So here’s another Italy detour since there is nothing to currently write regarding Poland.
I’m currently at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees in Stresa, Italy. This hotel is situated along Lake Maggiore, one of the bodies of water in Italy’s famous Lakes Region. Lake Como is nearby, home to many celebrities as well as billionaires and business execs. George Clooney is probably the one most associated with Lake Como.
My brother contacted me a few weeks ago about coming up here. He’s been considering the purchase of a villa and came to view a few of them. All I can say is WOW! One villa is on Lake Maggiore. One can drive one’s boat right into the villa. These villas have swimming pools, gazebos, travertine Jacuzzis. Patios jut into the lake. They’re incredible.
My brother’s lovely Ukrainian girlfriend, Marina, is with him as is my beloved little nephew. This first night was a wonderful time of relaxing and having a magnificent dinner in a local, family-owned restaurant. After today, I needed it.
As is normal for me, the trip up here on the train was abnormal. I grabbed the wrong train in Alba Adriatica and, instead of getting a train that went directly to Milan, I was on local trains that stopped at every little burg that existed along the way. This resulted in an arrival time that was about five hours later than I would have originally had.
Upon arrival in the Milan station, I disembarked and then realized my carry-on was still aboard the train. By the time I returned, it was gone. I tried to find Customer Service and Information. (Word of warning, nothing is clearly marked in Italy!) Ultimately, after running up and down three levels of the enormous train terminal, someone finally told me to go to the police office in the station.
I had hoped there was a Lost and Found somewhere. From what I gathered, there wasn’t. The policeman told me that the bag was most likely stolen. I was crestfallen. I had no clothes, except those on my back. I had no toiletries. My camera was gone. My Italian tutoring lessons (all of them) were in the bag. My work-out clothes were in there.
Most troubling was the loss of my anti-depressants along with the mouth appliance I use to help me breathe at night so I can sleep better. I have to replace my meds pronto meaning I will have to order them online, then have someone pick them up and overnight them to me. Then repay my friend.
This is probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my travels. As I was rushing through the train station, I was cursing myself and convincing myself that I was unfit to attempt to live overseas. Every time I travel, something goes wrong, it seemed. I am now convinced that, when I’m in Ukraine, I will be kidnapped by Russian separatists.
By the time I arrived in Stresa, along Lake Maggiore, I was stressed and frustrated. Seeing my brother and my little nephew erased all that. Seeing our magnificent hotel helped even more. The place is gorgeous.
The front of the hotel looks out on Lake Maggiore. Islands with mansions and castles dot the lake. The hotel is 150 years old and resembles a museum inside. Virtually every space has something. The crystal chandeliers are made of Murano glass, the best type of Venetian glass available. Each chandelier is valued at $30,000. And they are everywhere. Tapestries and paintings line the walls. The bedspreads are red and gold velvet. Carvings and sconces populate the hallways. Porcelain vases abound. The furnishings are ornate. Frescoes are on the ceiling.
The grounds are a wonder to behold. Marble statuary are everywhere. Circular travertine staircases, fountains and Corinthian columns are found throughout the grounds. At night the hotel looks like a cross between Westminster Abbey and an oligarch’s castle. Even the concierge desk in the lobby is over-the-top in its opulence.
I have my own room (of course). And I am in a state of awe. How is it that this hick from Woodburn, Oregon wound up in such grandiose surroundings?
After I arrived, we went for dinner. Dinner’s main course was tagliatelle pasta with sausage, chick peas and tomatoes along with cheese ravioli. Wine and champagne flowed. The salads were too incredible for human consumption. One such concoction included deep-fried brie with sliced apples and pine nuts. I lost count on the baskets of bread we ate because of a balsamic vinegar unlike anything any of us had ever tasted. Of course, it was something made locally especially for this restaurant. And of course it was virtually impossible to find anywhere. This is very common in Italy. The proprietor promised to get some bottles for us. As we left, he provided a bottle gratis. He became our new best friend.
For me, though, the piece d’ resistance were the desserts. Our waiter created flambés for us at our table. The first was a crepe with Grand Marnier and strawberry puree with orange peel and lemon with a dollop of whipped cream. The second dessert was a pineapple flambé with orange juice and whiskey also with a dollop of whipped cream. The third was a banana flambé with brown sugar, caramel, cherry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. If my doctor had been there, he would have killed me. I could feel my A1C levels reaching record highs. But it was worth every mouthful.
The next day we went into Milan specifically to see The Last Supper and the Duomo. I had gone to Milan in 2004 to visit my cousin, Sergio. His brother, Maurizio, came up and we took a lake cruise on Maggiore and later viewed The Last Supper, which was a religious experience for me.
Prior to my arrival in Italy in June of 2004 I had performed in an Easter production of a live recreation of The Last Supper. I played Doubting Thomas (no comments from the peanut gallery). I was also, at the time, reading The DaVinci Code which incorporates The Last Supper. After all that, viewing this masterpiece was the cherry on the parfait.
Well, this time around, we were unable to enter the museum because it was sold out until Tuesday (we were there on Thursday). It was a disappointment for all involved, especially my brother, who wanted my nephew to experience something that is historically, culturally and religiously significant. So, off we went to the Duomo.
In 2004 we had not been able to enter the Duomo because it was under renovation. This meant that the experience was new for all of us. The Duomo is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and took six centuries to complete, starting in 1386 and ending in the 1800’s. As with so many of the finest cathedrals in Italy, it boasts statues of prophets and saints and enormous columns. Marble, of course, is featured throughout. More types than you can count.
The stained glass was something of which I had never seen the likes. The stained glass windows were 3-4 stories high. The most impressive windows were those behind the altar, in a roped-off area. Didn’t stop us. We walked back anyway and marveled at the enormity of the windows with each stained glass pane representing another story in the Bible.
After the Duomo we went back to the car and drove through the high end shopping area of Milan, a world center for fashion, to buy a gift for our cousin’s daughter. Three hundred sixty-seven dollars for a dress, shoes and a small head band. <gulp>
We then found a shopping center for my middle class sensibilities so I could replace everything (almost) that was stolen. I loaded up on cologne, underwear, polo shirts, socks and toiletries. I saw a camera for a great price but passed on it, foolishly. Ended up using my iPhone for all my photos.
For dinner that night we went to a restaurant highly recommended by two of the concierge in the hotel. We were expecting another family-owned restaurant where we could have homemade pasta. We should have specified that. What we got instead was a high-end restaurant full of men in business suits.
The menu was more sophisticated than what we wanted so my brother told the cameriere that we just wanted pasta and antipasti. The waiter nodded understandingly and told us not to worry.
A few minutes later eight dishes of antipasti came out containing shrimp with grapefruit, tongue, sausage ragu’, prosciutto-wrappped cheese, calamari, Italian potato salad and lox with basil. There was more, but my memory eventually quit on me.
Fearing fullness, we finally quit eating just in time for the main courses of pasta with olives, duck ravioli with orange peel and cannelloni with spinach and veal. After the main courses, and a few minutes of moaning, we ordered semifreddo tiramisu and apple pastry with cinnamon cream for dessert.
So, I’ve been here for several days. The weight I’ve lost is coming back. It’s all my brother’s fault for spoiling me so much. The hotel has a sauna and a hot tub so I hope to be soaking this tired old body as much as possible. I also plan on parking it in a sitting room to write about this experience. It’s all part of this expatriate dance. Right now I feel like Fred Astaire gliding across the floor.