Friday, July 08, 2011

Locarno log (4)

This morning, as is our habit, we walked down to the railway station. The rain had continued from yesterday afternoon, through the evening and into the night, although I think that there were a few hours when it faded away. Nevertheless, the rain started again at about 6am, but had eased up by the time we walked to the station. We admired the stage which had been set up at the far end of the Piazza Grande and wondered how the people would see the concert if the rain continued; we also wondered whether we would be able to continue walking down the side of the Piazza (thus being able to see the stage).

Our train to Bellinzona (and thence to Basle) was waiting for us in the station; as soon as we were seated, the rain became heavy once more. The trip to Bellinzona took about 20 minutes, and after a few minutes wait, another train to us to Lugano. Fortunately there was no rain waiting for us in Lugano, so we were able to stroll leisurely from the train station (which is quite high up) down to the city centre, where we found a funicular railway which runs back up to the station. We made our way through the colourful side streets until we came to the lake, whereupon it became apparent that there was a festival being held in Lugano, specifically a Harley Davidson festival (congress? convention?). The streets were full of bikes and bikers, and stands were being set up which either sold motorcycle accessories or food and drink.

We were more interested in boat trips and swiftly discovered that there was a boat leaving in a few minutes which would take us to the village of  Gandria, which was recommended in my wife's guide book. The boat stopped at several little villages; at one, which seemed to consist solely of a restaurant called Grotto Teresa, I saw two waitresses come out of the restaurant and take down the menu which was hanging on the outside wall. Whether this was because it had started to rain (albeit lightly) or because no one had got off the boat (and so would not be eating in their restaurant) was not clear.

Shortly after we arrived at the pretty village of Gandria. The small jetty led straight into several restaurants and a few alleys which zigzagged back and forth as they climbed the hill. We wandered around for a bit before settling in a restaurant almost chosen at random; it transpired that many of our fellow passengers (a group of about eight motorcyclists from Wolverhampton along with a few others) had also chosen the same restaurant! They had a head start on us because they had arrived early and probably ordered something easy to cook, whereas we ordered boiled trout. We hadn't quite finished eating when the boat arrived to take us back to Lugano, the next boat being an hour and a half later. We quickly finished our meal and besieged our waiter to call out to the ship to wait for a few minutes so that we could get on board (this is southern Switzerland – almost Italy – after all, where punctuality is slightly relaxed). Fortunately, the crew waited and I managed to get on board just before they sailed. To be honest, I wasn't overwhelmed by Gandria and it might have been better in retrospect to have stopped at the Grotto Teresa and receive personal service.

Alun Owen was the scriptwriter for the Beatles' first film, "A hard day's night", and reputedly invented a few slang words, such as 'grotty', which quickly found their way into everyday use. Britons are probably well aware of the word grotto; it had never occurred to me that this was a word in Italian. Of course, the plural of grotto is grotti, a homonym of grotty. Anything but. Another Italian word which has found its way into common use is panino, a sandwich. It is the plural panini which is better known, but unfortunately, people tend to consider this as being the singular; thus one sometimes sees the fake word paninis which is taken to mean fancy sandwiches – or should I say, sandwicheses?
[end of rant]

Back in Lugano, we noticed that the boat had dropped us off directly opposite the Tourist Information Office, so I went inside and enquired how to get to the Mount Bre funicular; Mount Bre overlooks Lugano and is 933 metres high. I was given a marked map and told to walk through the park on the way. Unfortunately the instructions weren't too accurate. Several motorcyclists tooled down the embarcadero, which had been closed to other traffic, so we were able to get some clean footage of them. The park was beautiful, full of well tended and colourful flower beds, as well as being alongside the lake. Unfortunately the way from the park to the funicular was much longer than I had been given to believe, making it quite a slog.

When we eventually got to the funicular, it turned out to be in two parts. The first part ascended maybe 50 metres and was quickly over, whereas the second part took us all the way to the summit, and of course took much longer, about 20 minutes. There was housing on the hillside next to the funicular upto a height of about 400 metres, and we wondered whether people use the railway in order to get to work (probably not). It had started to rain again while we were ascending, and by the time we reached the summit, the rain was quite heavy, thus limiting visibility. We looked towards Lugano, but once again there were so many trees in the way that it was impossible to see anything. On the other side, there was nothing obscuring the view except for the clouds. There was so little to do on the summit of Mount Bre that we didn’t stay very long (ten minutes) and took the first train going down. Fortunately I was able to stand behind the driver and film most of our descent, which was at quite a steep angle.

In order not to walk back to Lugano, we decided to take the bus; there was a stop on the main road where one turns off for the funicular. Unfortunately we had to wait for about fifteen minutes (we had hoped to be able to get back to a souvenir shop before it closed, but the long wait for the bus prevented this), although once on board we got back into Lugano quite quickly, thanks to the bus lane and judicious use of the horn. The bus finished at its terminus somewhere in the centre of Lugano; I was able to use the map from the Information Office in order to navigate to the lower end of the central funicular. Once there, we crammed in like sardines and swiftly rose to the train station.

After a short wait, we had a comfortable ride back to Bellinzona but then missed our connection to Locarno, which left as soon as we arrived. So we had another 25 minute wait before a train to Locarno pulled in and we arrived in our fair city at about 8:15pm. As it becoming our habit, we walked across the road to Manora and had a cup of tea with cake; I am becoming quite slick with the 'buona sera, due the por favore' line. People here speak Italian to you whether you understand or not, so it's better to pre-empt them. While we were eating, the rain started bucketing down again (maybe it's a Locarno thing) although it had eased by the time we left.

Whilst in the restaurant, we had noticed several people encased head to knee in plastic (some looked like tailored capes whereas others looked like plastic bags), what Frank Zappa might have called 'The return of the plastic people'. Their density became greater and greater as we walked to where the stage had been set up in Piazza Grande; as we half suspected, we weren't allowed to use our usual path and had to make quite a detour in order to get to the far end. More and more plastic people were to be seen. When we got to 'our' end of the Piazza, we walked down to the barrier which had cunningly be erected at such a spot so that from outside the barrier the stage could not be seen (the piazza is knee shaped and the barrier is at the join of the knee). Hearing is a different matter: I am writing this from the dry comfort of our room and can hear the music quite clearly (although it's not hi-fi). This reminds me slightly of the Cropredy festival; there too are to be found plastic people wandering about holding plastic glasses of beer whilst listening to music being played on a stage. It occurs to us that the plastic coverings are because umbrellas are not allowed in the Piazza as they would block other people's view.

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