Lago di Como, Autumno

It seems little ridiculous, sitting here looking out through the finally lifting fog to the freshly snow-dusted mountains, to be writing about our last warmish-weather hurrah. But due to a broken computer resulting in no snaps until the replacement arrived (followed by the compulsory get-to-know-the-replacement period), here we are. But, more relevantly: here is where we were.

Soph & Jake Visit - Lake Como-415This late afternoon late Autumn beauty is Lake Como (in late September, as it happens). We were there with three quarters of the Purtell siblings: Dom, Soph and Tim. As you can imagine, having two of their doting aunts around all weekend was horrible for the children and they had a dreadful time.

Of course we adults did too. Everyone hates holing up in a small village in Italy with very little to do other than check out cute towns, eat delicious food and drink too much wine. Horrible.

Soph & Jake Visit -Lake Como-006It wasn’t our first time visiting the Como region. We spent the New Year in Varenna with my sister and her family the first year we moved here. This time we stayed in a little village close to Lecco, but having loved the little hill town of Varenna we decided to head back there. The seasons are so markedly different here that visiting in Autumn, rather than winter, felt like a completely different trip.

Soph & Jake Visit -Lake Como-070The medieval ruined castle that sits above town, nestled in ancient olive groves, was this time open for visitors. Spooky visitors.

Soph & Jake Visit - Lake Como-083There was a (very odd and incongruent) sculpture exhibition throughout the grounds, with several of these plaster-caped guys chilling and taking in the view. While fairly scary, they were nowhere near as bad as they castle’s main attraction: falconry.

Soph & Jake Visit - Lake Como-121 We watched a heavily-gloved trainer manage several of the enormous birds, which would fly effortlessly off across the lake, circling high above us on their return. (Also, yes, Tim may have been lying down in the afternoon sun to get that shot. Since we had Aunty Day Care the entire weekend, there was very little reason to do much other than relax, and pose for cheesy ‘I’m an active parent’ snaps.)

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And admire the view, of course.

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The following day we went to the town of Como. We took a boat across the lake and spent the morning wandering through the town, working up an appetite by ninja leaf-throwing missions on poor unsuspecting* Uncle Jake.

* unsuspecting my butt. He totally saw them a mile away but really is the very best kind of uncle and feigned complete shock and surprise, and then counter-leaf-attacked like a champ.

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Eventually enough time had passed to justify pulling up at a sunny restaurant on the lake for a long and lovely Sunday lunch (rosé! pizza! tiramisu! i-pad!). Apparently not as delighted with lazing in the afternoon warmth as their parents, Aunty Dom took the little ones to get themselves throughly drenched before heading home. Since I remained lounging in the restaurant (there may or may not have been limoncello involved) I didn’t mind in the slightest.

The next day, Soph and Jake made their way to Berlin for the final leg of their holiday. We caught up with them the following week before they flew back to Australia, but as is common when we meet family and friends over here we start to wonder when we will see them again. The answer (invariably ‘we don’t know, but soon we hope’) is becoming something we increasingly ponder as our time here goes on.

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Walking on Water (or Blistered Feet and Blistering Heat)

For six years in a row back in the noughties a handful of girlfriends and I made our way every October to Phillip Island, not far from Melbourne in Australia. The drawcard was the Australian MotoGP – while I am emphatically not a petrol head, several of my friends are bike riders and enthusiasts (one even writing for and eventually editing a nation wide bike magazine) and I like anything that offers drinks and food on a stick. We camped every year, which had its own (admittedly fairly rough) flavour of fun and fireworks, and of course the race itself was always a blast, but in some ways the most exciting part was the drive to the island. To leave the mainland there was a long stretch of highway flanked by MotoGP flags and the closer we got to the island, the more bikes, campervans and GP-headed cars would appear. Horns would blast, radios blare and the enthusiasm was palpable. It felt like an annual pilgrimage and that camaraderie remains one of my favourite parts of the experience.

A similar feeling was awakened when we made the trek on Saturday to Lake Iseo in Northern Italy to see Christo’s Floating Piers installation. We headed down on Friday night to Bergamo and made our way to the Lake the next morning. We knew it was going to be popular, but that is something of an understatement: an estimated 100,000 people rocked up to view it. We got a park about 10 kilometres away from the actual exhibition, and got walking.The Floating Piers 0058 - 20160625As Tim pointed out en route, it was a glorious day and there was really nothing awful at all about hiking through the stunning Italian countryside. Summer blossoms scented the air, olive groves shimmered in the hazy light, and we thirstily looked out across lush vineyards as we – and thousands of other people – walked towards Sulzano and the start of the installation (happily with refreshments along the way).

The walk took us through Lake Iseo township and then up along a ridge on the hill, where we were able to view the upcoming attraction. Again, there was a feeling of excitement and camaraderie as folks from all over Europe – indeed the globe – made their way to the Floating Piers.

We were in a battle against time – storms were predicted for the afternoon, and if they loomed the exhibition would be closed. After a 10k walk in inappropriate footwear (poor Tim is still hobbling a little) were were committed and determined not to miss out.

After descending a steep hill, we finally arrived at the bridge – the start of the exhibition. Ads was keen to break free and follow the (well trodden and rather dirty) yellow brick road for a while.The Floating Piers 0090 - 20160625To our great disappointment as we arrived we were told that we weren’t able to go on the floating part of the installation as storm warnings were declared and as such kids weren’t allowed on. We were directed away from the three (!) hour (!!) queue (!!!) to get on and instead advised to get a ferry across to the island.

This gave us great views – but also the opportunity to immediately jump on the pier on the other side, where oddly there was no wait and no child related restrictions. We slipped off our shoes and felt the pier lumber beneath us; not as rough as being on a dinghy but certainly not as stable as a wharf. The water gently splashed over the sides of the pier and it did indeed feel like we were walking across the surface of the lake.The Floating Piers 0151 - 20160625The Floating Piers 0167 - 20160625The Floating Piers 0182 - 20160625The Floating Piers 0135 - 20160625The exhibition continued for three kilometres, bordering the village and then circling an island. We plodded along for a while, enjoying the sun and the hustle and bustle of our fellow pilgrims. Due to the kid restrictions, our poorly feet and the 34 degree heat we didn’t make it the entire way around, but we figured that some gelato compensated just fine.The Floating Piers 0192 - 20160625Given we had a few logistic issues (massive queues to get off the island and back to our car) and a few health ones (turns out being almost four months pregnant and walking for hours in the blistering sun may not be the best idea I have ever had) we called it a day in the late afternoon. As we left, the queues were still enormous (the exhibition is open for 24 hours; apparently night time is magical) but the feeling of general enthusiasm and goodwill remained, even on a sardine-packed bus back to the starting point.The Floating Piers 0195 - 20160625The Floating Piers 0196 - 20160625We’ll definitely return to Lake Iseo once the exhibition is over – we are keen to sample wine from afore mentioned vineyards, and the area itself was spectacular. However as much as we enjoyed our shared pilgrimage, next time we’d prefer to experience it without the other 99,997 people that were there last Saturday.


Less than 48 hours after returning to Switzerland, our bags were repacked and we’d hit the road for Genova in northern Italy. Frankly I was hesitant, but Hotel’s arguments were convincing: it would be warm, and Luzern was chilly and wet; he had a rare four days off in a row which he wanted to maximise; and the icing on the cake – he promised to be on full baby jet lag duty. That (and the thought of more pizza) totally sold me and we rolled into the sun drenched coastal town early Thursday afternoon.

Genova is the sixth largest city in Italy, a working harbour town with a fairly industrial vibe. It had the steep hills and narrow streets we (and our large-ish car’s turning circle) are getting used to, and a fairly rough-and-ready feel to the old town. We stayed high in an old marble-halled apartment on a leafy street up a hill outside town. An easy stroll took us straight down into town, and a funicular took us back up the hill when we were done touristing.

Back in the 1500s, the then Republic of Genova established the Palazzi dei Rolli, a list of the town’s most salubrious private buildings. The buildings were classified by their prestige – size, look, cost, location – and ranked on the list accordingly. The list was used to find accommodation for visiting dignitaries and businessmen, often resulting in personal deals being brokered along the way. According to our charming host, it could almost be considered an early incarnation of AirBNB. As luck would have it, the Rolli List buildings were open to the public the weekend we were there, so despite not being particularly classy we were able to check out the various lodgings that used to be on offer.

Naturally a trip to Italy is nothing without the eats, and Genova is no exception. We dined in fine style, sampling pesto from the region in which it originated and only causing minimal green damage to assorted linens.

Being a port side city, Motsy had hoped for some beach time but sadly there was no sand or wave action, only a Renzo Piano peppered harbour which we explored.

And took breaks on the play equipment slash Van de Graff generator.Genova 0060 - 20160602Genova is home to one of Europe’s largest aquariums, and although our little lass has the attention span of a goldfish we gave it a go nonetheless. It made Tim’s water lust even worse, but was a refreshing break from the almost too warm afternoon sun.

The rest of the weekend was spent wandering, soaking in the city, possibly purchasing meat and smallgoods for our return to der Schweiz, and of course eating all the eats. Happily our uphill walk home almost justified the amount of Italian deliciousness all of us – including our little pizza monster – ate.

Mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia

The only happy outcome of Laideybird’s Super Mega Gross Illness a few weeks ago (other than an improved immune system, I suppose) was a postponed trip to northern Italy, specifically Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. We laughed as we left behind chilly Lucerne for temperatures rumoured to be in the balmy double figures. The rumours were true, and we weren’t the only ones out to celebrate. All around town hints of spring could be spied.Lago Maggiore 0016 - 20160313Lago Maggiore straddles the Swiss and Italian border and boasts crystal waters and, of course, Alps. Like its easterly and slightly more popular cousin – Lago Como – it is dotted with cobbled villages, peppered with islands, and circumnavigated at alarming speeds by packs of lycra-clad cyclists (at whose fortitude for hill climbing we marvelled, all the time scoffing our pizza and wine). We rolled into town on a glorious Saturday morning and promptly took a stroll along the shore of the lake, ditching layer after winter layer as the weather delivered on its promises.

Although hints of spring were around, and the change of season hung heavy in the air, most of the trees are still bare. We could almost feel the green bursting through. There was certainly enough available foliage for our lass to pick her first posy, which she insisted on shoving into my hair to match her own blossom. I not-so-discreetly removed it and carried on with my lunch wine. I’m fairly sure she didn’t notice, as she was perfecting the art of the slippery dip with her father.

The town of Stresa, like many Italian villages, has as its focal point the main piazza. Narrow cobbled streets (which proved somewhat challenging for a toddling toddler to navigate, not to mention her not-so-coordinated mother) weave around the piazza, concentric yet seemingly haphazard, spider web-like. We spent the morning ducking in and out of these alleys, stopping for espresso and puppy-spotting. And maybe gelato and frittelle (a type of Italian doughnut). Because Italy.

Lago Maggiore 0132 - 20160313The afternoon held island-hopping. We jumped on one of the local ferries and made the short trip across the lake, Motsy taking advantage of the opportunity to add to his ‘flags on boats’ collection.Lago Maggiore 0172 - 20160313

The three Borromean islands sit off the coast of Stresa – Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola de Pescatori. Named for the aristocratic Borromean family, the three islands have different but complementary purposes. Bella holds the estate – a grand palace where the family resided. A perfectly manicured garden is adjacent to the palace (although not open to the public until the following weekend. Our snooping through the palace fence can, however, confirm its perfectly manicured status). The main gardens are on Madre which is nearly exclusively covered in exotic, manicured foliage (again, not open. This information also gained by snooping). The final village is the poor cousin of the three (and perhaps not unsurprisingly, completely accessible to any old tourist): de Pescatori, a preserved fishing village.

Tired of all the palatial snooping, we made our way back home, safe in the hands of our wee captain.

The night was spent as I hope all nights (and for that matter, lunches…and who am I kidding, breakfasts too) are in Italy: with pizza and red wine. We had a fairly cruisy Sunday, spent stopping at markets, more street roaming, driving in the olive-clad hills, and – I confess – more pizza eating. During the street roaming, I had the excellent fortune to overhear a dapperly dressed Italian gentleman on the phone. Clearly distressed about something, and gesturing wildly, he bellowed ‘mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia’ into the ear of whomever he was talking, and straight into my stereotype-loving heart.

We’re still trying to perfect our weekend away game plan. This trip, we left early on Saturday morning with the intention of returning in time for Tim to start work on Monday, leaving at about 5am which is revolting but manageable, especially when you consider the state of pizza in Switzerland. Apparently Ademalaidey received a typo on her itinerary. She seemed to think that getting up at midnight for a super-early start was on the cards. Given the echo of a baby’s cries in a tiled Italian casa we decided to cut our losses at about two (yes people. In the a.m. Yes, the morning. Let’s never discuss it again) and head home. On the plus side it was a cyclist-free drive but also…hoo boy. Let’s just say if I didn’t love said pizza so much, my one-weekend-getaway-a-month plan might be seriously compromised.


We spent the last few days of 2015 in Varenna, a small town perched on the edge of Lake Como in Northern Italy. We had dreams of pizza, pasta, Italian sweets and running into George Clooney (who has a house slash epic mansion on the lake) and being invited over for New Year’s drinks. I am pleased to report we had an 80% success rate which was just as well, given it was likely I wouldn’t have made it to midnight and would have embarrassed myself by falling asleep on Mr Clooney’s couch (which I assume is plush and luxurious).

Varenna was originally a small fishing village founded in the seven hundreds, but its current architecture dates back to the 1100s due to off-and-on burning and pillaging that occurred over the years. It is primarily made of stone – coloured for the buildings and cobbled for the streets – and consists of a series of twisting alleys tiered up from the banks of the lake.

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Our New Year’s preparations included stocking up on all the delicious eats and drinks we could find. We wandered around the village admiring the lights and managing the (fairly grumpy) little ones (the snap below is deceptively cheerful) before heading home to see in 2016.

We wound up 2015 in the manner in which we spent a large part of it: platter style. The grapes pictured on said platter were given to us by the crazy Nonna who lived in the apartment below. I tasted one and can confirm they are ornamental only. (The Violimoncello – boom ching – was swigged from the bottle by the lads as they braved the night air to check out the fireworks on the lake. Classy.)

I’m a big one for New Year’s resolutions. Always have been (we have even, nerdily, made Financial New Year’s resolutions in our time). Last year I don’t think I even made it to the 9pm Sydney fireworks due to a less-than-two-week-old bambino and my only resolution was to survive the year. Given that 2015 was our most epic year to date, maybe ‘less is more’ in the resolution department should be the way to go for me. This year, we hope to continue getting away to see The Europes once a month, and I am going to start those bloody German classes for reals. Other than that, do as you will 2016.

On the first day of the new year, we donned our gear (sans Nonna headwear) and took to the trails, hiking to a castle that sits atop the hill.

It was closed for the off season, but we caught sneaky views of the ruined turrets and bridges popping up amidst olive groves. We spent time catching our breath in the wee village nearby (the gents cursing the violimoncello from the evening before).

NYE Varenna   0317 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0322 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0323 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0324 - 20151230The descent was at times hairy, down slippery rock steps and narrow paths. I was the only one not carrying a child so spent my time nagging everyone else to be careful. We paused regularly, glimpsing shimmering  silvery olive groves and glittering water. It was easy to mistake the lake for ocean due to the misty haze in the sky.

NYE Varenna   0349 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0353 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0356 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0365 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0367 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0369 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0376 - 20151230Once back in Varenna we made our way to the lake edge to let the kids – both small and large – play.

NYE Varenna   0378 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0437 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0443 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0462 - 20151230NYE Varenna   0467 - 20151230The day ended, as all days do, with the sun arcing across the sky, over the horizon and out of sight (and also with wines). On the first day of the new year, though, it did so spectacularly.

We’re home again now, back in Lucerne, and my sister and her family are packing their bags for the long haul flight to Australia. The little cousins have had a month together during which she’s become his shadow. He’s taught her to cuddle (adorably and awkwardly shoving toys under her chin while grinning proudly), to gain confidence in walking (she now totters far more than she crawls), and how to steal (a toy Zorro accidentally came home with us from Varenna and surely it has to be due to her older cousin’s bad influence). It’s been a gift of a month.