Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stresa, Italy

This is another train ticket we purchased online before leaving home when leaving on an 8:30 am train  sounded as good as an 8:30 pm train did for the return. Just as the weather reports predicted clear skies with fine temperatures, we anticipated our bodies would be in fine shape for extensive exercise in touring around like fanatics. Everyone got it wrong.

I had not packed a jacket for the trip. With limited luggage, I didn't want to carry something else, plus I didn't have a light jacket to begin with. Covered with a sweatshirt over a polo shirt, we left the hotel where they assured us the weather would be kind. The umbrellas stayed behind.

For this trip, we had to go to Milan's Garibaldi station to pick up the train for our 1 1/4 hour trip to Stresa (Narrow Passage). From the Stresa train station, one would hardly guess that the town sits on the second largest lake in Italy, Lake Maggiore. The lake is shared with Switzerland, but the majority is on the Italian side. The first recorded history of this town dates back to 998 AD. It was a short hike downhill from the station to the center of the town, where we would find the ferry boats to go island hopping.

It didn't take long to realize that a sweatshirt was not going to be enough, but jacket shopping in a tourist town is not a feat to take lightly. After asking in many stores, we finally landed on a store. They had a "sale" where I picked up a Patagonia brand jacket for 50 Euros reduced from 120 Euros. Now all I needed was an umbrella. I found one for 5 Euros, the best bargain around.

At the ferry dock's tourism office, we were informed that we would not be able to visit more than one island out of the eleven islands in the lake, during our one day stay. There was too much to do on each. One island is only a botanical garden. From Ron's research, we chose Isola Bella. In 1630 Carlo Borromeo III initiated the changes to the island, by hiring an architect to design a castle-type building where the palace is currently erected. The island was named after his wife, Isabella D’Adda, becomding known as Isola Isabella, which was later shortened to Isola Bella. Vitaliano Borromeo VI and cardinal Giberto III Borromeo, Carlo's sons really  transformed Isola Bella. They envisioned and planned the palace and gardens. Their vision was that Isola Bella should appear to be a ship sailing across the lake.

The ferry boat cost about 12 Euro each for the round trip ride. Once on the island, you are free to roam the shops and grounds, but to enter the palace complex and gardens, there is a hefty entrance fee. There are no concessions for seniors or with my Press Pass, so I reluctantly handed over 26 Euros. Hindsight being 20/20, this was the best 13 Euros I have spent for any admission. There are many palaces and castles that are really extravagant and most are over the top in their decor. Some of the rooms here fit that category as well, but most were still attractive. What really took our breath away was the grotto, for which no specific purpose was explained. Millions of pieces of coral and seashells were used to cover wall after wall in successive rooms.

The creme de la creme was the garden. This alone turned out to be worthy of the admission cost. It seemed to go on forever, each section providing another delightful sensory stimulant.

After leaving here, we returned on the ferry, but still had time to kill before the restaurant we had chosen would reopen at 6:30 pm. Shopping was the only thing left to do, but even that was not an enthusiastic adventure. I had already bought a jacket, which I could carry onto the plane, but what else could fit into our carry-on luggage that would keep us within the 10kg weight limit. We managed to find something. One store had some whimsical clocks, so we bought one for the Feri flat. More photos can be seen here.

As we were walking around pushing the clock to reach 6:30, the storm that had been threatening all day, finally arrived. The rain was torrential, but the wind was worse. It took all of 3 minutes for it  not only to blow my umbrella inside out, but to bend the shaft enough so that the umbrella would never again close. The umbrella would have been better off as a rental for a Euro an hour.

We dined in a local restaurant that opened their doors to us 12 minutes ahead of schedule due to the deluge of rain. By 6:20, we were seated with menus in hand. The food was good, but not memorable for longer than a few hours. I did try dessert, a local specialty called Lady of the Lake, a multilayered cake with a sweet coating over the top. Once I cut through the coating, it was a plain yellow cake with jam between layers; again nothing worth spending more typing energy on.

Running between the raindrops, we made it back to the station with three-quarters of an hour to spare before the train was due, getting us back by 10:00 pm.

Tomorrow is Bergamo and then to the airport.

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