Lenno Rests Along the Lakeside

The Perfect Recipe – Great Friends, Food & Tons of Fun

Sometimes living abroad is hard.  Like when you miss a good friend’s wedding in upstate New York – an event that turned out to be the social gathering of the year (according to Facebook pictures and word of mouth). Thankfully Dave and Jill completely understood when we declined to come.  Or when one of your best friends tells you that he’s planning on “popping the question” via email, because there’s really no easier way.  Those are the types of conversations that should be reserved for a late night in a neighborhood bar, complete with lots of back pats and free rounds for the groom-to-be.  Thankfully, Josh was great about keeping me in the loop, sending us pictures of his wonderful proposal to Abby in Charlestown earlier this year (and even calling us via FaceTime shortly afterward).  So, yeah – living abroad can be hard when you miss these special moments in your friends and families lives.  However… when we’re able to host our friends and family here, we are always grateful for the experience abroad.

Abby, Josh, Jill, Dave, Jen and Julia

For that reason, we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that Josh and Abby were going to come visit us.  We coordinated the timing of their trip so that they would be visiting during a beautiful time of year and the start of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.  As soon as they booked their airfare, I reserved our train tickets to Munich, which I’ll write about in the upcoming post.

Josh and Abby in Varenna

Shortly after learning of Josh and Abby’s visit, we got even more good news.  Our friends Dave (aka, Dr. Dave) and Jill were also going to be in Europe at the same time and wanted to spend time with us here in Como.  I mentioned that we would also be going to Oktoberfest and they were able to arrange it so that they could join us there too!  While they didn’t stay with us in either locale, they coordinated close quarters so that we could spend time together.

Dave and Jill in Brunate

When Josh and Abby arrived in Italy, we opted for a new strategy.  We decided to be “low-key” for the first day.  We even allowed them the option to take a nap, if they wanted.  In the past, we have cooked massive meals, whisked people immediately to downtown Como and forced them to stay awake in order to stave off jet-lag.  However, we’ve learned that visitors often forget their first day – it’s simply too much, too fast (especially in a comatose state).  So when I got them home safe and sound, we simply walked across the street to one of our local favorites, Quattro Staggione.  Even though the food is Italian (shocker), the restaurant is fashioned after a German beer garden.  Jen and I decided that it would be a good start to get us in the mood for our upcoming trip to Germany.  We capped the night off with more food and drinks and they hit the sack early, ready to begin their world-wind trip freshly rested.

The plan the following day was to meet Dave and Jill at our place, before heading to Antichi Sapori – the best pizza place in all of northern Italy.  They were driving down from Switzerland and ended up getting lost – opting instead to meet us at the restaurant.  When they finally arrived, we rushed through our meal so that we could reach our next destination quickly…  an activity that had me as giddy as a nerd at Comic-Con.  I had arranged for something that I’ve wanted to do since we moved here – a privately rented boat to drive around Lake Como.  I’d looked into it in the past, but only found prohibitively expensive companies or boat operators that drove you themselves.  I wanted to be the one to get behind the wheel and really open’er up .  On a previous visit to Tremezzo, I discovered a company that was not only reasonably priced – but also gave you free reign of their boats (with surprisingly little information in exchange.  Luckily for them, I do actually have my boating license).  Josh grabbed some wine and beer and we got on the water ready to enjoy the sights and sounds of Lake Como from the middle of the lake itself!

I pull the boat away from Tremezzo – Josh and Abby settle in for the ride
Julia loved the wind in her hair
The towns along the lake are even prettier to see from the water
I stop driving to pose for a picture with Jen
Josh and Abby enjoying time aboard our boat
Dave and Jill on Lago di Como
Julia gives us a smile
Family photo in front of Bellagio
The “girls”
The “guys”
Isola Comancia – I’ve never been so close
Julia decides to hang out with the boys and helps me drive
I relax in the back with a beer and my girl…
…who promptly lost interest in me when Josh took over driving.  Guess she likes men with power
The entire crew on the dock after we returned

After a fun-filled day on the lake we made it home with enough time for Jen to cook a wonderful meal.  We had all the usual suspects (cheese, salami, olives, salad, bread, etc.) with osso buco served over a risotto milanese as the star of the show (Abby had her first taste of veal and her first taste of bone marrow all in one sitting).  We also had several bottles of wine to accompany the meal.  After the food stopped coming, we broke out the traditional grappa.  Usually, grappa signals the end of the meal and drinks – but not with this crew!  After grappa, I took the guys down to my cantina (wine cellar) and brought back a special bottle of whiskey I had gotten in Scotland earlier this year.  The girls opened another bottle of wine and the party continued.  Eventually, someone decided it was a good idea to go to the bar next door and close the place down… it was not a good idea!

The late night started out innocently enough…
…and then turned into this…
…and some of this!

After breakfast the next day, Dave and Jill came back to our place and we all went into Como together.  We walked around Como for a bit and then took the funicolare (cable car) up the mountain to the small town of Brunate.  We had a phenomenal lunch overlooking the lake as well as Como.  Later that night, it was another favorite for us – Ristorante Simposio in Inverigo Hotel, a four-star hotel near our home.  We were excited to order the zuppa di mare – a mixed seafood dish that [at this particular restaurant] is absolutely huge.  The six of us shared the dish as an appetizer, couldn’t finish it and were full before our entrees arrived.  And they claim that this dish is for two!

We relaxed in the restaurant’s garden with some vino rosato while we waited for our table
The group enjoyed a wonderful lunch with a great view
Photos compliments of Julia
Hanging out at one  of the panoramic spots in Bruante
The zuppa di mare that we’ve always wanted to order, but never had enough people
Dave ordered branzino arrostito al sale (branzino roasted in salt)

The following evening we would depart for Germany on an overnight train (Dave and Jill drove separately in their rental car).  But we had all day to fill, so we formulated a plan to go hiking in Switzerland.  Our home is close to Lugano, Switzerland – a wonderful city surrounded by beautiful Swiss mountains.  Dave and Jill researched a popular climb and so we set out for a vertical ascent that would reward us with wonderful views of the Lago di Lugano and the city below.

Lago di Lugano – the city is on the left of the lake
Josh and Abby along the hike
Dave downplayed the vertical climb of the hike – both Jill and Josh have recently had major reconstructive knee surgery

Of course, the next part of this adventure was our time in Germany – but that warrants it’s own post.  So, I’ll conclude this portion of blog with the remainder of Josh and Abby’s trip.  After we all returned from Munich, they ventured off on their own to Venice and Verona before returning home to Como.  We wanted to spend their last couple days exploring towns along Lake Como and made the decision to discover a new town together (we’ve been to many of the popular lake towns, but there is still so much for us to explore).  I’m glad that we agreed to explore together, because Josh and Abby helped us find Varenna – one of our new favorite towns along the lake.  We spent all day exploring the town and the castle, Castello di Vezio.

Varenna is a beautiful new town that Josh and Abby helped us find
Josh and Abby cuddle for a picture
Family photo by the water
Josh shares his bench with Julia and she shares some gelato with him
“Mom, smile like this!” 
Good place for a photo
“You guys go on ahead, I’ll just hang out here”
Vivid placard on the wall of Chiesa di S. Giorgio 
“On top of the world!”

Even though Castello di Vezio is privately owned, it is open to the public all year round.  The castle, which dates back to 1169 – boasts a wonderful collection of collection of birds of prey, including a fantastic horned owl and some magnificent hawks.  There is a garden of wooden statues and totems carved by local artists such as, Luigi Gambato.  But most interesting were the “ghosts” that greeted you at the gates (a shocking image as you round the corner) and adorned the caste’s walls and towers. They are made from white chalk each summer by using the frames of willing tourists that sit and allow the artists to sculpt around them.  We spent our final day in Como and then bid Josh and Abby a fond farewell as they boarded their plane headed back to Washington DC.

Julia helps Josh pick his final outfit – she models one of his shirts
A tower of Castello di Vezio
The castle was in amazing shape for being nearly 1,000 years old
Beautiful doorways and walls
The trees on the castle grounds were stunning
The ghosts of Vezio offered a strange and haunting welcome
Everywhere you turned, you were being watched
Josh tests the sturdiness of an ancient walkway
Julia ascends the stone steps of a tower with me
The fortress was located with an open view of the lake – located centrally across from Bellagio
The main tower of Vezio
Oh, who’s that poking out on top of the tower?!
I embarked on a climb to the top alone
Looking down I saw a couple of familiar faces
They had an impressive display of birds – this falcon put on a demonstration with a Falconer
This was another Falcon in a different part of the castle
Looking down on the town of Varenna from high atop the cliffs
We discovered the castle’s ancient prison
Josh descends into the depths
Julia is having way to much fun in jail
The prison was just carved out tunnels in the stone
Julia borrows a free ride on their last day in Como

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a bit about some of the great times we had with close friends.  Keep an eye out for the upcoming Oktoberfest post – the fun we had there wasn’t quite so innocent…