For those of you who might be wondering if it's bad news that I'm on a bucket list tour, don't worry, it's just that I have a very long bucket list and you never know how many travelling years you have left to get them all checked off. So I find myself on a twelve-day whirlwind tour with Faith Journeys. Again, for those of you who know me, you may be shocked by the fact that I am on a pilgrimage of sorts, but again, don't worry, it's with my friend Kitty McGilly and the faith part includes the spiritual enjoyment of our surroundings and is therefore something I can live with. The only odd thing about this voyage: I don't have Vince with me. It's an experiment and already I'm uncertain that I will like it. But I have my friend Mary Jo as my roommate and Cugina (Wendy) and Carolyn are here too.
We leave Toronto around 7 p.m. on an Air France flight and We are on the upper deck of a huge jet and the seats are nicely spaced (in the front, though side to side my hips do somewhat overflow...). Mary Jo and I are daring to grin at the empty seat between us when who should arrive but Elizabeth Taylor. OK, not the original one, but a lovely person who laughs easily and with whom we bond immediately. She brings out her snacks - strawberries, blueberries, cheese and crackers - Mary Jo brings out her grapes and fancy napkins. I bring my appetite for appetizers. With dinner we have copious drinks and laughs, but this results in nausea for Liz and little sleep for me and MJ.
The long lay-over at the airport in Paris isn't fun, I have to admit. We are so tired and the seats are impossible to sleep on. (Although Wendy does snag a lovely necklace in a shop that she and Rita found last time through Paris.) But fortunately the time ends and we are off to Milan.
Along the way, although the clouds are thick, we glimpse the massive peaks of the Alps pushing through the white mists, and now and then a deep blue lake shimmers from a valley.
The passage through the terminal in Milan is so easy - because they're all European Union, we are considered a domestic flight.
We walk into sunshine and the ring of mountains, frosted with snow caps, around the city. The bus is comfortable and has huge wide windows to show off the scenery. I am annoyed at myself because my eyes keep closing, but whenever there is a gorgeous sight, I am awakened by the oohs and ahhs of the other passengers. Villages with beautiful homes stacked against a cliff, overlooking a sun-kissed lake, the Alps always standing sentry in the background. Broccoli-bunched trees line the hillsides. It's absolutely verdant.
When we arrive at the Hotel Campione, we find lovely accommodations, including an enormous bathroom, which doesn't happen very often in Europe. Our view is breathtaking, Lake Lugana and the circle of mountains. Birds dip to taste the fruits of the underwater treasures, the surface is whipped up by a light breeze into small crests of white. All around are those majestic towers of earth,grass,and rock, soaring into the blue sky. It's magnificent.
Later, after a quick refreshing splash of water, we go for a walk. Most of the group is ahead of us; we saunter on our own, knowing we'll catch up. We walk from Switzerland to Italy (the archs of the border are right outside our door). The lake winks at us from behind tall, shutter-and balcony-graced homes, tall stone walls. There is a beautiful old cemetery, with its monuments to life. Variously coloured boats dot the waterside, land-locked for the night. We pass an ancient church and alleyway, both cleverly shored up with modern technology yet preserved in their original, simple starkness. We sit at a cafe where many of the tour group have gathered too. We have wine (believe it or not, I have cappucino - I need a pick-me-up) as a soft warm breeze lifts our hair as it drifts from the mountain peaks to ruffle the lake and sweep over us. The sun is dipping into the horizon, but it still warms our skin and sends fingers of gold over the lake. They bring us a plate of prosciutto and crackers - another delicious appetizer!
We eventually make our way back to the hotel, where dinner is served in light, airy restaurant. It's simple fare, but good, accompanied by cold white wine and my funny, intelligent, beautiful female friends. We make an attempt at skyping Vince, but something isn't working, so we can't see him. He can see and hear us, though, so we carry on a conversation of sorts - he types and we talk. Wendy and Carolyn go off to their room and shortly afterward, I am in a thick, solid sleep.