Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In lovely Sirmione on the Lago di Garda


We departed Trento on a cool misty October 22 and headed from the Alps down to the lake country. The drive along Lago di Garda thrust me back into the past, when I traveled there with my deceased husband Vittorio and our baby Thomas when we stopped for lunch at a small roadside trattoria. The owners, a lovely warm couple with a wide-faced smiling daughter told us they did not open until evening but, seeing the baby, told us to come back in an hour and we could share lunch with the family—a delicious minestrone with crusty bread, greens from the garden and wine. While we waited, we rented a small rowboat and floated happily offshore with the warm sun on our faces and our baby asleep in my arms.

Bill and I were spending two nights in Sirmione, a tiny lakeside town on the peninsula on the south-side of Lago di Garda. Villa Rosa, a lovely family run B&B only a mile’s walk from the heart of the historic town , was family owned and operated. One of the family actually spoke fluent English (the first such speaker we’d encountered on our trip), provided us with a map of the town on which she marked the route to the famed Terme Catullo, the thermal waters visited from ancient times for which the town was noted.

A lovely lovely tree-lined boulevard took us past the Rocca Scaligera, a medieval castle into the town which opens into an ancient arcade filled with small shops, many offering gelato. We succumbed, of course, having found a shop where the banana gelato was slightly gray rather than bright yellow – the sign of homemade vs factory produced gelato – and sat on a wall next to the quay savoring our cones. Having been totally seduced by the dark chocolate and coffee flavors we never did get to try the banana.

The Aquaria Spa was a mystery that unfolded experience by experience. We first had to learn to learn to use the moving lockers by swiping our magnetic watches over a screen. My locker, number 10, arrived on its hanger. Clothes and purse tucked sagely within, the door closed, and off it went--one of hundreds of such lockers on the mechanized rack.

Noting that most people were wearing flip-flops, I thought them very wise. Those floors were slippery plus! Then I saw the posted notice requiring the use of flip-flops. Bill and I slunk along as unobtrusively as possible, managing to avoid being noticed by spa attendants while negotiating the large panoply of thermal options. A channel of heated water lead into a channel of icy water, from there to a sulfur-rich pool to another adorned with massage options of all sized and shapes: whirlpools, rolling beds, powerful jets that forced water over one’s shoulders and heads, another long channel lined with stone seats where we moved from seat to seat deluged by water from above.

Three hours later, our nostrils suffused with the scent of sulfur – an "aroma" my bathing suit carried back to the states where it hung around for several months thereafter, despite many washings -- we showered and walked through the spa gardens back into the pedestrian friendly cobbled streets. A delicious meal of fresh fish, grilled vegetables, wine, and crostini at a lovely outdoor restaurant in the town square, and leisurely walk through the gathering dusk back to our comfortable room at Villa Rosa, ended a very lovely day in Sirmione. Good choice, Beryl, I congratulated myself, realizing that we hadn't seen one other American family during the entire afternoon.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trento in the Italian Alps


The Grand Hotel in Trento, is a classy old hotel smack in the heart of the city. Delicious room, tasteful décor, scrumptious breakfast buffet, great drinks in the piano bar, and my precious Bill enjoying i there with me.

Trento was on our itinerary, not only because it is a beautiful city in the Italian Alps, but because we wanted to visit with my deceased husband Vittorio’s niece Concetta and her family who live just above the city in Piano di Sopra.

Unlike Teresa, who seemed content to leave us on our own during the day, Concetta, immediately assumed the role of tour director. That afternoon we walk through streets lined with Renaissance palaces, visit the Duomo and descend to the recently unearthed early Christian church beneath it; then sit and sip espresso at a small cafĂ© on the main square. That night, Concetta’s entire family comes for supper: her two sons, their wives and children fill her small home. It’s all Italian conversation in Trento but we manage to chatter away, and Bill, with his smattering of Spanish and German, fits right in.

The following morning Concetta wants to take us north to Bolzano, so we set off, presuming she knows the way. It is only when we’ve passed an important exit for Bolzano, that we learn Concetta does not drive. She peers over the top of her glasses at passing signs and shouts “Di La!” at the last minute. “Di la?” Bill asks. Concetta does not say “a la destra” or “a la sinistra,” so Bill has no idea in which direction to turn.

Bolzano
is a beautiful mountain town, with flowers everywhere, wooden balconies overlooking busy marketplaces bright with fruit, vegetable, cheese, and pastry stands. We have a lunch of beer and sausages in a German restaurant, then wander along the Lauben -- with its medieval arcades and expensive shops.

On the way back to the parking garage, I tell Concetta that I’m sure glad she’s with us because I was totally lost. “I think we are lost,” she moans. "I can't remember how to get back to the garage." The three of us burst out laughing and merrily inquire of passersby where that garage might be. Succeeding we return to Concetta’s house where she's prepared a feast: polenta with fresh fungi (mushrooms) grown by her son Lucca, local gorgonzola and Asiago cheese, and for dessert a chestnut and raspberry torte. Again, the entire family crowds round the table in her tiny living room.

Bill, who’d thought he’d only be meeting a few people in Italy, begins to count them. By the end of the trip he will have met 24 of Vittorio’s friends and relatives. Bless him!

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2009