It was the last day of our 3-country intergenerational family trip and our final day in Milan. I love nature and any chance to be near an ocean, lake, river or any body of water; I take it. In this case, the body of water was Lake Como, and it was calling. After visiting Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and spending a day in Milan, I was yearning to get away from concrete and city chaos.
I didn’t have a plan, but I knew Lake Como was reasonably close. I chose Varenna because it was a 65-minute train ride to Varenna Esino station, picturesque and not as touristy (busy) as other destinations on Lake Como.
My two boys (10 and 6) and I headed to the Milan Central station which was one stop away on the Metro from our rental apartment in Piazza Della Repubblica. The Milan Metro has several lines which can be a little confusing but with my very limited Italian, hand gesturing and helpful Milanese, we were on our way.
We arrived at the station with time to spare. We did some window shopping on the lower levels then grabbed some pizza on level two where the platforms are. After lunch, we joined the other travellers in the waiting area near Gate A where we were to board our train.
It was an easy train ride and the last twenty minutes were spectacular as the lake and mountains came into view. We took a taxi to Piazza San Giorgio, the main square, as I didn’t know how far of a walk it would be. It turns out it’s a quick 4-5 minute taxi ride and a flat rate of ten euros to get there.
The first thing you notice upon arrival is the stone church and tower on your left, the Church of San Giorgio, consecrated in 1313. The bells chimed just after we arrived and again as we got back to the Piazza before departing Varenna.
We weren’t sure which way to go to get to the waterfront, but the lane sloped downward, so we followed it. As we walked away from the church, there was a red house straight ahead; the path continued right.
Then, a house with green doors and shutters next to a house with terra cotta/orange-ish coloured walls and a window with flower pots in front of us; a mailbox was on the left corner.
A narrow lane continued left and offered another glimpse of the water and mountains. We could either continue to walk down the continuous path or take the steep steps on the right which led down to the lake. We chose the longer way down so we could enjoy all the little details and colours along the way.
At the end of the cobblestone path, there was a restaurant on the right with a choice to go left or right; we went right. As we continued, there was a small outdoor patio with a view of the lake on the left and then another and another. There were restaurants and more seating across the pathway on the right. We passed the restaurants in search of a gelateria.
Just after we passed the restaurants there was a stone ‘beach’, children were laughing and playing in the lake, and anchored boats were in the harbour. There were benches with views of the lake and mountains with the Alps in the distance behind them. Shops, galleries and gelaterias were also to be found. There was a pier with a water taxi service which also offered tours around the lake. Signs pointed to the ferry boat that takes passengers to Bellagio.
After a while, we turned back to Gelateria Riva di Riva Duilio, one of the gelato shops we had passed. My youngest son is a big fan of gelato, my oldest son, not so much. We both had the mint gelato; it was so fresh, creamy and minty and we were in gelato heaven. We sat on the stone steps beside the gelateria which had seat cushions for its patrons to enjoy their gelato with a view. After our gelato, we continued walking back in the direction we originally came from and made our way to one of the waterfront restaurants, Bar Il Molo. The patio nearer to the lake was full, but we managed to snag the last table across the pathway.
We were enjoying our time in Varenna so we opted for one of the latest trains back to Milano Centrale, one that got us back to Milan just after 9:30 pm. We had a minor blip on our trip back as we ended up on a train going in the wrong direction. No big deal I thought, we’ll just get off at the next stop. Luckily it was only a few minutes away; we were about 6-7 minutes ahead of our schedule, and the right train was delayed for ten minutes.
Note: If you’re at Varenna Esino train station and are going to Milan, take the stairs to the lower level and go through a short tunnel under the tracks to get to the other side. ‘Getting lost made for an adventure and thanks to helpful people that pointed us in the right direction. There is some street art in the tunnel, mostly The Simpsons.
It was an uneventful ride back to Milan and a short trip back to our apartment. It was the perfect day trip with my two sons. They loved both Varenna and Milan, though I think it was the pizza and gelato that sealed the deal.
Continuing with a new series on the wanderingiPhone blog ‘in 9 squares’.
In March 2012, I went on a solo trip to Europe. One of the cities I visited was Prague. In my research, I came across comments that suggested that Prague may not be safe. I took Prague off my itinerary but then put it back on as it was a city I wanted to visit. I am glad I did and am happy to report that I felt completely safe and my visit was without incident.
I, unfortunately, had only a short time in Prague and felt like I only scratched the surface of this beautiful city. I made the most of my time there but with its architecture, bridges, churches and overall charm, I’d love to go back and explore more and travel deeper. My favourite time of day was just as the sun was beginning to set and as the lights on the buildings started to shine. The only word I can think of to describe it, magical.
Here are my favourite 9 Instagram photos from that trip. Click on the 9 squares below to see a larger version.
Walking through the cobblestone streets with a hot Svařak (mulled wine) in hand as you make your way to Charles Bridge.
Standing on the infamous Bridge overlooking the Vltava River with several other bridges in the distance.
Watching a Mozart opera in the same building that Mozart debuted Don Giovanni over 200 years earlier in 1787.
These are the memories that play over in my mind and I hope to return with my family and learn more about the culture and history as I recently learned that a maternal great grandmother is from the Czech Republic.
March is a great time of year to visit Prague. It’s off season and there are deals to be found. I stayed at the 5-star Hilton in Old Town for only $70USD per night thanks to a winning bid on Priceline’s ‘name your own price’.
It’s been a great travel year for me and I am grateful for the opportunities, new friends, old friends and for a family that supports me.
In 2014 I returned to a country I love – South Africa, not once but twice! I visited in May and my dad came along. I also returned in November and my family (husband, 4yo & 9yo sons) came with! My dad joined us a week later. My visits to South Africa are always so inspiring and wonderful and never long enough.
The reason for my return to South Africa was because of a women’s mobile photography development initiative I founded and started there in November 2013, The Heart of a Woman Project. I visited in May to launch phase 2 and my father came with to meet the ladies and offer some help. I returned once more in November to celebrate our 1st anniversary with an exhibition and cultural celebration and was very happy to have my husband & 2 sons (9 & 4) with me.
On the way to South Africa, we had an overnight layover in London, England. Mostly we stayed near the airport in hopes that my sons would adjust a bit to the time difference so they could handle the further 2 hour difference between GMT and SAST. It seemed to work and they adjusted well. It also helped to avoid 2 back to back overnight flights. We took off to Windsor before checking in for our flight. Windsor was about 25 minutes from Heathrow, it’s a quaint town and a good layover visit. We saw Windsor Castle from the outside only and had lunch in a local pub. It was my son’s 1st visit to Europe, we’ll have to go back for a proper one.
I also went to New York City in October for National Geographic Traveler’s seminar on Storytelling Photography with Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow, two well respected NG photographers. I’ve been a professional photographer since 2003 and have been following Ami’s incredible work since that time. It was great to meet her in person and to learn from her.
New York is a great city for solo travel and I love to see a show on broadway, discover a restaurant and observe what’s happening around the city. While walking back to my hotel after seeing a show on Broadway, I came across this scene in Times Square. At first it was just this young man with his sign and then this half dressed man came by and started dancing, things got interesting.
I am also grateful to have been able to get in a short visit but with quality time with dear friends in Vancouver (my home away from home) and Saskatoon in Canada in April.
Between all the travel both solo and with family, I also managed to visit some our family favourites nearer to home – Niagara Falls in February and June and the Kawartha Lakes in August.
Lastly, I added 2 new cities to my travels, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico in July. I was in Santa Fe for the International Folk Art Market that hosts artisans from around the world. From their website – “Celebrates the humanity of the handmade that empowers communities through monumental earnings.”
There were so many talented artists with their incredible handmade work. It was like travelling around the world in a day. The highlights were visiting the artists and learning more about the work from Myanmar (Burma), South Africa and Haiti. I met a man and his family that represents the last 30 puppeteers of Myanmar. It’s a dying tradition that dates back 600 years. You can read about it here.
I also got a chance to drive a bit of Route 66 in Albuquerque.
It’s been great to go through my photos of the last year and relive some memories. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some images from the destinations I visited in 2014.
Sharing 2 quotes I love and perfect for starting the new year –
Wishing you new beginnings, magic, dreams and safe travels in 2015, the best is yet to come!
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the UN.
I am honouring my grandfather, all those that perished – 6 million+ and those that survived and lived, to tell the truth.
My maternal grandfather Majer Fisczel Gorewicz from Kielce, Poland survived 4 camps including Auschwitz, his mother and 5 sisters did not. I never met him as he died 3 years before I was born. For years, my mom and I did research in our attempts to trace my grandfather’s family. There is no trace of them. It is believed they perished in Auschwitz.
In August 2011, I travelled to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC (my 2nd visit) and donated whatever we had of my grandfather on behalf of my mom. We did so to preserve our documents, and so others would never forget. At that visit, I put in a request to have research done. Amazingly, they were able to trace my grandfather’s steps and tell us which camps he was imprisoned at, his Auschwitz and Flossenberg prisoner numbers and the camp he was liberated. He was liberated from Dachau on April 29, 1945.
I went to Germany for the first time in March 2012, so I could visit the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. After many years of purposely not visiting Germany, I felt it was time. My maternal grandmother was born in Germany, my mom was born in Germany, and my uncle still lives there, but I couldn’t help but feel hurt and some anger. My grandparents met in a displaced person’s camp near Munich, Germany as my grandmother was a nurse during that time. It’s been said that my grandma nursed him back to health and saved his life.
On arrival in Munich, I went directly to the train station as I had planned to spend the night in Salzburg, Austria. I knew that it would take some time for me to prepare for a visit to Dachau and to spend time in Germany. Over 1 1/2 weeks, I travelled by train from Munich to Salzburg to Vienna to Prague and then by bus back to Munich. I saved Dachau for the end of the trip.
As I looked out the train window during those first few train rides, I imagined all the people that walked beside the train tracks in death marches or that rode the rails to their fate and couldn’t help but feel emotional. I learned that my grandfather was one of those that walked in a death march. He walked from Flossenberg to Dachau in 1945.
I was overwhelmed with emotions as I walked to the gates of the Dachau camp from the remnants of the old train tracks. The gates read “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes you free”.
I walked the grounds, looked at photos and took photos. As I stood inside the Jewish Memorial with my thoughts, I looked up towards the stream of light coming in. There was an opening, and it looked like an angel with the way the light spilt in. Suddenly, all the feelings of anger I had began to lift.
At the ‘Never Again’ memorial, I placed a rock I found on the ground on the top, it joined the many other rocks that were already there. It is customary to place rocks on headstones and memorials of Jewish people and places of remembrance. It symbolizes the strength and endurance of a rock; it says that we were there and it is a way to preserve the love and memory of those that have died.
These are some of my photos of Dachau. It has taken me almost 2 years to write this post.
B-3058, your name was Majer Fisczel Gorewicz. I remember.
Update: After years of searching we finally learned the fate of a member of our family. His name was Zygmusz Gorewicz, and he was 3 years old. He was my mother’s brother, born during the war and before her. He was 1 of the last 45 children of Kielce. His story was found on the Yad Vashem website.
If you knew me you would know that I absolutely love my husband, sons, friends and family. If you knew me you would know that connections are important to me. So why does this mother of 2 and wife leave behind my family to travel solo?
I Travel Solo Because…
I travel solo because sometimes there are places I want to go that others don’t.
I travel solo because it is such a feeling of accomplishment. I research the places I want to see. I choose the accommodations, the activities, my transportation and my meals. I go from one end of the city to the other, from one city to the next and from one country to another.
I travel solo because I get to meet like-minded individuals from all over the world who are also travelling. It is amazing to learn of where they have just come from and where they are going next. It makes the world feel smaller and more connected.
I travel solo because it gives you space. Space to reflect, breathe and appreciate.
I travel solo because there are places all over the world that I want to experience for myself.
I travel solo because there are people all over the world that I have yet to meet.
I travel solo because it gives you time for yourself and to come back home more renewed than ever. Often when you travel with others, it’s a series of compromises. Sometimes I just want to take a while longer while photographing something or to really be present.
I travel solo to take care of myself. Some people shop, I travel. Travelling is so much a part of me that when I don’t travel I am itching to get back out there. It is much more than just a destination, it is all the experiences that come with it. It is living life.
Solo travel gives you as much or as little time as you want, to see, to listen, to touch, to smell and to taste. It’s only up to you to decide how much. All your senses truly come alive.
Sometimes I just want to…
Sometimes I just want to sit a while longer with my vin chaud (mulled wine) and people watch at the café in Paris.
Sometimes I want to enjoy the views a little longer.
Sometimes I want to take more time to photograph what I see or wait for a shot I envision while listening to the calls of the wild in the Kruger National Park.
Sometimes I want to enjoy the culture of the city I am visiting and go to a ballet in Vienna or opera in Prague at the historic theatres.
Yes, you are physically alone when you travel solo and sometimes I feel lonely for a spell, especially missing my family, but I never feel truly alone. As a solo traveller, it is easy to meet people, mostly without even trying. I feel that the connections you make with yourself, the people of the world and nature can only be genuinely experienced while travelling solo.
If I didn’t travel solo…
If I didn’t travel solo I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to travel to and spend time in a village in the Eastern Cape to witness a Sangoma (African shaman) graduation ceremony in South Africa.
If I didn’t travel solo I wouldn’t have taken Djembe (African drum) lessons with a Master djembefola at a local cultural centre in Dakar, Senegal and be invited to watch his group practice for a performance after. I was the only foreigner amongst about 30 drummers, dancers and local children. We also chatted about life over mint tea after the lesson.
still photo of me drumming in Senegal (from a video).
If I didn’t travel solo I wouldn’t have been invited to sing Christmas carols with 5000 locals against the backdrop of Table Mountain under starry skies and the shimmering lights of Cape Town in the background.
One of the biggest reasons I travel solo as a mother is for my boys.
I want to show them that I am not just a mother, but that I am a woman that has dreams and that dreams do come true.
I want them to know what living life to the fullest is all about. They can’t always come with me, but with technology, I can share my travels in real time (FaceTime or photos) or when I get home.
I want them to learn that there is more out there than just our neighbourhood or country and that the world is not a big bad scary place as some make it out to be.
I want to inspire them to find things they love, to follow their hearts and go after their own dreams.
Lastly, I want to raise them to respect, encourage and support women in their dreams. The best way to do this is by example and what better way to learn what it takes to be a man than witness their father support my dreams and travels around the world.
I am grateful for my dear husband, but I know that is not the reality for many. I hope for a near future where “let” and “allow” are replaced with “encourage” and “support” when it comes to other mothers, wives, girlfriends and daughters in following their dreams of travels around the world.
For all these reasons, I travel solo as a woman, as a wife and as a mother.
Mariellen Ward has travelled solo to India for a total of 17 months of the last 7 years. Find out about why she started the WeGoSolo movement. Mariellen is a great resource for solo travel in India. As well, you will find countless posts, tips and resources by other woman solo travellers.