from Sandy Needham

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lake Garda Dispatch

Saló is a town on the shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy. We flew into Milan and took the train to Brescia, where our very charming exchange hosts picked us up. Paolo and Elena have another residence in a town nearby and do not use their Saló home over the summer.

We discovered the town's summer tourist role that first evening: a bad Italy. The quite beautiful town was swarming with Italian families, some Europeans from UK, Germany, etc., no Americans - all winding up the season the last two weeks of August.

Our disappointment was soon assuaged as we discovered that many of the lakeside restaurants were better than our first, and the old osterias a couple of streets back from the water were even better, with terrific food and animated locals discussing subjects with Italian passion! We highly recommend Osteria Dell'Orologio and, more elegant, Osteria di Mezzo with the chef's multi-course special. We ate more then once at both of them. Squisito!

But a real highlight of our stay were lunches on our patio. The salami, cheeses and bread from the local market, as well as salad - with the real taste of fresh vegetables we have mostly forgotten - left us nearly speechless! Even the crackers from the supermarket were the finest I ever ate. We added the delectable rosé wine of the region, which Paolo had left for us. Delizioso!

Our garden, complete with olive tree, bordered a tennis club; our days at home were punctuated by tennis lobs and more happy squeals of children in the adjacent pool.

We could fill our own bottles with the mineral water run-off from a local bottling plant.
Around Saló we found many elegant shops for such a small town, wonderful historic buildings and - always - views of the lake!

The church

A pharmacy!

It is a summer tradition to gather around the lake for late afternoon aperitifs, the most popular being colorful spritzes: Aperol (orange) or Campari (red) mixed with prosecco or frizzante. Our favorite place was a simple lakeside bar on the opposite shore, where I always stuck to my rosé.
Lakeside bar

The white structure is our lakeside bar.
Thursday nights were Saló's "night out," with many bands and vocalists dotted along the lake and in town; restricted parking; dancing; and a "passagiatta" (people promenading) everywhere! We started one of our Thursdays out with a classical concert in the courtyard of the Museo di Saló - an exquisite string quartet playing mostly Baroque selections. Eccellente! 

The convertible that was part of the exchange inspired many Italian cinematic fantasies!

Sandra as Gina Lollobrigida
Our first day trip was leaving the Lombardi region for the Veneto region, where fair Verona was just an hour's drive away. We had reserved tickets to the opera in the old Roman coliseum, as we had done some years ago. This time we saw "The Barber of Seville," with a lovely day in Verona and another memorable dinner ahead of the performance. 

Juliette's balcony, of course!

Newton as Rossano Brazzi
Our restaurant, Bottega dell Vino (1 Via Pietro Frattini), was a recommendation from Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler; one cannot fully appreciate Italy without Fred. 

The beam says: "God save me from he who doesn't drink wine."
The wine list!
The flask chandelier
Newton tried a horse meat delicacy
Grazie, Fred!

The opera was atmospheric and emozionante:

Another day trip was to EXPO 2015 in Milan. It was an hour's train ride.

We reserved the fancier train for the round trip and co-witnessed with the rest of our car quite a bathroom drama on our way. A dignified middle-aged woman approached the occupied bathroom with her ancient father leaning on her and a cane. After about five minutes, she politely gave the door a little knock. No response. An Italian guy standing nearby tried a more vigorous knock, which the woman, embarrassed, tried to discourage. No response. The old man is struggling to stay upright, so after another five minutes, the woman politely knocks again, and, after no response, the Italian guy quite violently knocks again. This time, there is a violent knocking from inside the toilet. More time passes; another violent knocking from outside is answered with more violent knocking. Finally, after yet another long wait, a young preppy-looking man emerges from the toilet, enraged, and storms through the car cursing. I have a feeling that when he later discovered the unfortunate soiling on the back of his shorts, he did not consider this one of his best days. We could not decide whom we pitied more: the old man or the young man!

EXPO 2015's international theme was food sustainability. This theme honors a compelling problem that will only plague the world further as population and warming increase, but besides crop rotation for soil health and water strategies, we did not personally discover many exhibits at EXPO 2015 that featured innovative ways to approach this. Naturally, we could not visit every pavilion in a day. Belgium offered a way to grow mushrooms from coffee grounds, which I considered the sort of idea I mean. 

This covered thoroughfare was helpful when the rain came!
There were, indeed, many examples of interesting architecture and attractive displays from around the world:

Viet Nam

Belgium offered a Belgian beer bar.
This is the very fun and original net at the Brazilian Pavilion.


The United Arab Emirates had an elaborate pavilion with a line too long for us.
Kuwait had a fountain that read, "Water is the key element for...

Great Britain had this wonderful honeycomb:

The German Pavilion was so popular that the line required 1-1/2 hours of waiting in the heat. Inside were sophisticated displays with personal interactive screens. 

At the end of Germany's exhibits was a "show." Two very enthusiastic guys knocked themselves out with songs, jokes and acrobats trying to get the exhausted crowd standing around them to buck up. After that endless line and walking around inside, especially the children looked liked deer in the headlights. Thankless job.
The USA Pavilion had an attractive vertical garden with rotating panels along one side and a clever Street Food area with vintage food trucks across the street; otherwise, it was a rather weak pavilion inside.

Unfortunately, we got caught in quite heavy rain and couldn't find our way out of the EXPO in time to catch our fancier, faster train back; troppo lento!

Another day excursion took us to Simione, a town on the south end of Lake Garda at the tip of an inlet. We took a motorboat out to the point.

This strategic position was crucial to the medieval castle fortress there:

Another famous attraction in Sirmione is the 'Grotto di Catullo," 
the home of the late Roman Republic poet, Catullus, who died around 84 B.C.

In town

Another day we drove to the town of Malcesine on the northeast side of Lake Garda to take the cable car up Monte Baldo. The town also has a medieval castle:

We stood in line for an hour for the cable car, but the views as we ascended were pretty much worth it!

The mountain air was accented by the tinkling of cow bells from a grazing herd; a shepherd was attending this flock with the aid of a sheep dog:

The summit provided an ideal launching area for hang gliding:
I was trying to capture the spirit of Maria von Trapp when I forced Newton to enact "The Hills are Alive" on the mountaintop, but I think Ray Charles comes to mind more readily!

OK, we're guilty of this ONE selfie
Lucky (tired) me, I got to sit out the long wait for the cable car down.
We took the scenic route home by driving north, all the way around the top of Lake Garda and down the west side. It was a beautiful time of late afternoon and the drive brought us such dramatic impressions of mountains and water: timeless grandeur as the small lake towns we passed eked out the end of the tourist season.

No, that is not snow.
On our one rainy, dreary day in Saló we visited the nearby winery, Pasini. The owner was so welcoming, informative - even funny! He showed us the amusing advertising for their excellent rosé, which spares no reference to the one night the red grapes spend with the white and the ensuing coupling. Romantico!

We were surprised when a motor cycle pulled up with a couple who looked like astronauts in their rain gear. They emerged from the bulk and came in for a tasting. He was Norwegian and she, Thai, and they had ridden the cycle all the way from Scandinavia. We all had fun talking, joking and tasting on this grey, grey day.

Newton and I returned to the Villa Pasini restaurant soon after for our 32nd anniversary dinner. Elegante!

Paolo and Elena met us for an aperitif on our last afternoon. We made arrangements for them to pick us up the next day and deliver us to the train station for our flight out of Milan.

Looks like Newt was under a red umbrella for this shot!
We shared our "fine dell'estate" on our last evening with many tourists, many families with back-to-school on their minds. Did I have this wistful feel about the end of summer when I was young, or was it a later construction in my head? 

In what I could only call "Fellini," the town offered these visions along the shore to celebrate:

And with some bursts of fireworks, it was arrivederci.

We were off to visit old friends from Natal in Majorca.


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