The Longest Day

Finding the airport was a snap, although I won’t pretend I didn’t have to watch the signs carefully. We drove right to the rental car drop-off and turned in the Fiat with no hitches. We easily found our ticket counter, remembering its location from when we had dropped off Gino the week before. As a busy-looking attendant whirled by, she instructed us, “Don’t get into line yet.”

Maybe that was our initial mistake. We should have just gotten into line. Although things were busy, it seemed orderly enough. It wasn’t until more and more people arrived and nothing was really moving that we sensed there may be a problem.

Then we learned that Lufthansa’s world-wide computer system had completely crashed during a routine middle-of-the-night update.

Since they had no functioning computers, the attendants had to write out all boarding passes by hand — not to mention figure out all the other information without a computer. It was a logistical nightmare, for the airline and travelers alike.

We were told we could take an earlier flight — fine with us! But first, we were to go down to another window in a different area and get a new ticket issued. We raced off as fast as we could, arriving with several others trying to do the same thing.

But at that window we were told that we had been given wrong information and that we needed to go back to the first area. We did. They had us ping-ponging back and forth several times more.  Everything was a mess.

Time ticked by. We waited and waited, not wanting to leave for food, for coffee, or for the restroom in fear of missing some important instruction.

Finally after standing in line for four hours, we were told all the flights from Milano to the U.S. were gone for the day.  We could fly to Frankfurt now, but all the flights from Frankfurt to the U.S. also had already left.

So we had two choices: fly to Munich, spend the night, and take a morning flight to San Francisco. Or, fly to Munich, then to Los Angeles, and finally to San Francisco, arriving much much later than our original flight had been scheduled.

We decided to go for it and just get home, even if it would be very late. Who knows what tomorrow would bring? By now, all flights had been pushed way forward.

When we landed in Munich, we learned that our connecting flight to L.A. was being held for us and another couple. They shuttled the four of us onto a jitney which drove us to the back of a glass-walled office. An official escorted us through a back door and up to a tiny customs desk. We were getting our own private security screening!

The shuttle then sped across the airport and deposited us into a departure area where we were issued boarding passes. There was some problem with Mom’s newly issued ticket, which caused an additional delay. Finally we were in the air.

After a long transatlantic flight, we arrived at LAX. By now it was 8:00 p.m.  and San Francisco was still hours away. Luckily, no one was supposed to pick us up — our car was waiting for us at the car park.

At LAX, we learned our connecting flight to SFO had already left, but that we could get another one. But we first had to claim our bags and slog them through customs.

Finally through that gauntlet, we raced to a special desk (set up specially for us hapless Lufthansa/United travelers), received new boarding passes, and were told to go — “As quickly as you can!” — out the door and down the street to Terminal 7. We were at Terminal 3.

Bone tired and oh-so-cranky by now, we walked as quickly as possible to the oh-so-distant Terminal 7, pulling our bags behind us. We dashed up an escalator and down another, searching for our departure gate. Finding it just as the last passengers were dribbling away, we flung our boarding passes at the attendant and flew down the boarding tube.

We touched down in San Francisco — what a wonderful sight after a bad day. We collected our car, trying not to dwell on the two-hour drive we knew we still had to make before reaching home.

At 3:00 a.m., we pulled into the driveway. Gino was fast asleep, but woke up when the dogs greeted us excitedly. Saving our story for the next day, we fell into bed, so very glad to be home.

But as my head sank into my soft, familiar pillow, a delicious thought flitted through my head:

“Time to start planning a new trip!” I smiled to myself and went to sleep.

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Dear Readers,

Thank you for coming along with us to Ireland and Italia. I hope you enjoyed the trip. Don’t forget to check out my other pages within this same blog: Cars (where I indulge my obsession with teensy Italian vehicles), Mangia! (It will make you HUNGRY!), Gino and His Tin Men (they followed him all over Italy), and Afterthoughts (where I have posted random photos from the trip — they still make me smile and hope they do the same for you).

Ciao from Melinda -- See you at the WEDDING!

COMING SOON!

THE WEDDING TRIP:  AMALFI COAST and PUGLIA, 2010

http://melindatrips2010.wordpress.com/

Adriana’s House

It was our last evening in Italia. But we couldn’t leave without visiting our dear cousin, Adriana.

During our rides back and forth with Gianni over the last few days, he had pointed out the way to Adriana’s house in Somma Lombardo. Since we were going by ourselves to visit her this final evening, we needed to remember landmarks. Once again, Rocco took the center stage. The turn-off to Adriana’s house was just past the Church of San Rocco. You can’t miss it.

Maria, Adriana’s granddaughter, works at a pasticceria and she had brought home a mouth-watering tray of sweets (dolci). There were also non-sweet appetizers (salati), fresh fruit, juice, and wine. We sat outside and visited awhile before going in to sit around the table and nibble.

Salati e dolci

Even the fruit is a work of art

Adriana brought out pictures of Dad’s first cousin, Gino (Adriana’s deceased husband) to show us. They all decided that Dad resembles one of the other cousins and brought out another picture to prove it. They were right!

Adriana, Mom, Dad, Claudio, Lella, and Maria

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. Adriana, I noticed, had tears in her eyes. So did we.

Back to Uponne

But for a couple of wrong turns, we made it back to Gianni and Donatella’s without too much problem. It was time for more goodbyes.

Gianni’s mother and sister — Maria Luisa and Maria Giudita —
came up to bid us goodbye

Nakita playfully kisses her grandmother, Maria Giudita

And then it was time to say goodnight.

We’d be off to the airport early in the morning.

Market Day in Arona

It was market day in Arona. Mom and I thought we were going to have to miss market day this trip — the last time we had been here, it happened later in the week. If that was still the case, we’d already be gone. But we were very excited to learn market day was on Tuesday, the day before our departure.

Arona is on the other side of Lago Maggiore from Angera. But a convenient ferry schedule enables easy and frequent hops across.

We arrived at the ferry for an early start, anxious to peruse the market. Gianni and Donatella didn’t have any interest in going, but their daughter, Nakita, did.

Looking back at Angera and its castle, La Rocca, from the other side of Lago Maggiore

Almost at Arona

The day was perfect: blue skies and sunshine, again. After a smooth ride across the lake, we hurried off the boat, making a beeline towards the rows of awning-protected vendors lining the lakeside promenade.

Market vendors nestled in the trees along the Arona promenade

Every imaginable item was available: baked chicken, cheeses, jars of local honey, herbs, clothing clothing clothing, housewares, towels, shoes, purses, scarves. Mom and Dad went one way, Nakita and I another.

A great photo of cugina Nakita, Gianni and Donatella's daughter

Scarves — everywhere we had gone this trip in both Ireland and Italia, people had been wearing scarves. Looking so stylish, wrapped and knotted around necks, I wanted one too. I also found a small sticker with the EUR symbol and the name “Chiara” on it, a perfect addition for my little white Miata which I have named Chiara.

Having finished combing every nook and cranny of the market, we boarded the next ferry back to the other side, pleased with our purchases.

Leaving Arona to return to Angera

As we churned towards the dock, we gazed up at La Rocca, Angera’s imposing 14th century medieval castle overlooking the town and the lake. It has recently been designated one of the ten most beautiful castles in Italy. We have visited it several times in the past, so we did not go up today. But that did not stop us from admiring it from below.

La Rocca

Before we drove the couple of miles back to Ranco, we took turns taking pictures of each other.

Dad, Nakita, and Mom

Dad, me, and Nakita

Nakita, Mom, and me

Mom, Dad, and me in Angera,
where my grandmother was born

Hanging Out at Gianni’s House

By the time we returned from our excursion, it was dark. Donatella had a snack waiting for us. We relaxed around the table and talked about all the things we had seen that day.

The next morning we lucked out again. It dawned a beautiful day. We planned to spend it hanging around Gianni and Donatella’s lovely home.

Sunrise from the upper story bedroom window

From the same window later in the day

Gianni shows off a gigantic candlestick that
survived shipping to Italy from California —
he bought it at one of our local wineries during a previous visit

We could easily spend the day hanging out here

Gianni and Donatella's place is like a park in itself

Even their outside faucet is a work of art

Not only is Donatella a superb cook, she grows much of her own food

We decided to go for a little walk. Not far from their house is this adorable chapel.

Chapel in Uponne (Ranco), Province of Varese

We came upon this characteristic sign

And then we found a dairy. As I mentioned before, Donatella is an animal lover. She extends this affection not only to great danes and dormice, but to turtles, donkeys, and cows, as well.

Dad and Donatella greet these friendly guys

These are not Donatella’s cows,
but she makes sure they can reach their lunch

You can drive through this dairy and buy fresh milk

What a relaxing day! But tomorrow we’ll be ready to go out again.

Frua

Just past the top of the Toce Falls in a flat green meadow is the tiny town of Frua, essentially nothing more than a collection of ancient wood and stone houses.

The road to Frua

We walked among them, admiring the stonework even though much of it was in disrepair.


Definitely a fixer-upper...but I like it

One ancient stone home, with three levels of green-shuttered windows, had an modern-day TV satellite attached to the old wall, looking very out of place.

A young fellow was there working on his recently purchased house. Feeling like we were very far away and high into the Alps, somehow it seemed incongruous to find he spoke perfect English. School abroad, he explained.

What a view


We paused at a water spout pouring into a large rectangle stone fountain, drinking in the pure cold water with our hands. Pointy mountain pinnacles painted a backdrop to the blue sky behind us.


This was the end of the Val di Formazza; the road petered out a couple of miles further up, at the town of Riale. Nestled at the foot of another rise of mountains, it looked very much like a village of Swiss chalets — not surprising, since not far off was the pass that connects Italy to Switzerland.

The hamlet of Riale

We noted the stone-slabbed roofs, which were prevalent throughout this entire area. A small church, la chiesetta, sat on a little hill overlooking the hamlet.

End of the road

The end of the road and the end of the day — Gianni pointed the car back in the direction we had come and we wound our way back down the mountains, through the valleys, and past the alpine lakes. All this sight-seeing was thrilling, but it was time for a break.

La Cascata del Toce — Toce Falls

More towns clicked off: Passo, Chiesa, Valdo, Formazza.

Gianni pointed out how the signs stated not only the current Italian names of the towns, but below those were also posted the old Swiss/German names.

It was entertaining comparing the two: Valdo/Wald, Chiesa/Andermatt, Canza/Frutwald, Grovella/Gurfelu, San Michele/Tuffald. During the Middle Ages, this Val Formazza was settled by German-speaking Walsers. As evidenced by the double-named signs, the Walser-German dialect is still spoken here.

Passing through a long tunnel, we emerged to more picturesque alpine vistas dotted with tiny glacial lakes and finally, the crowning jewel of this day’s excursion: La Cascata del Toce (Toce Falls).

This waterfall, purportedly the second highest in Italy, lies in the hamlet of Frua. Since the water flow is now regulated for hydroelectricity, the falls are only at full capacity at certain times. This time wasn’t one of them. No matter, they were still beautiful.

As we approached the falls, we pulled over beside a meadow below them to look up. Gianni and I wandered further in to get a better vantage point. Then, back in the car, we continued up the remaining switchbacked road to the top.

La Cascata del Toce -- Toce Falls

Gianni at the bottom of the falls...and that shirt

A wooden viewing platform reached out over the lip of the falls providing a gasping view of the frothy water that plummeted down the rugged rock cliff and into the Toce River below. The wind whipped our faces and hair while we took turns taking pictures of each other.

Me at the end of the wooden platform overlooking the falls

View from the top of the falls

A hotel with restaurant and cafe’ (built in 1863 for the convenience of alpine hikers) stood on the other side of the bridge.

Mom making sure no one slips

Mom and Dad -- ready for a refreshment

Just to the side of the hotel was a little chapel dedicated to the Madonna of the Neve (Madonna of the Snow). Of course, I couldn’t resist a look.

Church of the Madonna della Neve -- Madonna of the Snow

The chapel, built in 1621, was a tiny treasure of white, blue, and gold. A wooden tryptich hung above the small altar and two vibrant stained glass windows glowed from either wall. Colorful frescoes covered the curved ceiling.

My favorite piece was a vivid blue explosion of cloud with a dove flying across its face. I lit a candle for Jan, adding to the orange twinkles already glowing in rows before the altar. I felt like I was inside an ornate music box.

Ready for a refreshment, we entered the restaurant. No one else was inside as we strode up to the bar. In honor of nearby Crodo, I ordered Crodino, which the barista poured for us into short flute-shaped glasses sporting the word “Crodino.” Gianni had ordered something else, but when he heard me ordering Crodino, he thought it was a great idea and changed his order to the same.

Me, Mom, and Dad enjoying Crodino at the top of the falls

Sitting next to a sun-dappled window overlooking the breathtaking Val di Formazza far below, we basked in this alpine beauty as we sipped our Crodino.

Crodo and Beyond

Continuing our journey, not far out of Domodossola we passed Oira, abundant in granite quarries. Numerous trucks laden with enormous rectangle blocks of granite attested to the area’s livelihood.

Granite quarry


And then we came to Crodo.

Crodo is now dear to my heart since I learned that from this little hamlet originates the water for my favorite non-alcoholic aperitif, Crodino. Crodino is a delicious, refreshing, orange-colored drink made from an infusion of herbs, plants, and fruits; it has a slightly bitter, but ever-pleasing, taste.

Delizioso!

Gianni pulled off at the Crodino plant so I could take a picture of the building and the giant CRODO sign, shadowed against the mountain sky.

Further north we pushed. Mom called it “Heidi country.” This was definitely alpine country; rugged mountains, green meadows, and rough stone houses — the tinkling of cow bells completed the picture.

In the midst of these mountain vistas, we stopped for our picnic, just outside Cadarese. Cradled, as we were, in the toes of the Alps, we could easily imagine we were sitting in Switzerland.

Thank you, Donatella! Claiming a sunbathed picnic table at the side of the road, we laid out Donatella’s carefully packed lunch: meats, cheese, bread, water, wine, beer.


Mom and Dad enjoy the delicious picnic Donatella had assembled for us


Gianni, our autista bravissima

After lunch, Gianni trampled through the grass to pick an armload of dandelion greens to bring home — dinner for the pet turtles.

Gianni gathering wild greens to bring home to the turtles


The turtles are definitely going to be happy.
Note the shirt -- I told you about it earlier

Not far up the road, the next town made me sit up: San Rocco. Rocco was becoming a recurrent theme on this trip.

I've always known my Dachshund, Rocco, is a saint.
And he has a town named after him.

By now we were much farther north than the northern tip of Lago Maggiore that lay far southeast of our route. If we were to fly due east, we would truly be in Switzerland.