The Grand Tourists

I popped out in the morning, leaving Mirinda to work on her latest essay, and visited the Como Archaeological Museum. Interestingly, before I found the building, I was caught up in some sort of demo. It seemed to have something to do with motor racing…but I could be wrong. My Italian is pretty rubbish.

I managed to avoid the police (they outnumbered the protesters and may have had a photofit image of me on coffee charges) and found the museum just the other side of what I concluded was the original Roman wall of the city.

While the museum starts at the very beginning of Italian prehistory – in fact it has a few artefacts from other countries like an Australipithecine skull from Tanzania and a Homo erectus skull from Turkey – it progresses through mostly Como archaeological finds, giving a historical picture of the development of civilisation in the region. As you’d expect, the array of complete Roman finds is extraordinary.

My favourite exhibit, however, was the Prestino stele. This is a slab of stone with writing on it dating to 480-450 BC. While the words cannot be translated at present, there is enough text to show how this went some way to developing into Etruscan and then Latin. Here’s a section of it:

Prestino Stele from Como Museum

It reads from right to left and is probably some sort of exhortation to a god or gods. This bit is just a third of it. It’s a long, low slab.

Crossing the little glass walled bridge, the visitor enters the Roman part of the museum. There’s some amazing stuff there. Whole pottery, unmarked jewellery and buckles. Amazing. I loved it all. Here’s a section of a marble relief.

A section of a Roman relief in Como Museum

OK, that’s all. I’m not going to bore you by going on and on about the archaeology and proto-chariot and…rather, let’s just say I had a wonderful time but all too soon it was time to head back to the apartment for lunch.

Today was our last day on the lake so we decided to set sail for Villa Carlotta, a big house overlooking the lake at Tremezzo. The day was a bit hazy but still promised to be warm and lived up to that promise. We bought our ticket and boarded the ferry.

It’s funny that we’re getting quite expert at it all now. We don’t need to get down to the wharf half an hour before the ferry leaves and know where to sit. It’s all much more relaxed than the first day. Pity we’re leaving tomorrow!

We took the fast boat to Tremezzo where you walk around to the Villa Carlotta which has its own dock but the fast ferries do not stop there. I have no idea why not. But, of course, having to walk means you get to experience the wonderful Italian driving at very close quarters. Always a pleasure.

The highlight of the (short) walk is the Grand Hotel. Quite an impressive pile sitting on the lakes edge. Well, it would be at the lakes edge if the road wasn’t there. Why do they do that? Surely the road doesn’t have to be all scenic. Couldn’t it have gone behind the Grand Hotel and the footpath run along the edge of the lake? That makes it sounds like the footpath didn’t when it actually did. It was the last thing betwixt water and road.

The Grand Hotel, Tremezzo

On and on we walked until we reached the relative solitude of the Villa Carlotta. I say relative because we arrived just as a big crowd of gardening grannies turned up for their tour. They weren’t as bad as the horde of school girls we later encountered as they followed us from room to room in the Villa itself.

The villa has had an interesting past. Originally it was built for a powerful Milanese family, the Clerics who wanted a house that was both strong and sober. They had lots of sculptures dotted around the terraced gardens, giving it all a very formal feel.

Then, in 1801 the villa was purchased by a politician who also happened to be wealthy and a keen patron of the arts. He created the building and garden we see today, making it a must-see stop on the Grand Tour. This was not just because of the gardens but also the wonderful sculptures and paintings inside the villa.

In the late 1800s, the villa was purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau who then gave it to her daughter, Carlotta (unbelievable but true) as a wedding present when she married Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen. Georg was dead keen on botany and would spend hours reading about flowers and all sorts of garden stuff in his library of hundreds of gardening volumes.

That’s all I can find out from the guidebook so I have no idea how we can all walk through it now. Clearly no-one lives there anymore. At some stage it must have been given to a trust or the government or some crazy person with too much money because now it’s a famous tourist highlight.

Looking down from the top floor balcony of the Villa Carlotta

So we wandered all around, trying to approach the front of the villa by a circuitous route that didn’t involve going straight up any stairs. This part of our holiday has involved an awful lot of stairs! Lake Como is dominated by very high staircases and narrow streets. And that includes the flat!

Well, we managed it as far as the last set of steps but then there was nothing for it but to start climbing again. Once in the villa we were greeted by room after room of wonderful sculptures (some plaster, some marble). My favourite was a wonderful Eros and Psyche carved by Antonio Tadolini from a single block of marble in the early 1800s. Sadly no photos were allowed in the villa but I’ve managed to find this not very good one on a website which discusses the story rather than the sculpture.

Tadolini's Eros & Psyche

I understand why artworks shouldn’t be subjected to flash photography plus it’s really annoying when cameras are flashing all around you but non-flash photography is such a an excellent form of free advertising I’m always surprised when places forbid it. Oh well. The above image is not very good so you’ll just have to believe me when I say how marvellous it was.

Finishing up in the villa, we wandered a lot more of the gardens (amazing camellias, azaleas, busy lizzie, and many, many roses) finally ending up at the cafe for a much needed espresso and milkshake before heading back to the ferry.

Mirinda and her iPhone at the Villa Carlotta

When I asked the ferry guy at the ticket booth for a ticket to Como he informed me that there was possibly a strike and therefore he didn’t know whether there’d be a ferry back to Como from there. This was rather odd but we figured we could just walk back to the other dock and try for there. Mirinda claimed they may have gone on strike because of my criminal activities of yesterday and the ticket guy maybe recognised me.

At the other dock, the guy clearly hadn’t heard about any strike or failure to pay for coffee. He sold me two tickets and we sat and waited for the slow boat to Como.

For the first bit, the ride was wonderful. There were just six of us up the top, enjoying the leisurely pace of life on the lake. Then we stopped at the the Isle of Comacina. A great swarm of teenage kids decided they’d join us upstairs.

Actually they weren’t too bad (although the other couples vanished downstairs pretty quickly) and the rest of the trip was lovely too.

Back at the apartment we rested up before heading out to dinner at a mushroom place we’d lost last night but found again tonight. A sweet but odd place that felt like you were in someone’s house. We both ordered the same entree and were perturbed to find we were given, without rhyme or reason, sliced ham, coleslaw and shredded lettuce. This was a bit odd but we figured it was about time we had some odd on this holiday.

Sadly that was it. The rest of the food was lovely, the wine was good (though it could have been put in an ice bucket) and we left lighter of wallet but fuller of tummy.

We had a final wander around the old town of Como, stopping off for a last ice cream at a local gelatto place before dragging ourselves up the four flights of stairs for the final time.

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

3 Responses to The Grand Tourists

  1. mum cook says:

    Como is a really lovely place. You sound sad about going. Never mind you can always go back in a few years.
    I don’t think dad and me would have made all the stairs.
    love mum x

  2. Audrey says:

    Hi Gary and Mirinda, loving your travels and pics,but where are you now????xx

  3. admin says:

    Oddly & somewhat unexpectedly, we’re in Milan. I shall be adding the rest of our trip from tomorrow.


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