3 Days in Como

I genuinely feel physics works differently here

Sipping a cocktail whilst a huge slice of mango narrowly misses poking me in the eye, I am staring out at George Clooney’s house trying to spot his new born twins. To one side are mountains covered in greenery, sunlight sending shadows sprawling across the tops. To the other side are boats bobbing up and down on the lake.

 I’m currently in Como, with my personal tour guide, Hannah, and we have just sat down for aperetivo. There are many reasons for my continued love of Italy- the history, the weather, the food, the language, the fashion- but this is my new-found favourite thing. At around 7pm, the locals sit down for a drink and (included in the cost) a plate of olives, pizza and bread. Aperetivo works so well in this climate, allowing us to walk out of the lake after a swim and dry off whilst getting a bit sloshed, looking out as the sun begins to disappear behind the mountains. We’ve been selecting different places each day to sample aperetivo and Hannah’s ensured we’ve kept away from the touristy places, going to the more hidden gems. Yes, in one of them, the loo consisted of a hole in the ground with a toilet seat plonked on top, but overall they haven’t disappointed, particularly in their Italian-ness. Italian men sit on plastic chairs puffing cigarette smoke in my face, huge tanned bellies sticking out of white vests. There are also slightly younger Italian men man-spreading, wearing their arrogance as well as they wear their designer sandals and shorts. I’m still unsure at what point these younger guys lose their abs under flab and swap their sunglasses for cigarettes.

Basically alcohol with an entire fruit salad on top 

Hannah hasn’t just limited my experiences to drinking and people-watching the other customers. She has a pasta maker that was actually made in the 50s. ‘How do you make pasta?’ I hear you ask. I’d never really thought about how pasta was made. I mean, perhaps a tiny tiny part of my brain was picturing spaghetti fields or penne farms. We in fact just used flour and egg and a cool contraption that –with lots of metal rollers that you can adjust to get closer and closer together- looks a tad like a torture mechanism for really small limbs. Moving that morbid thought to the side, it was really therapeutic and very old-school Italian.

Another first was driving Hannah’s fabulously vintage car. We set off with the comforting knowledge that the car has suffered multiple breakdowns whilst navigating the ridiculously windy roads of Como. I genuinely feel physics works differently here. These roads seem unnecessarily steep and have cars going both ways. Every time the Fiat goes around a corner it seems a lorry or a truck or a coach appears just to push us off the edge of the mountain. Yet somehow both lines of traffic survive to drive another day, as if we have all got narrower like a scene in Harry Potter.

I swear there's a spell on the buses that allow them to be as mobile as a Fiat 

I have also never felt as much like a slab of meat as I do in Como. No, I don’t mean like when a girl walks into Pryzm and the male/female ratio is off so it’s like going into a lion’s den. Not like a piece of meat in a sexual way. I actually mean a piece of meat like I am the most amazing Michelin level food. For some reason, I am more edible here than I have ever been. Mosquitos flock to me, persevering bravely through the clouds of anti-mosquito spray, crawling under my jeans, shirts, shoes, to get to the most juicy bits. They seem to then quickly Whatsapp their mates ‘yo, Mossy, this one’s really scrumptious, top quality O negative right here, I’ll send you my location.’ At any one moment in Como, I have one somewhere on my body. I mean it’s a compliment really.

Not bad. 

So, I suppose if the mosquitos can brave death by suffocation in spray or squishing by a giant hand, I can brave jumping off a boat in the middle of a lake. I’ve never done it before because I hate the feeling of not being able to see the bottom of the water. But as Hannah star-fish style jumps into the lake, I decide it’s an experience I need to have. We have hired a boat out and I’ve had a running commentary from Hannah about who has lived in which villa, from Versace to Winston Churchill. I began the journey clutching on the bars for dear life, particularly as the boat was flung over other wakes. As I’ve got used to it, I’ve got the courage to jump in. For a few seconds as I’m plunged into darkness, I genuinely don’t think I’ll resurface and I just hope my body is airlifted over the Clooney villa so my spirit gets a good view. Sure enough, spoiler alert, I do survive, although I need Hannah’s help to climb back up onto the boat as the wind seems to be pushing it further and further away from me, just for the laughs. From the boat, we get an amazing view of each town on the lake, it is really the best way to explore. The villas are stunning. With very little planning regulation, they are all unique, painted varied coral colours, each with a different sprawling layout. There is the odd really modern villa here and there, standing out by being covered in glass or metal. Many have private lifts to take them from their door to the main roads. From the lake, most of the roads are hidden by greenery, so the villas look completely isolated from one another, giving a strange feeling they are all suspended somehow on the trees.

I have also been educated on Italian lingo. My main conclusion is that ‘prego’ (basically meaning ‘you’re welcome’) can be used pretty much in any occasion and be correct. Letting someone go in front of you? ‘Prego.’ About to start eating a meal? ‘Prego.’ Replying when someone says ‘thank you’, ‘can I use the bathroom?’ or ‘have you finished with this?’ ‘Prego.’ It’s my favourite word as I get to roll my ‘r’s, be polite and sound like a native.

Art and ruins- very Italy. 
As History of Art students (don’t know if I mentioned that that’s my degree?) we of course fit in a bit of history and arty sight-seeing. Hannah takes me further into Como city centre, rather than the lake front where tourists normally concentrate. Like many Italian cities, it has the beautiful balance of really old buildings with modern shops built in, displaying some of the biggest fashion designers in windows surrounded by ancient bricks. We pop into a free exhibition of local art students. The paintings and sculptures are displayed in a building on top of Roman ruins. Hannah also takes me to the Duomo of Como, one of the biggest and most important sights to see in the city. It is a stunning Roman Catholic cathedral, which took three and a half centuries to complete so captures a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance era architecture. Outside are two statues of Pliny the Elder and Younger (natives of Como) as well as a tiny stone frog which has lost its head after centuries of being rubbed for good luck. Inside it is magnificent as well, with Renaissance designs as well as later apses with drama and golden rays verging on Baroque. There are also distinguished 16th century tapestries and 19th century stained-glass windows. And it’s the one place I didn’t get bitten, so maybe mosquitos are a religious bunch.

It has been a relaxed trip. With both the ridiculously high temperatures, good food and endless hills, I don’t know how Comosians (Comopeoples? Comish? Commies?) ever get anything done. They must be either too sweaty, stuffing their faces, or too relaxed. It’s a world away from the fast-pace of London. Perhaps one of our most eventful aperetivo moments was when I thought I spotted Justin Beiber calmly sitting behind Hannah, but alas, his circa-2010 hair was a giveaway that it was just his Como doppleganger. I’m still on the look out for George and Amal though. Prego.

What do you mean? 

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