The day started early and was a frantic rush to shower, get ready, and get out, so we could make it to Mt. Pilatus early. The game plan was to get to Pilatus, take the cable cars up, do the couple of short hikes to the top 3 peaks, and then get our butts down the mountain and on the road by 1, so we could get to Italy by 5 or so and have a chance to enjoy the evening.
We sadly said goodbye to our host, wishing him well and sad to leave such a lovely place, and got on our way. Armed with step by step directions, a map of WiFi hotspots, and a super detailed driving itinerary that covered every single stop we would need to make through the day, we felt confident we wouldn’t encounter any more issues with the terrible GPS. We wound up making it to Mt. Pilatus perfectly fine, and excited, we parked and went over to the ticket office to buy our terribly overpriced tickets.
There are several main ways to get up the mountain, one of which is the cable car rides, which take you up and down the entire thing. There is also a train that you can take part of the way that is sweet so I’ve heard. It’s a really old cogwheel train and has a very scenic ride. Also you can hike up. You can do any combination of these things as well, as there’s different transport stops up the mountain. For example, starting at the beginning, you could take the cable car up, get off at the midway stop, have a sausage at the cafe, then take the rail up, hike down, and hop on the cable car for the last bit. We opted for the cable cars both ways just due to time limitations.
We were hoping to get a private cable car, but at the last second, an old lady hopped in, rambling something in German, so I smiled and said hello but I didn’t know what else to say. I filmed the ascent with the GoPro, since it was so pretty. The ride up was about 15 minutes or so, and the views were breathtaking. The air smelled cleaner than any air I’ve ever smelled, and during the whole ride there were intermittent sounds of cowbells as farm cows grazed below us, and delicious smelling cooking fire smoke, as hikers and tourists grilled up some meats. We got a spectacular view of the towns as well. Finally we were getting to do something truly awesome and incredible and fun!! Just beware, the website says the cars are just a 5 minute ride — this is a gross understatement. It’s a pretty long ride in fact – we didn’t time it but it was a nice long time to snap pictures and enjoy the ride.
At the (almost) top, there was a whole gazillion tourists, from Japan, China, India, the UK, Australia, Western Europe, and America, among others. There was a bunch of kitschy souvenir shops, and food places, with terribly overpriced but delicious looking sausages. Did I ever mention I’m a sausage fiend?? One of my goals for this trip was to try new and exciting sausages in every country I visit. While I was completely salivating over these particular ones I decided to skip it, as they were really expensive, about 17 euros/ 23 dollars, and I had already had a Swiss sausage the day before.
The “hikes” up to the top peaks were really giant flights of stairs made out of stone and etched into the side of the mountain.
Two of the peaks were pretty mild, they were about a 5 minute walk up the stairs. The tallest peak was a bit worse. It was an estimated 10-15 minute walk up them, and they were 1. huge, 2. steep, 3. crumbly in spots. This made going up them difficult at times for a shortie like me. On the bright side it was great excercise and the chilly mountain air felt fantastic to breathe.
At the peaks I got some photos of the amazing view, but they really don’t do it justice. Panoramas are a bit better but really I think it’s one of those things you need to see to really understand what the vastness at the top of the mountain feels like (and what the air smells like!!). On the lowest peak there was a cute Asian family and they were feeding the Alpine Choughs (cute black bird) that apparently like to hang out up there. They would throw cookies in the air and the birds would swoop and get them. Here is a pic I made from combining several rapid fire shots showing the path of one of such cookie dives.
After the cookie the bird was so grateful he decided to thank the man feeding him by attacking his face. This is the exact moment before the bloodbath..
Just kidding, no blood on Mt. Pilatus this day. Here are some more pictures of the view – enjoy 🙂
We stayed up there for a bit, and go to see some traditionally costumed Swiss Alp Horn players do their thing down on the pavillion which was pretty neat.
After the exuberant mountaintop experience, we went back down in the cable cars.
For the ride down I stuck my face in the window so I got a constant rush of mountain air in my face and up my nose. It was so refreshing, I felt like it was the purest, tastiest air I had ever experienced. Happy as a clam, I bought a t shirt for a souvenir and started walking back to the parking lot.
I was so happy that I forgot to look where I was going, and there was a not-so-obvious curb that I stepped over, rolled my ankle on, and tore my ligament. Seeing stars, I just stopped and rolled my eyes that I made it up and down rattlie mountain passes just fine, and then gave myself a pretty good sprain in a parking lot. Oh the irony. Being a perpetual klutz and having done this before, I knew that this was a grade 2 and needed to be attended to immediately or I wouldn’t be doing much walking the next few days. I needed 4 things, anti-inflammatory meds, a supportive wrap, ice, and to elevate it for a while. The fact that it was a Sunday though, and NOTHING is open on a Sunday was a bit problematic. I had some killer asprin/tylenol/anti-inflammatory/pain killer stuff though from the Netherlands, (I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s similar to all of those, only different from what is sold over the counter in the US because you can make meth from it. Lucky I’m not into meth 😛 )
Anyway it’s great for all your general ‘Tylenol’ needs, like headaches, menstrual cramps, and minor aches and pains, so I figured it would be a good anti-inflammatory. The wrap was a bit tougher, we had a first aid kit in the car but all it had was large gauze wraps, which were great, but I wanted to boost the support a bit. I improvised with a thin neck scarf I have which is made from a firm fabric. First that, then the gauze, held together with medical tape. For the elevation I just stuck my foot up on the dash board and gave up the driver’s seat for a while. Ice — this was the trickiest part. The only places open on Sundays are gas stations and eateries. The only thing is gas stations don’t always have bags of ice in Europe, so the next best thing was McDondald’s. Again, we found ourselves looking for those piss arches high in the sky, but since we had thrown away the GPS, our sense of direction was much improved, so we found it no problem. I had a bunch of gallon sized Ziploc bags in my suitcase that I use when I pack liquids or hair products, etc, so I took one of them into McDondald’s and hoped that they had a kind heart enough to fill me up with ice.
We bought a chicken wrap just to be polite, and then I spoke to one of the cashiers who spoke only a little broken English, and explained I hurt my ankle and needed ice. Not only did she comply, her manager came over to help and got another large brown bag to put it into so I didn’t have to carry it straight with the plastic. Grateful, I thanked them, and reflected on how helpful and nice they were in contrast to the response I would have likely gotten at many McDonald’s back home.
Back on the road, and still in a jovial mood, we started the drive down to Lake Como, Italy. It was gorgeous terrain, and i got many ‘drive by’ photos since if we stopped every time I wanted to take a picture, it would take us a week to get to Como hehe.
The ride most of the way down was great. Between my maps and our good sense of direction we made it into Italy and into the main area of Lake Como just fine. Crossing the border by the way was a totally epic moment for me by the way. As we approached I could hear action drama music in my head and when the moment came when we crossed the border I heard an angelic chorus welcoming me to the motherland.
We were doing so well with navigating, that we decided to improvise and try and find a villa that had some spectacular gardens to photograph once we got to the main road that circles Lake Como. While we couldn’t find the villa since I couldn’t remember the exact location, we did get to see a wonderful sampling of the communes around the lake. Traffic was nuts, scooters were everywhere, tourists and locals flocked the roads holding cameras and gelatos, and marvelling at the architecture, the food, the lake, the hustle and bustle, and the overall wonderfullness. Normally such a scene would make me feel a little crowded, but this was wonderful. I think my Italian roots were stirring in me, because from the time we passed the border I felt a feeling of comfort and home-yness wash over me. Later reflecting on this, I realized that a lot of what I experienced in Italy was what it was like growing up for me, and how it felt to be with family or in the Italian area I lived in. The feeling of community, the Italian voices talking in low and then raised and then low again tones, the clink of plates and utensils, the smell of food, the general warmth of family, these would click with me in a way that’s almost indescribable. More of that later though, I’m skipping ahead.
So our drive around the lake was delightful and I was immediately captivated by it. Since we couldn’t find the villa we decided to go to the B&B we had booked, before it got too late. Finding our way to the TOWN was no problem at all, but what became a problem is finding our way to the ACTUAL B&B. There were absolutely no signs, so we pulled over and I called them for help. It turns out the owner was at a family event (he had told me this the day before), and his friend was watching the place for the day, so I had to speak with him. He was a wonderful and friendly person, the only problem is he was totally new to the area so couldn’t help much at all. Google was not much help either as I hadn’t been able to queue it up (but in retrospect it wouldn’t have been any help at all anyway). We had used it to get to the mountain before, and I wasn’t able to connect at McDonald’s earlier in Switzerland (even though it WAS a Boingo partner, wtf McDonald’s Luzern???). So we were pretty much on our own, and had to use our eyes and intuition to try and find the place.
Turns out you needed to be psychic to find this place, no lie, so I had to ask some locals, which was fun because no one speaks English there. My Italian is crappy but passable enough that I could understand them anyway, so between that and my handsignals we were able to communicate OK. The first person we asked said just go 3 kilometers down the road and we’d see signs, so we did, but no signs. The 2nd person said to go up the hill, so we did, but we didn’t see anything. The third person was fun, I stopped an older woman walking down the road. She didn’t speak a lick of English, but she told me hold on and to follow her and park in her driveway. Her daughter was just getting home and she spoke some broken English, and she gave me directions. Then her father came out, an older man, and she said here, just follow my father because otherwise you’ll never find it. He got on his motorcycle and I was like whoah no way thank you omg celebration etc. (Seriously in what other country would this happen?) So he rode his bike down these twisting turning alleyways with cobblestone pavement, and I followed him in our (seemingly giant) car, until he stopped at an intersection. Then he showed me where to park (we were supposed to park in a school), and he also gave me directions to the place on foot from there (car couldn’t go further, when you see the pictures of the town you’ll understand). It was all in Italian but I understood enough of it and then he tried to leave and I gave him a Swiss chocolate bar to say thanks. He tried to refuse it but I made him take it and said thanks over and over and he went on his merry way. At this point the car was wedged in an alley and I needed to turn around. For the first time in my life I was in a situation where try as I might, I could not manage to wiggle my way into a K-turn to rotate the car. I was forced to back up the car for like, a half a kilometer while my companion got out and helped me steer (the alley was REALLY tight).
After testing my driving in reverse skills, we found the lot where there was free parking, it was tucked away behind a school that barely looked like a school except for the ‘child crossing’ sign. Seriously how was ANYone supposed to find this place without having their hands held? Our host had said to call him when we got to the school and he would come get us. We tried calling but his line was busy. At this point, it had started pouring rain, but we decided to be smart asses and try and find the place on our own. We walked around for a bit, which was not the most fun since my ankle sprain was making the cobblestones a nightmare, but it was also kind of fun because it was the first time I was ever WALKING in Italy and I was super excited.
After being unable to find him and getting pretty wet, we tried calling again and he answered and said he would meet us at the school in 2 minutes. We rapidly walked back to the school, hoping it was the right one and as we turned the corner we saw him and everyone rejoiced and we hugged excitedly. After greetings, he told us there had been a slight problem with our room, (a pipe was leaking) and we had to stay somewhere else, LOL.
He said the owner of the B&B had made arrangements for us to stay at his private apartment a few blocks away, (he had apparently NEVER extended this offer before to anyone) which meant not only did we have the whole place to ourselves instead of just the room in a B&B, but also we had an AMAZING view and an AMAZING apartment to stay in. While I felt bad they had the issues with the leak, we got an awesome upgrade at no cost or inconvenience to us, so I was quite excited. The host showed us to the apartment, and then after, to the B&B a few doors down. Seriously, there is no way anyone could find this place without having been there, or someone showing them. There was no signeage leading up to it, and it was tucked away into a nook in the cobblestone alleys of Nesso. It was positively gorgeous though, and we went in to have a (REAL ITALIAN) coffee and dry off. After a coffee and a bit more conversation, we went back to the apartment to settle in.
Man, this place was so amazing. I would post pictures but it’s someone’s private residence so I don’t feel that would be a nice thing to do. I can, however, post the view. It turns out this whole town used to be a mill town, and many of the houses were mills, using the power from the waterfall to do stuff. I decided then and there I needed my own house in this area.
After chilling out a bit and marveling at the architecture and town, we decided it was time for dinner. There was a nearby restaurant that was recommended to us Tre Rose Pizzaria, which was great because I really wanted to stretch my legs and go for a walk. It was just far enough to be a great walk, but close enough to not be too ridiculous. There was still about an hour and a half of daylight left (yay for long days!), and the rain had subsided, so everything just had a fresh smell and the colors of the foliage were vibrant with that just-rained-on intensity.
The pizzeria/restaurant had outdoor seating, where we got to look directly over the lake. The menu was extensive enough to cover pizza as well as trattoria type noms, and the prices were very reasonable. I was ecstatic to find that one of the region’s specialties were on the menu, lake perch risotto. Basically good fish are caught in Lake Como, and a treat is to eat them fresh at one of the restaurants on the lake. I ordered a small bottle of prosecco to start, and the house special antipasti plate to share, which for the one person in the world not familiar with Italian antipasti, is basically a bunch of cold appetizers, charcuterie plate style. Mmmmm, if I was on death row, Italian antipasti would be my last meal, no lie.
For Segundi (second course), I ordered the risotto with lake perch, and my companion ordered a Salami pizza. (Pizza here is usually an individual size). The service was very friendly and awesome, even though our waiter was a bit .. stuffy, he was also warm and made us feel welcome (strange combination huh? But it worked..)
The prosecco came out and I was finally happy. At that moment all the troubles of the travelling went away and it sunk in that I was finally in Italy, on the lake, about to enjoy Italian charcuterie and fishes. I had literally been waiting my whole life for this and now it was about to happen. Time slowed down for a while then, and the rest of our stay in Italy seemed thankfully long. The antipast came out and it included dried local beef with arugula and shaved asiago cheese, steamed shrimp with a remoulade, lightly steamed calamari, cockles and mussels with garlic and white wine, shaved prosciutto, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, thinly sliced salami (Sausage Counter – 8) , smoked salmon, and toast points. Everything on it was simply divine, super fresh, and super incredible.
Let’s have a moment of silence for the antipasti….
After leisurely eating it, the second courses came out, at a perfect, relaxed pace. My risotto was simple with fish stock and butter, and the perch was browned in butter with sage, and fried sage leaves on top. WOW was this great. Aside from the fact there was more butter in it then I eat in 3 months, it was pretty light and really did justice to the local fish.
The pizza too, was perfect. Quite different then your typical New York pizza, it had a thin, light crust, slightly crispy on the bottom, a fresh sauce with herbs and tomatos, and a delicate layer of cheese and salami. MMM. (Sausage Counter – 9 – YES I had a taste)
After taking our sweet time at a casual European paced meal, the plates were cleared and we ordered a tiramasu and some espresso (short cafe). True to form, that too was amazing, and afterwords we were offered some shots of limoncello. This was a nice treat as it was starting to get chilly (the sun had set at least an hour ago), so it was nice to warm up a bit. Finally it was time to go, we paid the check (how much to leave for tip? tipping conventions are different here.. much less than America), and headed back to the apartment, this time a decent uphill walk, which was delightful, to work off the epic calories we had just gobbled down. The rest of the night was pretty uneventful, I blogged a bit and passed out drooling on my laptop. And thus, our first day in Italy ended. Perhaps it wasn’t the most diverse day, but it was a blast, and an absolutely perfect kick-off to my first visit ever; I was in heaven.