Day 3: Saronno e Cernobbio

Today we kind of took it easy during the day as the kids are still adjusting to the time difference. We got up at 6:45 again with DH, went for another lovely little breakfast in our hotel, but then came back upstairs after he left for work and took an hour-long nap (until housekeeping made it clear they wanted in our room). I got the girls up and re-dressed and we headed out to find a park or someplace to play outside. The clerk downstairs was not the familiar woman who spoke English, but another person who spoke no English whatsoever (much as I speak no Italian whatsoever). That was fine, since it forced me to practice my bad Italian. I pulled out my phrasebook and asked her if she knew of a parco giochi nearby. Non, non, she said, doubtfully, but then her face lit up and she held up a finger that I should wait a minute.

ROMANO! she shouted into a back room. And then there was a lot of excited talking in Italian to an older man who appeared, also looking doubtful. Apparently the problem was that the only playground they knew of was far, and they weren’t sure we were prepared to walk. I took a chance and said, “is OK. Passeggiata.” So Romano gestured for us to follow him and he walked us out the door of the hotel and to a corner. He pointed up the street. Va, he said, e a destra (go, then turn right). I nodded. Grazie! I said several times. He smiled and waved. Ciao, bambini!

We walked down the street and turned, going past La Perla and into a shady, residential area. The kids were fine for the first ten minutes, but then they started to get tired and impatient. Finally, though, we heard the sounds of laughing kids. We walked up a side street and found a sign that said PUBBLICO. Yay! The kids tore off and into the small but friendly playground. Within minutes they were making friends with two other little girls there, who we later learned were Bianca and Gaia.

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Their caregiver was a very nice older woman who soon discovered I spoke NO USEFUL ITALIAN WHATSOEVER. She joked that she only spoke bad French, so I told her that the only French I spoke was also bad. So we spoke a combination of bad French, broken Italian, gestures, and an occasional sharing of the Italian/English dictionary. It was interesting.

She asked several times about scuola (school) for the kids. I wasn’t going to bother explaining the whole homeschooling thing, which is not permitted in Italy, so I just said we were on holiday and that school started at the end of September. It also took several tries to explain why we were in Saronno, which is a fairly industrial and completely non-touristy town. I said that my husband was here working for two weeks and we were on holiday, but she thought I meant that the girls and I were on holiday in Saronno while my husband was working in the States. Once I switched to bad French, that part was a lot easier to explain. We talked about the kids, and how the girls’ mother worked a few days a week and she watched them for her. A weird looking man sat down on a nearby bench, and after he left she remarked that he had un visage brute!

S8 tried talking with Bianca, but obviously the poor girl couldn’t understand a word she was saying (and vice versa). O6 was a little more reticent and kept to herself for the first part of our visit, but S8 was convinced she could break down any language barrier. She came over and asked if she could use the phrase book. When I gave it to her, she said, “thanks. I’m going to go work on my Italian.”

After a while, everyone started to get hungry and it became clear that Bianca and Gaia were about to go home. I asked the woman (whose name I never caught, for shame!) if she knew of a restaurant where we could get lunch. It sounded like nothing much was open; the pizzeria in the park didn’t serve until later in the afternoon. So I asked if there was a drogheria nearby (grocery). Si, there was one very close! I could buy jambon (ham), fromage (cheese), panne (Italian for bread). She would show us where. We walked out of the park together and down Via Roma two blocks, then she pointed to a side street where we could walk to the “super market”. We thanked her again and went on. Not two blocks up, we saw the yellow sign for the grocery.

Inside, the girls grabbed a basket and we picked up some sweet yellow grapes, a plum and an orange, some prepackaged salame, two yogurts, a bag of spoons, some pineapple juice, and a bag of cookies. The only little snafu was that we didn’t weigh and label our fruit, much to the cashier’s consternation. She sent a stockboy back to do it and gave me a very dirty look. Whatever. I paid my 9€ and went on my merry way. It’s amazing how something so ordinary as a grocery shopping excursion can feel extraordinary when you are in a foreign country.

Back at the Cyrano, we celebrated by having a little picnic outside on the tiny patio tables. Then the concierge came out to say there was a phone call for me. It was Emilia, calling to say she would meet us at 16:30 in the Liberation Square. Then DH got on the phone and confirmed what we were doing tonight- dinner with Andrea and Emilia in Cernobbio, near Como Lago (Lake Como). We would meet Emilia and Matteo first, then he and Andrea would join us after they left work.

The girls and I finished our lunch and went upstairs. I made them lay down and rest, and they did fall asleep for a bit. When it was time to go they were really unhappy about waking up, which told me the nap was a good idea! We got up and walked the short way to Piazza Libertà and sat on the steps of the church. Emilia and her son, Matteo, pulled up on their bike shortly after. Emilia asked if the kids wanted gelato, so we went around the corner to a shop where S8 had “Puffo” (smurf colored gelato with a faint malty flavor) and O6 had stracciatella again.

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We walked over to another larger playground (much nicer than the one we found earlier in the day, actually) with a lot of kids and activity. The girls were a little shy at first, and Matteo was frustrated by their inability to speak Italian. Eventually, though, they overcame both obstacles. By the end of the evening, they were all running races and having a great time together. S8, O6, Matteo and two other boys formed a little gang that hung out on the steps of a former municipal building that adjoined the park space.

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After they started climbing on the stone wall, a really cool dad came over and got the kids to join in another group’s game of limbo. Shortly afterwards, DH and Andrea walked up, and after a few minutes of visiting we decided to head out for dinner. We had an 8pm reservation in Cernobbio, on Lake Como. DH spent a lot of his free time up in Como when he lived here in ’99. So we left the park and headed up to Como, after a quick stop at Andrea & Emilia’s flat so that Emilia could drop off her bicycle and change clothes.

Up on Lago Como, the air was much cooler and it was very peaceful. We let the kids run and play on a little playground until it was time for our dinner. Andrea had made us a reservation at Holmes Lido, a restaurant/pizzeria with mostly outdoor seating. The girls got spaghetti pomodoro, DH (again) had carne, and I opted for fresh lake fish con insalate.

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The next obvious choice was… more gelato. We walked along the wharf to a gelateria shop, where S8 got milk gelato. O6, ever predictable, chose stracciatella. DH got stracciatella and one other flavor – cioccoletto, I think – while I had cannella (think cannolli custard filling).

Finally, we took our leave of Como and Cernobbio. We had all started to get sleepy and there was about a 40-minute drive back to Saronno, so we got on the road. Since S8 rode in the car with Andrea and his family on the way up, it was O6’s turn to ride with them on the way back. We took a different route home, scenic and winding and full of roundabouts and crazy Italian driving. DH followed right on Andrea’s tail. He said he wished he wasn’t so tired, because the drive was really fun. I was glad he was driving. That sort of driving is not my cup of tea.

Andrea stopped back at our hotel so we could get O6 and we said good night. Tomorrow, we are taking the train to Venezia. However, I changed our departure time from 8:05 AM to 9:05 AM so we could all catch up on our sleep. We still have to get up by 7 so we can get into Milano Centrale, which will mean another train ride to Milano Cardona and then a transfer via M2 subway line to Centrale.