Torino and the Bernina Express

Why visit Torino, a charming little town close to the Swiss border?  How about vineyards, apple farms, lakes, mountains, a beautiful cathedral, archaeological sites, cobbled streets and a train station from which you can board a single gauge train?  Are those reasons enough?

Enroute from Milan, we stopped at Orrido di Bellano, to view the gorge and waterfall,then headed to Varenna for lunch alongside Lake Como.  Dinner was in the wine cellar of a restored old Torino villa.

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The first two days were great and action packed, but the BEST day was the third, when we boarded the Bernina Express.  Theoretically, we could have ridden it all the way to St. Mortitz, but instead we disembarked in Diavolezza to take a cable car part way up the mountain to a terrace and restaurant.

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The view was spectacular from there, but some of us wanted an even better glimpse of the glacier, so off we went.   I was very glad I had packed my hiking boots, because  we had to get past a couple of icy patches to reach the summit.

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From left: me, Ellen, Julie and Elisa.  Can you figure out which one is the guide?

What a great place for a photo op!

The Divine Duomo

See how happy she is, wearing her new dress?

We’ve all been told you have to dress appropriately if you want to tour the Duomo.  That isn’t entirely true.  If you happen to be wearing something a bit too revealing, no worries.  The Duomo staff will give you a lovely, suitable outfit to wear.  Best of all, you get to keep it when you leave.  Take a look.

If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that I toured the Duomo a few days ago, while in Milan on my own.  I am now on the OAT trip, which started with a walking tour of Milan, including a guided tour of the Duomo.  I’m glad I did both, because different tour guides emphasize different things, so YOU, dear reader, get the benefit of both, without having to endure an overnight flight.

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Both guides cited identical facts and figures: when construction started (1386), how long it was under construction (centuries), and on and on.  The main fact I retained was the Duomo has 52 columns.  Bet you can figure out why.

As you can see, each column is topped with statues of saints, but I have no idea who is who, and neither guide (quite wisely) bothered to tell us.

Only one called our attention to the beautiful marble floor’s embedded sun dial, with figures of the zodiac appropriately placed.  Check out Aries the Ram.

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As usual, the Duomo showcases art representing saints that died horrific deaths.  Catholics seem to have a deep appreciation for pain and suffering.

I missed the portrait of St Agatha on the first tour.  We had seen many portraits of her in Sicily, in the process of having her breasts chopped off.  In Milan, the painting isn’t quite so graphic.  St Agatha is shown being healed by St. Peter, who visited her in prison.  As you can see from her bloody garment, he is just starting to work his miracle.

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BOTH guides made sure we saw the statue of St. Bartholomew.  HE  was skinned alive and HIS statue leaves little to the imagination.

In case you’re wondering, that’s his skin draped over his shoulder.   Look to the right of his elbow.  His face managed to stay intact, and every hair on his head and beard is still in place.   Pretty terrifying for young Catholic children, wouldn’t you say.  No wonder we grew up so twisted.

Those Romans certainly dreamed up creative ways to launch Christians into the afterlife!

While touring the Duomo terraces a few days ago, I noticed what looked like a rooftop restaurant.  I figured it was probably super expensive and rather exclusive. 

What a nice surprise when  our OAT guide brought us over there for a drink and cookies.  We enjoyed yet another view of the Duomo, while sipping our cappuccinos. Here’s Elisa, our guide, explaining where we are going next.  Check out the chocolate shoes for sale  at gourmet chocolate shop inside.

 

Time to stop blogging and start experiencing…so I leave you with some Milan highlights.

 

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Northern Italy and the Dolomites

What could be better that Northern Italy in the fall?  Right now, nothing comes to mind, which is a good thing, because that’s where we will be for 19 glorious days.

We arrive in Milan 4 days before our OAT trip starts.  How in the world did it happen that one of the least fashion savvy women on this planet will be in Milan during fashion week?  I imagine the streets will be loaded with even more beautiful people than usual, wearing exquisite clothes.  Will that change my determination to travel with only a carry on and backpack?  The answer to that question is “not a chance”.   Initially the plan was for us to exit the plane and head for the train without a detour to baggage claim, but then we got a call from our trip leader.  She reminded us that although it will be warm in Milan and Tirano, temperatures will drop during our visits to the Swiss Alps and the Dolomites.  So, that means we will need bulkier items.  I was able to fit everything into my trusty Eagle Creek carry on, but Mike’s clothes are considerably larger than mine.  So, one of us will be checking luggage.  That’s okay.  I’ll get a chance to see whether international flights are as picky as domestic ones about carry on size.  On our last domestic flight, I discovered that United has changed the dimensions for allowable carry ons to 9″ x 15″ x 21″.  My trusty Eagle Creek bag is 10″ x 13″ x 22″,  or 2,860 cubic inches, versus an allowable 2,835 cubic inches.  Really?  Will the gate person play hard ball?  Because we will be waiting at baggage claim anyway, it doesn’t really matter.  I’m determined to pack light regardless, because after our first night in Milan, Mike and I will be going our separate ways, and I will be traveling solo by train, bus and boat.

Mike is heading off to Stradavari’s old stomping grounds –Cremona–to hang out with his violin making buddies.  While he’s there, I’ll be in Tremezzo, on Lake Como.  Wonder if George and Amal will need a baby sitter for the twins?  And will I have packed the proper outfit?

Ah yes, packing.  I did my usual clothes “auditioning”.  It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to amp up my quick drying wardrobe.
For my last “one bag” trip, I  used a laundry service midway, because I spent half of the trip in just one place–Beja, Portugal.  This trip, however, I will wash as I go, because over 19 days, we will be staying in 8 different hotels.    This also took some serious retooling of my laundry aids.  The expandable clothes line I packed last time was pretty worthless when I couldn’t find two suitable attachment points that would also allow me use of the bathroom (thus the need for laundry service).

Thanks to my travel buddy Sally, I now own “clothespins” that can be looped over shower bars, and foldable hangers.

What I had never done before is something that bloggers Terri and James of Gallivance recommend: try living out of the bag for a week.  Of course, they were preparing for an around the world trip lasting several months, while I’m just going to one country for less than three weeks, so I didn’t feel the need to literally live out of my bag.  Instead, what I HAVE been doing is limiting myself to the clothes that I plan on taking and washing them out in the sink.  So far so good.  My LL Bean travel pants have been drying in less than 8 hours!

IMG_7519Some travelers swear by packing cubes.  In the past, I relied on my jumbo zip lock bags instead and they have served me well, but this time I decided to give a packing cube a try.  This cube opens on both sides, and is divided into two compartments–perfect for stashing things that  I will be using on a daily basis.  To my surprise, I was able to fit pajamas, underwear, toiletry bag and laundry supplies, plus a few small items–jewelry and scarves.  So, I can pull this out in every hotel, and I have the equivalent of two bureau drawers.  Take a look.

Best of all, it fits nicely into my carry on, leaving just enough room for everything else.  If you are interested in what I was able to jam into my bag, here’s a link to the Google spreadsheet.

Of course, this list could come in handy in the event that my luggage is lost.  (Which it was, briefly, on my trip to Portugal and Spain earlier this year.)

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I suspect the reason I haven’t used packing cubes was my carry on is already divided into neat sections.  As for whether I folded or rolled, the answer is, I did both.

Okay, so enough with the packing.  Full disclosure, although I sincerely hope that what I share is helpful to others, I REALLY have recorded it to help me, because I tend to forget what I took, what worked, what didn’t, if I have’t written it down.  Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, or waste, or whatever is going on with that empty space atop my shoulders.

On to the other preparations.  I got tickets for the train from the airport to our first hotel, from this very helpful website.  There are others, but I found Trainline easy to use.  Who wants to deal with unfamiliar ticket machines, in another language, while jet lagged?  Not me.  Being a bit obsessive compulsive, I also got tickets for when I’m traveling solo to lower my anxiety level.   From the Como train station, I have a choice of taking either a ferry or a bus to my hotel in Tremezzo.  Thanks to the internet, I have the schedules for both, and can decide which option is most appealing once I get there.

What a difference from my travel days in my early 20’s, when I got on a plane to Colorado without any reservations, with very little money, and only a vague idea of where I was going and what I was going to do when I arrived.   With google maps, trip advisor and the internet’s search options, I can be somewhat spontaneous, while limiting the risk of bad decisions.  (The thought that a bad decision was possible never crossed my mind in my younger days!)

Hope you’ll follow along on this next adventure.