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11 May 2020 - Day 30 –Lugano and Como

With not a lot on my plan for the day, I slept in as much as I could, but still was up at 8:15. Half an hour later, my journal and camera in my sack, I headed to the communal breakfast room and fixed myself some muesli and milk, a caffe crème and poured a glass of juice. Taking it out to the courtyard, I found a table for 6 with a couple sitting at it, and asked if I might sit. They agreed, and we got to chatting about our plans for the day. While mine involved the local cathedral, following the GPSMyCity walk I’d captured from the internet and then riding the funicular, they planned on going up to #Lugano by train for a day of motorcycling. A forty-minute ride by train, they were catching the 9:24 train. My Eurail pass wasn’t good for this rail line, but the round-trip fare was only 17€. I asked if I could go there with them, as I had originally planned on seeing the cathedral there, and they were pleased to have company.

Austrians from Burgenland, in the very east of their country, my trip to Neckenmarkt truly surprised them. Annaliese and Horst were from further south, but they knew of Weingut-Juliana-Wieder which I had visited when catching up with Gina, an English-language teacher who had spent a summer month at my house in California. We had a great conversation while we kept peering out the window watching Lake Lugano pass by.

The train pulled in promptly at 10, and Annaliese and Horst were off to get their rental motorcycle and helmets, and then spend the day riding up the valley to Bellinzona and Biasca. I was off for the 5-minute walk to the cathedral. Arriving in front of the church, known in the Swiss region of Ticino in Italian as Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, I was somewhat underwhelmed with the entry façade. First off, it faces east, which I later found out was done during renovations. But it seems to be a blank stone wall with some flourishes at the capitals and around the rose window and entry doors. It was only when I walked down the hill a bit that I saw elements of the rear, including a nice bell tower. Inside was a completely different story. An organ loft sits over the center doorway. Thick square columns support rounded Romanesque arches, all elaborately covered in fresco which extended up to the vault. Following the center aisle up three steps to the sanctuary and apse, the simple main altar sits in front of an elaborate high altar. Behind this altar are flanking statues of St Lawrence, the patron saint, and putti above the black and rose marble monument. Behind it is the bishop’s cathedra below a large fresco.

Built in cruciform layout, the south transept contains the chapel of Our Lady of Grace through three arches. Above these arches is a huge fresco of the crucifixion scene. On the north side, the side chapel is much simpler, with dark wooden choir stalls and devotional kneelers before a small altar and reliquary. Needless to say, I was quite blown away by the ornateness of the interior. And to think I’d been planning on bypassing this great church. It was just past 11, and I’d checked, and there was a return train at 11:24. So I headed back to the station and, on the return, paid much more attention out the window. With a nearly empty train, I could sit on the left side overlooking the lake until we crossed at Melide-Bissone, and then shifted to the right side. Leaving the lake, we passed through a series of well built-up urban/suburban areas that filled the valley right up to the Swiss-Italian border 4 kilometers from the Como station.

While riding the train back, I retrieved the 5-page GPSMyCity PDF I’ll pulled for #Como. There are four sites it recommended, and I looked at them vis a vis the location of the San Giovanni train station. Referring to the map above, the station is in the lower left corner, and the green line with arrows indicates the train route to and from Lugano. In the upper left, the red dot indicates the Villa Olmo, which was recommended for a starting point to walk the shore of Lake Como to the Templo Voltiano. I decided to go to the Templo first, then the cathedral, and then ride the funicular (blue line).

Passing through the large formal garden, I walked in the cool of an arcade of trees. Reached the museum dedicated to the scientist Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery. A lovely promenade lined the shore, with walls and benches to sit and view. Continuing along the lakefront, I came to the Memorial to those who were in the European Resistance, from certain vantage points vaguely resembling the Vietnam Memorial Wall in DC. Looking out on the lake, I was near a marina, and there was a long walkway out to the modern chrome sculpture “Life Electric” also dedicated to Volta, a native son.

The shore curved around, and inland became more hotel and commercial in nature. I crossed the roadway, walked through a plaza and headed down a broad pedestrian street with outside dining. Storefronts with apartments above continued until a widening where the cathedral piazza allowed the sun to shine on its western façade.

Here was a big church! Similar to Lugano with three doorways and a rose window in a relatively unadorned front, this was much larger with more statuary. I was so pleased to be able to walk completely around it, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta di Como is quite impressive from the rear, with a large dome over the crossing and half domes over the apse and transept ends.

Inside knocked my socks off. The side aisles are huge, almost as wide as the central one. The fresco and stucco work on the ceiling vaults is awesome. Tapestries hang, looking old, but well kept, intermixed with massive paintings. The guide explained that there are four organs, two Baroque facing one another at the ends of the arcades, one in the choir, and the fourth above the vestry.

After an hour and a half, with my mind boggling from being overwhelmed, I exited and walked around to the back to stroll along the rails to the other train station, Como Lago. Continuing a block or two from the water’s edge, I saw more higher end restaurants on my way to the funicular. As I’d been warned, there was a queue to ride up to Brunate, so after getting a ticket, I stood with the other tourists to watch one go up full. Fifteen minutes later, I was two from boarding, so I knew I’d get a window spot during the ride up. While I had this half hour wait, I was able to get some updating in my journal of the day so far, as well as speak with a few of the older travelers.

GPSMyCity had advised that the best pictures are taken on the ride, not at the top as there are obstacles. Luck of the draw, the couple in front of me took the rear window to one side, and I got the other corner. A thirty-something male with an impressive camera left his lady and tried to squeeze alongside me, trying to convince me to yield my spot to her. No go. The notes I had said just ride back down and grab the spot if it’s that important. A six-minute ride, it really is a trip! I noticed (younger) folks walking up stairs as well as a few coming down. While I’d read that there’s not a lot to see in the immediate area at the top, and the climb to the lighthouse is difficult, I got out and decided to walk around. There’s a church which was nice, and some houses with great views. The lighthouse was a ways up, and the climb looked brutal. I popped into a bar and had a beer and a pee, and then headed back to the top station.

Such a queue! It looked like it would be an hour before I’d get a ride down. Shrugging my shoulders, I decided I could walk down, after all, I’d walked down in Chur. There were stairs, usually alongside the track, but occasionally granted an area of respite to sit and lookout. It was from here I think I got a great shot.

It took me about 40 minutes to descend, so I was down sooner than those who joined the line when I opted out, and the late afternoon sun was starting to tip towards the top of the mountain overlooking the lake. Sunset is 8pm, and I expected with the sun disappearing, it might start to drop below the 60’s (15°C) we’d been experiencing.

Heading back along the lakefront, it was a little longer than a kilometer walk, but a pleasant offshore breeze made it enjoyable. When the shore began curving away as I approached the Volta Garden, I knew I was within a block of the hostel. When I entered, I stopped at the bar. Asking what an aperitif from Lombardy would be, I was told a Campari Bitter, so I tried it. Red vermouth with bitters, it was a complex blend of flavors, and refreshing. I took my drink out to the courtyard and ran into Horst and Annaliese. They were relaxing after their six hours of tearing about on Swiss roads on the back of a motorcycle. Exhilarated still, their eyes sparkled and the smiles wouldn’t quit. I asked if Annaliese had driven, and was surprised to hear that she had, for a about a third of the ride! Finishing our drinks, we decided to meet in half an hour, giving us time to freshen up.

Back in my room, I began charging the first camera battery, washed my face and hands, and swapped my jacket for the heavier one, I checked Google for restaurants within walking distance. Grabbing my photobook Cathedrals to the Glory of God, I headed back downstairs. Within minutes we three were together, and we decided to walk in the direction of Villa Olmo. We agreed on seafood, and headed along the waterfront until we reached the park. A formal garden with manicured trees, the view was splendid, Returning, we turned inland at the tennis club and strolled down the Via Borgo Vico, as there were supposed to be restaurants all along the way. Quatar Pass caught our attention and we checked if they could seat us. With a table in the window, we were set.

Figuring we’d each do a primi and secondi, and bypass an appetizer, there were a few things that caught my eye. Horst wanted the Fritto di calamari, gamberi e carciofi, while Annaliese wanted the risotto on request, but the risotto required that two plates be ordered, so that made it easy for me. We agreed upon Risotto alla crema di porri con mousse di burrata e bottarga di muggine, tartare di gambero rosso crudo. For wine, a split of Falanghina del Sannio, a white from Campania. Waiting for our meals, Annaliese began scanning my book. The pictures of the cathedrals in Graz and Wiener Neustadt, which are close to their home, pleased her greatly. Moving on, I had lake trout, while the Austrians went full throttle and had the sliced steak. We got glasses of house wine due to the mismatch; mine was a pinot grigio that was okay. The three of us were full, so we passed on dessert and coffee, and walked back to the hostel slowly, under increasing cloud cover.

Parting in the courtyard, I headed upstairs and finished my journaling for the day while the phone and the camera chip were downloading. I’d had a busy day, and really hadn’t written anything, so this post has taken a bit of time. I’m off to Milano tomorrow morning, and have a day planned to visit the Duomo and several basilicas, so I wanted an early start. I guess I’ll see when I get up in the morning.

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