The air is clean here.
The alpine clarity was almost tangible in the breeze that whispered around my face as we stepped onto the tiny outdoor platform in the train station. We had just left Milan- a big, dirty, grand old city- on our way to our home for the next 4 days.
We had watched the mountains grow as we slowly made our way toward our destination. They started as fairytale giants, nodding to us as we hovered over them in our economy airplane seats. As we barreled down the train tracks, closing the distance, their intimidating size gave way to a feeling of being comfortably wrapped in familiarity and warmth. When we stepped off the train we could feel their surrounding presence. As we walked out of the tiny station in Como and were soaked in the sun’s warmness and they sky’s blueness, the monstrous mountain-range folded us into its affectionate embrace, welcoming us like long lost family.
Exhausted from the less-than-satisfactory sleep from the night before and without the all-knowing-eye that is Google Maps, we began our decent from the train station with only a hint of direction but overflowing with anticipation. The narrow cobblestoned streets trickled down from the small mountain-side train station to the valley floor, like a slow-moving stream, emptying into Lake Como. We descended the steep stone steps into a small garden flanked by busy roads. The air felt tropical with humidity, yet comfortable with the cool-warmness of late-March temperatures. Carrying backpacks, a rolling carryon, a baby in an Ergo, and a pack'n'play, we hiked down through the mountain-side streets toward the lake and into the center of the town of Como.
Lake Como is a haven of beauty nestled like a heavenly secret inside an army of towering alpine peaks. Its calm blue waters undulate continually as ferries carry locals and tourists from one small Italian village on the banks of the massive lake to the next. The sun was beginning its decent as we made our way (our luggage in tow) through the peaceful-but-busy squares. Restaurants were beginning dinner service and the air was filled with the melodic sounds of 'ciao' 'arrivederci' and 'grazie', clinking silverware, bicycle bells, laughter, and violins played by street performers.
As we at last made our way through a tall narrow alley, flanked on either side by three and four-story stone structures, we felt as if we were traveling back to a distant time. We stopped beside a massive wooden door and set our luggage down. Kevin checked the address on his phone.
We had arrived.
We waited for no more than 30 seconds when a thin, well-dressed, white haired gentleman appeared and greeted us in a friendly, thick Italian accent. He asked about our trip and if we had trouble locating the flat. We answered cordially while internally gaping that the beauty that surrounded us. My eyes met Kevin's in disbelief and child-like glee behind the man's back as he pulled out three skeleton keys from his pocket and unlocked the massive wooden door with the larger of the two. We tried to remain mature and adult-like as he led us through the courtyard to another set of doors; tall, thin, black, and centuries-old, these beautiful french doors belonged in a romantic film. He unlocked the french doors with the second skeleton key, and about a foot beyond was a sturdy iron door with bars covering the glass - hidden protection behind the unassuming, flimsy french doors - with a large keyhole that resembled what could be found on a dungeon-cell door. He used the third skeleton key to open this door and welcomed us into our flat.
We couldn't believe our eyes. The photos we had seen couldn't do this eclectic, ancient abode justice. It was small to be sure and, with a baby, a little impractical for more than a few days, but entering the flat was like entering a fairytale world. The flat was situated inside the walls of an ancient castle that stood in that spot during the medieval time-period. The floors were made of large planks of ancient wood- dust of hundreds of years packed into its crevices. The ladder from the floor to the loft was sturdy and large and creaked with age. The loft above the kitchen spoke loudly under each step with stories from centuries gone-by as massive beams held up our bed, a wooden wardrobe, and the baby's crib. A tiny bathroom was carved out of the stone wall in the loft, complete with toilet, sink, and miniature shower. We had to sit on a small stool to wash off as the stone ceiling was less that five feet tall.
As we settled in and unpacked, we considered our evening. There was a grocery store around the corner from our flat and the lake was only a 7 minute walk's distance. We decided to explore for a bit before turning in for the evening. We left the flat and courtyard, fighting over who got to turn the skeleton keys in their locks. We made our way through the streets toward the lake's edge, drinking in the sites, sounds, and smells of the city. When we arrived at the lake's edge the sun was setting in the clear blue sky. Yachts and sailboats were rocking gently in the harbor, and tourists were strolling on the promenade built around and out into the lake, gelato in hand. The followed suit and walked until dusk. We stopped at the grocery store on the way back to our flat, buying pasta and wine (because when you're in the European homeland of those foods, you indulge) for a cozy dinner at home.
We took our food back to the flat and I cooked while Kevin put the baby to bed. We had to turn all the lights off so that he would sleep, so we had a tiny, warm, dim lamp that we set next to our plates at the table as we ate and drank and laughed. We brought a couple of games to play together in the evenings after we put the baby to bed. After dinner we played games for an hour or two, laughing until we cried, then decided that an early bedtime was probably the best way to start our adventures the next day.
We turned off the tiny lamp and went up the ladder to the loft in turns, each step creaking agonizingly-loud, muffling hysterical laughter (the kind that comes when you're past the point of exhaustion). We took turns in the tiny bathroom, scooting around the pack'n'play carefully, ducking our heads to enter. We finally fell into the comfortable bed, shushing each other and trying to settle in without making noise. As I drifted off to sleep that night I smiled; Como was the perfect place to spend our rest week and I couldn't wait to see what the next few days held.