The Italian Job

Okay, so we haven’t quite got to Turin yet, but we’re heading in the right direction …

Having said au revoir to France, we drove up the coast into Italy. Our next port of call was Lake Como, but we decided to break up the journey and stopped off just outside Genova for a couple of nights. Most of the campsites in the area were fully booked, but we found a caravan park that had room for us in Arenzano. And what a funny little place it was too – the best way of describing it is probably an Italian version of a trailer park! There were caravans squeezed in together like sardine tins in a supermarket, but they obviously weren’t ever moved as most of them also had permanent extensions added to the side of them. (The photo gives you some idea.) Strange, but amusing to think of the Italians holidaying/living in this way!

Next was something completely different. We drove up past Milan to Lake Como to stay with some more friends of Marcello’s: Chris, Lisa, their three kids Nina, Andrea and Allegra, and Lisa’s father Aldo in his family home in a village called Valtelino Andelo. They also had Chris’s Uncle and Aunt staying with them (Maurizio and Sherry) so it was a full house. That night we all went for pizza – our first in Italy, but I’m sure not our last! – and then back to the house for coffee. Karen then got a taste of Italian life, with friends and neighbours dropping by for a drink and a chat, each bringing a cake (torte) of some description – or even homemade ice cream. A bustling hive of sharing and exchanging and nothing but crumbs left at the end!

The next day we headed over to Menaggio to spend the day by the lake. Although the drive along the lake the previous day gave glimpses of the beauty of the area, much was masked by the long tunnels cut through the mountains. It’s such a beautiful setting – dramatic mountains above, the lake stretching out in front of you and pretty villas and buildings to the side and running up the hills. It’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with this part of Italy.

Having enjoyed some time soaking up the sun and eating a spot of lunch at the lido, Chris had a treat in store for us as he’d hired a speed boat so we could do a tour of the lake. This really is a great way to get more of a feel for the place – and it was fantastic to get a closer look at some of the huge villas set along the water. Another of those “if we win the lottery” dreams to add to the list! Still, we got a taste of the high life as we cruised around. Each of Aldo, Maurizio, Chris and Aldo’s nephew’s son Ricci took turns as skipper – the joy of which was visible in the grins from ear to ear.

The next couple of days were spent enjoying time with the family – bike rides down to the lake (little did we know what professionals Chris and Aldo were until they pitched up looking ready to take on the Tour de France!), playing gin rummy, Marcello catching up on the news from Cape Town, cleaning Charlie and putting the tent up so Nina and Andrea could check out where we’ve been sleeping. We were also very lucky as Aldo has been a restaurateur for his entire career, so we were treated to some fantastic Italian cooking. This included the best bolognese Karen had ever tasted (Marcello has been fortunate enough to have enjoyed it before and to have had Aldo pass on a few tricks of the trade on previous visits) and Aldo’s famous tomato and bean salads. Delicious! We also spent an evening in a pretty town called Varenna where we were joined by Melissa and Francesco. Here we enjoyed dinner by the lake followed by a very pretty walk past fishing boats and restaurants. The evening was finished off nicely with huge ice creams and live music before heading home for bed.

As our stay drew to an end, we took a ferry over to the town of Bellagio, where the famous casino gets its name from. Another very pretty town, with lots of winding cobbled lanes lined with shops selling clothes, jewellery, souvenirs and the like. Another day, another lovely meal and gelati consumed – such is the life in Italy! We also took a trip into Como itself, where Aldo was able to point out where he grew up and some of his old haunts from his younger days.

Our final night at Andalo saw the combining of Italian and South African cultures … with a splash of French, as the braai was fired up and toasted with a bottle of Ruinart that had been saved especially. We were joined by Melissa, Francesco, Valeria and her husband, and later by Aldo’s adopted brother Orio and his partner Maria-Lucia, so we were able to say our goodbyes to everyone. And we didn’t go without entertainment as not only did Andrea give us a demonstration of his boxing moves, but Francesco brought over his guitar and Nina, Andrea (and Chris!) showed us some of their best moves.

This blog post doesn’t really do justice of our time with the Parrello/Girolos, but hopefully gives an idea of it. We had a great time pottering about, visiting various towns in the area, playing with the children and having a good banter. The kindness and warmth that everyone showed us will never leave us and a special thanks goes out to Valeria who loaned us an apartment for our stay. We were also very touched on our departure to find that Aldo had made us a packed lunch for the journey ahead, tucked into which was a chunk of the local cheese we’d enjoyed so much a few nights before.

We look forward to visiting again soon – and to see the Parrellos and Aldo when we get to Cape Town!

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