Our flight to Milan landed around 8:30 AM at the Malpensa International Airport and after making our way through informalities of entering Italy we found enough information in the various little offices in the airport lobby to get on a bus for Lugano. The ride was interesting. There were many tight turns, odd detours, narrow roads and even a short bit on a highway. I think that the driver was trying to make sure we couldn't retrace the route between Malpensa and Lugano ourselves. The rain had begun to fall as we waited for the bus to leave and continued with us as we rode into the mountains.
We chose Lugano to begin our Italian experience, though it is located just across the Italian border in the Swiss Canton of Ticino. It would be a good place to practice Italian, as most Swiss notices are posted in the three most widely spoken languages of that country and we were sure to understand either the French or German versions while we tried to memorize the Italian. Malpensa International Airport is located about as far away from Lugano as Milan and getting there would have been no easier. Lugano was reputed to be beautiful and restful resort. In addition the auto rental rates were somewhat cheaper there than in Italy.
A gate to a lakeside path in the Parco Civico.
To the right Monte San Salvatore seems to rise from the lake.
Lugano we were prepared for, having read A Fortnight by the Italian Lakes, including Lake Lugano by Commander R. G. Studd, D.S.O., R. N. (Ret'd). Although he enjoyed his fortnight(s) in 1951 we found most of his observations still true. The view of Lake Lugano from the train station terrace was beautiful as promised. Puffy little clouds hovered over the water and everything smelled very fresh in the spring rain.
We located an ATM in the train station, where we initiated our brand new ATM card. Thankfully it accepted the card and PIN without any problem. Next to the ATM was a sort of performance art installation where one could push a big button to indicate his or her general disposition and then see the result registered with everyone else's "vote". The display revealed that on the 4th of May 2001 the majority of Swiss were happy. We were happy too. With the Swiss Francs from our first ATM experience we enter the 21st century up-to-date, at least in our bank's eyes.
We picked up our three bags and negotiated our way down the hill from the train station terrace to the Hertz office where we complicated our life with the rental of a dark blue Ford Mondeo. The agent inspected it one last time for scratches causing images of scratch disasters to flicker in my head. She gave us excellent and clear instructions for getting our car to the hotel, even sketching the route on the margin of a pamphlet.
Sunset from the train station terrace. To the left the peak of Monte Bre. Lugano is flanked on the Northeast by Monte Bre and the South by Monte San Salvatore.
The hotel was about a 5 minute walk away and would have been so easy on foot. Driving there required a circuitous route to avoid illegal left turns and one-way streets. Finding no parking places on the street in front of the hotel Robin drove past and turned into a narrow street bordered on one side with buildings to the curb and on the other with a stone wall enclosing a big old building surrounded by trees. The rain began to fall harder. Cars were parked along the stone wall and we thought we saw a space at the end of them. This space turned out to be a very narrow gateway. The iron gate was closed. Now the imagined scratches threatened to materialize as Robin worked up a sweat trying to turn the car around inch by inch in the pouring rain. Good luck and experience saved the day and we got turned around and out of there. The car spent the next two days parked safely away in one of the spaces in the private parking lot below the hotel. We explored the city on foot walking downhill and using the funicular to get back up.
Spring rain, mist hovers over the lake. Burberry accessories are as popular as panini this year. There are the remains of a funicular along these steps. It once connected the hotel Bristol with the lakeside according to Commander Studd. At the foot of the steps is the unassuming lakeside church of Santa Maria degli Angioli (begun in 1499): Inside we shall see the famous frescos of Bernardino Luini ** (Michelin green guide). Luini was a student of Leonardo da Vinci. The views along the way are at least *** (our opinion).
A highlight of our visit to Lugano was a Saturday evening choral concert at Chiesa S. Nicolao, a modern church, near our hotel. We saw the poster for La Corale Santa Cecilia di Lugano and Il Corelli Ensemble offering Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Dominica KV321 at 8:30 and decided to attend the performance and have dinner afterwards.
When we opened our programs in the church later we saw that dinner was much further off than anticipated. The programma showed five works, two Vivaldi Salmi per coro e archi, Charpentier's Venite ad me, Vivaldi Concerto per archi in La magg., the Mozart and a Missa Brevis by Pietro Damiani (b.1933). The church was a perfect setting for the music which was truly heavenly. The composer Damiani was present and the director M. Polli gave a lengthy introduction in Italian which was far beyond me but a lot of it concerned the Missa Brevis which might have been being presented that night for the first time. The Chorus sang with a beautifully precise blending and balance. The soprano's voice was superb, very strong and supple. The mezzo soprano's was also pure and sweet but somewhat overshadowed when the two of them sang together. The tenor and bass were fine but this time the women's voices shone beyond them.
We floated out of the S. Nicolao church at 10:40 and noticed that most of the small restaurants in the neighborhood were closed. Fortunately there were some livelier places still serving in the city center so we didn't starve. We ate nice dinners of crayfish and lobster and caught the last funicular up the hill to the hotel at 11:50.
To Gandria on a Boat
The Road to Venice
|© June, 2001, Margaret Lew, Robin Lew|