My Mini-Guide: Como
After 48 hours of airport drama, I finally arrived in Como! The long-awaited cooking class at Amy's Cucina was on, and I powered through the hands-on instruction after 2 days of no sleep.
I may have looked like a wreck and smelled like plane fumes, but dammit I made that class. It was so fun, and if you're looking for a unique way to experience culture through food and talking to locals (and fellow travelers), check out Amy's site.
I have since made my own pasta at home with my new pasta maker. (Special thank you to fellow wedding-goer, Christina who was more lucid than I and took these photos from our class.)
I like to get on local time ASAP, so after arriving at 8:30am, going to class, and then attending an evening reception for dinner, I pushed myself to stay up until midnight. Feeling fairly punchy by the end of it all, I finally slept.
12 hours of blissful slumber later, and I was ready to seize the rest of the (now) half-day. Checking train times on my phone to Varenna showed some fairly limited choices. Either leave in 20 min. or 2 hours. I opted for the train I had to run for but would allow me to see more of the area.
Train timetables, boards, and every source of information at the station is flat out confusing and often contradictory. Purchasing a ticket from an attendant is helpful because they will tell you the track (bin) number; however, there are often long lines. Purchasing from your phone app or the ticket machine is faster, but doesn't indicate the track number. Proceed with caution.
In my haste and desire to do as much as I could in a short amount of time, I hopped on what I thought was the right train. This however was not the case. I would soon discover that Switzerland was in my immediate future.
While I love Switzerland and want to go back someday, this wasn't that day. The repeated Italian train announcement finally registered on me and quickly bolted me out of my lulled state of momentary relaxation and comfy train seat in Chiasso, Switzerland. After speaking to "Information" and Border Patrol, I made my way back to Italy, sans passport.
A word of caution: If a train attendant checks your ticket, they may give you a funny look but will not tell you if you're on the wrong train. They are simply checking to see if you validated your ticket at the station before boarding.
Back on the train towards Italy, I hopped off at the first stop, Como. I reasoned that it was a fine place to spend the day and made "lemonade," rather than retracing my steps and rounding the lake to Varenna.
Unfortunately, it was slightly sour lemonade when my bank card didn't work, every ATM (except for one) was out of order, and I ended up falling into Lake Como in an effort to relax and cool off in the sweltering summer heat. Ah, more fun!
The sweeter side of it all was in the setting, beautiful buildings, and lakeside views. This is where taking lots of photos is your best option.
Tip: Always take photos in frustrating situations. Don't get distracted and forget to capture the beautiful surroundings. You can carry those images with you long after, and leave the frustrations behind.
A few ideas and basics for your visit:
1. Getting there...
Como has 2 train stations.
Como Nord Longo and Como San Giovanni. Know where you're coming from/going to in order to know which station you'll use. Validate your ticket in the little orange boxes, should a train agent check your ticket along your journey. Using the train app is helpful for train times, but you may also need to double check the printed paper timetable on the wall.
Check times carefully. The ferries can be extremely slow, so plan out your return trip if you are under any time constraints. From Como, you can take a ferry to Lenno or Varenna (or other lakeside towns).
Lenno is quaint and has a 20 minute walk to Villa del Balbianello, where James Bond: Spectre was filmed. Daniel Craig recovers that this villa. I think I could have used some recovery time there as well!
Varenna is also accessible by ferry, but I'd recommend going on the faster ferry to avoid excessive stops and saving several hours. I opted for the train to Varenna, but ended up on the bus back to Como (more on that later).
3. Things to Do:
Wandering the quaint streets or lakeside sidewalk is a great way to spend the day. Cafes litter the town, and you can't go wrong with simply grabbing an aperitif while people watching. Every corner, nook, and narrow street is quaint and beautiful. Grab an inexpensive gelato and refill your water bottle with free public fountains.
Ride the Funicolare. Walking towards the large fountain, follow the lake to the chalet-like building to purchase an inexpensive round-trip ticket up the hillside. Go on a really clear day for the best views.
Hang Lakeside. A 4 Euro entrance fee will give you access to a grassy area between Villa Geno and Risto Pizza to lay out your towel and access the lake for swimming and cafes. If you don't want to pay the fee, there are public steps along the lake that will allow free access. (below)
Fair warning: There is moss on certain sets of stairs leading to the lake, which may cause a rough fall if you're not careful. Two other tourists had just fallen before I landed on my back side, desperate to finally cool off. It wasn't exactly the way I planned to get into the lake, but technically it worked. I walked off the pain with a cool breeze from my half-soaked dress.
In retrospect, I'd recommend simply cooling off under the shade of trees, while overlooking the lake as to avoid the risk of falling in. Or simply find a safer staircase, leaving the stunt work to me.
Later that day, I packed up again, switching accommodation from my Airbnb to the 2 room hotel suite in Monza with a fellow wedding-goer. The only problem was that our spacious suite turned out to be one room with one bed. To add insult to injury, the a/c wasn't working. The upside? My view (below) from the hotel room, and a big enough bed that it didn't matter that I had to share with a perfect stranger.
Day 3 finally took me to beyond beautiful Varenna, with a little less heat and slightly less drama.
Day 4 was a calm day trip to old town Bergamo.
Day 5, I toured famous Verona to see Juliette's balcony and grand piazzas.
Day 6 landed me back in Milan for the Duomo and trip back to the States.