and suddenly you realize that it isn't just an Inn, it's a "Gardens" too!
 These primroses were growing along the gates.
 It was clear that someone in the family was a gardener since each plant was very well pruned and cared for.
 Our room had a gorgeous view of the Lake. We had been up for 22 hours and dinner was still a couple of hours away so we decided to go explore along the beach instead of taking a nap which may well have taken us through the night.
 I love this photo of my mom. The walk to the beach took all of 3 minutes. As much as I love the water I was SO happy to hear that it was just under the overpass from the hotel and they had a private path so we didn't need to cross the busy roadway to get there. As you can see, it was very overcast so, while beautiful, not the bright blue skies we had hoped for when we stepped off the plane in Milan.
 But the view. Oh yes, the view. Just so beautiful. When we got down to the "beach" (which was about 6 feet of rocky sand) this was our view to the left.
The view to the right is back towards the little village and makes for one of my favorite photos of Lake Como. It takes me right back there every time I see it. Simply beautiful!

Next week I'll take you along with us on our little walk around the neighborhood and to see their local castle!
Until then you can find me on Instagram. Just follow shutterbugtraveler there!