Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy – Milan/Milano – Farewell

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

Milan/Milano – Farewell

Friday we decided to try the train to go to Milano. Our hotel offers free airport transfers to Malpensa Airport. The train station at the airport provides express transport to Cardarno station in Milano. So we went to the airport on the shuttle and caught the train – 24 euros for both of us and it only takes 29 minutes. No trouble with the train but when we arrived in Milano it is not easy to find the tourism office. We got some directions which led to us purchasing an underground pass for the day (only 4.50 euros). We travelled to Duomo metro station then walked aimlessly till directed once again to the tourism office just near the Castello Sforzesco, just around the corner from Cardarno railway station. I said we wandered aimlessly.

So armed with city maps we go to the Sforzesco Castle.
“Historical background
Along with the Cathedral – Milan’s most famous and much beloved monument – the big Castle is linked to the vicissitudes and dramatic events that the city has been experiencing over the past centuries. For many years, in fact, it has represented a symbol of the power in the hands of the Dukes, as well as of the foreign dominators. Only at the beginning of the 20th century the Castle assumed its distinctive role, becoming a place of culture, which hosted numerous Lombard art collections. The Castle was named after Francesco Sforza, who transformed it into a ducal residence in 1450. But its origins date back to the second half of the 14th century, at the time of Galeazzo II Visconti. ”

For more information go to

We stumbled through the castle grounds (bloody cobblestones maybe romantic or authentic but very hard on the feet) – there does not appear to be much of the military castle left now and the skeleton of the castle now holds multiple museums. I have taken photos of some of the features of the castle but it did not hold much interest for me. The internal walls are pock marked with holes which appeared to be for either ventilation of the passage ways behind or weapons windows. Either way this has been a significant fortress and center of the city with three or more circles of walls outside the main fortress. I hope my photos tell a story. Whilst wandering through in the midst of the castle we found a playful cat chasing lizards in a fountain in the wall. Then another cat and then more and more cats. I think there is a very playful and productive Tom at work here.

Then we walked back to the Cathedral Duomo. Magnificent grand and impressive. Facing Palassio Reale the cathedral started in 1386 and it evolved over the centuries. From the ornate finish on the outside I expected something far more ornate inside but instead it is just huge and dark – not very exciting to my mind. The thing that took our attention most was the floor and the variety of marbles creating amazing tiles for the floor. Having seen enough we headed over to the Galleria Victorio Emanuele II for a spot of shopping – ouch! The shops were very expensive and this worked up my appetite for a spot of lunch. We found a very nice little place in Via Marino and whilst enjoying lunch we worked out we were close to the Museo Teatrale alla Scala.

“The museum, which is adjacent to the opera house in the Piazza della Scala, was opened on 8 March 1913 and was based on a large private collection which had been purchased at auction two years earlier, with funds raised both from government and private sources. The displays include costumes, set designs, autograph scores, and musical instruments of historical interest as well as paintings of musicians and actors, and a range of related paraphernalia including precious ceramic figures portraying characters from the commedia dell’arte, and board games which used to be played in the theatre’s foyer.” Wikipedia

If you want to read more about Duomo then go to
and the theatre

Included below are my photos which include the Steinway gifted to Franz Lizt  by  the manufacturers which was later subject of litigation to save it for the museum.

We did find something not on the tourist trail and out of the ordinary. Just near to the Duomo was an old building that had been used as a hall of justice from the mid 14th century by the Milanese and later conquerors including the Hapsburgs (Austro-Hungarian empire)and is amongst a group of buildings all with different building styles around one of the city’s old well heads. Oh yes and I found this delightful “Jolly Bar” (don’t let the innocent ice cream signs fool you) and they still use drop sided trams. There may be a lot more churches and museums in Milan but I could not get excited about them or the city unfortunately.


The next day Kerry, after her disappointment in Milan, decided she needed some retail therapy. We were fairly unsuccessful in finding a local venue to quench the appetite for shopping so we returned to the hotel some-what frustrated. As it approach dinner time, we had to make a decision about where to dine. The hotel had been spectacularly unspectacular so we ambled down to the village. There was certainly more life in the village than the Sunday we arrived and we found a cosy and cheap pizza restaurant to dine and watch the world go by and contemplate the return journey to the UK the following day.

We had chosen to stay in a hotel near Malpensa Airport which we thought would give us best access to the lakes. We had flown into the airport at Begamo (which of course is not called Begamo Airport just to make it difficult when consulting google maps to plan your journey) so we had to drive for an hour across Milan and hope the traffic was not a problem. Well early Sunday morning in Italy no one is on the roads so we arrived two hours earlier than required. Murphy’s Law! Isn’t that the way of things.

We had an uneventful flight to East Midlands and decided we would try the bus back to Long Eaton. It was magic and only 7 pound for the two of us. A lot different to 25 pound for the early morning taxi.

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy – The Borromeo Trifecta

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

The Borromeo Trifecta
As we travelled back to our hotel we passed above Arona and I happened to spot Rocco di Angera on the other side of the lake. Doing some research on the internet we decided we had to visit the Rocco and complete the Borromeo trifecta. Thursday we drove over to Angera where we spotted on top of the highest point in town the Rocco.

“Rocca Borromeo at Angera.
Before 1227, the castle belonged to the Della Torre family, who lost the possession to the Visconti after the Battle of Desio (1277). In 1449, it passed into the ownership of the Borromeo family. It once belonged to the Visconti family, beginning with Bernabò Visconti and his wife, Beatrice della Scala. But it was purchased by the Borromeo family who expanded and refurbished the castle over the centuries. It still belongs to the Borromeo family. It is best known for its Hall of Justice (Sala di Giustizia) which still contains its original late 13th century fresco depicting the victory of Ottone Visconti, archbishop of Milan, at the Battle of Desio. The castle suffered damage during bombardment in the Second World War.

The castle also contains the Museo della Bambola (Doll Museum), founded in 1988 by the wish of Princess Bona Borromeo Arese, and displays over a thousand dolls made between the 18th century and the present day. Wikipedia”

We started by walking up to the gatehouse and then onto the barbican and through the main gate but before doing so we took a look at the view from the walls of the castle. In the stable we found an old and large wine press. Inside the castle is the major museum of the history of dolls. Mixed amongst the museum are elements of the original castle but as you progress through you find some of the castle furniture and then we came across the hall of Justice. What a find and some of the original frescos still on the walls. Then there is the staircase up to the roof and the watchtower above the roof. Truly amazing. I hope my photos do it justice.


After Angera it was still early so we decided to go back to Como 40 minutes away. After programming Tommy, we drove off and I had a strange feeling that we had passed that way before. We stopped and checked Tommy. Somehow Tommy was taking us to Stresa and not Como. Como was now 1 hour 40 minutes away. Oh well a few extra euros for tolls but otherwise no real harm done.

We got to Como and it was lunch time. There is a nice little restaurant in the main square outside the Cathedral so after a healthy lunch we strolled the streets of the old city finishing off what we had started two days before.


Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy -Two out of Three (marvels) ain’t bad

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

Two out of Three (marvels) ain’t bad

It’s Wednesday. Roberto and Sue are off to the Dolomites. We are going in the opposite direction to Lake Maggiore and the three marvels of Maggiore – Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatore. Well that is what Roberto told us but in truth Pescatore is another tourist trap with little of culture history or architecture to recommend it. If you want to buy a T shirt or go for a swim its fine but otherwise it is not a marvel. The third marvel is Rocca di Angera.

To understand why these rocky islands have been turned into marvels you have to understand the history of the current owners. Let me introduce the Borromeo family. “The aristocratic Borromeo family were merchants at San Miniato around 1300 and became bankers at Milan after 1370. Vitaliano de’ Vitaliani, who acquired the name of Borromeo from his uncle Giovanni, became count of Arona in 1445. His descendants played important roles in the politics of the Duchy of Milan and as cardinals in the Catholic Reformation. In 1916 the head of the family was granted the title Prince of Angera.” “The family has owned the Borromean Islands since the 16th century. The islands have beautiful gardens. Two of the islands have grand palaces, still owned by the family. Vitaliano Borromeo built a summer palace on the Isola Bella for his wife Isabella between 1650 and 1671 which was later enlarged by cardinal Giberto III. (1615–1672) and count Vitaliano VI. (1620–1690). Count Carlo IV. (1657–1734) had the garden terraces added. The family still owns the majority of the Borromean Islands.”(Source – Wikipedia).

Pescatore was a fishing village and now one large shop/ rest stop for tourists. Rocco on the other hand was a fortified castle which together with Rocco di Arone (a fortified castle on the opposite shore destroyed by Napoleon when invading Lombardy) controlled the place where the lake drains into a river. We visited Isola Madre and Isola Bella on Wednesday and Rocco di Angera on Thursday. We chose to travel to Stresa and to catch a water taxi to each of the 3 islands for 15 euros each one way. The taxi (looked like a Venetian canal cruiser) takes you to Madre and gives you 2 to 2 .5 hours to view this island and its palace. I formed the view that the taxi operators want you to go to Pescatore where they hope you will spend your money. I wonder if the taxi operators don’t get any additional revenue from Madre or Bella hence the limited time on Madre. At Pescatore the taxis call every half hour to take you to Bella with the last taxi leaving at 4.30,

Isola Madra

“Isola Madre, at 220 m wide and 330 m long, is the largest island of the Isole Borromee archipelago which falls within the Italian part of the Alpine Lake Maggiore, in the Province of Verbano Cusio Ossola, Piedmont.” Wikipedia

We boarded our Venetian canal cruiser and glided across the lake to Madre. As you approach this little rock by boat the first thing you notice is the palace covering just about the whole island. A little closer and you see a gift shop and restaurant called La Piratera (and like the pirates of old they will rob you blind) sitting hard up against the water but that is the only commercialism you will encounter. Sure you have to pay to get in to the gardens and the palace but you will appreciate this is a moderate cost for what you see. Try to purchase a ticket which gets you into Madre and Bella (35 euros) and save 5 euros and unless you are very interested in the botanical information on the garden don’t worry about the programme.

The walk to the palace is cool and relaxing with outstanding Lake views. Plants from all over the world are in a garden designed for the leisure of the stroller. Australian casuarinas to black bamboo are some of the strange plants found here. There are white peacocks and other large birds roaming around and an aviary but the most amazing piece was a large Tibetan Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana) which appears to have been planted in 1862 following a trip to the Himalayas. Until 2006 it had grown steadily to its grand height towering over the palace. Then a whirlwind uprooted the tree but rather than pull it out the family replanted it and supported it to where it continues to survive to day.

We toured inside the palace but photos were not permitted. Unlike other palaces I have visited this had the feeling of openness and light, coolness and relaxing surroundings. It has not always been a home. There is a lot of evidence of gun emplacements and guard points. One of the surprises was the marionette theatre and the variety of the marionettes in the house. These were for the entertainment of the family and their guests but I was to be surprised even more at Isola Bella.

The island structures are completed with the family chapel.


Isola Pescatore

When we arrived at Madre there was only one other couple with us but the numbers quickly grew. When we sailed for Pescatore the boat was full as was the island. It was lunch time so we went looking for a restaurant. We crossed the island to get away from the crowds and chose an outdoor umbrella restaurant for no other reason than it looked inviting. Unfortunately looks are deceiving and we waited for 1 hour to get a salad and a pizza. Like most of this island this was disappointing.

There was an interesting small church on the island and some interesting houses and lanes. The church had a cemetery at the back and all of the tombstones had a photo of the deceased – something I have not seen before. Amongst my photos you will see a Jolly Roger and I thought that was the definition of Pescatore. So we sailed for Isola Bella.


Isola Bella

As you approach you are struck by how large this palace is and how much of the island it consumes. Unlike Madre this is palatial as well as grand. No photos were permitted but like most laws and speed limits in Italy everyone ignores them so you will see my photos below.

At the entrance there is an enormous hall with a domed ceiling. I got some of the best views of Pescatore and Madre from the windows of the palace. Then there were the marionettes and the theatre settings. These were just wonderful. I have given you just three examples in my photos.

The gardens were very different from Madre but just as wonderful. At one end is a wall of statues and fountains which run back down to the lake in 10 terraces. I found a pond in which there was a frog croaking but I could not find the frog so I photographed one of the water Lilly flowers instead. But the unique thing was the grottos.

Rooms in the palace decorated to look like underwater grottos. I have taken photos and they will give you an inkling of the amazing scenes.


We got back to Stresa about 4.00 pm and I noticed on the way back that there was a cable car running from a building at the wharf up into the hills. We investigated and not really understanding what we were doing we parted with 40 euros to ride the cable car and do something else when we got to the top.

The trip started very quickly travelling by cable car up to Mottarone 1385 metres above the lakes. We could see the three islands then the whole of the lake but we were nowhere near the top yet. We changed cable cars and went up to 1491 meters where we took a chair lift to the top. I have no idea of the height at the top – suffice it to say it was high and above 1500 metres.

From the top we were able to see the whole of the lakes district for 360 degrees. We also saw the Alpyland fun park. For a further 5 euros each we took a trip on the bob sled ride on rails. 1.2 klms of twisting down hill track and a bloody steep hill at that. Threatened with the loss of my manhood I drove the bob sled with Kerry in front of me and kept the sled to a reasonable pace (he he he heeee – she screamed her head off). I got a few photos which will give you the idea and show you the scenes from the top. Truly magnificent and well worth the cost.


Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy – Where are the rich and famous

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

Where are the Rich and Famous?

Tuesday and our second day in Italy. Roberto is touring around Lake Como and going to Belliago by ferry. George Clooney is supposed to have residence somewhere near here which might be of interest to some people so it did not upset my day that he remained reclusive. Having arranged with our Italian mate to meet at Bellagio, I plugged in “Ferry Belliago” into the GPS (which we call “Tommy” as it is a TomTom) and we set sail. Now I was not expecting that Tommy would take me literally so when Tommy announced “after 800 metres turn left and take the ferry” I was astounded. But sure enough there it was a car ferry to Bellagio.

We parked and for 10 euros each return we boarded as walk-ons arriving at Belliago 15 minutes before the bus tour/boat tour. Belliago is located on the western shore of Lake Como and a tourist trap with expensive shops set in an old village of many stairs (it is all very hilly). Strolling through the village was interesting once we got away from the shops. One of the interesting buildings was the local church which had an amazing interior. The exterior is not so exciting. But I got an interesting photo of the back of the church which I have included below.

Roberto and Sue turned up with the rest of their tour about 20 minutes after us and we then started exploring the remaining areas of Bellagio. Kerry and Sue found an oversized cork screw outside one of the many “caves” at Bellagio.

Lunch was partaken in the back streets as the lake front is overdone. After lunch I found the oldest building in Bellagio behind the church – the only remaining part of the 12th century watch tower. There were some exquisite gardens, beautiful vistas, and ancient vestiges of an elegant past. Time went quickly and like Cinderella, Roberto and Sue rushed back to their “coach” to join their tour.

We returned to the other side of the lake and drove back toward Como. On the way we stopped at another village. Argegno is on the lake and has a stream running through it. Colourful and quaint we felt compelled to walk through before taking a milkshake at the Hotel Argegno. Some photos follow.

Roberto (being first generation Australian from Italian heritage) had expressed the view that there was nothing worth looking at in Como. We thought we would check it out for ourselves. So when we drove into a central Como car park alongside the remnants of an old walled city then to find in the basement of the car park Roman foundation for the original Roman village founded in or around 1 BC (it was moved from the hills to the site of these foundations on the order of Julius Caesar) we had to disagree. There is evidence of an earlier Bronze Age village present also. I have included some photos of the remaining towers, the foundations and a massive cathedral constructed in 1397 on the centre square. There is also examples of 16 th century residences still in use today. As well it is situated on the lake with very accessible public parks and gardens close to the city centre. We found at least two other churches in the old city precinct and just outside the city is a funicular. So I have no idea what city Roberto visited to find nothing of interest.


Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy – Up, Up, and Away

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

Up, Up and Away

Our first morning in Lake Como. After 3 to 4 hours sleep, I awoke to a cloudy sky and irregular showers. The sunny day Sunday had promised was gone but we had made our plans to meet Roberto and they could not be changed. To add insult to injury when we entered onto the highway we were met by a car park. Some multi vehicle collision was holding up all traffic (see photo below) and in true Italian style we reversed back through the entry lane to try a new direction and as we crossed over the highway the blockage had been cleared and traffic was flowing again.

We finally started our journey for Lugano on the lake of the same name in Switzerland. There are tolls on most autostrada in Italy and the A9 is a set 2.20 euro. But the Swiss do it differently. At the end of the A9 we were met by the Swiss border control. They were not interested in our passport. They only wanted to collect 35 euros road tax. (Note to self – Switzerland charges a 70 euro toll to use their toll roads for one year and this toll reduces to half at June). So the cost for the joy of visiting Roberto – 35 euro. Even though we were delayed twice we still managed to beat Roberto with his friend Sue into the old city. After the usual ritual – a cuppa and a transfer of gossip -we decided to find the funicular to the top of Monte Bre for views of Lugano and the lake. We found a disused funicular and on the basis that I had read on the internet that you caught one line to join the main line to the top, we climbed a couple of hundred stairs to find that we were way off target. But we got some great photos. We decided to grab a cab and asked to be taken to the funicular but went not to Monte Bre funicular but Monte San Salvador Funicular – I did not even know there were two funiculars in the town. Nevertheless we bought tickets which included lunch at the summit. Two (2) funicular journeys later we were 813 meters above sea level and in a white out – low cloud prevented us taking in the view. So we went to lunch which turned out to be pretty good. We had hoped the cloud would lift after lunch but no such luck and Roberto and Sue had a bus to catch. On a clear day the views would be fantastic. An excursion I can recommend.

Roberto and Sue rejoined their tour and we then drove up to Mont Bre. Kerry drove and we both were very nervous about this trip. Monte Bre is higher than Monte San Salvador and the road is winding with an ever decreasing road width. Further because it is higher we drove through the cloud with oncoming traffic just appearing in front of us. We arrived in Monte Bre with a feeling of relief and trepidation as we had to drive back down.

Monte Bre is an ancient village of stone houses. Rough paved lanes join the houses into a village. The village has been home to a number of renowned artists who lived and worked in the village and an outdoor walking museum of their art and others artists has been developed. We walked around the outdoor museum which is in the lanes of the village with art posted on the exterior of houses. Kerry was fascinated with the architecture of the village particularly the old and its integration with the newer (there was nothing new). If you wish to read more go to

Suffice it to say I drove down the hill and we found out that the funicular was not operating that day. In fact we witnessed the operators testing the funicular on our return trip. We had decided to visit Roberto and Sue at their hotel in Saranno for dinner. Saranno is a bigger village and the Grand Hotel (where they were staying) in Saranno is a true 4 star hotel when compared with our Best Western. We had aperitifs at the bar and a pizza at a cafe near the Hotel. The cafe was in a derelict looking building beside a pile of broken concrete at the railway station. Cheap in every sense. So it was home to Best Western and a good nights sleep. I have included photos of our trip up Monte San Salvador and trip up Monte Bre:


Lake Como Italy – The Trouble with cheap airfares…..

Retirees go Abroad – Lake Como Italy

The Trouble with cheap airfares…..

Sunday morning and the alarm goes off at 4.30am. We are prepared to dress and catch the taxi we have booked for 5.00am to go to East Midlands Airport for our flight out at 7.40am. However despite the best laid plans we did not read all the endorsements on our tickets so we went through security to learn that we were supposed to get our tickets endorse with our passport check before going through security. This would not have been a problem if a particular Greek family had not delayed our clearance through security because they ignored every possible preparation before going through security – they had scissors, knives, aerosols and liquids all through their carry-on luggage. Now East Midlands may be a rural airport but it has 23 gates and during school holidays is really busy so our margin for error evaporated and instead of quietly having breakfast before catching the plane we were breaking our necks to get to the gate.

Oh a point to note even if you miss the passport check as we did, you can still get the check performed at the gate but they don’t like doing so.

The airport trauma behind us, we settled in for our flight to Bergamo. Ryanair is a true no frills airline and we purchased breakfast taking turns to eat because of the lack of space.

Arrived at Bergamo and picked up the car. Ooh an upgrade. A BMW station wagon. It is twice as big as the car Kerry wants so not a good start. Anyway we made it to our hotel Best Western at Cardano Al Campo by accident (spotted a sign on the side of the road) and at first when we first saw the building we were quite impressed. But it was deceiving.

The room was large and spacious but the carpet has seen a better day. We unpacked and went down to the bar for some lunch. Well the porter was called to serve us in the bar and the bar snacks were lasagne or cannelloni microwaved to death. Not a good start. We spent the afternoon walking around Cardano Al Campo centre (note to self – don’t expect anything to be open in an Italian village between 12.00 and 4.00 on a Sunday afternoon). But we did find a bar run by a Chinese expat from Tsin Jing and the local drunk who wanted to make friends and take us to dinner. We politely passed on the opportunity.

We decided to have dinner at the hotel which was a big mistake. We had the buffet which was cold when it was intended to be hot the fish was full of bones and the choice very limited. Most disappointing. After dinner we went to our room to plan our meeting with Roberto who was going to Lugano on a bus tour. But first I had a teleconference with Australia for three hours at midnight.

Photos of Cardona Al Campo on a lazy Sunday afternoon.