Saturday, January 31, 2009

One Train Ride Not Worth Sleeping Through

After two lovely nights in Como, Martello and Trofie Wife geared up for our first trip out of Italy since we had arrived in late October. Our destination? Switzerland. After sprinting back (well, just Martello) to the hotel when we realized we still had the room key and wanted to avoid transporting it across the border, we hopped on the bus and found our way back to the Como station. Thanks to the extra sleep afforded by our early turn-in the prior evening, we were able to (mostly) stay awake during the journey. We passed from the Como to Lugano region, veering into Ticino (the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland) through a veritable winter wonderland that won over Martello’s vision (which is doubly better than mine on the contacts scale) and made him so bold as to say that this snowy journey was “the most gorgeous train ride ever.

Gradually, the mountain landscape starting giving way to Starbucks cafes. One after the other. It was definitely a rude awakening. Now, don’t get Trofie Wife wrong: I love Starbucks (and am grateful to the Palisades Avenue branch for always being so welcoming during interview season; I’m sure they miss me and my little Columbia banner). And having visited Switzerland twice before (and hearing of my nephew’s love for their muffins), I knew that Starbucks had made their mark there, but Italy holds the proud distinction of barring the chain from opening a single store in its country, citing the possible loss of its distinct café culture (for some reason, France has let in the Green Mermaid). The bold white-on-green lettering coupled with the brusque sounds of German made it clear that we had entered a new dimension. 

We soon arrived at Zurich’s central station and navigated our way to a payphone (how quaint!), and announced our presence (we were somewhat noncommittal as to the exact date/time of our arrival, something that Trofie Wife’s sister was totally cool with). We hopped on a tram and landed at the red door on Freiestrasse just prior to kiddie bedtime and adult dinner. We quickly made ourselves at home and prepped for the limited adventuring that would be available to us the next day (Switzerland is essentially closed on Sunday).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, January 30, 2009

And While We’re on the Subject of the Holocaust…

According to a recent New York Times article, Trenitalia has agreed to construct a Holocaust memorial in a secret, underground section of the Milan station (which is the only part of Milan in which Martello and Trofie Wife have spent any significant amount of time). In the 1940s, deportees were loaded onto railroad cars in the secret chamber and then lifted to the main part of the station before being spirited to concentration camps. Should this project actually be completed prior to our departure from Italy (there’s a pretty good shot of it, since the Milan station has, at least in our opinion, made great strides in its major renovation in the gaps between our visits there), we’ll be sure to visit while awaiting our next connection.

For the full story, see

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Going Loco up in Lake Como

If you made it to the end of the previous post, you likely noted Mezzegra’s beauty. Once again, Trofie Wife’s black belt Googling skills guided us to a grand old time. Our terrace window–door (those creepy “doors” that jump out at you when you turn the knob just a tad too far, causing them to morph into “windows”; apparently if you’re a “design” or “construction professional” you understand how these things work; nonprofit administrators not so much) showcased majestic, snow-capped mountains and illustrious Lake Como, which borders grand dwellings housing celebrities of old (bishops granted gorgeous villas) and new (George Clooney; now I understand his Nespresso connection). As per our other off-price journeys over the years, Martello and I were visiting the Lakes off-season, but the calm and stillness was definitely a treat (and we’ll be sure to make it back to experience high season and ride some boats around the lake; cross your fingers that Trofie Wife doesn’t get sea sick).

Mezzegra is a tiny town of 900 residents but it has a vaunted past as a site of a fatto storico (historic event).

 The brown sign doesn’t exactly spell it out (given the Italians’ continually strange relationship with Il Duce and his descendents), but on April 28, 1945, the deposed, on-the-run fascist leader (and his mistress) were gunned down by partisans. It appears as though Mezzegra residents (and likely regional and federal governmental leaders) felt as though they needed to commemorate their town’s role in history yet not commercialize it. (There is, however, a cute little bench and picnic table right next to the “ready, aim, fire” spot, so make of that what you will…).

After ruminating on the Mussolini affair for a moment, Martello lead us to the town’s church (even with only 900 residents I would venture to say that it isn’t the only one in Mezzegra), memorial to residents felled during the two World Wars, and the church’s adjoining (and still active) cemetery (in which Martello lingered for an uncomfortable amount of time, taking many pictures (while town members were paying respects at family graves); he challenged me to post some to the blog so he could call me on my hypocrisy at a later point, but I didn’t take any off the camera, so you’ll just have to imagine them or ask Martello to send you the files). 

We walked through Mezzegra’s winding cobblestoned hills and then several miles around the lake, where each vista was prettier than the next, and Martello found himself quite taken with the architecture of a solitary, waterside church that was nearly a millennia old.

While there was talk of trying to walk to Como, our better judgment (and frozen toes) prevailed, and we eventually hopped on a bus (hereby christened “the most beautiful bus ride ever”). We disembarked in Como near a guidebook-recommended pizza place and gorged on very long, wide pizzas (while marveling at the gargantuan appetites of what we believed were decommissioned Swiss border guards). We then explored Como’s Christmas market and contemplated ice skating on the temporary rink, but the combination of Trofie Wife’s reactivated leg pain (from our Arenzano hike of several weeks prior) and the unbearable (American) elevator music blasting from the rink’s speakers convinced us to forgo it. Instead, we took the funicular to Brunate to gaze down at Como while sipping hot cocoa.  

It’s a wonder that I made it back down in one piece, given that I sustained a hit to the lip (Martello’s mistake while in a photography-induced frenzy) and the nose (by tree branch). 

We descended at nightfall and made our way to centro and the Como duomo (say it three times fast; that never gets old!) which, oddly enough, specifically bans gelato (but curiously no other foods) from its vaunted halls. We then walked to a park containing a monument to Alessandro Volta (native son and father of the battery) and a Futurist monument to unknown soldiers by Antonio Sant'Elia, which Martello had seen previously in textbooks.

The park also displayed a small monument to a Righteous Gentile, Giorgio Perlasca, another Como native, who masterfully manipulated international laws of diplomacy in order to save over 5,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to concentration camps (check out his amazing story here: Additionally, there is a small memorial plaque for Princess Malfada di Savoia, who had the misfortune of marrying a German Nazi supporter (Prince Philipp of Hesse) and found herself in Buchenwald upon suspicion of working against the aims of the regime. (Sadly, she was mortally wounded in the Allied bombing of the camp's munitions factory.)

We managed to catch the last bus back to Mezzegra (after a painfully long wait, during which Martello foraged some olive foccacia). We disembarked past our hotel, hoping to find an open café. Instead, we found darkness and a Scooby Doo-style haunted house villa with creepy gargoyles (sorry, it was too dark for photos!).  We eventually managed to find our way back to the hotel so we could rest our weary limbs and gear up for the next day of our adventure.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

The Twelve Days of Vacanze

Buon anno! Trofie Wife must apologize for taking such a long time to return to cyber world after what seemed like an endless holiday vacation. (Apologies are rescinded from those of you whose Gregorian and Lunar New Year’s resolutions included catching up on our blog; you’re welcome.) It is Trofie Wife’s hope over the next several (ok, many) entries to illustrate our wanderings from the dusk of 2008 to the dawn of 2009—a journey that wound through newly-discovered (well, just by us) parts of Italy as well as well-warn chocolate paths and fresh (yet extended) design paths in Switzerland and (for a couple of hours) Germany. But Trofie Wife will heed the advice of dear Alpine Governess Maria and seek “a very good place to start”— the beginning, of course. That takes us back to where we last left off—Christmas Day— just several hours after we bid arrivederci to those lovely nativity donkeys astride the duomo. …

Now apparently much of the world’s population can’t wait to leap from their beds on Christmas morning and rush to the foot of their trees to inspect Santa’s offerings. Trofie Wife, however, took “bah humbug” to a new level this December 25th, practically pitching a fit at the thought of emerging from bed and flinging herself on an early morning train to Milan (not that the company—il cugino en route to the airport along with dear Martello—wouldn’t have been delightful). See, the hotel at our first vacation stop—the much-lauded Lakes region—had been kind enough to inform us that they would be closed until 5 p.m., so it didn’t make sense to Trofie Wife to arrive in a new Italian city on Christmas Day prior to that time, laden with luggage filled with nearly two weeks of garments and reading material (as well as gifts for Swiss munchkins). We would likely encounter increasingly growling stomachs as everything, I argued, would be closed SINCE WE WERE IN ITALY— not quaint New York of ye Chinese restaurants and movie theaters—ON CHRISTMAS DAY.  My whining eventually wore down a more-chipper-than-usual-on-a-day-when-he-could-have-very-easily-slept-in Martello, so he accompanied il cugino to the train station, then returned to the apartment for a warm, mid-winter morning nap and some last-minute trip planning.

If you thought our nuptials lacked advance planning, our vacation proved an exercise in an even more aggressive form of vaguely outlined (on the back of a napkin) spontaneity. We knew that the centerpiece would be a visit to our family in Zurich, but other than that, it was a blank (well, except for the knowledge that it would include several design-related pilgrimages). Back in November, we had day dreamed about relaxing in the thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland, but all the Vals hotels were booked by the time we got around to booking/deciphering the German Web sites. So, in a pinch, Martello honed in on the lovely Lake Como, which was conveniently en route to Svizerra. Trofie Wife typed “Lake Como” and “hotel” into the search bar, and the first thing that popped up was a tour itinerary for a British group set to stay at a lakeside hotel. It appeared to be a classy gathering, and their presence hinted at the presence of our native tongue, so Trofie Wife jumped on it without wasting time researching other options.

In true form, we narrowly missed the first of our three trains (this was likely due to a certain wife’s insistence on validating the tickets) and spent the better part of the late (and increasingly chilly) afternoon awaiting the next train to Genoa. But we (and our bulky luggage) eventually made all the connections, landing in the Como station at around 8:30 p.m. Of course, the hotel ended up being nowhere near Como (the city) proper. Oops. We took a super long and super expensive taxi ride to the hotel. But thankfully, despite its faraway location in sleepy Mezzegra, it appeared lovely at first glance, and we were greeted heartily—they even kept the kitchen open so we could enjoy a proper Christmas dinner. The Brits were there as advertised— a loud group of mostly female retirees looking for a good time, which they incidentally found in the lounge, with the synthesizer and off-key singer of such classic Italian holiday tunes as “Dancing Queen” and “I Will Survive.” We dined on a combination of assorted holiday treats, perhaps the oddest being what appeared to be salmon gefilte fish with a cod sushi roll nestled inside it—the capon “kreplach” in chicken soup broth and turkey roll were tied for second in the weird department.  Pooped, yet hoping to discover the beautiful lake and surrounding towns on December 26th, Saint Stefano’s Day (or Boxing Day, to you Anglo Saxons), we ordered our panettone to go and called it a night. We would awaken the next morning to this lovely view. (Note: the adorable golden retriever who lives in that villa went back inside before I could grab my camera, but just imagine him there, faithfully awaiting the return of his master, a spandex-clad cyclist.)

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife