Lake District

When I went to Hawaii for the first time, I didn’t want to believe there was anything to the place. I assumed it was a less ugly version of Florida, overrated by mainland natives who are reluctant to step over international borders. But by my second day in Maui I was looking about jobs for computer architects in the neighborhood (there were none). I did not assume that the Italian Lake District was overrated. I was still blown away by how pretty it is.

We checked into our hotel in Como and walked up to the lake front. Soon we were on the slow boat to Bellagio (these people shamelessly steal the best of Las Vegas – they even put gondolas in Venice!). The scenery is breathtaking. The little towns and villages on the shoreline and up on the mountains are divine. I understand why, if you have a couple of extra hundreds of millions, you would buy a little place up here. Our slow boat with a bunch of drunk Russian wanna-be oligarchs slowly crisscrossed the lake going from village to village, stopping at stone steps and piers to load or unload roller-suitcase toting couples on their honeymoon. Evan drifted off to sleep on my shoulder under the bluest sunny skies. I stared at the villages wondering where I’d like to walk around for the day.

As we approached the picturesque hamlet of Argegno, I opened the All Trails app on my phone and found a description of a trail that I liked: about seven miles round trip with two thousand feet of elevation gain and breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains. We hopped off the boat and walked up a long wide set of stairs through Argegno. Then we stopped at a soccer field where the kids got to be silly for a few minutes. We peeked into a church perched over the lake, and walked through the narrow steep alleyways of Muronico and Rovasco till we found the sign for the mulattiera (mule trail) to the village of Pigra.

Jaime and I huffed and puffed our way up the steep inclines while the boys chatted with each other, occasionally falling far behind and then running up the hills to pass us. We paused at what must have once been a chestnut orchard with huge trees and beautiful sweeping views of Lake Como far below us. The kids played baseball and golf with the spikey chestnuts that covered the grass below the trees. We passed a small family of boars, and Adrian almost crept up to a huge stag.

Eventually we arrived at Pigra, a small mountain village tucked under Mount Pasquella. There are two restaurants in town and both were closed. It was dusk and the boys decided to play in the park next to the cemetery. Jaime and I walked up the street towards what looked like a bar that was open. A car passed us going the other way with a lone old driver. Just as we arrived at the bar we heard the loud blast of a trumpet behind us. My first instinct was that the kids had tripped some sort of an alarm. It turned out to be the old guy. He goes to the cemetery after sunset to play taps for some long forgotten lover much to the annoyance of the rest of the village. The bar owner grilled us a couple of sandwiches and poured me some wine. Jaime and I struck up a conversation with him. He had travelled the world and then married and settled here. The village was quiet and there were several unoccupied houses. Many locals went to work in Switzerland everyday because the pay is substantially higher there (the Swiss border is only a few miles away). Jaime asked if outsiders were buying up the empty houses in Pigra. David, in no uncertain terms indicated that while this is paradise, foreigners weren’t super welcome. He has lived here for 15 years and was born only 17 miles away. His kids were born in Pigra. And they are still treated as outsiders!

It was well after dark that we started down the path back to Argegno. Evan and Adrian entertained themselves with mostly imagined sounds of wild animals in the woods around us.

The full moon rose over Lake Como and we walked back through the now shuttered villages back to the lake and boarded the very last bus back to Como. By the time we walked back to the hotel, Evan was half asleep.

The next morning Jaime drove us to the town on Biella about an hour away. We stayed at a lovely old home and went out to look around a bit. And that was it. The morning after we packed up early and drove to the airport. There was a long stopover in Newark which Evan navigated well almost right up to the end. Then he OD-ed on Doritos and KitKats and passed out just when it was time to wake him up for a three hour flight to Austin. Jo picked us up at Bergstrom and we walked into the white wooden house at midnight. A week well spent!

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