Huge misty clouds obscure entire mountains from view; the world is swathed in shades of grey. It is pouring down rain, and water falls from the bridge's underside drain pipes like someone left two showers on. We are surrounded by slowly encroaching mud puddles which are thankfully held at bay by the fact that our tent is on slightly higher ground.
In our small serendipitous haven, we are safe and wonderfully dry. I say a silent thank you to the universe that we are in this little spot, sheltered from the rain by the concrete overhead, and safe from the drain showers on either side. I'm not sure if our rainfly would have been able to withstand the watery onslaught had we camped anywhere else!
We are snuggled in our sleeping bag when flashes of light begin to illuminate the still-dark sky and then crashes of thunder shake the earth. Tyler and I both love thunderstorms and this one makes for a cozy morning. Opposite our camp on the other side of the river, cars line up to drive to work, their headlights cutting yellow beams through the early morning storm. I remember all too well waking in darkness to go work on a rainy morning, wishing in vain I could stay under the covers. Now, under the safety of the concrete, graffiti-covered bridge, I can do just that and I feel like I'm in the lap of luxury.
Around 10:00, the skies finally clear enough to think about moving on. It still looks ominous outside, but at least the rain has stopped. Tyler offers me my favorite treat—the gift of packing everything up if I make breakfast. Of course I accept, and make crepes while Tyler quickly and efficiently clears up camp. By the time I do dishes (in the drain pipe shower) and Tyler cleans the bike chains, it is 11:30 and we are eager to get on the road. We wheel our bikes away from our perfect free-camp and follow yesterday's bike path along the river.
After a short 8 kilometers, we arrive in the town of Colico, our first town on Lago di Como. Upon entering the town square, we find we are bordered by gelaterias on three sides, cementing our decision—even though it is chilly and gray, it is definitely time to sit down to our first gelato in Italy!
Before we left for our world trip, when we were working long, tiring hours to save the money we needed, we would console ourselves with thoughts of gelato. "We have to work a lot now," we would say, "so that when we are in Italy, we'll be able to eat gelato every day!" These daydreams helped us survive many frustrating days (and sometimes nights) of work, but no fantasy could ever compare with the real dessert we were about to eat.
The freezer case is filled with ethereally swirled heaps of gelato, each one a different color with its own garnish indicating its flavor. Somehow they manage to look as light and ephemeral as meringue while still seeming as thick and rich as butter. Vanilla is a perfect cloud of pure white; pistachio is the most beautiful velvety pale green color; chocolate is so dark that it is practically black. They all beg to be eaten. Tyler and I each order a large bowl—vanilla and amarena cherry for me, chocolate and coffee for him. Of course we share and cannot stop oohing and aahing at the unreal creamy deliciousness of our noontime snack.
With our bowls of gelato finished, we head out under grey skies and begin our route around Lago di Como. Everything is lush and overgrown, great green vines overtaking huge crumbling estates. Rain drips into waterfalls that tumble down rocky mountainsides and gush surprisingly and overwhelmingly right through town in between houses.
Perhaps it is the mist and the rain that does it, but the towns seem sleepy and deserted. Everything is old. Gone is the immaculately manicured Switzerland—this Italy is ancient and "lived in," alive with creeping vines and decaying into rubble and chipping paint. We make our way southeast around the shore, climbing craggy hills and then coasting down through little towns that cling to the base of the mountains. We pass many little altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and are passed by many a speeding Italian driver.
After a few hours of beautiful, otherworldly riding, the sun manages to break through the clouds and suddenly everything seems more awake. Lakeside villas, incredible mountain scenery, pizzerias and gelaterias at every turn—it is the Italy of postcards!
A few final kilometers and we finish our day in the charming, bustling town of Lecco.
In the cobblestone piazza we find a "3 Mobile" store and Tyler goes inside, hoping maybe we can acquire pay-as-you-go internet for the time we are in Italy. I wait outside with the bikes, taking occasional breaks to do a little wandering, while Tyler stays inside to take care of business. When he finally comes out an hour later, he is ecstatic. He managed to get us pay-as-you-go "3" internet using our unlocked Mobility Pass dongle for only .90 euros an hour!
Feeling elated, in love with Italy, and happy to be "set" for the next couple of months, we leave in search of the campsite we know is just a few kilometers away. Twenty minutes later we roll into the Camping Rivabella on the shore of Lago di Lecco, a small lake just south of Lago di Como. Our pitch is right on the water, and we set up our things feeling really and truly like we are on a vacation. A dip in the lake as the sun sets, then lying on reclining chairs looking at the sparkling lights of the city across the moonlit lake, listening to the water lap against the shore… paradise!
For a late supper, I made us a meal worthy of being on a menu at a very good, very expensive restaurant. With the remaining spinach and ricotta mezzalunas (half-moon shaped stuffed pasta) cooked, I sauteed 5 cloves of garlic (Tyler minced them for me), along with slices of "speck" (seasoned, cured meat), salt, pepper, and a little olive oil. I tossed the warm pasta in the hot garlic sauce and dinner was served. The result was so insanely good that we could hardly believe what we were tasting. It was the best meal we've had in a very long time. There would have been enough for leftovers, but Tyler delighted in stuffing himself with three huge bowls. Life is good!