Lake Como. Mark’s parents were gracious enough to invite Mark and I to join them in Lake Como for a few days. Which is another way to say that they were spoiling us. The hotel had many stars and a stellar location; to the right, for example, is the view from our room's balcony, with the dome of the cathedral, or Como's Duomo, just visible down the lake. As the Red Sox specialize in winning and pirates specialize in swarrrrrthiness, Lake Como specializes in breathtaking views.
At times we comprised a party of nine, with Mark’s sister, our friends Chris and Glee, and Mark’s godmother Terry and her friend Jane rounding out the group. While not the Greatest Show on Earth, we may have been nominated for Oscars in the following categories: Best Comedic Ensemble (Group); Best Actor in a Role Limited to Nighttime Activities (Mark works late); Best Soundtrack (ya gotta love familiar voices from home, especially when they ring with Boston-area accents); and Best Actress Duo Impersonating Laverne and Shirley (Terry and Jane’s starring roles, as themselves).
The town of Como seemed to be in post-summer slowdown, which was fine with me as I am developing a fondness for off-season travel. We strolled the streets of the old town in the rain. We had a great lunch and admired the duomo. The green copper roofed rises impressively above the town as the latter crowds towards the water, making it seem that all the buildings want to take a dip in the lake. But nobody brought their suit.
On a long Saturday morning run with and without Michelle (she is also training for a marathon, her 17th, and ran farther than I did), I had to remind myself frequently to watch my step out of concern for the effect the unfolding views might have on my pedal locomatory coordination. We ran through a botanical garden, around many rotaries, past 17th-century palaces and cigarette boats - speedboats also know apparently as “go fast boats.” [There was a race later the day we left and I honestly thought about changing my ticket.]
Throughout our entire stay, we ate like royalty. If you’re ever in Brunate, a short funicular ride straight up from Como, and are eating in a restaurant that seems impossibly perched on the edge of a precipitous drop, enjoying the view and telling yourself to forget the effects of gravity on unsupported patios, be sure to try the wild boar and venison prosciutto. They’re excellent.
If you’re ever in Bellagio, a short or long ferry ride from Como (depending if you take the direct Discovery Channel-worthy hydrofoil boat or not), and have built up a sufficient appetite from strolling hillside shops and craning your neck looking for George Clooney’s lakeside villa, I recommend trying the wild mushroom fettucine. That is, if you can manage to chew with so much jaw-dropping beauty around you.
Riding the ferry up the lake, I could see easily why Mr. Clooney and others across the centuries have chosen to live there. The steep verdant hills caught shreds of fog and clouds and held them quiet in narrow river-run valleys. The towns that rest along the shore at intervals looked colorful and calm from the boat. On the distant horizon to the north wait mountains of varying heights that even in early October were beginning to wear white topcoats of snow. The narrow deep blue lake itself feels like the sinuous coast of Maine turned inside out.
Ferries, hills, funiculars, snow-capped peaks, wild boar, lakeside running paths, a short hop skip from Switzerland (you don’t even need the jump it’s so close), clean air and water. I was smitten. I took a lot of pictures.
Obviously, Lake Como is a world-class vacation destination raved about in all guidebooks on Italy and periodicals like the New York Times in their semi-official weekly travel articles on bel paese. Still, I was exuberantly surprised. Next time George calls, I won’t pretend to be busy grooming my llama.
And I’ll tell him I have just the cast of characters for Ocean’s Fourteen.