Blue Cheese Pizza, Because This Is Italy

The public beach in Laveno at Lago Maggiore, with Sasso del Ferro in the background

Our second day with Monika was really one of the best days we have had on our trip so far. Of course she knew all the little out-of-the-way places that we would have never found on our own, which made our day with her even more special.

I can’t really even remember which towns we visited. Monika said to put our swimsuits on under our clothes, so we did. We piled into her little Renault and whizzed up and down the mountains, down narrow one-lane streets and budged our way through roundabouts until I was totally confused.

I think first we went to the larger town of Varese, where Monika wanted to rent bikes and go for a ride along the lake shore. But at 11:00 am, the bike shop was closed.

I have gotten used to tourists and locals shrugging at both major and minor inconveniences and muttering, “This is Italy.”

So we walked along the bike path for a ways, discussing the Italian and English words for raspberry (lampone), blackberry (mora) and gooseberry (uva spina), all of which, I think, we saw growing along the path. Even in the north of Italy, where it snows in the winter, there are palm trees.

Traveling down the funivia on Sasso del Ferro, in Laveno

Back into the car for a trip to Laveno, a small town on the shore of Lago Maggiore. Monika wanted to take us up the cableway (funivia) to the top of Sasso del Ferro (Iron Stone). It was somewhat nervewracking, standing in little two-person open baskets and ascending ten minutes up a steep mountainside, but…totally worth it.

At the top, there is a restaurant and hotel, with a balcony where you can see the snow-capped Italian Alps to the north. If the sky is clear, they say you can see the spires of Milan Cathedral 48 miles to the south. There was a launch pad for hang gliders, with a blue and white hang glider patiently waiting nearby for its next flight. On the other side of the peak was a place for parasailers to jump off the mountain. Monika told us that when Jody was little, she worked here as a waitress for about four years.

We walked around the gift shop where we sat on a bench in the shade and ate the sandwiches we’d brought. As we were eating, two men hooked themselves up to the hang glider and proceeded to jump off the mountain…amazing to see!

Ready to fly

Good conditions for soaring

When we went back to the cableway to go back down, the attendant asked to see our tickets again. Monika was puzzled. “Why would someone pay to go up, without also paying to go back down?” she asked, shaking her head. This…is…Italy?

After a late lunch at the top of Sasso del Ferro, it was time for another whirlwind journey through the streets of Laveno until we arrived at the beach. Swimming on the beach at Lago Maggiore…it doesn’t get much better than that. But if you’ve ever been up close and personal with a swan, it was also a little unnerving.

My new friend

After swimming, we ate outside at a lakeside restaurant where the food was delicious as always. I ordered a wonderful speck and gorgonzola pizza. Speck is a delicious paper-thin sandwich meat, kind of a cross between ham and bacon. Monika asked me if I could buy gorgonzola in Iowa. I said we could find it in larger stores, but that I usually buy blue cheese. She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

The outdoor theater in Varese

Monika had one more place to take us. We drove to Varese again, a town of around 80,000 that is the urban center for the area. They were showing Isle of Dogs at an open air theater, so we sat on plastic chairs under a canopy with maybe 200 other people, waiting for the sun to completely disappear behind the mountains so the show could start. Erin, Megan and I were kind of hoping beyond hope that it would be in English with Italian subtitles…but no. My Italian is not good enough to listen to movie dialogue with any kind of comprehension, so halfway through I just kind of closed my eyes and dozed.

Back to Monika’s house where we crashed, knowing we would be leaving on the train in the morning and not really wanting to go. Lots of hugging and air kisses, a few tears, and a promise to Skype again soon.

I’m actually getting a tiny bit homesick, and we have a week and a half to go. But as much as I am missing things like ice, clothes dryers, and screens on windows, I know that I will come and visit Monika again someday. She is a wonderful person and a good friend. As for the rest, well, I will be back because…this is Italy.

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