Heaven on earth

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The water sparkles. The clouds twinkle. The birds sing. The trees whisper. The mountains tower. The roofs welcome.

I’ve discovered paradise, and it’s a called Lake Como.

I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where it seems like the whole world has just stopped at a standstill. Where visitors are invited to pause to take in all the beauty and the majesty of such a place. It’s truly glorious.

When Clare and I first arrived in Como, we had no idea quite what awaited us. The station was cold and bare and full of tourists who talked in such a bevy of languages it was hard for my brain to process them all.

But just a 10-minute walk later, the majesty of the place shone through.

We booked our tickets on the next boat to a town called Varenna, which was a ways down the lake, and, while we were waiting, we looked around for some sort of food. Because it was too early for lunch and too late for breakfast, we did the only suitable thing: bought gelato.

The place was nothing special, but, here, “nothing special” would translate to out-of-this-world back home. I’m getting spoiled. Clare ordered the black cherry and the stratiachella, while I opted for fruity flavors, lemon and grapefruit. As similar as Clare and I are, there’s no place we’re more different when it comes to our ice cream (or

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Future Facebook prof pic?

frozen yogurt) flavors. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good solid chocolate-y flavor as much as the next girl, but there’s just something so appealing and light about fruit flavors.

 

We sat down on this patch of grass, which overlooked the lake and was right next to this charming little playground. Eventually, the boat came, and we hopped on board. Clare and I brought clothing so we’d be prepared to go hiking if the opportunity presented itself, but that meant I had to bring a bigger bag (so, inevitably, heavier) that had two pairs of stinky running shoes. After I put the bag down under our seats, we just stood up near the middle of the boat in the open area, letting the wind blow through our hair.

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Pantene commercial gone wrong.

We kept contemplating going and sitting down, but every time we got ready to do so, yet another beautiful sight caught our eye and any notion of leaving was thrown out the window. I took so many photos that I had to start deleting apps to clear space on my phone. Absolutely, 100 percent, worth it. Anyone know any single guys (preferably young) who have villas here? Because I’m totally available…

After another hour of this indescribable beauty, it was our stop. As glad as I was to finally be in Varenna, I was slightly disappointed to

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Row, row, row your boat.

have to get off the boat.

 

But, we did.

At this point, Clare and I were starving, So, we kept an eye out for a restaurant. With so many places with views of the water and so many menus that were essentially the same, it was hard to make a wrong choice. We decided upon this charming little place it seemed a number of other tourists had chosen and sat down. The service took forever, and while any other day it would have been fine because we could admire the lake, we were starving. There were only two waitresses for this rather large terrace, and both women seemed to stop by every table but ours.

I ordered a glass of red wine (that goes well with pizza, right?), and Clare ordered a syrupy, frizzy lemonade-like drink that tasted much better than it sounds. We also knew exactly what pizzas we wanted: a prosciutto-and-brie pizza and a sausage-and-pepper pizza.

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Guess whose is whose!

We didn’t come to Lake Como with much of a plan, so we just started walking along paths, hoping we’d come across something. Even the side streets were charming. I felt like I could have spent 10 years exploring the place and still not know its secrets. The sense of warmth and magnificence isn’t something that’s easy to come by.

I’d read something about some sort of gardens in Varenna, and Clare and I happened to stumble upon them. At the price of two-Euro per person for entry, I thought it was a steal, but Clare was a bit more wary because we couldn’t see much beyond the entrance.

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The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

The gardens of Villa Monasterro wove right along the water, and the colors of the flowers acted as a perfect complement to the cerulean blue of the water. Every which way we turned, there was some new flower or tree that grabbed our attention.

As we left the gardens, Clare said they were worth much, much more than just two-Euro.

We boarded another boat that arrived just as we got to the station, a boat that also seemed to transport cars across the lake. This trip was a rather short one to a little town called Menaggio we had heard had some great trails for exploring. After we came into the port, I ran into a little market and got two absolutely giant bottles of water — one with “gas”, one without — for under one-Euro. Score! The bad thing was that it meant we had to carry the water bottles as we walked up a series of steps.

The steps seemed to go on and on and on and on and on and on… So, we exchanged our sandals for our running shoes. Eventually, we found a path. It was a bike path, but we only saw one biker, so the whole thing was calm and serene.

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My “hiking” outfit.

As we got higher and higher into the mountains, the view of the lake only improved. Now, the landscape was also covered in this lush green, and we could see more of the lake. It was breathtaking. I felt like I should have been in some sort of elven kingdom like Rivendell instead of real life.

We started to get a bit concerned about time — neither Clare nor I could remember anything about when the last boat left — so we started walking down with what we thought was plenty of time to spare. We saw someone sitting in a ticket booth by the water, so we walked up to him, intending to buy our tickets back across the water to the Como train station.

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Pure magic.

So, man alive were we in for a shock when he just looked at us and said, “No tickets. No more boats today.”

We then asked where the nearest bus was, and he told us that the buses, too, had stopped running. I usually wouldn’t mind being stranded in Lake Como, but it’s kind of hard to do when you’ve already paid for a hostel in Milan and you have no luggage on you.

Our last option was to take a taxi, so we went in search of one. As we were walking to where we were told to find one, a taxi passed right by us. We jumped in and asked him to take us to the Lake Como train station, which, according to his GPS system, was a 40-minute drive away.

Our taxi driver started out following his GPS system before he changed streets and got mad at his system for not telling him where to go. Now, I’ve watched too many crime shows, and, at this point, the only thing that was flashing in my mind were the “CSI: New York” episodes about the serial killer who finds his victims in his cabs. I was convinced that these wrong turns were really a way for him to take us to his lair in the woods and kill us in a very gruesome manner.

As I said, too many crime shows.

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When it felt like he was going to take another 20 minutes just to get on the right track to the station, Clare and I suggested he just take us to the Lugano train station. He liked that idea, and we took off.

He was trying to be nice and make us comfortable, first by making small talk (he has family in Chicago) and then by playing American music for us. He put in his “Summer Hits Playlist” CD, the first song of which was an Italian cover of Madonna’s “­­­­­­­­­Girls Gone Wild.” It was so bad, Clare and I could barely keep it together we were laughing so hard on the inside.

As we kept driving, I noticed the meter was going exceptionally high. Of course, I started freaking out. I didn’t know how much longer we had and just exactly how much it was going to cost. Well, the driver noticed and thought we were freaking out because we were worried about our passports in Switzerland — he kept telling us the Swiss border police were very nice, not like the Italian border police — but when he figured out we were worried about the money situation, he offered to let us call his friend who spoke better English.

The friend didn’t really tell us much we hadn’t already figured out, which was that our taxi ride was about to be one hell of an expense.

Ugh.

When we finally got to the train station, Clare took charge with the money and worked it all out.

As nice and friendly as he was, I was just glad to have made it out of there without becoming the plot for the next “Criminal Minds” episode.

Eventually, we made it back to the hostel with no major problems, minus the fact that we had to change rooms. We had originally only booked Milan for two nights, but, after the disaster spending the night in the train station, we needed to add another night.

We got put in a completely separate building far away, but it worked out because we made friends with one of the guys in the room who was from Brazil. We talked a bit about how I was studying Latin America at Cal, and he was happy that I could correctly pronounce his name, Erico. I knew there was a reason I was born in Mexico.

We’re on our way to Florence next (ahhhhh!!!), and I can’t believe how quickly this trip is going by.

The most beautiful sights on Earth: 

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