On Friday night we left for Italy with Marcel and Sharon, two of our friends who had invited us to their holiday house on Lago Maggiore in northern Italy. Marcel had just taken delivery of a new BMW and was quite keen to test it on the autobahns in Germany, so that is the route we took. We travelled from Nederland, through Germany and Switzerland to Italy, taking about 8 hours, including stops. I made sure that we stopped in each country along the way: if I got out and stood on the ground I could legitimately claim to have been in the country.
We arrived at Lago Maggiore at daybreak, and found our way to the house in Ronco di Ghiffa (not to be confused with the many towns named Ronco along the banks of the lake). We were all pretty tired, so after a beer we all went to bed. There I remained for the rest of the day.
For dinner that night (Saturday) we went to the restaurant by SS Trinita, run by a lovely family. I had an entree of ravioli porcini, followed by a main of polenta gorgonzola porcini, made with wild mushrooms picked from the surrounding forest. It was the first time I had ever eaten gorgonzola and I was pleasantly surprised. The house red went down well, and despite having slept all day we were all in bed at a reasonable hour.
Sunday was a bit cloudy, so Kirsten and Marcel convinced me to go with them and climb the nearby mountain above the house, about 500m above our elevation. I put on two blister pads and followed along. The climb up was quite steep and within minutes we were all out of breath, but it was clear that I was the worst, and I was therefore sent to be point man. About halfway up it started to rain, but as we were in the forest we did not get very wet. We finally made it to the top, and by a miracle I was still conscious at the time.
The downhill part of the walk, although significantly longer, was very gently sloped. This gave us time to enjoy the scenery and location. The forest floor was littered with acorns and chestnuts. I don’t know why I didn’t bring any chestnuts home. There were a lot of mushrooms, many that I am sure I identified as porcini, but it was too risky to actually pick and eat them. When we got to the bottom we were coincidentally at SS Trinita again, so inside we went for a refreshing beer. Sharon joined us for the second one before we had to go back to the house for dinner.
It was my job to cook the BBQ dinner, as penance for a previous BBQ incident (Dutch sausages are very high in fat and cause fires with dense black smoke). Weber-style BBQs are common in Europe, but they do not use heat beads, they use actual charcoal, as in pre-burned wood. This has the advantage of being quick to get to heat but it burns out quickly. I made the most of my time and had 3 courses of meat cooked before the fire was too cold.
After the enjoyable meal Marcel lit the outdoor fireplace, the hardwood taking some time to get alight, until the secret weapon was used. It is a special trumpet for blowing on coals. A great tool. Once the fire was lit and cosy Marcel opened the keg of Beck’s that was in the beer fridge, and he, Kirsten and I enjoyed many glasses in front of the fire and listening to soft music. A great time.
Monday started with fine weather, so it was decided that we would go out on the lake in Marcel’s speedboat. The water was reasonably flat, so there wasn’t a lot of shock as we planed to the fuel station. After filling up we decided to go to one of the islands, and as Marcel wanted to enjoy the trip I was given pilot duties. I went very well until a large wave from a very fast boat’s wake swamped us and soaked everything on board, luckily my cameras were in a watertight bag. I felt a bit bad for getting everyone wet, but the sun was out and we dried out a bit. We made it to the islands after going past some very old buildings on the shoreline, one looking a bit like the Disney castle.
We passed Isola Madre and Isola Pescatore before circling Isola Bella, searching for a good swimming spot. We settled on a spot 200m from shore, out of the main traffic. I stopped the boat and we abandoned ship. The water was much warmer than I expected, probably 20