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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Homeward Bound

On our last morning in Menaggio we tidied up the apartment, packed and had a nice conversation with Tony. Our pre-arranged taxi showed up - almost on time and we headed toward Milan. We had booked a hotel near the airport (http://www.osteriadellapista.com), but in a small little town. The hotel staff were terrific. Before we had even completed our check-in they had recommended a list of things we could do to entertain ourselves in the afternoon.

We first had lunch in the excellent hotel restaurant.


Our room was nicely decorated and comfortable. It had an interesting view from the cosy balcony.



We then walked 10 minutes to the train station where we boarded a train to head to a village on Lake Maggiore.  The trip only took 30 minutes and when we arrived we found a touristy, but still charming town with great views of the lake and surrounding hills. We strolled around, had an Aperol Spritz, checked out some stores and then headed back to the train.

Our dinner that night at the hotel was again excellent.

The next morning we took a free shuttle to the Milan airport and headed home. There are lots of Duty Free stores at the airport. Once again we found that Duty Free Italian wines at the airport were being sold for a lot more than the Ontario LCBO!

Our Air Canada flight was remarkably enjoyable, especially the service one veteran flight attendant, whose hair Monica greatly admired.



Last Day on Lake Como - Lenno

On our last full day boarded a Ferry and took a circuitous route to the town of Lenno. At Monica's urging we hiked a few kilometres up hill to see an ancient stately estate. The organized tour was scheduled too late for us and the rooms were not open to view unless you took the tour. We wandered the garden for a while and then headed back to the town for lunch.




In Lenno we found an excellent seafood restaurant, the Trattoria Santo Stefano,  (http://www.santostefanolenno.it/en/) and had one of the best meals of our time in Italy. We shared octopus, fresh fish and other delights. And of course a great bottle of wine.

We headed back to Menaggio on the amusement park train and it was faster and cheaper than the Ferry!



Ristorante il Caminetto di Perledo Lecco

On our last Friday we booked an all day cooking course with Chef Moreno at the Ristorante il Caminetto (http://www.ilcaminettoonline.com/lezioni_e.html) which is about a 15 minute drive from Varenne. We grabbed a 9:10 morning ferry from Menaggio and arrived about 9:30. We wandered around the town until our 10AM pick up by Chef Moreno. While we were waiting there were no cafes open for coffee. Just before our pickup we encountered a group of Americans having fun sharing "show tunes". Of course our hunch was right and they were fellow students for our cooking class.

Chef Merano picked 13 of us up, some in his large white van and a few others in a local taxi he arranged. We then headed up winding roads - and then came to a full stop. At some points the road narrows and cars honk to warn oncoming traffic to wait. At one of these points we encountered a large truck broken down and almost pinned to the stone wall. No cars could pass in either direction. There was a lot of commotion, loud words exchanged - which we mercifully didn't understand. Chef Merano took charge and called the local towing company. When they first arrived they were positioned in the wrong direction and more commotion occurred while he backed carefully back down the road to turn around and then back up to reach the stranded truck. Finally the truck was removed and we headed up the road to the restaurant, only about 20 minutes late.



The class began around 11 AM and lasted until about 4pm. Thirteen students sat around a L-shaped table. We were all served coffee of our choice and cookies as soon as we sat down, along with still and sparking water. The Chef was charming and spoke English well. He started with a description of how our day would unfold and repeatedly emphasized the importance of hygiene. He frequently cleaned his worktop, utensils etc.










He started with the preparation of the pasta - using a kilo of flour and 8 eggs he formed what looked like the dike of an ancient castle and used his hands to knead it into a nice round ball, which was set aside to rest.  He then showed us how to chop vegetables which would be used as a base to rest the veal loin on during cooking and later to make a lovely gravy. Following the veggie prep he demonstrated how to cut the veal loin, removing the bones and saving parts and pieces for the gravy. He then wrapped the loin in both Parma ham as well as layering it with a paste made from lard, garlic and other tasty ingredients. A three way tie of string and the loin was laid to rest on the veggies and sent to roast away.

We now got to have some cheese and meat and a brief rest. White and red wine was endlessly available.

The pasta filling was next and like all the previous ingredients was filled with tasty fats - this time 35% cream, ricotta cheese and many handfuls of Parmesan cheese!  Herbs included nutmeg, lemon verbena,oregano and basil. We each got to taste the filling and it was wonderful! Then Chef demonstrated how to roll out the pasta and we all got to build our skills shaping the  pasta and filling into perfect Tortolloni. I was very excited to learn the trick of how to twist the pasta into its final shape. We also learned how to make a rich Porcini sauce.

And then we got to eat. First the pasta which was wonderful. Very tasty and decadent. Next came the veal thinly sliced and tenderly covered in gravy. Also scrumptious and flavourful.  For desert we enjoyed a splash of Lemoncello.

The overall experience was enhanced by fun classmates and the constant banter and wit of Chef Merano. We recommend this experience. Be sure to also buy his apron.

We were so full that when we returned to our apartment we just had a few leftovers and wine for our dinner.



Day 16-23 Lake Como - Balaggio, Tremezzo

After settling down for a few days in Menaggio we decided to venture out on  a few short day trips. After a leisurely breakfast in our apartment we took the 2 minute stroll to the Ferry dock. The ferries run regularly everyday. There is a car ferry, a slow people ferry  and a fast catamaran. The printed schedules are almost impossible to decipher and translation is not the issue. There are arrows pointing up, down, sideways. The clerks in the ticket kiosks are mostly polite but usually provide somewhat inaccurate information.

We bought tickets for Bellagio and waited for the Ferry. Once it arrived we found seats and felt the wind in our hair for a pleasant 10 minute ride (Cost round trip for 2 about 18 euros).  Upon arrival we sought out to see if we could find George Clooney and Amal to see of they were free for lunch. Sadly we couldn't find them this trip. We wandered the streets and lane ways up and down steep hills looking at the various shops. Bellagio is basically a place to eat and shop for expensive items. Monica found some nice scarfs. We then found the wine bar that we had enjoyed our last trip. Apartivo Et Al (http://www.aperitivobellagio.com) is a small place with about 12 tables and 40 wines available to taste. We tried two local reds and two Brunellos along with some amazing pasta., called pizzoccheri.  This is the kind of pasta dish you eat before tilling the fields, buckwheat pasta with potato, cabbage and local cheese.  Later we went back to buy a wine to bring back to the apartment.


Tremazzo- The next morning, after breakfast, we headed out two minutes to find out how much a water taxi costs to go to Tremazzo. While we waited our turn we missed the one car  taxi that left just as we found out that a water taxi would be 70 Euros (compared to 17 for the car).  Luckily the amusement park train pulled in and we paid 10 Euros for the two of us to chug our way to Tremazzo.  When we arrived our memories of our first Lake Como experience quickly came to mind. There was our apartment over the Pharmacy and the walkway full of restaurants.  Of course the restaurant where we had planned to have lunch  (ate there several times last time and was served by a waitress who also served George) was closed on Tuesdays!  Disappointed we wandered a bit and then ventured into a wine store to look around. We recognized the shop and the owner recommended a few alternative dining options.


We settled on the well known, but expensive La Darsena (https://www.ladarsena.it/en/) which is situated right on the water. We sat with a view of the water and the lovely interior. They allowed us to select some items from the tasting menu - a la carte. We shared a Risotto accompanied by local Lake Perch and a duck breast which had a slight sweet grape sauce. For desert we shared their sampling of all their deserts. We then walked to the Villa Carlotta where we paid to visit their amazing gardens. We had done this on our last visit  and it was certainly worth a return visit. Afterward we boarded the toy train again and travelled back to our apartment in Menaggio.






Dinner at our apartment both these nights. First a veal cutlet and then the second night we had  very special "ball" made from veal, egg, cheese etc. Both were delicious and of course served with fresh salads.

Day 14 - Journey to Lake Como

The Split airport was crowded and busy with line ups everywhere. Once we navigated to the gate we found it had switched. The flight of course was late, but not too much and we were eventually boarded. We Saturday next to a woman from Australia whose Canadian husband Saturday in an opposite row. We had lots to chat about over the short flight to Lake Como.

We were excited to be heading to lake Como. This was our second visit to this peaceful and interesting lake destination. We had pre-ordered a taxi and he was on time and waiting for us after we arrived at the Milan airport. We had decided to taxi rather than rent a car because during our last visit we ended up leaving our rental car parked for 7 days because the Ferry boats were so efficient, comfortable and affordable. The drive to Menaggio was about 90 minutes along a very windy road.

When we reached our destination we were soon met by our lovely host Tony. He showed us our apartment and suggested a great local restaurant  - literally downstairs from us - where we got a "Tony discount".  Our one bedroom apartment was very spacious with a large bathroom and an open spaced kitchen, dining, living room area. The kitchen was well equipped and we prepared all our breakfasts and several dinners there. The BEST part of this apartment is the huge balcony. It had room for 2 lounge chairs as well as a dining table for 4-6 people. And it was overlooking Lake Como. The only traffic was the Ferry boats and the numerous hoards of birds. From the time the Sun rose until it set there was sunshine on the balcony. So even though it was a bit cool outside, the sun made it warm enough to sit out and enjoy.





By the time was had settled in to the apartment it was time for a late lunch. We went to the restaurant just below us. Our meal was great mixing fried fish and mussels - and if course a bottle of wine. And we got the "Tony" discount.

After lunch we explored Menaggio. Lots of small shops for souvenirs, clothes and groceries. We found a great green grocer, a bakery and two wonderful butchers. We frequented them regularly all week.

We also found wine for sale everywhere. But we were surprised that the well known Italian wines we find at home are more expensive here than in Toronto. For the most part we sampled cheaper local offerings.

For dinner we walked (2 minutes) into Menaggio and went to a small family owned restaurant in the middle of town. Food was good, especially the pasta. We chatted briefly with another Australian family.







Day 13 - One More Night Near Split

Our Ferry left Korcula around noon heading toward Split. This time we were on a car ferry. Getting on and off was a bit scary, since the crew did little to protect the pedestrians from the cars. But once on the ferry it was comfortable and we enjoyed the company of a woman who was travelling from Amsterdam.

When we docked in Split we wandered a bit until we fortunately found a taxi and were soon at our hotel for the night, which was just outside of town and not far from the airport. The Hotel Stacija was a vanilla hotel with few amenities. There was no safe in the room. The staff were however polite and obliging and provided us an iron - although no ironing board. It was located on the water, but the night we were there it was rainy and cold. There was also several busloads of tourists occupying most of the hotel. While the food at dinner was actually not bad, the lights were bright (and made even brighter after one of the bus guests delighted in finding an additional light switch - to a round of applause).

The next morning the staff provided us a breakfast "to go", but the airport taxi that had been reserved the night before was about 20 minutes late. This left us no time to get Monica's failing luggage wrapped at the airport. Fortunately it held together for the trip.

Day 11-12 Korcula

Our Ferry ride from Miljet to Korcula was short and pleasant.

When we arrived Monica was able to navigate us by foot to the Hotel Fabris. It is well situated in the centre of town with many restaurants, shops and just a very short walk into the old town.  The staff were friendly and once again carried our bags up the two flights to our room. Our room was absolutely the smallest we have ever had in all our travels. It was decorated nicely, but there hardly enough room to open one suitcase, let alone two. The bathroom was also small, but the narrow balcony was fun to sit on and listen to the music coming from a local bar. We heard an Irish singer performing American music both nights.

The biggest nearby attraction is the old town. It looks like roman empire villages and palaces that we saw in Split and in Italy. It was fun to walk around, look in the shops and an occasional peek into a museum.  Our first evening we found a small restaurant in a narrow laneway and we were seated down a narrow lane. The food was excellent and of course was mainly fish. We struck up a conversation with a young german couple and shared travel stories.

Breakfast the next morning at our hotel was the usual fare with fresh eggs and bacon prepared to order. We chatted a bit with the owner who was raised in South Africa by Croatian parents. He was very helpful, shared many stories and was clearly looking forward to closing the hotel for the season one day after we left. He will spend the winter making wine and pressing olives. After breakfast we explored the town some more.






That night we wandered for a long time before setting in to the Filippi restaurant (http://www.restaurantfilippi.com). We had an outdoor table overlooking the Adriatic. Our waiter was also the restaurant manager and he gave us amazing service. When he learned about our deep interests in wine and also our connection with the "Bornstein Vinoteka" in Zagreb he took a lot of time helping us to select a very good wine for dinner. When we just about finished our meal he appeared with another unopened bottle of very fine wine and gave it to us as a present. We were astonished. No restaurant has ever provided us such a generous gift. We hope he has a wonderful winter rest. We brought his gift home with us and are saving it for a special occasion.







Day 8 & 9 & 10 - Mljet

Today we left Split on route for the Isle of Miljet. We had to wake up quite early since our Ferry left before 8am. The concierge at our hotel had arranged for us to be picked up by a driver with a golf cart at 7am. It was a bit strange, but effective for directly navigating through the narrow streets to get to the Ferry dock.

There was a short lineup to board the Ferry and people were friendly and talkative. This was a passenger Ferry without any cars. Once we were on Board there were many options for seating and we quickly found comfortable reclining seats. We soon were talking with an Australian couple and briefly with a Toronto Physiotherapist (small world).  After about an hour the Australians and we changed to seating on the upper level with better views of the Adriatic. Overall a very civilized experience.

When we arrived on Miljet (by the way the "J" is not pronounced) we were greeted by a taxi driver that was pre-arranged by our hotel hosts. The Ferry port and the hotel were on opposite sides of the island so we had a 40 minute drive, which was actually a great way to get a sense of the beauty of Miljet. It is basically one big national park. Our taxi driver was also a fire truck driver and lived on the island year round. He explained that there were very few "residents' and that there was only occasionally one police officer during the busy season. Probably best not to get sick while visiting because there was only one or two doctors.

When we arrived at the hotel we received a warm welcome. Our son and his partner had stayed at this hotel in the Spring - which is why we were staying here. They had loved it and we did too!  The owners consist of a young couple (Gordana and Srdjan ) and the Srdja's parents. They remembered our family and seemed to have genuinely enjoyed meeting them.

There are only 8 rooms and a great little restaurant. The hotel is right on the ocean and the pool/lounge area has great views. If you are brave, like Monica, you can also walk down to the ocean and swim. She reported it was a bit cold this time of year. Our room was nicely decorated and relatively spacious with a separate sitting area.

We ate all our meals at the hotel. The food was marvelous. There are lots of fresh fish options which are grilled on a wood fire. One day Srdjan overheard us talking about having fish for lunch. He quickly came over and told us he had just come back from fishing and was grilling a fresh grouper for his lunch. He told we could have it and encouraged us to come over and check it out on the grill. We asked what he would have for lunch if we took the fish. He said a sandwich and smiled. Of course the fish was worth more on our plates, but his enthusiasm was genuine.

When we checked in we discussed having "half board" which provides breakfast and dinner at a set price. We opted for the "set" breakfast and Ala Carte dinners since some of their "Island Specialities" that we ordered were not included in the half board. This was slightly more expensive, but it is useful to be aware when you are ordering. The speciality that we tried was a local goat dish, under bell, which took 3 hours to prepare.

A short walk from the hotel led us to beautiful beaches, a convenience store and a few other restaurants. There is also lots of hiking opportunities. On our second day we took a 2 kilometre trail straight uphill. Unfortunately just before the top Joe fell and seriously bruised and cut his leg. He survived but it limited hiking for the rest of our trip.





On our last day the same taxi driver brought us back to the Ferry dock. We had about an hour to hang out and we were entertained by inebriated Americans who were dancing up a storm.

The Ferry ride to Korcula was quick and comfortable.