…continued from Part I…
After Florence, our next stop on our trip was Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como. Lake Como is a quiet, peaceful beauty in Northern Italy. It’s a long, narrow lake in the mountains, so you are surrounded by the lake with the scenic mountain backdrop. We spent two nights here, including my birthday. Bellagio is beautiful – it’s a little vacation town that sits on a point in the lake and is about as picturesque as it gets.
Our second day there was my birthday. We took the ferry across the lake to the town of Argegno and took a cable car up almost 2,000 feet to the little town of Pigra perched in the mountains. Pigra is tiny – less than three hundred people live there – but the cable car and the view from the top is lovely.
Lunch was caprese pizza, scallop and truffle linguini, and dessert. Yum:) It was followed by wine tasting in Bellagio, and then dinner down on the lake. A perfect birthday:)
The next day we drove to Zermatt, Switzerland, for three nights as the last stop on our vacation. I love Zermatt and Sean fell in love with it as well. I went here when I went to Europe in college and it’s just as perfect as I remember. Zermatt is a little Swiss farming village that became popular because of its location at the base of the Matterhorn. The mountain looms over the town, which is a popular spot for climbers to begin their journey. There are no private cars allowed in the Zermatt, so you park in a nearby town and take a tram in. Everywhere is easily walkable, and the absence of cars gives it a peaceful, secluded feeling. Switzerland was a welcome change from Sicily. It’s cool, clean, organized, and a completely different feel from what we’ve become accustomed to. The drop in temperature felt great, we actually needed a jacket! The Swiss seem to do all the good things well: chocolate, cheese, mountains, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed all of them.
The next morning Sean arranged to go parasailing. I opted to stay on the ground and hope for the best. He had a great guide that took him though. I could see them take off from my vantage point in the valley and watched them the whole way as they swept over the town and landed safely. He loved it.
We also took the train up to Gornergrat. The train is the highest open-air railway in Europe and takes you up over 10,000 feet, where you have a great vantage point of the Alps, Zermatt, and the Matterhorn.
Back down in town we went to the Matterhorn Museum. It’s a surprisingly great little museum that is in an area dug down underneath the current town. They have some of the old buildings set up down there to show how people used to live. It focuses on the original town of Zermatt and how it has changed with the attention brought to it by the Matterhorn, along with the history of climbing the mountain. They have the controversial rope that broke on the descent of the first successful summit ascent. Four men were killed and the surviving three were falsely accused of cutting the rope to save themselves. Some of my favorite displays were on the original climbers of the mountain, their gear, and their stories. The first successful ascent was in 1865, and the first woman to successfully summit was in 1871, only 6 years later. At the time, women climbed in dresses (?!?) and one had to turn around not far from the top because the wind was blowing her skirt too much. There was also the story of Ullrich Inderbinen, a guide who successfully summited almost 400 times, the last at age 90. Across from the museum is the Matterhorn cemetery, which has the graves of many of the 500 climbers who have died on the mountain. Right across the street is the town cemetery – it’s beautiful.
We figured that since we were in Switzerland we may as well treat ourselves to fondue. We went to the Whymper-Stube restaurant and had a delicious meal. Apparently the Swiss feel very strongly that the only real fondue is bread dipped in cheese sauce. I try not to admit that I would consider that a meal, and we opted for the fondue choice that may not be as traditional, but had some more variety. And at least a few pieces that could be considered nutritious (if you don’t count all the cheese).
Our last day in Zermatt we took the cable car up to Schwarzsee, on the way up the Matterhorn. The clouds were rolling in and rain was in the forecast, but we opted to hike down. It was, of course, gorgeous. We made it most of the way before the rain started. Luckily we were near a cable car station so we hopped on and road the rest of the way down to Zermatt.
The next day we packed our bags and left Switzerland. We took the long way down to Genoa where our ferry departed from so we could get a bit more of the scenery. As we drove through the mountains the fog was rolling through, spilling over the mountain tops and flowing into the valleys. Pulling the car over didn’t work too well, but I got a few mediocre shots out the window.
We passed through the tunnel from Switzerland into Italy and paid one of the last in a long series of road tolls. The cost of road tolls was definitely underestimated at the start of our trip; I think all in all we paid $150 euro in tolls. Ridiculous!
We boarded our ferry at 9pm in Genoa for the 21 hour ride home. I have mixed feelings about the ferry. It was convenient and fast and more than paid for itself in the gas, hotel stay, and tolls we saved, but it wasn’t exactly as we pictured. First, for some reason we assumed that we would be able to sleep in our car if we wanted to. We even brought blankets and pillows for that. I had the option to reserve a cabin, but figured we’d be plenty comfortable in the car and it saved us a few hundred bucks, so we just had an assigned seat. We boarded the ferry and left most of our stuff in the car, figuring we’d be back later that night. As we were upstairs eating we heard an announcement over the intercom that they were closing the garages and people would not be allowed to access their cars again until we landed in Sicily. I ran downstairs to try to get into the car before the doors closed, but I was too late. We just had what we were wearing, a jacket, and what I had in my purse. Our toothbrush, clothes, cards, book, bottle of wine, snacks, blankets, everything was in the car. So, we were stuck with nothing, sleeping for the night in our assigned seats.
We had dinner and hung out on the decks upstairs. The boat was a lot nicer than we were anticipating – there were a few bars, restaurants, a pool, a nice deck, casino, and even evening entertainment. It was like a little cruise ship! Around 11:00 I was getting tired so we went down to settle into our assigned chairs and go to sleep. We entered the room to discover that people didn’t have much respect for seat assignments (which we probably should have seen coming) and were spread out all over the floor, across rows of chairs, on inflatable mattresses in the hallway, everywhere. Our seats were taken by a man who appeared to be pretty soundly sleeping. Plus, the ventilation in that room wasn’t nearly as good as, say, an airplane, so the overwhelming smell of what I’m sure was to get worse and worse morning breath wasn’t very appealing. We left the room not really knowing what to do. We fortunately found a sitting area that nobody else was in and camped out there for the night sleeping on a half circle shaped couch with our jackets over our faces. Not our best night. In the morning when I walked around the ship I saw people sleeping everywhere – every seat in the bar and cafeteria had people in sleeping bags draped across it. Apparently that’s ok here. Oh, Italy.
After a less than stellar night’s sleep we spent the day playing cards and trying to pass the time. We landed in Palermo around 6pm, got off the ferry and prepared to drive home. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Palermo is surprisingly beautiful, at least from the water. The city is surrounded by the ocean and mountains. It almost looked like Hawaii. We ended our vacation and drove home that night to Aci Trezza.