We Still Didn’t Drink All The Vino: Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Return To Italy

San Giulio


DAYS EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN & TWENTY –  Market Day, Cloak On The Water, Island Of Silence, Going For A Stroll, Mary Gets Framed, I Think This Way Is Fastest, Another Trip To Venus, Channeling My Inner Anthony Bourdain, Kim Goes Down For The Count, A Risotto For The Ages, On To Stresa, Stormy Weather, Keep On Trucking, We Have Us A Convoy, Ooh It’s A Holiday (Inn), Beware Of The Giant Mosquitoes, Near Head-On, London Happy Hour, Near Head Off & Epilogue

Gray skies should have alerted me about what to do on our last couple of days, but all I could think of at the time was sipping a cappuccino.  I needed caffeine after my late night of worrying.  It had rained overnight, so I hoped our luck could hold out for another 36 hours.

Walking downstairs through the entry, we were greeted and seated by Massimo in the dining area.


An array of breads, prosciutto, cheeses, fruits, cereal and yogurt were laid out on the table.  We had an interesting conversation with some people from Australia, and we were on our way.


Love this B&B!

We checked out the views to Isola San Giulio where we would arrive shortly by boat.  I thought about swimming, because you actually can take a dip near the Al Dom property, but since I hadn’t swam in 20 years, I passed.  No sense drowning at the end of vacation.


Of course, we could have done what evangelists St. Julius and his brother Giuliano did back in the late 4th century.  They both had escaped from Greece.  So the story goes,  “Saint (Don’t call me Orange) Julius and his brother had been wandering around the Mediterranean converting pagan sites into Christian churches by edict of Emperor Theodosius I.  Before reaching Lake Orta, they had built 99 churches and Julius was looking for the perfect place to erect his 100th and final church.While his brother was off building a bit south of the lake, Julius came to the bank of Lake Orta where he could see the small island just a quarter mile away.It was said that snakes and dragons lived on the island (though some have theorized that the ‘snakes and dragons’ were actually Pagans), so no boatman would take Julius across.  Not to be thwarted so easily, Julius laid his cloak upon the water, which instantly became firm like a raft, and used his staff to direct himself toward the island.Once there, in a St. Patrick moment, he expelled the snakes and dragons, and decided that it was the perfect place to build his final church.”

Scoping out the narrow lane that leads you to the Piazza Mario Motta …

… we ducked in the tiny church along the way (like you knew we would).


Reaching the piazza, market day greeted us, meaning my wallet would soon be in Tracy’s hands, as she and Mary perused their usual assortment of jewelry and trinkets that would soon be presents for some of our friends.

Finally, it was time to hop on the boat for the short ride (15 minutes) to the island (€4.50 round trip). 


As we headed out I wanted to belt out a rousing chorus of “Cloak on the water … the dragons on the isle.”  I passed, once again saving us from an embarrassing international incident.  Tracy sat far away from me.  If only the waters could have been a deep purple.


Safely on the island without any trace of snakes or dragons, we came upon a sign proclaiming: “The Island of Silence welcomes you.” There was no sign, however, of “The Cone of Silence.”


We stepped inside the Basilica, which had been badly damaged by Germany’s King Otto (I assume he had help) back in the 10th century.


The frescoes (mostly of saints) on the church walls …


… were painted over the course of six centuries.

The medieval, black Oira marble pulpit is the church’s most valuable piece.  It was made in the 12th century and contains carvings with symbols representing “the Word of God and the struggle between Good and Evil.”

Then we headed down a couple of flights of stairs to the glass casket containing the remains of none other than San Giulio himself. 


All in all, a very interesting church, but I think I might have said that a few times before in this report.


Back outside, it was time to walk around and through the island’s very narrow streets and alleyways.


Since Mary and Tracy had already done some shopping, it was safe to pass the souvenir shop.  Signs with words of wisdom are placed along the route.


A little friend greeted us along the way.


Former priests’ lodgings are now private residences.


The citizens knew I was coming and were prepared.


The four of us virtually had the island to ourselves, and it did make for a peaceful experience.


It was time to catch the boat to our newly adopted town.  


Back in Orta, we decided to continue strolling around the lake.  By now Kim was not feeling well, the evil vacation cold beginning to rear its ugly cough.  We stopped to gaze at the colorful food being sold at the outdoor stalls.


Luckily, Massimo’s pastries had been sufficient for us up to this point.


A communal garden stood alongside the lake.

In the garden was a sculpture of a man painting with an open easel in front of him.  Well, it was open until Mary artfully framed herself easel-y in it, while Kim gave her the brush.


There were some fairly spectacular views along the way, and even places to sit and take them all in.

Not a bad place for a snack, eh?

A scenic path took us past art galleries, memorials and, not very surprisingly, another church.


This church dates back four centuries.


Miracoli time:  On July 28, 1998, the portrait of Padre Pio appeared miraculously for the first time on the façade of this villa Gippini.  We didn’t see that, but there is a fresco of San Rocco.

Since the season was obviously winding down, similar to Isola San Giulio, we were virtually the only four people in sight once we were not far from the center of town.


Villas and what we assumed were some B&Bs dotted the landscape around the lake.


The weather was still cooperating, so I was cautiously optimistic we could make it through the day, and then visit Stresa and its islands the following morning.

On the backside of the lake, Kim determined he was through for the day.  We took a shortcut up a very, very steep hill (where’s that damned defibrillator when you need it?).

We walked for a bit above the lake and came to the lot where our car was parked.  Upon further review because it was partly sunny, this is where I should have said, “Let’s go to Stresa now.” Instead, pressing my luck, we pressed on.  Mary and Kim took the high road, while Tracy and I walked down some stairs and took the low road and we both reached Orta at the same time.

Kim and Mary retreated to the B&B, where Kim would get about 18 hours of sleep.  The planets aligned, because we were at Piazza Motta at lunch time, and when planets align … it’s Ristorante Venus time.  On a warm afternoon, I channeled my inner Anthony Bourdain as we awaited our very good lunch.

I had a great onion soup and mushroom risotto …

.. however the star of the meal was dessert … a baked cinnamon apple layered with shortbread cookies in a Napoleon style with vanilla cream and raspberry sauce with a couple of slices of strawberries.  I could have eaten three of them.


Tracy then joined Kim and Mary for nap time (not literally), while Mr. No Nap (aka me) went back outside to take a few more photos.

The weather was still holding on, so I had hope.

Back at the nearly desolate Piazza Motta …

… I stood outside the Palazzo della Comunità (left), a municipal building from the late Renaissance period (1582).   Kim’s picture from the previous day was better than mine (yes, what a shock!).  The Gelateria was sadly closed.  I needed some dessert after my dessert


I got back to the room in late afternoon and was informed Kim would not be joining us for dinner.  He missed out on a remarkable dish.

On a beautiful evening, Tracy, Mary and I walked the short distance …

… to La Motta Restaurant & Bistro, located at the bottom of the hill (thankfully) that takes you up to Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (where we had visited the previous day).  La Motta was jam-packed, and we were sat upstairs.  I had read mixed reviews about this restaurant, however after eating our dinner it ranked up there as one of the best meals of the trip.

We started with an amuse bouche of tiny sardines in butter on brown bread.  Amazingly, I really liked it (not really a sardine guy).

Tracy’s sweet onion tart made with onions from the region was delicious.

One dish, however, stood out among the best, and it came as a two-person minimum dish.  Tracy and I shared a risotto made with Carnaroli Rice, Blue Goat Cheese and Caribbean Chocolate Dust.  Oh my!!!!  Outside of the white truffle pasta in Bovio, this was my favorite dish of the trip.

Note:  Tracy made this dish upon returning home (Recipe here).

Mary and Tracy said the Prosecco was also the best of the trip, and trust me, they had enough to judge.

DAY NINETEEN – I awoke in the middle of the night only to hear what I hoped I wouldn’t … a driving rain storm.  It made our decision to leave a day early seem correct, but not the waiting for Stresa decision. 

After one more delightful breakfast (this time with visitors from Wales) …

… we took a few more photos of the Al Dom courtyard …


… and ducked out.  Massimo drove us to the parking lot as the rain pelted down.

B&B Al Dom was the perfect place to stay in Orta.  Combining a great host, with a location that looks like something out of the movies, a delicious breakfast and comfortable rooms, I don’t think you could do better.

We drove through Acona, which we were going to scout out, but between rain and a dearth of parking we headed on to Stresa. 


As feared, the rain didn’t let up, but since we hadn’t eaten in an hour we decided to stop at a cute little cafe for more coffee and pastries.  The Expando Belt was getting one final workout.

Back outside, the rain was now coming down so hard I thought I saw the SS Minnow on the lake being tossed and turned on a three-hour tour.  You can never get enough Gilligan’s Island.

Also, there were no signs of the islands we wanted to visit.

Stresa looked like a very charming town, and hopefully someday we can return to enjoy it without a Nor’easter blowing through.  The town’s pastry shops looked good, too.

Across the street from the parking lot was one last church whose name shall remain a mystery.  I definitely will count how many we visited on this trip.  I’m sure it was a record.


We headed toward Milan, and reaching its outskirts, we were glad to have not done this during rush hour traffic the following morning.  There were so many trucks surrounding us, I felt like yelling out, “10-4!.

Soon we were at our lodging for the final night, a nondescript Holiday Inn that was fine for our last night, although this little sign in our room made us ponder our decision.

Actually, dinner was good, and we didn’t have to concern ourselves with a harrowing drive the following morning.

DAY TWENTY – Taking the shuttle to Linate nearly was the last thing we’d ever do in Italy.  As the driver turns on to the blind exit, a woman driving too fast and entering the property through the exit nearly caused a head-on accident.  Kudos to our shuttle driver.

Then it was on to London, where we had just enough time for lunch and one final GinTonic (technically, it was also my first GinTonic of the trip), before the long flight home.

As we taxied onto the runway, the overhead compartment popped open directly above me.  Being on blood thinners, a 25-pound suitcase to the head would not be a good thing, actually a 25-pound suitcase to anyone’s  head would not be a good thing.  Trying to alert the flight attendant 10-feet from me proved to be more difficult than I thought, but he finally got turned around and acknowledged the situation a few minutes later.

Another successful trip concluded without incident.

EPILOGUE: This was the Italian vacation I had dreamed about for a couple of years, spending time in cities and areas we had never visited.

Milan: Although I had read and heard negative reviews of Milan, nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s such an interesting and vibrant city … a city with old churches, museums and buildings juxtaposed with high end shopping and other newer stores.  Even the Starbucks was cool, as were the many well-heeled people enjoying themselves.  I was told that three days might be too many.  I could have stayed longer, and we will return one day.


Bologna:  Another town with a remarkable buzz and even more remarkable food, Bologna felt like a comfortable place to stay as soon as we walked past the statue of Neptune.  One can easily imagine living here. As I think I stated earlier (it’s been so long since I started this report), you could go to a different restaurant for 365 nights and never find a bad one.  Its citizens are young and energetic, Bologna was a winner.


Padua & Ravenna Day Trips:  From the frescoes of Padova’s mind-boggling Cappella degli Scrovegni …


… to the remarkable Ravenna mosaics, both of these days were magnificent (and busy).  If we return to this region (I hope so), I think our next day trips would combine cheese and balsamic tastings (oh yeah, wine, too).


Piemonte: Speaking of wine, I think this is my favorite wine region we have visited to date.  Views of the hill towns and rolling vineyards are spectacular, and I have been converted to a Barbera and Barolo Boy. 


And, we’ll always have White truffles.  Our B&B in La Morra was the perfect spot to enjoy this stunningly gorgeous area.


Turin:  Lots to see here, too.  From the incredible National Museum of Cinema situated in the Mole Antonelliana to the Basilica di Superga and our surprise extra visit to its Royal Tombs, Turin has a lot to offer.


Oh, and those Savoy residences!

Orta San Giulio:  Relaxing, with a B&B affording us the best picnic position of any of our travels, this little piece of heaven is a great place to wind down after a few weeks on non-stop activity (sorry Kim, Mary and Tracy).


I’m always slightly sad to leave Italy, but we have a few more trips planned to other areas of Italy in the future (if I live that long).  Next stop for us will be Montreal and Quebec City in the fall, and next year Portugal beckons.  We might even try to hit Spain for Christmas this year.

Once again, this trip exceeded even my highest expectations. Italy has never disappointed.  As always:

Enjoy The Journey …

Attitude Is Everything!

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