A new day began, and I decided to sleep in a bit and just enjoy the sounds of the town waking up. Since time was no longer relevant, as I had decided the day before, I took all the time I wanted in getting out of bed, showering, and readying for the day. It was really delightful to not have a clock, schedule, or responsibilities demanding my attention. Eventually we planned to get our butts over to Bellagio where we would visit gardens, eat gelato, and find some adventures.
The plan for the morning was to pack up and move over to the B&B, where we could have breakfast and move into our new room. At about 10 am, we (slightly tearfully) packed up and walked the couple of ‘blocks’ to the B&B. It was then that I finally met the owner, who was another super friendly guy, and we sat down to have breakfast while he made us some coffee (I just can’t get enough espresso dammit). He told us about some history of the area, and gave us some helpful tips for exploring. The main plan for the day was to drive over to Bellagio and explore. There was a villa there that I wanted to visit with spectacular gardens. Also I absolutely needed to shop. I wanted to stock up on some consumables to bring back to the US with me, and also a few souvenirs.
After breakfast, I went outside a bit to just soak up the sun and the community. My ears were met with the soft tinkle of clinking plates and glasses, conversations in Italian, and children playing. It was music to my ears, and made me feel really at home, as these were sounds from my childhood and it was more familiar and comfortable than anyplace I’ve been in America in the last 20 years. The smell of home cooking was detectable and made me look forward to lunch already.
After a few minutes of reflection, we walked to the car and started to drive to Bellagio. Luckily we did not get lost ONCE at ALL from the time we found the B&B finally, until we left Italy, so no more wasted time on the road. The communes around Lake Como are all joined by a main road that circles the lake so it’s pretty easy to navigate around there if you have any sense of direction whatsoever. We threw the GPS out the window (OK OK, just stashed it in the glovebox), and just followed our intuition for the rest of the trip.
Bellagio was an amazing representation of what driving in Italy is like. Most of it is just pretty narrow with cars and scooters going every which way, but part of it has the road go through downtown. This means there are people milling about over the entire road, which is only wide enough to fit one car and one or two pedestrians, so it can get quite tricky to drive down. To get through you have to go like 1 mph and hope you don’t hit any old ladies as they slowly shuffle out of the way. It’s completely hilarious and a bit nerve wracking. One time my travel companion brushed an old man on the butt with our side mirror, which he didn’t even realize until 6 minutes later when I could stop furiously giggling long enough to tell him what I was laughing at. I got the below picture through the windshield after most of the throngs of people had cleared. The opening at the end of the street by the church is where we wound up parking.
Once we found parking, we started our trek for the day. We had only a few euros in change, and needed to feed the parking meter, so we gave it a few coins which bought us 2.5 hours, and then we would need to return. We figured this was plenty of time to walk to the villa gardens and buy something so we had more change.
We started off on the main streets of town, starry-eyed and window shopping a bit, while making mental notes of the things I wanted to potentially buy. (I like to scope everything out and then come back and buy what I think is the best, if I don’t do that I’ll blow all my dough in 10 minutes). A little hungry, we stopped at a small deli and got some fresh sandwiches. Mine was pancetta on a baguette, and my companion’s was salami on a roll (Sausage Counter – 10 – had a taste of this too).
The villa was quite a distance from the parked car, so we got to walk the entire length of the town along the shore before getting to it, which was a great walk. The morning had been a little dreary, but the weather was starting to clear up.
After leaving downtown, we walked along the water’s edge for the rest of the way. We passed a food cart, a few street vendors, a few artists, and a lot of eateries.
The amount of motorcycles far outweighed the car, and I found myself wishing we had rented a bike for our stay there. We passed a beach club as well, and considered stopping later if the weather got nicer. (It was just a tad too overcast and chill at this point). Around Lake Como there’s a lot of beach clubs, which is where you generally go to the beach unless you have access to a private beach. To attend you reserve a sunbed and then hang out getting refreshments or the like. Some will rent boats as well, and at nighttime they turn into nightclubs.
We arrived at the garden, the Giardini di Villa Melzi. The Villa was built in 1808 for one of Napolean’s buddies, Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril. It’s in the Neoclassical style and has a decided French influence in the architecture as well as some of the landscaping. There are many sights to see in the park including Roman and Egyptian sculpture, a Japanese water garden, beautifully pruned trees and flowers, a chapel, a Moorish gazebo, a dock, a greenhouse, and a small museum with the keys to Milan in it and other artifacts. The villa is currently owned by Count Gallarati Scotti, and the interior of the villa is not open to the public.
Once we were in the garden, we walked around and enjoyed the serenity of the gardens and coast line. Well.. most of it was serene. There was one young Italian couple that either really really really liked neoclassical architecture or were freikin cannibals, because for about an hour we kept running into them looking like they were trying to eat each other’s faces off. It was a little more PDA then I’m used to seeing where I’m from, actually the most I saw in all of my stay in Europe, so while it was a little surprising it was also a bit awkward, mostly because I had to keep waiting for them to finish and move on before I could get these pictures. *^.^*
At the far end of the garden there’s a chapel with sculptures and friezes, it was quite beautiful.
As we were exploring, the sun came out and the day grew warmer, and I found myself wanting to go to one of the nearby beaches, but by the time we were nearing the end of our stay, it was time to go back to the car and feed the meter.
Many of the shops were getting ready to close, so I stopped in one of them on the way back to the car to get a bottle of grappa as a gift. This was the place we had gotten our sandwiches earlier, and while I was there, I wound up tasting some salamis and cheeses they were selling (Sausage Counter – 11 & 12). I decided to buy a few of these as well. I had a pleasant conversation with the clerk and prepared to pay. Here’s where the fiasco started…
I had started the day with 150 euros in 50 euro bills, plus some other random bills. 50 euro bills look similar to 10 euro bills in that one is pink and one is orange, (although one is bigger than the other, since all different denominations of bills have a unique size). Now, I am always super careful and attentive to money, I’m the last person to ever misplace money or have it unaccounted for. I even keep a ledger of my cash expenses on vacation just in case something happens. Well, this next bit is a prime example of why something like that is really great (even if some of you might think I’m overly anal).
When the lady rung me up, she said what I thought was ’33’ euros. So I pulled out a 20, a 10, and a 5, and handed it to her. Then she said no, 43 euro, and showed me the receipt. So I was like oh whoops sorry, and went to pull out a 50 instead because I didn’t think I had another 10 to give her. She took all 4 bills and gave me 2 euro coins back. I’m like no, hold on, I just gave you way too much money. Now mind you, she spoke pretty terrible English, and I spoke pretty terrible Italian.
What followed was a third Italian, a third English, and a third hand signals until I got the point across that I gave her a 50 and needed change. She was insisting I gave her a 10, so I would only get the 2 euro back. Being the wary traveler that I am coupled with my general attention to detail about money, I felt confident I was right and I had 150 euro and now I only had 50, and where did my money go, etc. (I was polite though, but insistent).
At that point she took out all the receipts and money from her till, and counted first the receipts, then the money, and showed me the figures, to prove she was not stealing money from me. At this point she was getting upset, and seemed very sincerely frazzled. It sounds terrible but the more sincere she seemed, the more I was confident she was scamming me, although a part of me was starting to question if perhaps I was making a mistake. But knowing myself and how careful I am always, I still felt pretty confident. I counted my money a few times, looked at my own receipts from the day, and went over my purchases again and again in my head to try and make a judgement call on what to do and if it was a mistake or a scam. She took me behind the counter then, and offered for me to count her money, and showed me all her drawers to show she wasn’t hiding any money on me. At this point I got really uncomfortable, either she was definitely being honest and I was being a total dick and upsetting a nice lady for no reason, or she was really a great scam artist and planning on setting me up.
At this point I really had no idea what to do, and the lady was flustered so she called in one of the other local shopkeepers to help translate. (Although I don’t think we really needed a translator, but it helped to make sure there were no misunderstandings). The translator said she was offering to let me count the entire till, look at the receipts etc, and I told the translator that I just wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding, but if she was sure then it must have been my mistake. I was really starting to doubt myself, I wanted to trust her so badly. Everyone in Italy had been so honest, friendly, and helpful, I was distraught at the idea I might have been scammed which would be a blemish on porcelain face of my perfect experiences thus far. She gave me a free bag of little almond cookies, at which point I felt even shittier, and then I left, apologizing for the incident and trying to make her feel a bit better because she was at the point of tears. (Tears that I really couldn’t judge if they were sincere or not.) Honestly I have never in my life been unable to get a gut feeling on a situation but this one I was drawing a complete blank.
At this point we decided to go back to the B&B and count my money and look at my ledger to see if it was my mistake or hers, rather than staying in town and wondering.
My companion was busting my balls, saying I probably made the mistake because a 10 and a 50 look similar to a foreigner. i was honestly hoping I was wrong, and it was my mistake. When we got in, I counted everything, and it turns out yes, actually it was my mistake. I felt like such a complete d-bag at that point. I was relieved that it was just a mistake, but I also felt so terrible for making that nice woman almost cry. I am an honest person and I know how crappy it feels to be accused of something you would never do, so I kept imagining what she must have felt like. I resolved to go back the next morning and apologize and tell her everything was OK and that it was my fault. (It was too late to go back then as the shop was closing before we could get back).
After a brief rest, I decided not to be bummed anymore about the shop lady since I would take care of it in the morning, and we drove back to Bellagio to do some more sightseeing and to get dinner. I decided all meals in Italy would be ‘meals out’ even though the rest of the trip I was being conservative and shopping/cooking the majority of meals, to save some dough. We got some gelato and walked around the entire town as the sun was getting lower in the sky. Most of the foot traffic had died down at that point, so the streets were a lot emptier. The gelato (I got chocolate) was delicious and perfect. After more walking and a few pictures (forgot the tripod though so the low lighting made for mostly crappy photography), we found a place to eat.
We went to a wine bar, Aperitivo et al, that had the most comfortable seating I have ever enjoyed in a restaurant. The ambiance was classy and modern, but comfortable. (There was a similar wine bar a few blocks away but there was a bunch of older couples and old Italian men being quite loud so we picked this one, the other one was more cozy/traditional, but I was OK with modern, and it has super high ratings).
The charcuterie included some lardo, coppa, local salami, pancetta, and a local sopressatta. (Sausage Counter – 13 & 14) The cheese plate had a handful of cheeses, some old, some young, some local, some not, and came with this potent as heck honey that was not to my liking. (I’m not a big honey fan, but with goat cheese or certain stinky cheeses it goes well.. but not this one).
For the second course I got a homemade buckwheat tagliatelle with cheese, spinach, and potatoes and my companion got the local stew with an Italian sausage (Sausage Counter – 15), short ribs, cabbage, and tomatoes. Both were simply divine, and I was elated that we had yet another incredible meal in Italy.
Full and happy, we walked some more to work off the gazillion calories we had just consumed, and eventually returned to the B&B for another relaxing evening in Paradise. Aside from the little fiasco with the shop, it had been a perfect day.