Besides the rather intense week of the conference in Como, I still managed to visit a number of towns nearby including Milan, Lecco and Bergamo.
Milan, the fashion capital of Italy is a surprising little city. The public transport is fantastic with the options of buses, trams, trains and the underground easily getting you around. Equipped with a decent map and a decent understanding of how piazzas and streets connect, the city is also very pedestrian friendly. One thing I learned very quickly is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way and even the footpath does not keep you safe from the bikes and mopeds that drive right up and around you.
We visited the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where many of the high brand fashion stores are and situated next to the Piazza del Duomo, a huge cathedral towering over everything. We had planned to go see the Last Supper painting and ended up disappointed since we hadn’t booked in advance and apparently is constantly sold out – so plan ahead! We also walked around the huge park in the centre of the city (Parco Sempione) and I even managed to see the European Athletics Championship in the Milan Stadium located to the side of the park on my last Saturday in town.
Navigli is the area around the river in the southern bit of Milan. It’s definitely less formal, more alternative and very student focused compared to other parts of Milan. It has plenty of bars and cafes that are extremely busy at least on a Saturday night. Market stalls also line the river side and is quite a great place to walk around. This area was particularly great in the summer time since all the tables are out and everyone is enjoying the late evenings.
I can’t say that I had very memorable food even though all the food was quite nice. We ate at a few places that the Lonely Planet recommended for traditional but I really can’t say you’d be too wrong going to other places. If you’re near the Cadorna Train Station, definitely drop into Chocolat Milano at Via Boccaccio 9 for at least a gelati if not a cake or a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
We ended up in Lecco purely by mistake after trying to catch the train to Bergamo. Though we ended up detoured for a couple of hours, I think it was definitely worth the trip as the train weaves its way over and past a number of rivers and descends upon the town and its lakeside. I can’t say there seemed to be much to do in Lecco other than walk around and relax, and a visit to the lake is definitely in order since its so peaceful.
Even though Bergamo is almost an hour-long train ride out of Milan it’s definitely a city worth the journey. The city is spilt into effectively two parts with most of the commercial and residential bits in the lower city. From the train station you can either catch a bus or take a generous stroll along the city’s main road to the bottom of the first of two funiculars.
The first funicular takes you to the stunning upper city – a medieval looking city filled with pedestrian-only piazzas, cobble stone streets and plenty of cafes and restaurants to sit and people watch all day. Of course there is the obligatory large church and the number of gelati, deli and coffee bars dotted along all the paths. We were lucky enough to be able to indulge in the fantastically sunny weather and lounge around one of the outdoor cafes.
The final city and the one I spent the most time in, Como is actually part of the greater lakes district of Italy. The lake stretches out in an extremely long fashion though it’s not that wide and you always get a view of the other shore from one side. Ferries or sailing boats take you around from city to city, although even the fast ferry takes a while to get from one town to the next.
One of the newer Star Wars films (when they return to Naboo) had been shot at Como, with the lake side scenery so beautiful that it only ended up slightly touched up instead of being fully digitised. Standing upon the shore and walking around, you can easily see why it was picked as a great spot. Bellagio – another lake side city is a must visit if you end up in Como and is great for wandering up and down the little side streets and hills. Some great places to eat in Como include Ristorante Pizzeria Pepe Nero for thin crispy based pizzas (Via Boldoni 26), Il Pomodorino (Via 5 Giornate 62/b) for more traditional Italian dishes and the restaurant in the Albergo Sociale Nero.