Former USA gymnast, Dave Durante, and performing artist, Sadie Wilhelmi, travel the world eating, living, and experiencing all it has to offer while living in Venice performing at the 2011 Biennale di Venezia. Follow them along as they take on new adventures!
Monday, September 26, 2011
Adventures on Lake Como
Our weekly schedule is nothing to complain about. Perform from Saturday to Tuesday, and the rest of the week off. Three consecutive days off each week, coupled with an easy to handle train system out here and Ryan Air flights charging for a whole flight what Delta charges in baggage fees, makes for some great travel opportunities.
This weekend we finally took advantage of the situation and headed to Lake Como and Milan for a few days. We booked a hostel about an hour north of the city of Como in a quiet town called Menaggio. Unless you are an eighty year old German couple, I doubt you’ve ever been to this quaint lake front village.
View from our balcony in Menaggio
The hostel itself had some great amenities. Friendly staff, great chef, access to bikes and kayaks, and a ridiculous view from the bedroom balcony. We took the kayaks out on the water one morning and explored the area around Menaggio and Bellagio. The lake itself is stunning. Surrounded by mountains on all sides. Magnificent villas scattered along the waterfront. We took the kayaks out early enough where it seemed like we had the whole lake to ourselves. Not another boat was anywhere near us. Between taking our own little boat around Ischia a few months back and another day private boating in Venice not that long ago, we’ve had some great adventures on the water so far.
The rest of the trip to Como will be known as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...
Round 2 at Panna e Cioccolato
The Good: Walking the main square in Menaggio could easily be confused with taking a tour at Universal Studios. It feels like a movie set with the lake being the star of the show. The piazza is filled with coffee shops, boutique clothing stores, and even has a little train car that takes tourists all around the town. While strolling around the square we stopped to get some gelato after lunch one day and this tiny nondescript shop changed our gelato world. After consuming an average of two gelatos a day out here, we’ve both become very well versed in what makes gelato good or great (there is no such thing as bad gelato in Italy). This place, Panna e Cioccolato, has no rival. All the gelato was made from fresh, all natural ingredients and in season fruits. The consistency was not as creamy or heavy as most gelato. It had more of an icy texture so when we finished we felt like we could have eaten another one...which is exactly what our little piglet selves did. About an hour after finishing, we headed back to the same spot for round two. We showed up with big smiles on our faces and the owner just kind of shook her head in a way that said, “I know my gelato is good, but you two are ridiculous!” Who can blame us though. We will most likely never go back to this town, so why not enjoy it while we had the chance. While we were leaving, we saw an article from Lonely Planet posted outside stating that it was the best gelato in Italy. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who recognized the quality of this small town gem.
**We actually went back a third time the next morning before we headed to the train station for round three but it was closed. Don’t judge us...you would have done the same thing.
The Bad: This could have been much worse than it turned out, but we fortunately made a quick decision that saved us from a real mess. For those of you who know Sadie well, you are aware of her tendency to get motion sickness at certain inopportune times. Well, one of those episodes presented itself on the bus ride back from Menaggio to Como.
The ride is about an hour long on a bus that is way to big for the tiny roads we were driving on. We got on the bus in great spirits. We felt revived from our days on the lake and were ready to head back to Venice. That high was shattered about two minutes into our ride. At the next bus stop, two guys got on both contributing unfathomable stenches to the bus’s interior. Guy one, set up shop in the seat in front of Sadie and situated himself so that his arm was hugging the seat next to him. This was not good. The intensity of BO that was emanating from his arm pit was at a level I’ve never been exposed to before. Imagine sitting in the middle of a rotten onion patch on a hot summer day and you get a taste of what we are talking about. Guy two was in front of guy one, and his stench of choice was a bag which I can only assume was a mixture of cough medicine, manure, and cheese. Just awful. I have a fairly strong stomach, but even I was getting a little queazy after a few minutes. Couple that with poor ventilation and a bus driver who was honking his incredibly annoying horn every six seconds and Sadie’s motion sickness was kicked into gear.
Sadie held out strong until the last possible minute. We made it about ten minutes from Como and Sadie had had enough. All her breathing techniques and attempts at sleeping had failed and she was on the verge making a mess on the bus. The bus driver pulled over in a tiny town and we hurried off as quickly as possible. She went off for a few minutes to compose herself and when she came back the sickness had passed. We had managed to escape the situation, but we were now stuck in a little town outside of Como. Fortunately, this situation remedied itself fairly quickly once we found a secondary, non smelly bus that took us to the train station without further incident.
The Ugly: Sadie and I had to sleep in separate rooms because the hostel we booked didn’t have any available mixed rooms. We were both upset about this arrangement, but I’m glad she was not around after what happened in my room night one. The room had eight beds, bunk style, all filled with travelers from across the globe. After having traveled all day, we headed to bed early that first night. The first few hours of sleep were without incident. Beautiful breezy night on Lake Como. At around 2:00am, the last roommate entered the room and this is where the night turned for the worse. He got to his bed in a drunken stupor and immediately woke me up as he settled in for the night. I’ve traveled to many a hostel over the past couple years, so I’ve seen my fair share of drunken travelers. This guy was another breed. He was ogre like. In fact, from this point forward he will be referred to as Ogre. Ogre was about 6’8”, weighing in close to 350 lbs. When he laid down in the bunk with his head up against the headboard, his feet hung a good foot and half over the end of the bed. His body was covered in what were probably huge freckles, but they looked more like scales. He also had bar piercings through both nipples that were comparable in size to the dumbbells I use for my daily workouts. The guy was enormous. When he finally managed to maneuver himself into bed he instantly began the trademark breathing rhythm of a person with severe sleep apnea. It goes something like this. 1) Struggle to inhale to the point that anyone who is around you thinks you are clearly choking and in need of immediate medical assistance. 2) Suddenly and dramatically catch your breath in a way reminiscent of someone winning a hard fought underwater breath holding competition. 3) Exhale loudly releasing all air, similar to that annoying exhale they teach you in a yoga class.
Imagine this going on in the bed five feet from your own. Now, imagine Ogre is the one with the apnea. Not a pretty sight. Even this was something I would have had no problem sleeping through. What made things even more interesting were his night terrors. In between his breathing, he began screaming a combination what sounded like Latin and an impressive case of tourettes. Ogre was frightening me with his unbelievable levels of profanity and impressing me with his Latin all at the same time. To make things even worse, he started sleep walking around the room while he was having these terrors!! I tried to pretend like I was sleeping, but I was too interested to see what he was going to do next. All of the other travelers in the room were awake at this point trying to figure out what to do. Nobody dared to approach Ogre, so we all just tried to ride it out. And ride it out we did. I watched the sunrise over Lake Como with Ogre serenading me with choking sounds and f bombs. Quite a night...
Duomo in Milan
On the way back to Venice we stopped for the day in Milan, which was having its fashion week. We only had a half day to explore, but we made the most of the time. Toured the Duomo. Did some shopping around town. Took in a fashion show. Walked the grounds of an ancient castle...
Roof of Duomo
We ended up walking close to ten miles, but we had a great time in Milan. The craziness of the city was a nice change from the serene days at Lake Como.
We’re back in Venice now and will be heading on our next adventure in a couple days. Next stop...ROMA!!!