Lake Como, Italy

Saturday, December 31, 2016

On New Year's Eve we packed up and drove the short hour up to Lake Como - first stop, Varenna! The road was practically in the water!
We parked in a garage and then headed by foot into the city.
Lovely lakeside village.
We almost immediately took a detour down to the lake. The kids LOVE throwing rocks into water. I should make a collage of all the different places they've done so.
Varenna is home to just 800 residents but offers the best of the lake-life. It has a romantic lakeside promenade, a cute harbor, narrow lanes, evocative castle ruins, and villas with gardens.
Chris capturing the beauty.
Our family (Jane is somewhere in there...) in Varenna, Italy on Saturday January 31st 2016.
Put me in any city in Italy and I'll tell you it's Italy because they all use the same colors of paint lol!

The Piazza San Giorgio has several churches fronting it, including the Chiesa di San Diego which dates from the 13th century.
The are no true streets in the old town, just the characteristic stepped lanes known as contrade.
Varenna was originally a fishing community. The original little stone harbor dates from about 1600, but today the boats are just for recreation.
Italian homes in Varenna.
The passerella, the lakeside promenade. A generation ago locals built this walkway which connects the ferry dock with the old town center.
I wonder where this goes...
Looking across the lake along the outlet of the little Esino river.
The Hotel Olivedo has greeted ferry passengers since the 19th century. The hotel is named for the olive groves that are located just up the hill. According to locals, this is the farthest north olives grow in Europe. 
Another community, the town of Esino climbs the hill behind Varenna.
After walking around Varenna we boarded a ferry and headed over to Bellagio. And no we didn't see George Clooney!
Bye for now Varenna! You're oh so beautiful!
Lake Como in all it's glory.
The lake is lined with elegant 19th century villas and crowned by snowcapped mountains. Ferries, hydrofoils, and slower recreational boats crisscross the lake during the peak season. It's a great place to take a break from the sightseeing intensity of the rest of Italy. 

After a short ride we saw the swanky hotels on the banks of Bellagio.
The town calls itself the "Pearl of the Lake" and is a classy combo of tidiness and Old World elegance. It's also a much more substantial town than Varenna (it has ten times as many hotel rooms!).
This place is virtually empty during the winter. All of the hotels, stores, and restaurants were closed and boarded up.
So we meandered the streets to see if we could find anything open.
We found one place that was open and it was so nice and warm, the food was good and came out super fast!
More PINK!
Cute lanes lined by classic Italian buildings. 
Our family in Bellagio, Italy on Saturday January 31st 2016.
Take 2.
Bye bye Bellagio! We hopped back on another ferry to get back over to Varenna, our car, and airbnb.
Hello again colorful Varenna!

Another collage I need to make is all the playgrounds around Europe these kids have played at.
In the summer I would love to come back and eat right here.
Lovely day on the lake!

We went to the "beach" again and let the kids throw more rocks.
We found an airbnb high up in the hills overlooking the lake. It was teeny and cozy and cute and comfy. I read my book by the fire for hours while the kids happily played together. A perfect New Year's Eve.
In the morning we got a great view before making our way back home.
Mighty cool pass in Switzerland!
Our GPS led us super astray... but we got to drive through parts of Switzerland that we never would have seen otherwise!
I should have counted how many switchbacks we made climbing up and over and through the Swiss Alps! It was a-plenty!
My favorite part about coming home? When the kids recognize where we are they erupt into a spontaneous and loud chorus of "WE LOVE HOME!" I caught a bit on camera:
It was a wonderful way to end 2016! Looking forward to all that 2017 has in store including our big move back to the states!

Milan, Italy

Friday, December 30, 2016

I looked at the calendar over New Years, saw that Chris had 4 days off, we tinkered with some places to go, then decided that if we could get tickets to The Last Supper, we'd go to Milan! We called up the ticket office for the museum and they had just one slot available for the four of us left so our trip was a "go"!

I like to bring a project to work on in the car to pass the time. And we listen to Harry Potter. Road trips are fun!
In 6 hours we drove through 5 countries - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Italy. Crazy! The Lichtenstein license plates are our fave - sleek and all black.
We lucked out with weather the entire weekend! Sunny, clear, and most importantly, dry!
Our hotel in Milan was super great and also super horrible. Great because it was nice and open, awesome location, had a good kitchen where we could cook most of our meals, comfy beds, good shower with hot water and pressure. But holy cow the walls were paper thin. We could hear the person above us going to the bathroom and then they had a party until 2am complete with singing and dancing. We didn't get much sleep. But we've learned to take the good with the bad, it's all par for the course when traveling!
View out the hotel balcony window.
The next morning we took our time getting ready, we didn't want to be out until the sun was up, so around 9am we started the adventures of the day!
Pretty tree-lined street.
We missed our tram into the city center so we started walking.
The first church we wanted to see wasn't open yet. 2 strikes! But don't worry. Everything works out :)
Eventually we caught the right tram into the center of the city. Milan is Italy's second city and the capital of Lombardy. Not only is it the regional capital, it is also the country's fashion, banking, TV, publishing, and convention capital. It is a hardworking, fashion conscious, time-is-money city of about 1.5 million people. 

Luxurious coffered ceiling along the Piazza del Duomo.
In the center of Milan's main square stands an equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy.
Fox and Janey outside the Duomo. This church is the centerpiece of the square and a symbol of the city. It is the fourth-largest church in Europe (after St. Peter's in the Vatican, St. Paul's in London, and the cathedral in Seville - we've been fortunate to visit all of them!).
We waited in a line to purchase tickets to go inside the cathedral and take an elevator up to the roof. The line wasn't very long at this point and we only had to wait about 15 minutes to get patted down by security. Throughout the day as we kept circling back to the square, the lines kept getting progressively longer and longer. So, the early bird gets the worm, 1 point for team Evans!
I LOVE the way Jane poses! She cracks me up.
One of the most "interesting" (and macabre) sculptures in the church is this one of St. Bartolomeo. The first-century apostle and martyr was skinned alive by the Romans. He's depicted here wearing his own skin like a robe.
Then we wanted to go up to the roof, but the top level was closed because of ice. We decided to come back later, it was supposed to get up to 40 degrees so we hoped the ice would eventually melt and we could explore the whole enchilada.

Milan was still decked out for the holidays, complete with a Christmas market.
Also on the piazza is the gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a four-story glass domed arcade built during the years right after Italian unification. It was the first structure in Milan to have electric lighting and is filled with luxurious shops and cafes. 
The mosaic floor under the central dome is gorgeous. 
Now that's a mall!
Out the back side of the galleria is the Piazza della Scala with a statue of Leonardo da Vinci overlooking the scene. Leonardo spent many of his most productive years in Milan working for the powerful Sforza family.
The famous opera house, La Scala. Not too fancy on the outside, but the interior is gorgeous and the productions they stage are supposedly top-notch.
It's so funny how all over Italy the buildings are virtually all painted using the same red/orange/yellow/ochre/sienna/burnt color scheme.
Window shopping.
What's a visit to Milan without immersing yourself in the fashion?!
For the pinnacle of hoity toity shopping, head to the "Quadrilateral," an elegant area around Via Montenapoleone. This was the original Beverly Hills of Milan. In the 1920s, the top fashion shops moved in and today it remains the place for designer labels. Valentino, Versace, Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Iceberg, Missoni, Trussardi, Moschino, Dirk Bikkembergs, Etro, and Zegna are all headquartered in Milan.
Along the street are gorgeous courtyards in the middle of the buildings, many with cafes.

We saw some of the fanciest stores with the fanciest clothing!
These shoes tho.
"The Man's Street" lol.
Just off the main fashion drag we stumbled upon a Lego store! The kids were overjoyed. They even had a Duomo made out of Legos on display.
We walked back to the Duomo to see if we could get to the top level of the roof, but it was still closed because of ice.
So we went to lunch at McDonald's with a spectacular view out the upper window of the square.
After lunch we decided to just go up to the roof no matter what. 3rd time's a charm, right?! The sign saying the roof was still closed was still up, but it was now or never because we had to get to our ticketed time at The Last Supper. The line was understandably short, people wanted to get their money's worth. Imagine our surprise when we reached the end of the first level we saw people still going up! We totally lucked out! The whole roof was opened, even the highest portion. And the views were amazing! When we got back down, the closure sign was gone, and the line was a mile long. Another point for team Evans!

It was such a memorable experience to walk through the hundreds of Gothic spires overlooking the city.
Old and New Milan.

We went back to the hotel for a half hour to chill and then walked just a couple blocks to the church with The Last Supper.
In Rick Steves we read no photos were allowed, but once we got inside I saw people taking pictures left and right! Another win for team Evans! Yay! This was another of our favorite art experiences in Europe, a la The Sistine Chapel.

Housed in the church of Santa Maria Della Grazie, this is one of the ultimate masterpieces of the Renaissance. Milan's leading family, the Sforzas, hired Leonardo to decorate the dining hall of the Dominican monastery that adjoins the church in return for the monks allowing them to house their family tomb in the church. The fresco began to deteriorate within six years of its completion because Leonardo had tried an experimental fresco technique. During WWII the church was bombed but the wall holding the fresco was miraculously unharmed. In 1999 a 21-year restoration project was completed that stripped away 500 years of touch-ups, grime, and changes, leaving only Leonardo's faint, but masterful composition and colors.
My goodness I love these two cute kids of ours! This is on the tram back to the hotel. Jane wanted to sit by Fox and he so graciously let her. They've been good friends lately! I dunno when they changed their minds and decided to be friends instead of enemies, but I'll take it!
After dinner we took the tram back into the city to see the lights.
Bopping down Via Dante heading towards Sforza Castle.
Then we rode the metro one stop back to Piazza del Duomo. This is the building in particular that I wanted to see all lit up:
It did not disappoint!
The dome inside the galleria was bedazzled with lights as well. So festive!
OMG world's cutest cupcake shop!
In the morning on the way out of town we drove to the world's largest horse statue! There was a gated fence so this is as close as we could go and there's no human standing by to judge the scale and enormity of this beast. But trust me, it's huge! Really huge!
The horse is a modern reconstruction of a clay model created in 1482 by Leonardo da Vinci for the Sforza family. The clay prototype was destroyed in 1499 by invading French troops who used it for target practice! In 1982, American Renaissance art enthusiast and collector Charles Dent decided to build the 15-ton, 24-foot-long statue from Leonardo's design. Dent died before the project was complete, but it was eventually finished in 1999. 

Our family in Milan, Italy on Friday December 30th 2016.

Then we headed up to Lake Como!
Paige Taylor Evans © // Quinn Creatives DESIGN