Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lake Maggiore or bust

Aagghh - gosh how I wish that I could put emoticons on here - you know the one with the wiry frazzled hair and the wriggly mouth and wild eyes that says aaagh! The news on the car continues to develop ...

Even though the German car industry is the epitome of efficiency, the recent sale of Opel means that the part needed to get us back on the road properly won't be here until Monday afternoon. There is no way we are prepared to sit here and last night we spent some time planning what to do. There is a Fiat Punto (little car) available for the ghastly sum of €75 per day and the hotel where we were booked in Pallanza on Lake Maggiore in Italy has agreed to transfer our booking to the next two days (rather than the last two). So all is not totally lost.

We spent the next couple of hours after breakfast here at the hotel this morning transferring luggage to smaller bags, collecting our wanted 'stuff' from the car and filling in paperwork for the hire car. Finally about midday we are ready to head out. Unfortunately for Domodossola we really were not in the right frame of mind to explore - maybe once we have our car back we might have a quick look - just maybe! Now I am in an Italian vehicle - sitting on the left of the car, driving a small manual and changing gears with my right hand! I can tell you, it takes a few minutes to get used to it! And I think poor Helen, now sitting on my right is fearful of me hitting a guard rail!!! We search for some music on the radio and find - RADIO MARIA - well, what else, we are in Italy!

We are only 45 kms from Pallanza, a mere 40 minutes or so - can you imagine how frustrating that has been? Anyway we head off, initally travelling towards Milano (make sure you get the liting pronunciation right!) before we turn for Lake Maggiore at Gravellona Toce getting caught in vehicular gridlock at two of the main roundabouts in town. Once through them, we discover one of the reasons - there are major roadworks on the road out to the Lake and they have one lane blocked. We inch forward along with many impatient Italians who I am sure have much better places to be.

And then we are on the Lake. Oh. My. God. Oh yes we are back to the days of stunning scenery. The lake (which is one of the largest in Europe) is edged by the most stunningly beautiful terracotta roofed villages and small towns! And we are headed to one of them! Gosh, how lucky are we. Kate is working a dream and we find the hotel very easily. I park just near the ferry terminal which is about 200 m away. First on the agenda is Caffe - we all need a coffee. There is a small cafe overlooking the water and we take a seat on the terrace out the back looking out over the Lake. The menu prices are very affordable and before we know it, we are adding panini orders to our coffees. Michael orders speck and tomato, Helen gets salami and I opt for tomato and mozarella. They arrive, warm and light and delicious.

At the table next to us there are two gentlemen quietly chatting in lovely lilting Irish. We (well, Helen) introduce ourselves ad chat with Bill and Joe, Irishmen from County Clare who have been over for a wedding - they give us recommendations for dinner and a town to visit on the other side of the Lake. Lunch down, we check out the options for a boat ride and then come over to the hotel. I have not slept very well over the last two nights and am craving a bed for a couple of hours. We are lucky that the Hotel will allow us to check in now - many don't want new guests arriving until the late afternoon.

So I head for the bed and some zzzzzzzs while Michael and Helen take a stroll through the town. I can't sleep and get up to do a bit of blogging. Helen is back soon and is surprised to find me upright and hitting the keyboard. Once she is in though, I do lie down and doze off.

They are thrilled with what they see of the town. There are lots of narrow little streets, stairways leading between the tall houses up to the top of town. There are palatial mansions overlooking the water with stunning gardens and then there are dilapidated former ones that are sitting patiently, waiting for the lavishing of tender loving care to restore them to their former glory, or perhaps waiting for the final death-knell that will see them demolished and some modern new lady take their place. Ah yes, this is a place with soul and heart. Sure, there are plenty of tourists. But so too are there lots of locals going about their every day in this beautiful setting. There is quite a haze today though and it is not the best of days for photos across the Lake!

So finally I wake from much needed sleep and we set off in search of the recommended restaurant. All we know is that it is the last restaurant before the Tourist Information Centre, it has an upstairs patio and they do an amazing Mussel Soup. It is about 450 m from the Hotel, walking along the lakeside promenade. The local authority has done a wonderful job in making this area a place for everyone to be. There are lots and lots of seating in different configurations that look out over the water, but set amidst trees and gardens so that there is the opportunity for privacy as well. There are sculptures and memorials and small fountains. This place has the perfect mix of character for the tourists and a sense of permanence and support for the local community. Hmmm - there are more than a few Australian communities who could learn form this example!

Anyway, enough of the grandstanding. We do find the restaurant - il Burchiello. From the front it looks small and quaint, but inside it is quite spacious. We head upstairs to the patio and are greeted by an unprententious setting. Nice, well spaced tables laid with fresh linen in tones of greens and muted oranges and browns. The staff are very friendly and we are quickly handed menus that lay out their offerings in Italian - and thoughtfully with English, French and German translations underneath. This makes it so easy to be confident in ordering!

Ahh, Michael is going to follow the recommendation of the Irish and try the Mussel Soup which is a starter. So once we salivate over the menus, we finally decide on:
Cozze Affogate al Pepe Macinato Fresco (Mussel Soup with freshly milled pepper) Michael
Rotolini de Pesce del Nostro Lago in Agrodolce (Sweet and sour rolls and fillets of local fish) Helen
Tortino di Pasta Sfoglia Fere e Cannella con Crema di Bettelmatt (Cinnamon flavoured Pear tart with Bettlematt cheese sause) Maria
Tortellacci al Nero di Seppia con Vellutata al Salmone Affumicato (Cuttlefish parcels with Veloute of Smoked Salmon) Michael
Fritti Pan branzino con uno strato di patate Capesante (Pan fried Sea Bass with a layer of Potato Scallops) Helen
Disossate Trota di fiume in padella con burro e mandorle (de-boned River Trout pan fried in butter and almonds) Maria
And although we really didn't need them, we all ordered desserts as well!
Panna Cotta ai Frutti di Bosco (Panna Cotta with mixed berries sauce) Michael
Crema Catalana (Catalan Creme Brulee) Helen
Bonnet Dolce Piedontese al cioccolato con biscoti Amaretti (Chocolate Peimontese bonnet served with Amaretti biscotti) Maria

Wow, what a meal. The service too was impeccable - we were attended to with such care and attention. So nice after the last couple of days! And the owners are genuinely pleased when we show our joy at their offerings. So, we do a first fof this trip and make a reservation for dinner here tomorrow night as well! Now, a stroll along the promenade to try to walk off some of what we have just eaten before returning to the hotel for the night. Ciao!

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