A New Adventure

Ciao regazzi!

The Orange Penguin is back in the blogosphere and this time on a new adventure with a great companion, my mom.

It’s time for a change in life. We packed up our little home in California and are on the move to job opportunities and new adventures in a “little” big city: Portland, OR. But, on the way we are taking a two month side trip across the USA to places we have never seen before. We will be hitting all four corners of the US: the south west to Florida to New England to Oregon with many stops in-between!

photo 1Day 1.

Miles Driven: 444

The day started out early as we frantically packed the final necessities of our home and placed them in storage. After shoving everything for our trip into our car, we were on the road by 11am.

This road trip is a bit unique for us. We have never been on such a long trip and traveled so far. We tried to break up the itinerary into driving days that do not last more than six hours and then have full days in between to explore and rest. We will be doing a combination of staying with friends and family, staying in B&Bs, and car camping! We fit the mattress from our old pull-out couch into the back of our Honda CR-V and created something that will be quite comfortable I hope. (photos to come later)

photo 1   Our first day’s drive took us through California’s San Joaquin Valley. It was interesting to see the variety of items being reaped from the soils of this valley.  From oil to almonds, it all grows here!

Lunch was in Bakersfield, per the suggestion of mom’s co-worker Ant, at Moo Creamery where we had delicious burgers and locally made salted caramel ice cream.

The drive continued through the Mojave Desert. It’s fun traveling with a smart phone these photo 2days because we can answer some of life’s questions, like what is the difference between a yucca plant and a joshua tree? can I eat it? or what is the difference between a waxing and waning moon? The answers: the joshua tree is actually of the genius yucca and no, you can’t eat them, but you can eat the roots of its sister yucca plants. The moon was waxing which means that it is becoming a full moon. You can tell the difference by the direction in which the moon is full and because it was visible in the evening sky.

We made it to our first stop, Las Vegas, and wandered the strip a bit before hitting the sack. It was fun to see the Bellagio and the Venitian casinos because they brought back memories of my time living in Italy. I was quite impressed how the designers were able to capture the feel of the the real towns of Bellagio and Venice. Architecture, like these casinos, are something that we are trained not to do in Architecture school, but it would be fun none-the-less to design.

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A dopo. (till later)

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Lake Como.

18 to 21 June 2012. Monday to Thursday.

Lake Como is like Disneyland for adults. Picturesque villages are perched along a glittering lake. You can easily find a delicious gelato stand anywhere, and slowly wander through the narrow streets, put your toes in the water, or take the ferry across the lake to yet another quaint town. The main demographic is the just married or the recently retired couple or the rich and famous (George Clooney has a house here), lending to a quiet atmosphere in these sleepy towns.
Situated in the southern hills of the Alps, near the border with Switzerland, Lake Como looks like an upside-down “Y.” At the intersection of the three legs of the lake are the most famous towns: Varenna, Menaggio, and Bellagio (the casino in Las Vegas was designed after this one) There is a small ferry that frequently travels between these three towns, making it easy to visit them all.

Monday.
Gelato: banana + coco

After leaving Barb in Innsbruck, we changed trains in Verona and Milano, before finally arriving in the town of Varenna. We had reserved a little bed and breakfast near the train station, and it was easy to find. There was another mother-daughter pair staying in the other room. We had dinner on the train (leberwurst and pretzels we had bought in Austria), so we wandered into the town center to find gelato. Varenna is the “cutest” town on the lake. To get from our B&B, we walked a winding pedestrian pathway that clings to rocks, just above the lake. Called “the lover’s walk,” its shadowy benches and great views make it perfect for any couple.

Tuesday.
Gelato: (afternoon) banana + cafe
(dessert) cookies + cafe

A lazy morning and a nice breakfast with our B&B mates, we headed for the ferry. On the Itinerary today was visiting the Villa del Balbianello. The ferry dropped us off in the town of Lenno. We wandered through a little outdoor market before entering the grounds of the Villa. The walk up the winding drive took about 20 minutes, until the gates to the villa began to peak out from the trees. Villa del Balbianello is visually know to the public from its use in movies. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones used this beautiful villa as Queen Amidala’s family retreat on the Planet Naboo where she and Anakin Skywalker got to “know each other better.” It was also used in James Bond: Casino Royale as a recovery hospital.

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The villa itself was originally a Franciscan Monastery (the chapel is now the kitchen) and was converted to a house in 1787. Its most recent owner was Guido Monzino, son to a wealthy Milan business man, he is best know for 20 exploration and mountaineering expeditions. Dreaming of owning the Villa since he was a boy, he bought and restored the house to eventually be a museum for all of the artifacts he collected during his travels. The two major displays showcase his trips to the North Pole and Mount Everest. Never married, he had a fascinating life. Upon his death, he left the Villa to Italy’s historical society, allowing it to be open to the public. Situated on a little peninsula, the villa offers a near 360 degree view of the lake.

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A funny story about the owner: in his will, he left money for the upkeep of the gardens, especially a large tree that is to always be pruned in the shape of an umbrella. The gardeners must climb up through the tree to reach the branches at the very top.

After the Villa, we enjoyed Gelato at La Fabbria del Gelato. We just stumbled upon it on the way back to the ferry and it ended up having the best Banana Gelato!

The ferry brought us to Bellagio next. We walked up and down the narrow streets, looking for famous people. I even bought a silk scarf that was made in Bellagio. Apparently, there was some famous Indian-spiritual leader-guru shopping in Bellagio that day and herds of people were following him from shop to shop. It was quite entertaining because we had not idea who it was. We will just say it was George Clooney. According to Google news, he and his girlfriend were staying at their Lake Como Villa this weekend, so mom and I were always on the look-out for him. But we missed him in Bellagio by a day, he had dinner there on Wednesday.

Mom and I enjoyed dinner back in Varenna at a lake side restaurant. The sunset was bright orange, the same color of mom’s favorite new drink: an Aperol Spritz. After dinner, we found a great gelato place on the way back to the B&B. I highly recommend Gelateria Riva, located on the pedestrian pathway at, Contrada dell’oste 14. A happy and friendly owner, serving us some tasty gelato.

Wednesday.
Gelato: Mint

In the morning we walked through Varenna some more, mailed some postcards, and packed up to cross the lake to Menaggio. We decided to stay one night in another town. Menaggio is not as cute and Italian. It is more Swiss in style. We took a walking tour all through the town, enjoyed a panino, gelato, an excellent pasta dinner, and the most beautiful dessert served on a slate slab. Chocolate mousse, yum!

Mr. Clooney’s House

Thursday.
In the morning, we took the ferry to the town of Como, located at the southern-most point of the Lake. The ferry took us past so many beautiful villas and we spotted George’s. Once we reached Como, we began our trek to the train station. It was a very, very warm day, and we had to pull our suitcases up-hill the entire way. The train station was at the top of a set of stairs too–with no other access. Who in their right mind puts a train station at the top of a staircase?!? But I was wonder woman and carried them the entire way up! Now, back to Florence!

It was such a relaxing few days of being a lazy tourist. Lake Como is so beautiful and romantic. I will have to return again some day. Perhaps on my honeymoon?