lake como and

On the Road

May 2001

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We left Lugano early on Sunday morning, looking forward to a drive through the countryside to Venice. I would not say that we were looking forward to a pleasant or leisurely drive because we had heard so many scary stories about driving in Italy. We expected some excitement along the way and were not disappointed.

The road between Lugano and Menaggio, where we would take the ferry across Lake Como, was beautiful, narrow and winding like mountain roads at home. Sunday is probably a good day for driving in Italy as there are not many trucks on the road. Instead we were menaced from the rear by a pack of serious bicycle riders in bright red team outfits. Finally a pullout appeared and we let them pass, shouting at us as they flew by, probably something about being late to Mass or lunch at Bellagio.

Menaggio on Lake Como. A missed turn took us down the lakeshore but we were rewarded by this view. We saw more of this pretty town later as we searched for the elusive ferry landing.

Sadly for Robin the steady traffic made stopping for photographs nearly impossible at places where the views were best. However, at the base of the mountain on the lakeside road we missed the turnoff to Menaggio and had to drive a mile or so until we found a place where we could turn around. Robin got out to see the scenery he had missed while concentrating on the road and came back for the camera. In the distance across the lake were mountains with snowy peaks.

Menaggio's narrow streets were full of people, including a few in band uniforms and hats carrying horns, drum, and other instruments. The traffic was slow. Robin turned into a little street that we thought might be the way to the ferry landing but we found ourselves in what looked like a parking lot. We drove out of it onto the main street again then back through the crowds to the end of the town -- no sign of a ferry landing at all. Turning around we got to see the town for a third time, very slowly. This time we saw the little sign for the ferry and turned into the same parking lot where behind the parked cars at the back of the lot we saw the ferry ticket office and a few cars waiting.

On upper level ferry passengers enjoy the view in the sun. Menaggio and the rocky peak of the mountain we passed over from Lugano are in the distance.

The ferry carried about seven or eight cars on the deck but no one was allowed to stay in them and we climbed up to enjoy the view from above. Later the ferry operator shooed a man back upstairs who attempted to return to the deck during crossing. This is the widest point of the lake and the three arms of it can be seen from shoreline or ferry. Varenna, on the opposite shore was attractive and crowded but we did not stop to explore. The road along Lake Como was easier on the nerves and Robin could enjoy the scenery at last.

In the distance is the point where Lago di Lecco branches from Como and the "real" Bellagio, a favorite of tourists for many years.

Varenna, the town Rick Steves recommends for a stay on Lake Como. It did look pretty this Sunday in May but we have a hotel waiting in Venice and must drive on.

Once we got onto the A4 Autostrada (Milan-Venice) driving became much more fun. According to Robin we were cruising around 140-160kph. The traffic was civil, the road was smooth, and all was well. We sped past green fields, orchards, factories and farms with signs every few kilometers offering exits to the temptations of cities from literature and history -- Bergamo, Cremona, Mantova, Padova, Verona. Our destination was Venice and we did not detour until about 1:30 when we came to an AutoGrill. Like the other highways in Europe the only businesses on the road are these quick stops where all (or nearly all) your needs are met. Troops of Italian soldiers and teenagers were hanging out at the entrances and the parents and little kids were inside shopping. We bought some mineral water and iced tea and had a quick lunch in the car. Although the parking spaces were so close that neither door of the Ford could open completely we got out of the lot without a nick.

Around 2:30 we crossed the causeway to the Tronchetto and parked our car on the fourth floor, strapped our bags onto the handy luggage-kart and left the quiet garage. Outside we found our way through the crowds in souvenir shops and bus parking lots to the Vaporetto landing.


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© June, 2001, Margaret Lew, Robin Lew