Backpack Rant!!!

 

Back you soul sucking animal!

Back – no, no, don’t – not another fall.  

Splat – ouch damn it.

Why can’t you leave me alone?  What the heck have I done to you?

IMG_2846

Backpacks –  brrrrrr.  The word gives me chills.  Backpacks hate me.  Collectively they have decided to bite me, push me, smack me, trip me and generally aggravate the hell out of me.  I live in Italy 6 months a year and the backpack gang has made life hell.  Unadulterated HELL!

The first time one the X%#&%@%$% attacked me was about ten years ago.  The sun was shining, my husband Jack and I were exploring Lago Como and decided to have a cappuccino.

What?  Of  course it was before 10:00 AM.  What do you think we are ugly Americans?

Speaking of ugly —– A group of obviously New York region tourists – I’m from the New York Region so I can talk nasty but watch it if you’re not from the USA – you can’t.  Anyway, these folks  were sitting around a table in front of a small  bar on a smaller piazza.  Clad in shorts, sneakers and baseball caps —  Yoo hoo – except for a nine year old have you ever seen an Italian dressed that way?  Mai!  Never!

Anyway, back to the backpacks.   Their backpacks – unbeknownst to me – were casually sitting behind their chairs, leering out of their little grommet eyes and gurrrrring.

While concentrating on carrying a cappuccino from inside the bar to a table, a backpack lunged at me.  I swear the thing lashed out and bit my ankle – well maybe it was the carabiner pin thingy  that nabbed me.  Rats that hurt – do I see blood.  No, but I do see the arrogant nasal sounding cretins who own the backpacks pulling bottled water and snacks out of the vile things to eat at the bar’s table.  PEOPLE YOU WOULDN’T EVEN THINK OF BRINGING YOUR OWN FOOD TO DISGUSTING MC DONALD’S!  Bars in Italy – as we did in Asbury Park, NJ – pay a fee to the town to be able to put tables outside.  Buy Something!

That did it – it wasn’t my fault. It was them  – really – I just had to say “Gee, I’m so sorry the market treated you guys so badly and now you’re homeless – living out of your backpacks. So sad.”

Then I smiled, sat at a table and sipped my paid for cappuccino. The backpacks growled.  Jack put his head on the table and sighed.  They weren’t kids they were folks like me – well over 50.

It was after my smart ass comment that the backpacks of the world started tormenting me.  They haunted me, followed me, tripped me and – have I mentioned –  freakin’ annoyed me.

There I was, riding the Metropolitana in Milan minding my own business when bang, smash ouch – what the X%$# – hit me in the back. I quickly turned to see a well dressed white haired woman porting a giant back back chatting with a pal – also bent over under the weight of a snarling tapestry covered evil beast.  Forgetting she had a hump on her back the idiot had swung around to chat knocking the wind out of me. “Excuse me – do you know you’re carrying a back cracking weapon on your back?”  She gave me one of those southern drawls and ignored me.

It was a lovely day in Siena – a few days before the Palio.  Jack and I were eating lunch at a lovely restaurant when a large family appeared – each and everyone had a backpack.  Maybe they were gypsies?  Nah! Starting with – DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? – and ending with sending their kids to another restaurant to buy gelato to eat at this restaurant’s table – I realized they were as inconsiderate as one could be.  Oh the backpacks – tossed on the ground so that every waiter had to leap over them to carry food to other tables.  Jack stared at me and then put his nails in my leg – he knew I was about to explode.  What could I say that would have an impact.  Nothing.  When you are an ugly traveller you are an ugly traveller.

Instead, I called over the headwaiter and apologized on behalf of my country, explaining that we were not all “Cafone, maleducato, volgare” – mannerless creeps.   Oh, yeah even though in Italy one rarely tips – I did mention to this family that they should tip heavily because that was de riguer during Palio season in Siena.  Ooops a wee and I hope cost ’em big fib.

Backpack Montage

Bellagio photos shot within a 5 minute period.

Bella Bellagio is besieged by tourists of all nationalities but it seems only the ones that speak English and maybe German carry backpacks.  Gaggles of them.  The charming village has narrow streets that wind up hill – both sides with shops designed to tempt the tourist.  That means the tourists are quickly stopping, turning to face the windows  and smacking me in the face.  Their backpacks that is smacked me in the face, head, shoulder etc.  I’m thinking you came to town on a tourist bus – are you carrying the crown jewels? Leave your stuff on the bus.

I asked a very civilized and loving pal of mine who carries a backpack one question – Why?  For my water in case I get thirsty – every little village in Italy has a bar and a fountain –  water is accessible.  For my binoculars when I’m birding – I’m talking in Manhattan – not the woods.  Oh, well they stay in my backpack.  Then there is a sweater if I get cold, books if I get bored and the list went on.

I thought about the list and had only one comment –

When you are in Europe do you want to explore a new culture, resonate with the customs or wear a sign that says I’m An American – Bite Me?

Beware.  I am from New Jersey and I might bite you before your backpack bites me!

Bellagio

IMG_2826

Everybody knows that the casino called Bellagio in Las Vegas was named after the fabulous little peninsula city in Lake Como. You knew that right?  Admission – I don’t think I knew that!  Boy did I feel stupid!!  Now, I knew that George Clooney  hung out in a place called Bellagio on Lago Como I just never put George Clooney, Lago Como and Italy’s Bellagio together with roulette and blackjack. Duh!

Our incredible Milanese landlord, Claudia Puglisi Allegra, picked us up at the end of the M1 Metropolitana line and packed us off to Bellagio.  The mountains surrounding Milan were absolutely lush and green. The ride and the view were travelogue material.  It seemed like only moments of breathtaking views before we were off the highway and following a long and winding road that hugged the lake.  Now,  I have a real aversion to curvy, narrow, guard rail-less roads that Italian drivers race along.  Copycat Jack races along the horrific mountain trails, while I look out the window at impending death by impalement in rocky valleys.  Claudia was a smart and cautious driver. Also driving on this curvy narrow road if you careened off the edge you hit water.  Therefore, my knuckles weren’t too white and I could enjoy the scenery.  It was gorgeous! Not just gorgeous – breathtaking.

I may have broken the bucolic mood by talking politics – but hey there are things I want to know.  For instance, why, I asked, don’t  I see one ugly faux power generating windmill on these pristine hills – you may have read my earlier blogs about the proliferation of windmills destroying vistas in the south.  (http://wp.me/p3rc2m-pp)

Jack rolled his eyes. Claudia looked at me like how could I not know the answer to that question and explained “this is the north – the government is not like the government of the south.”  That might have meant  – our government ain’t gonna let windmills ruin our tourist loving views.   We also talked about the crisi and the fact that jobs exist in the north but not the south – again different regional governments.  The north has industry and the south doesn’t.

Political conversation be gone!  We enjoyed looking at the lake and interesting houses along the road.  We parked in Bellagio at I Giardini Di Villa Melzi and met Claudia’s friend Aurelia Gallarati  Scotti.  She was a wealth of information about the gardens – including a note about how even the numerous fire places can’t sufficiently heat the villa and it is freezing.  The villa was designed by architect, Giocondo Albertolli and built between 1808 and 1810. Napoleon’s pal, Francesco Melzi D’Eril was the first owner.  He also happened to be the Vice-president of Napoleon’s  Italian Republic.

Bellagio Giardini Melzi

The lush park-like grounds are open to the public and worth visiting.  There is a small fee – but to walk back in time, stroll along the lake and take in the sculptures is absolutely worth the fee.  During our stroll, Aurelia pointed out interesting architectural details and answered all my questions.  There are an Asian inspired water-garden and interesting little buildings. The villa itself is still privately owned – boy to be a fly on the wall there.  Some of the guests included Franz Lizst and of course oodles of politicians. We thank Aurelia for introducing us to the garden and its history.   Next time we will bring a book, find a bench, read, stare at the lake and imagine life in the 1800s.

Jack and I went off on our own to explore the village of Bellagio. Groups of tourists were milling about the narrow streets peering in the windows.  Actually, the place was packed with tourists.  Cripes – watch what your bloody backpack smacks – its me. We climbed – yes it is a climb up the streets – and peered in expensive shop windows.  

IMG_2828

The place is beautiful to look at but reminded me of any of a number of places around the world that have lost the local charm of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker to shops that sell expensive touristy stuff.

But where did we eat?  You knew that we foodies would sniff out great food.  We literally fell into the Hotel Suisse – it is a hotel with a bar and restaurant.  I didn’t want to sit outside and be trampled by tourists so we sat inside the nicely appointed space and stared at the herds through the windows.  The food was exquisite and beautifully prepared.

Bellagio Hotel Suisse

Jack ordered Burrata Cheese nestled in a gazpacho and accented with a few anchovy.  We were introduced to Burrata Cheese at one of Milan’s Pugliese Restaurants – Mamma Lina.  Neither of us had ever had anything like it. Looking like mozzarella, Burrata has a thin shell of mozzarella on the outside and a buttery creamy soft interior.  It is a Pugliese staple.  Think mozzarella infused with cream.  My appetizer of scallops perched on weird looking funghi and garnished with asparagus was yummy.  Jack’s baccala was a work of art.  The poached fish sat on a perfect circle of polenta surrounded with miniature veggies. I normally don’t order beef and am glad I did – it was one of the best fillets I have ever had.  The bill was presented covered by a cute little brass dome.  The scrumptious fare, including wine and caffè cost us €101 – hey it is a tourist town.  We were taken aback by the note that was included with the bill – “if you pay electronically please note on this how much your tip will be.”  This is Italy – my family and friends insist that tipping is not necessary.  We seldom leave more than change and then folks often look at us like we are insane – most often in the south we don’t tip at all.

We then strolled to the pier and hopped the traghetto between Bellagio and Varenna.  The short but wonderful ferry ride across the lake cost us €9.20 for two tickets.  Next leg of the journey was a train ride between Varenna and Milano – those tickets were €6.70 each.  It was great to cruise along and watch the scenery change as we headed out of the country and into the city.  Thank you Claudia for a wonderful day!