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.
My sons at Milano Centrale
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.
Church of San Giorgio in Varenna, Italy
Piazza San Giorgia in Varenna, Italy.
The first glimpse of Lake Como beside Hotel Royal Victoria as you walk through the piazza.
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.
A house in Varenna, Italy
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.
My six-year-old son in Varenna, Italy
My 10-year-old son in Varenna, Italy (snapchat image)
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.
The gradual pathway down to Lake Como in Varenna, Italy
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.
Lake Como from the waterfront promenade in Varenna, Italy
A view back to the photo above and the stone beach in Varenna, Italy
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.
Lakeside patio views from Bar Il Molo in Varenna, Italy.
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.
Street art in the tunnel at Varenna Esino station. (Snapchat image).
Waiting for the train to Milano Centrale at the Varenna Esino station in Italy
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.
Charles Bridge, Tyn Church, St. Nicolas Church, Estates Theatre, Prague.
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.
St. James Beach – Cape Town, South Africa May 2014. This image was chosen to appear in Pocket Vistas, a Mobile Photography exhibition of Landscape, Nature & Wildlife.
My sons & penguins at Boulder’s Beach in Cape Town, South Africa November 2014.
My son checking out the view at Boulder’s Beach May 2014. Both my boys enjoyed seeing the penguins and playing in the water. Cape Town, South Africa.
Street art in Woodstock. Cape Town, South Africa November 2014.
Zebra in Black and White. Taken with my Olympus em1 mirrorless camera & M.Zuiko 40-150mm 2.8 pro lens while on safari in South Africa with Naledi Enkoveni December 2014.
Bird silhouettes against a South African sunset. Taken with my Olympus em1 & 40-150mm 2.8 pro lens while on safari with Naledi Enkoveni December 2014.
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.
The Heart of a Woman Project South Africa #thoawSA May 2014.
An inaugural #instameetEKASI in Khayelitsha with Instagramers Cape Town and the ladies from thoawSA June 1, 2014. Photo by Ockie Fourie.
My 4 yo son learning isiXhosa games from the kids in the eKhaya eKasi community. We spent 6 days there in November 2014. They played with the kids while I taught the ladies and they can’t wait to return.
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.
My sons in front of Windsor Castle, a layover stop before our flight to South Africa November 2014.
Gemma, Andrea, Kelly & Mariellen of WeGoSolo at Women’s Travel Fest in New York, NY March 2014.
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.
Only in New York City? October 2014.
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.
Dundarave Beach in West Vancouver April 2014
Saskatoon, Canada April 2014.
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.
The American Falls as seen from the Canadian side. Visited Niagara Falls with the family on Family Day February 2014.
My oldest son enjoying the view in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario at a cottage we rented for a week August 2014.
Sons enjoying a ride on the Skywheel in Niagara Falls June 2014. We had an overnight there shortly after I returned from South Africa.
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.
Fabrics from Myanmar at IFAM July 2014 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Baskets made of telephone wire in South Africa at IFAM July 2014 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Art from Haiti, with a strong belief in voodoo at IFAM July 2014 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.