Saturday, July 11th:
My original plan was to spend 7 nights in Bologna. Due to a national train strike planned for the following day, I ended up leaving a day early. After packing my bags, I walked around the centro area of Bologna one last time. I stopped in Eat Italy and bought a panino pomodoro mozzarella basilico (tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich) to eat on the train. I really enjoyed my stay in Bologna and at Hotel Orologio and was sad to leave. I said goodbye and thanked everyone at my hotel one last time as my taxi arrived.
Once at the train station, I looked for Simona, Katia’s friend. We both realized earlier in the week that we would be taking the train to Milano Centrale on Saturday. On Friday when I talked to Simona, I found out that we were taking the same Eurostar train! Too bad I was not going to Coccaglio next. We could have traveled the entire way together.
The partenza board with the dreaded strike announcement (sciopero means strike):
Although the train station was crowded (possibly due to the strike the following day), Simona and I found each other right away. We had about 20 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive. We were both hungry. I offered her half of my sandwich. As we were eating, I mentioned how I Iike taking the Eurostar from Bologna to Milano because it always leaves from the first binario.
I must have jinxed it because just after I said how I liked the fact that the train to Milan left the first binario, Simona noticed on the partenza board that the binario number changed. Good thing I was with her. I am not sure if I would have noticed it on my own. There is so much noise at that station that it is sometimes difficult hearing the announcements clearly.
So much for leaving from binario 1 and not having to lug my bags down and then up a flight of stairs. Heading to binario 3 ended up being even more of a challenge because our train just arrived from Florence. As we tried to carry our bags up the stairs, we had to dodge a crowd of people descending down the stairs after departing the train. I lost Simona for a brief moment but easily found her again at our binario.
Because we made our reservations at different times (which are mandatory when taking a Eurostar train), we had seats in cars far apart from each other. We decided that we would SMS (text) each other once the train departed and then see if we could find two empty seats together.
As I was walking to my train car, I noticed a group of policemen and train personnel inspecting a big scrape near the bottom of one of the cars and two other men standing on a ladder putting a black plastic covering over the window. That did not make me feel very secure. I noticed a woman taking photos of the event. I thought about also taking a few photos but my camera was inside my bag and I did not want to risk missing my train since it was supposed to be leaving momentarily.
The train ended up leaving 15 minutes late. While waiting, I asked a woman sitting near me, who boarded the train in Rome, if she knew what happened to the train. I tried my best to explain what I saw (lacking vocabulary words such as scrape & metal). The lady started repeating over and over how this is why she does not like Bologna. I really was just curious and did not mean to get her all riled up. Meanwhile another woman chimed in that she thought it must have happened in Florence.
As the train departed Bologna, I left my luggage with the two women who continued to talk about the train situation to look for Simona. We ended up finding empty seats in a car between our two cars. I went back and grabbed my bags. It ended up being a very pleasant train ride to Milan.
When we arrived in Milan, we hung out together for another 30 minutes. Both of our connecting trains were departing about an hour after we arrived. I was again very fortunate to be with Simona. My train was leaving on one of those tracks that was not so easily found and was located at the far end of the train station. I probably would have found my train on my own, but this way, I did not have to be temporarily stressed about figuring out where my binario was located.
The train for Stresa was a small older train which did not have air conditioning and was not very clean. It was also pretty crowded and there were no first class cars. Although it was only an hour ride, it seemed much longer.
When I arrived in Stresa, I had a general idea where my hotel was located but was not sure exactly how to get there. I did know that it was not too far from the train station and so I decided to walk. I saw the sign for my hotel from a distance and was almost there when I took just one wrong turn. Instead of staying on the main road that went from the train station to the hotel, I took a left on Via Roma and headed down hill a few feet. I saw an older couple walking towards me. Great I thought. I could ask them for directions. Instead, I ended up giving them directions to the train station!
At this point, I called the hotel. I tried to explain where I was. I followed the directions and ended up walking further down the hill. My hotel was still not in sight. I called again. After a few more minutes trying to follow the directions, which were not pointing me in the right direction, I walked back up the hill and a little further down the road and there right in front of me was my hotel!
It was a long travel day, I was hot and tired, and I now had to walk up a big hill (driveway to the hotel). The other option was steps but that was not going to happen with my luggage in tow. My room was in the annex (building next door) on the top floor with a view (room I asked for). So after checking in, I dragged my bags up 3 flights of stairs. The walk was worth it though. I had a great view and was very happy with my room.
I unpacked and headed back down to the reception area. By this time, it was early evening. The first thing I asked was for a recommendation for a good place to have pizza for dinner. The ladies at the desk were very kind. They gave me a few maps and recommended Mamma Mia, a new place that recently opened and was not too far from the hotel.
As I walked down towards the lake, the crowds of tourists increased. Many of the tourists were either French or German. The one thing I noticed about Stresa was all the perfume! Women wearing perfume and perfume stores! I am guessing perhaps it is because there is a larger concentration of French tourists in Stresa than in many other areas of Italy.
It was a little after 7pm, which is early for dinner in Italy, but I was hungry and Mama Mia was already packed so I thought I better try and get a table before it was too late. There were quite a few tables, both inside and out. I figured it would not be too long before I would be seated since a few people looked like they were almost done.
I asked one of the waiters how long the wait would be. He told me about 15 minutes. They did not seem very organized and were not taking names. I stood near the entrance people watching while I waited. Pretty soon, there was a big crowd of people waiting. It ended up being like a war zone trying to get a table at this place. I saw one couple signal to another couple to come take their table as the first couple left. Another group just showed up, did not even ask a waiter or waitress how long the wait was and grabbed a table before it was even cleared. The waiter that I spoke to earlier kept coming up to me an apologizing for the long wait.
I finally was seated right by the entrance about 30 minutes after I arrived. I really did not mind the wait but was not happy watching how rude many of the other people arriving were who seemed to think they did not need to wait like everyone else to get a table.
The temperature dropped quite a bit as the sun began to set. I was now cold and hungry. I ordered a pizza with peppers. My pizza was good but got cold fast due to the cold weather. I had to wave down my waitress to ask again for the bottle of water that I ordered. I understood that the waiters were slammed with tables and there were a lot of interesting things on the menu, but what turned me off was the crowds full of loud tourists.
After dinner, I walked down to the lake and took a few photos. The lake was beautiful at night.
My teeth were chattering and I was shivering as I headed back to my hotel. I was thankful that my hotel was up the hill away from the noise and crowds of tourists. When I stopped in to the main hotel to get my key, the ladies laughed as I showed them my goosebumps and told them how cold I was. I did not see the temperature that night but my guess was it was in the low 60’s. I sent an email to Dana (who was arriving in a few days) saying “Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!! It is freddisssssimo here at night. Good thing I brought my fleece and long underwear!”. I was going to be prepared the following night when the sun began to set.
View from my room at night…