Milano and Lake Como.

After our haircuts yesterday, Mike & I rode the train into Milano to meet P&L who were seeing the Last Supper, the Duomo, etc. all places we had visited last Spring. We arrived earlier than we had to and took the opportunity to visit the Sforza Castle seen at the top of this post. This castle built by Duke Sforza in the 15th century (on 14th century foundations) was enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of Europe’s largest forts. Despite being heavily damaged during bombing in WWII it now serves as a museum and a great outdoor space. We arrived just as the exterior lighting was coming on which added to it’s impressiveness.

Our original plan had been to meet P&L and go to I navigl (Milan’s canal district) for apertivo as our supper. However, they both decided that they had “hit the wall” which given they had been going not stop (well except for a couple of hours of napping on their short flight from JFK) for 28 or more hours was not unreasonable. So we decided to pick up some salad and wine to go with the pasta and sauce Cinzia, our Airbnb host had left for us and eat dinner at home.

This morning we left the apartment about 8 and drove towards Lake Como for our circumnavigation of the lake (shown in red on the map). I had hoped we would avoid rush hour traffic but it appears that like all major cities, that’s not possible. We left the blue dot following the red line to Lecco. We made one stop quick there for the first siting of the lake and then continued on to Varenna.

After parking (easy peasy in the fall! We can only imagine what it’s like in the summer) we had coffee and hot chocolate to warm us up on this dreary and chilly day-thankfully no rain but we could see clouds and what we presumed was snow falling on the Alps in the Swiss distance. (And you know what snow becomes when it’s not in the mountains 😢 but I’m getting ahead of myself).

After our coffee we walked from the ferry station along a lakeside walkway to the real Varenna-fishing boats and restaurants and stairs of course. It is a lovely town and in our opinion just as picturesque as Bellagio and not as touristy.

From Varrena we confined north towards Switzerland but came short of it by 21 miles by road and less than 10 as a bird flies. We crossed over the River Mera which joins Lake Mezzola (off the top of the map above) and then started down the western side of Como.

We left the lake road at Gravedona and started climbing up incredible narrow and winding streets (mirrors at all the switchbacks) to reach a restaurant that I found on Trip Advisor.

On the way up Peggy said I sure hope this meal is worth you having to drive these streets. Thankfully on the way down she said it was…to which Mike replied, “wait till we get down with the car undamaged before you say that!”

We entered the restaurant as the only guests as they were decorating for their special Halloween dinner.

Halloween is relatively new in Italy and appears to mostly be about having a special dinner out or perhaps a small party. From what I can gather kids don’t Trick or Treat house to house. We did see a few shops and restaurants that had what appeared to be bags prepared and we saw a group of simply costumed kids going into one of the stores.

I had selected this restaurant because they serve Pizzocheri-the buckwheat pasta, potato, cabbage and cheese dish of this region.

Cinizia had made it for us in the Spring (she is from the mountains). Hers was better but I still enjoyed this.

In addition to this and numerous other pasta dishes, meat entrees and sides they also offered two set menus-one meat focused and the other based on fish. Peggy got tagliatelle with mushrooms (yummy!-probably the best dish of the day).

Mike and I halfed and halfed bresaola (dried beef-here served like capacio with Parmesan and arugula), insalda caprese, gnocchi with Gorgonzola and the pizzocheri pictures earlier.

Lowell ordered the set fish menu and had fried smelts, followed by trout with rice (really tasty) and then trout with butter and lemon and vegetables described as in pastry but in fact were the best fried veggies ever!

He ended up being so full after his first two courses (who knew they would all be so huge) that he took the last one home which along with Peggy’s leftover pasta became their dinner tonight-Mike and I didn’t have leftovers (no surprise there) so we had the pasta leftover from last night.

We all shared Lowell’s lemon sorbet dessert and then we were gifted with Lemoncello all around!

The views of the lake and the Alps from the restaurant in this little village were beautiful. It would be great to eat on their terrace.

After successfully making it back down to the lake (the route line changes from red to blue on the map above) we continued towards Como. The original plan had been for us to drop P&L at one of the villages and they take the ferry to a village further south where we would pick them up. This was mostly so Peggy could wave at the George, Amal and the twins. However, that Swiss snow we had seen earlier had become Italian rain and she decided she would have to live with seeing the gate on the road to Villa Oleandra rather than it’s beautiful side that faces the lake.

The drive along the lake was lovely but scary as hell. The road is waaay to narrow for opposing lanes of traffic. In several places they have stops lights to stop traffic in one direction so that the cars from the other direction can drive-sorta like a signal person on a road under construction. In some places the road is so narrow you can see scrape marks on the stone buildings on one side or the other Thank goodness for electrically retractable side mirrors! But we made it back unscathed except for our nerves.

We saw several beautiful villas and wonderful little towns-I wish the weather had of been conducive to exploring some of them. Oh well, next trip!

We had planned on apertivo in Como but without the ferry portion (nor the alternate visit to Villa Carlotta’s beautiful gardens due to the rain) we arrived there right at rush hour.

After a stressful drive around the edges of the pedestrian only historic center of Como (including the dreaded “Clay you are going up a wrong way street” from Mike) unsuccessfully looking for a place to park in the rain, we headed back towards home after Peggy said, ” I can see the Church’s dome-that’s good enough”.

The ride home wasn’t much better than the drive down towards Como. The car has onboard navigation but it apparently hasn’t been updated in a while, so it didn’t tell me to bear left so we ended up accidentally getting onto a new toll road (all electronic -no toll booths) so who knows what that is going to cost when the bill gets to Hertz (hey Gregor can you help a brother out? 😢). We realized it when suddenly on the GPS map we were driving across a field while the road was “over there”.

Anyway, after quickly exiting the toll road at the first availability, we continued on home through heavy traffic and a couple of more oops from the GPS system…”turn left back there”, go straight through the now concrete barricaded entry onto the highway, etc.

But made it back safe and sound and everyone is asleep except me (it’s 9:45 pm). Tomorrow we are headed to Modena (vinegar anyone?) via Bergamo, Lake Iseo and hopefully Gorgonzola!

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They’re here!

Peggy and Lowell arrived (early!) in Milan after an awful day of delayed, canceled and changed connections (before they got to JFK). I met them at the airport, we picked up our rental minivan and went back to the hotel, picked up Mike and headed o our Airbnb in Paderno Dugnano.

This is our second time staying with Cinzia. It was great to see her smiling face again. After a short rest, we walked with Peggy & Lowell (hereafter P&L) to the train station (where the selfie above was taken) and they headed into downtown Milan for their Last Supper/Duomo/La Scala tour. We will meet them at 5:30 downtown for apertivo 🍷🍸🍹

Mike and I then had a delicious plate of carbonara and are now at our favorite Italian barber for a trim-Mike is getting head and beard, just beard for me, my head hair is almost long enough to tie back….finally!

Leaving Portugal.

Sitting in the lounge having our last Pastel de Nata. Going to miss these delicious egg custard tarts!

We left the apartment a little after 10 am and were in the lounge a little after 11. No line at the Ryan Air check in desk (probably because we were so early-our flight doesn’t start boarding until noon) but a long but quickly moving one at security.

We elected to take a cab directly to the airport rather than a cab to the metro and then the metro three stops where we would have had a 45 minute wait for the connecting train to go two stops. According to Moovit (the app we use for local transportation) it would have taken us at least an hour and fifteen minutes from when we got to the station in Vila do Conde. With the cab from the apartment to that station (we could have walked the 15 minutes to the metro but with roller bags on cobblestones-ugh) the total cost would have been about 11 euros. The cab all the way here was supposed to be about 15-20 euros but with the luggage surplus and a tip it ended up being 30. Oh well, when we run out of money I hope we won’t have this one can ride to blame!

We should be in Milan at 4:30 and hopefully at the Hilton Garden Inn by 5:30 if we make it to the 5:15 complimentary shuttle, 6:30 if we do t. This will be our third time here, we always plan on using Hilton points for a free room but the price is always so low that we end up paying instead. Tonight it is costing us 64 euros which is over our $50 a night Budget but with the following six nights where we are sharing 2 bedroom apartments with Peggy & Lowell we will be under our budget.

So, tchau Portugal, ciao Itaia! (Interesting how that works)

Fish Rice!

We ventured to Póvoa do Varzim for lunch today and as you can see above they thankfully were back from their holiday!

We are such creatures of habit that we asked for the same starter-the delicious smoked beef we were given during our first visit along with a half bottle of the same white wine. Since we ordered the sausage and were paying, this time it came with cheese.

We also has a salad (Lois you would have liked the onions) and then the big pot of fish rice was delivered. They had monk fish today (which is what everyone on Trip Advisor raves about) so we had it. We were offered corbina and tuna also. It was as tasty as we remembered. We ended up not stuffing ourselves so we have enough of the rice and soup left for a bowl each for dinner tonight or tomorrow.

For new followers, this dish of rice with seafood is a traditional Portuguese dish that we had not heard about before coming here. We highly recommend that you have it as often as it is offered. We’ve had it in a village between here and Lisbon and a couple of places in and around Porto. It has always been delicious. It isn’t thick like risotto-instead it’s like a soup with rice and whatever seafood is added. We’ve had it with clams, mussels and shrimp as well as with just fish. I will say I find it hard to believe that such a delicious dish can come from such an ugly fish.

I saw baked apples on the way in and really wanted one. It was yummy-Mike who said he just wanted a bite ended up eating half. Not sure why I don’t think about making them more often. Easy and delicious.

We thought about walking back to the apartment as we had done last week, but the temperature has dropped significantly, the high today was 57 (14c) and really windy so we took the train both ways.

Turns out it didn’t cut our exercise that short, we walked 3 miles versus the 3.4 we did by walking back. I guess the metro station is further from the apartment and the restaurant than I realized!

Off to do the last load of wash here so we can pack up tomorrow. We head to Milano on Monday at noon.

Dublin.

After our last Full Scottish breakfast for awhile we headed to the airport. We talked about taking the bus which left from about a block away but the timing was difficult to understand and it was going to take over an hour, so we needed up taking a cab, which while it cost 20 pounds was much more convenient. We have found that we are more comfortable taking public transportation FROM the airport where time isn’t as critical as opposed to the airport where we don’t want (can’t) be late.

Ryan Air checkin was a breeze-they like many European airports have selfcheck in kiosks which issue the luggage tags which you attach and then take to a conveyor and drop off. So no lines unless you have an issue! EasyPeasy.

Security was busy but turned out to be fun. Apparently, a groom and his mates were off to Malaga for his stag party. And like the bachelor we ran into on the train from Salzburg to Passau a few years ago (check the archives for April of 2016 i think) the groom was in costume. So what we first thought was a very tall Emirates flight attendant wasn’t!

We enjoyed some of the artwork on the LOOOOONG walk to Ryan Air’s gates – it basically is in Cork, but at least it was a fun walk.

We soon boarded and were off to Ireland.

We have found Ryan Air to be no better or no worse than legacy airlines. We need to pay for luggage as our “rollaboards are expanded and are over the maximum weight for cabin bags and with one of their programs, you can assign exit row seats for a little bit more money, so we have plenty of leg room and typically the cost is about half of what one of the legacy airlines charges. Of course you have to bring your own drink or food, but with the 50% savings it really is a no brainer.

We arrived in Dublin and based on earlier research we bought the 72 hour LEAP pass at the tourist info stand in the airport. It cost under 20 euros (Ireland’s is not part of Britain so they are on the Euro) and was good for all public transport in Dublin for the three days we were there. The express airport bus (Route 747 – how cute is that?) whisked us into the city and to a bus stop about a 10 minute (flat) walk to our Airbnb. The roundtrip cost for the airport express was just over 12 euros so for only a little more we got three whole days of usage (and I gave two grateful Ryan Air gate agents our tickets when we left Dublin which meant they had a free ride home from the airport since there was still two or three hours validity.)

Our Airbnb https://abnb.me/D4oHLL1RiR was in a typical working class neighborhood of Dublin on the south side near Christchurch and St. Patrick’s (which is pictured at the top of this post). It was as expected though I had forgotten it was up two flights of stairs. I guess it was getting us prepared for what was to come in Porto.

We particularly enjoyed the shower and the comfortable sofa and the umbrella which was provided and which unfortunately we would need.

By the time we got settled in, it was almost dark and we were tired so we went around the corner and got a bake it yourself pizza and just relaxed.

After a great sleep, we got up early and rode (thank you Leap Card) the bus from just down the street across the river and halfway up O’connell Street (the main drag of the northside) to meet our “Free Walking Tour. We have found these tours to be great wherever we have taken them and Dublin was no exception. You tip what you think appropriate at the end of the tour.

We met at “The Spire” which was erected in 2003 as part of the redevelopment plan for the street. It stands on the site of a former column honoring Nelson which was bombed and destroyed in 19666 during the disagreements between North and South. Apparently it is a hot topic among Dubliners, our guide didn’t seem to like it much as it doesn’t have any tie to the historic nature of the city.

There were about 120 folks at the spire for the tour, luckily there were four guides so we split into four groups and set off towards the river. Along the way we were told about the history of Dublin and the buildings we were seeing.

After crossing the river, we saw Trinity College and walked through the Temple Bar area of town. This part used to be a dying part but is now nightlife central.

After a coffee break we headed towards Edinburgh Castle. This was once the Queen’s house in Ireland but now is the President’s place. Elizabeth was the first monarch to visit since 1922 when she was here in 2011. It’s history goes back to the 12th century but only one of the four round towers remains standing and the entire place has had many additions offer the years.

From the castle, we continued our tour to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This church is built at the site where St. Patrick baptized the heathens while he was the catholic church’s missionary. The grounds are beautiful and we wished it hadn’t of been raining and cold so we could have enjoyed them more. So we said goodbye to the group and we headed towards our apartment in search of lunch as it was after 2 pm.

We stopped into the pub just down the street and had the perfect meal. Guinness beef stew (with mashed potatoes) and a Guinness. Does it get any more Irish?

The pub was obviously popular with the locals and we were warmly welcomed by the Owner, Wayne who was proud to let us know he had once’s worked at a hotel in Dallas. There was a group of young (?) ladies preparing to head to Liverpool for a “Dirty Thirty” party for one of their birthdays. They all had apparently gone to the Bianca del Rio school of makeup and it seemed to add at least 10 years to each of them. However, they were having a good time and added to the ambiance! But the stew and beer really made the day, hot and tasty on a cold and wet day.

The next day was also rainy and cold so we elected to use our LEAP pass and ride the train as far north as we could to the seaside town of Hoath. It was an interesting ride through the closein suburbs and then we reached the North Sea and big houses that purportedly sell for upwards of a million pounds.

We wandered around the village, saw some sea lions, had fish and chips, and then made our way back to the City.

Afterwards, we retired to our apartment and I had my first nap in a long long time.

That evening it was still raining (we have been so lucky, Scotland and Ireland are the first places we have really used our umbrellas – well Mike has used his, I lost mine in Lisbon in June but thankfully lots of the Airbnb’s have had them. I am worried about next week in Italy -writing this from Portugal on 10/25/18 and the forecast for Italy all next week calls for showers) so we ran down to Wayne’s place and got two containers of potato soup…Yum!

Then we packed and prepared to heads to Porto.

There were no issues the next day taking the Airport Express bus back though we were worried there might be due to the hurricane, the first ever to make landfall in Portugal. Luckily it only delayed our flight by about and hour-we even had time to have one last Guinness for Mike and a G&T for me in the lounge before it was time to board.

So that should catch us up….I think I have been keeping up here in Portugal. While we hate to leave, we are looking forward to our week in Italy with Peggy and Lowell, especially bein able to drive and see the Tuscan countryside – here’s hoping Mike doesnt’ see some villa he wants to buy to fulfill his “Under the Tuscan Sun” fantasy…though I did overhear he and Peggy discussing which fountain they were going to jump into naked!

Made It.

At under 5 miles, our walk (in red above) from Povoa de Vazim to Vila do Conde didn’t qualify as a death march and I enjoyed the views of the beach, harbor and town but was glad when we got back to the apartment and I could take my shoes off!

We saw another statue of Portuguese women who play an important role in the fishing industry presumably by the same cankle loving artist of the one we posted about in Matosinhos back in June. What was funny though was literally 10 minutes later down the promenade (and still within sight of the statue) we saw what might have been one of the models!