Alpine Adventure-part X
Part X- Alpine Adventure
Mon. July 25, 2016- St. Moritz, Switzerland.
A later start this morning allowed us to loll about until 8:30 A.M. The huge land cruiser slipped out of St. Moritz. We noticed another small lake and a soccer field in town. The hotel Kampinski here is another favorite of the moneyed crowd. Far along the skyline we could see the eroded eminence of Piz (peak) Badilla. It is shaped like a shovel. The carriages ride across these scenic lakes in the winter and the ski crowds are huge. We were heading up towards the Maloja Pass. It had been first used by the Romans, as a path up from Italy, some 2,000 years before. They must have been some pretty plucky walkers up and down these hills.
Then of course we had to find a way down. Tibor piloted the bus down a virtual cliff side helix of descending circles some 8,000 feet to the valley floor. I was glad I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the front of the bus as it swung through those tight circles with the yawning abyss just beyond. Here, along the Valchiavenna River Valley is the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Most speak German and a native Swiss dialect, but their principal language is Italian. The architecture was changing as well. The balconies were now made of wrought iron, instead of dark wood, in that classic Italian style that is so prominent in French and Italian architecture. We passed by old villages like Prisapla and Puria, founded in the mid 1600’s. The Roman had constructed a base camp here, probably to take advantage of the plentiful granite quarries in the area. A brief stop at the Morescai Café for cappuccino and we were ready for the Lake country, sitting astride the border of Switzerland and Italy. The Adda River feeds Alpine run off into Lakes Como (George Clooney fame) Lake Lugano, and lake Maggiore. They all attract summer vacationers in throngs.
The vegetation changed notably as we had descended. There are palm trees here and mulberry bushes that support a small silk making industry. There are also tunnels, miles of them along the lakes. And the hillsides of all three lakes are spotted with ever ascending rows of condominiums. We noticed that Lake Lugano had grown appreciably in the twenty years since we had last visited its sunny shores. Float planes glided in for water landings, small yachts cruised up and down the shoreline and every other activity of summer transformed the area into a busy playground. We debated driving by George Clooney’s Villa, on lake Como, but figured he probably wouldn’t invite us in for refreshments.
The bus deposited us on the waterfront promenade of Lake Lugano for an hour break. The scenic lake is 50 km long and about 3km across. Italy occupies a portion of the southern side, Switzerland most of the Northern side. It was sunny, hot and in the mid 80’s out. Mary and I walked the promenade, as we had twenty years back. It was a little busier and a little bigger. A gelato vendor provided us with a welcome treat. We had to order in Italian and pay in Swiss Franks. No problems, just mime if you can’t find the right words. Vendors are used to dealing with visitors from across the world. Most are usually pleasant. Some are just plain porky, irritated that their livelihood depends on tourism.
We passed by the small bust of George Washington. Lucy explained that a local lad had made it big in mining in South America. Since, no one had a clue who South American liberator Simon Bolivar was, he chose a bust of the more easily recognizable George Washington to commemorate his American success. The Via Nassa, just opposite the promenade, is loaded with Rodeo Drive types of elegant shops. Most of us steered our wives in the opposite direction.
The nearby Novotel was our quarters for the evening. We got our room, settled in to unpack and chill out. We would be having dinner this evening, at a 120-year-old restaurant, called “Roccabella.” It sits across the lake, in Italy, in the 1,000-year-old town of Gandria. It gave me time to write up the day’s notes and ready for dinner.
At 5:30 Lucy led her 44 ducklings a few blocks over to the shores of Lake Lugano. A small private charter boat collected us for the slow and easy run across the lake. We passed by the St. Mary of Swallow’s church that had occupied the site since the mind 700s. A new municipal gambling casino sat nearby. Mary and I noticed the Cap San Martino restaurant sitting on a slight promontory. We had dined there, with friends from New Jersey, some twenty years ago. Times sure does pass quickly when you are having a good time, doesn’t it?
The boat glided into the fist floor anchorage of the small and very old restaurant. The owner, a humorous Italian chef, was there to greet us. We were seated on the second floor balcony over looking the lake and all of the twinkling lights of the various condos and businesses. It was al fresco dining with an awning above us and the occasional flash of heat lightning on the skyline. A salad calabrese was followed by Veg. lasagna and some wonderful cherry cheesecake, accompanied by a dry Italian red wine, perhaps a Multipulciano. During the meal, served by the establishment Mrs. and her daughter, the amusing proprietor and chef, appeared with several silly costumes, singing off key operas and amusing ditties. We all laughed dutifully and tried to cadge a second glass of wine. It was good food, on a gorgeous night on a beautiful resort lake in Northern Italy. How much better than this does it get?
The ride back across the lake was pleasant. Most of the group had gathered on the top deck of the boat and were laughing about running one of the assembled for President. He immediately asked for cash donations. The new casino was lit up like a Christmas tree. The hillside condo lights flickered like twinkling stars. We off loaded and walked up to the hotel. Mary and I had a nightcap glass of Merlot at the hotel bar and then retreated to our room. The early morning wake up call would come all too soon.
Joseph Xavier Martin