Alessandro Volta is the man

AC/DC would have not recorded a song called High Voltage Rock and Roll had it not been for Alessandro. He was an amazing physicist who was born in Como and from whom we get the term ‘volt’. He is responsible for developing the battery, among other things. Born in 1745, he dropped out of normal school at 14 but decided he wanted to be a scientist. He did some amazing things with electricity.

And why am I discussing Alessandro? Because I visited a building by the lake this morning erected in his memory to house the many relics of his research. It is called the Volta Temple and was designed in the style of a pantheon. It was opened in 1927, 100 years after Volta’s death. Prior to the temple being built, his scientific apparatus was housed in the civic museum, hidden away in a never visited corner.

Mirinda decided to hang out at the apartment and work on her DBA so I wandered down for a peek at what, for me, a temple should be.

Volta Temple, Como

It sticks out a mile in the park by the lake, surrounded by a kid’s playground, a memorial to the Italian resistance and a graffiti covered steam engine. It is a marvellous vision, designed by architect Frederico Frigerio, which reflects not only the Pantheon but also the Como Duomo.

Interestingly (well, to me, anyway) a lot of Volta’s equipment was destroyed in a fire during a display of his achievements in 1899 and it was only with the help of lots of people that all of the destroyed pieces were remade. As you go around the temple the copies are marked as such in the guide but they look exactly like the original survivors.

I had a great time wandering around but all good things must come to an end and I had to pop across to the supermarket to buy something for lunch. Back at the apartment we enjoyed another salad and cured meat lunch before setting off for the ferry port for our trip to Varenna.

While yesterday we took the slow boat to Bellagio, today it was the fast boat to Varenna. What a lovely spot! The Rough Guide claims it’s better because less tourists go there and there is yet to be many souvenir shops. I’m pretty sure that the thousands that were there today had read the Rough Guide as well.

Even so, it is a lovely place, particularly if you leave the cars behind in the carpark near the boat dock and walk along the path that seems to be magically suspended above the water as it follows the curves of the land around the bay. We settled down into a cafe for a coffee before venturing out to the gardens that we had decided to visit.

The coffee, while tepid, was fine. The staff were not very good at collecting payment for it. We sat and waited. Eventually Mirinda went to the loo and asked them for the bill. When this didn’t work I stood up by the entrance to the cafe and asked for the bill. This merely exacted a “the girl will give you the bill in a second” from one of the waitresses. I waited. For longer than the second promised. No-one bothered to approach me. I decided to walk away, slowly but still no-one stopped me with a request for payment.

Rather than age any further, we went to the monastery gardens. This is a wonderful garden that used to be a monastery but is now a conference centre with a garden. The signs are quite clear as you wander up and down the steep alley ways. That is until you finally get to the traffic filled through road. Then there’s no sign.

We walked a long way back down to the waters edge before realising we’d come to the back door and walked back up again. At least we had the watchful eye of Mary to guide us effortlessly back to civilisation.

Mary at the bottom of the monastery

OK so not so effortless but we managed to find the front door just along from the stairs we went down. The garden is amazing. Well worth the effort of going the wrong way. We wandered the length and breadth, admired the statues and the plants and spent many rest breaks sitting looking out across the lake. A truly beautiful place.

Sadly, it appears that the garden is going to rack and ruin a bit. It’s as if the placid life of the monks, who would have spent many hours tending the plants, has changed to the important running of a conference centre, which needs to invest all of its cash into making it a worldwide conference venue, which leaves little time and money for the garden. Still, that which remains, remains beautiful.

Mirinda looks out at Lake Como from within the monastery garden, Varenna

We spent a long time wandering the length of the garden and had a coffee (which we paid for) at the cafe before heading back through the main piazza into town.

The church in Varenna is one of the oldest on the lake. It was started sometime in the 10th century but it seems someone or other has been adding bits ever since. It is now a strange mix of very, very old, very old, old and new. But even though it looks a bit time befuddled, it was a lovely church. The afternoon light streams in through the window above the front door and the altar just glows. You can almost understand why people believe in the supernatural.

San Giorgio, Varenna

After a lovely visit at the church, we made our very slow way down to the dock where we sat at the dockside bar and had a lovely local beer and a not so local gin and tonic.

When I went to buy our ticket back to Como, there was a bit of commotion in the ticket office. Mirinda thought it was something to do with my not paying for the coffee earlier in the day. She expected a whole bunch of Italian policemen to jump out and arrest me for not paying the €4 for the two caffe lattes. The commotion was nothing to do with me. The guy in the ticket office was carrying on a typically Italian conversation with his mate while serving me.

The ferry ride back to Como was lovely and uneventful.

Back in Como we hunted for somewhere to eat. Mirinda had spotted somewhere the other day that she fancied because it had mushrooms but tonight it was nowhere to be seen. We ended up sitting outside a pizzeria wondering why everyone was sitting inside. We didn’t have long before we found out why it is advisable to sit inside in Como.

Anyone who has read my previous entry about Como at night may recall my comments on the umbrella salesmen. Well, when it’s not raining, they all collect lots of shit products and try and flog them to people who sit outside restaurants.

They wear many different coloured hats, carry colour changing pigs and giant lighters. They thrust dead flowers into your face as you’re trying to eat your pizza. They never appear to sell anything.

They also are not very good at taking no for an answer. Once is not enough. It’s odd on a number of levels. No clearly does not mean no to these guys. But not only that but who the hell would want to buy the rubbish they’re trying to sell anyway. It’s very, very weird. Mirinda thinks they’re illegal immigrants. I think they’re aliens who have no idea how to integrate.

Now it pains me to report this but the dessert Mirinda had at the restaurant was not good. She didn’t finish it. She claimed it tasted like it was very, very old. I was tempted not to pay for the entire meal, having set a precedent earlier in the day, but she wouldn’t hear of it and insisted I attract the waiter’s attention and pay him.

All in all, an odd but mostly enjoyable day.

This entry was posted in Gary's Posts, Italy 2011 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Alessandro Volta is the man

  1. mum cook says:

    We are not bailing you two out of the police station! There you must stay. How do these people make a living if all their customers do that? Still, their fault.
    Love mum

  2. mum cook says:

    PS Saw Audrey yesterday and she is enjoying your holiday with you. love mum

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