Friday, May 28, 2010

Nothing is Ever Easy

Nothing in my life is ever easy or goes as planned, to include a trip to Lake Como, Italy. In the days preceding the trip, volcanic ash threatened to cause delays. On the day we were scheduled to fly out, I checked Easyjet's website and to my relief all flights scheduled after 0900 were in the clear. The courier picked us up early and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. After we checked in, I got to work on critiquing my CP's pages. As the passengers corralled around the gate, waiting to board the plane, a young woman informed everyone that the crew failed to show up and our flight had been canceled. We were directed to pick up our luggage and to proceed to one of two stations to make other arrangements.

We divided in the hopes of cutting down our time standing around waiting. My husband went to retrieve the luggage and I dashed to one of the stations, claiming a spot near the front. As the line crawled forward, we noticed, thirty feet away, ten Easyjet employees sat at check-in desks, with no customers. Yet, management neglected to direct any of the free employees to assist the 150+ passengers standing in two lines. An Italian gentlemen in a cashmere canary yellow sweater stormed to the front of the herd and confronted a lurking manager. Although the gentlemen blasted the manager with a wave of his hand and in Italian, I knew we were of like minds. How do I know even though I don't speak Italian? He too pointed out the ten employees, sitting around, laughing, but not helping any of us. The manager was quick to defend his position, stating that the employees were scheduled to go home "soon". Thirty minutes later, the employees did in fact leave.

Once we made it to the front of the line, we were given two options: fly out from the current airport the next day at 1830 or fly from Gatwick (1 1/2hr away) the next day at 1300. We chose Gatwick. No bus transfers were offered and no apologies were given.

The bright side: more time to work on my CP's pages.

That night we gave thanks we have enough money to live a comfortable life and could afford an additional hotel. Many who were not so fortunate had to camp out in the airport.

The next day, we landed safely in Milan, rented a car and drove up the narrow roads along Lake Como to reach the Grand Hotel Serbelloni in Bellagio.

After a romantic stay in "la perla del Lago di Como", exploring the quaint streets, browsing the expensive shops, and indulging in culinary treats, we loaded the car and headed to our second destination. Although the Grand Hotel had old world class, we wanted to check out the new posh Five Star to grace that side of the lake, Casta Diva Resort. Modern, luxurious, and totally us.

What should have been a thirty minute drive, with a view to die for, turned into a 3 hour ordeal that tested our marriage. I have a small bladder so as an expert traveler I'm careful to moderate my liquid consumption. My dh had a large breakfast and wanted to leave before I had sustenance, as I subsist on coffee until about noon and while on vacation I throw in a croissant. I didn't mind since after a quick jaunt down the road, taking in the sites and snapping a few pictures, we'd be able to eat at the Resort. Did I mention I suffer from low blood sugar?

The GPS that dh brought from home was set, our quick course mapped, and fifteen minutes into the drive I assumed it was safe to sip on water. We made it to the highlighted point on the GPS, but there were no signs for the Resort and the street number we were looking for wasn't posted. Although we searched for Via Caronti, we were on Via Enrico Caronti and surmised we may have been on the wrong road. DH whipped out the iPhone and pulled up a different map. Once again, we drove up and down this narrow road without success, passing a construction crew that began to recognize us. One worker insisted on waving each time we drove by in humiliation.

We called the place, no answer. We stopped strangers and asked for directions. No one had heard of the Casta Diva, but they all directed us back down the same road. I suspected one young lady knew the place as she gave us directions, but we were at a loss to fully understand. We called again. Simona picked up and insisted we had the right address. She spoke with such certainty, we suspected we had lost our minds. Then she asked if we had an appointment. I explained we had a reservation. A communication hiccup followed due to my lack of Italian and her lack of English.

At this point, my dh was livid. I was desperate to go to the bathroom and on the brink of a blood sugar meltdown. The bright side: we didn't turn on each other. We were tempted, but instead we turned our outrage on the elusive Casta Diva. We spotted the police near the construction site and I begged my dh to ask them. In NY, cops can always point you in the right direction. The case was the same for us once in Germany, why not Italy?

My dh returned to the car, steaming! The location of the construction was the entrance to Casta Diva. As we pulled in, we were led to a clear space where we could park the car and wait for Simona. The construction manager apologized for the inconvenience as he didn't know we were coming. Simona arrived confused as to why we were there. DH threw a few wicked looks in my direction since I booked the place, but with a pat on my leg, he quickly redirected his frustration toward Simona.

After five phone calls and twenty minutes, Simona discerned that Expedia messed up. Apparently, they had three weeks of rain which delayed the completion of construction and Casta Diva had to back up their opening. Expedia was supposed to contact us, and we later found out that they did, but we were already in Italy. Simona apologized profusely, but she clearly didn't know where to go from there. She told us her GEM (general manager) was coming to fix the problem and to give us a tour. As we followed Simona down to the property, we both shook our heads. the last thing either of us wanted was a tour. I wanted to eat, hit the bathroom, and move on. DH wanted a refund, a better explanation, and then to move on.

I got out of the car and paced like a cage animal, wondering if they had any working toilets on site or if I had to crawl behind a bush, when Giancarlo swept in with a smile, flair, and Italian charm.

He regaled us with the tale of how Casta Diva came to be after eight years of toiling and payoffs to the mafia. He had to elbow his way in to the Five Star elite club that did not want the swanky and modern Resort encroaching on their business. The main building was an eighteenth century treasure that had to be renovated without stripping away the essence. We meandered past busy workers, taking in his vision, springing to life before us, complete with dramatic classical music in the background.

Giancarlo's description of the Bellini bar made me giddy, but the tour of the spa suites made me swoon. Each was designed after the elements and can be rented for 3 - 8 hours, where guests can relax, sipping on champagne in between treatments. I have never seen anything like it, and when it comes to spending a chunk of cash on pampering, I've seen a lot.

By the time he finished the tour, we had been booked in another hotel of our choice, and he offered two free nights at his Resort in a suite, of course. It wasn't until we were on our merry way, high from the experience or perhaps Giancarlo's spell, that I remembered I had to use the facilities and my hunger returned.

The next hotel was okay by comparison, but restaurants abounded in walking distance. At least it had a gym, and a spa, and I got a much needed deep tissue massage.

Our goal was relaxation, and we didn't want to feel like we had to hustle around and see a lot of attractions. I only had one must see thing on my list, the Villa Balbianello, where parts of Stars Wars II and Casino Royale were filmed. For those who don't know, I'm a film fanatic.

Although we had highs and lows, we achieved our goal to relax and soak in a place so divine it oozes magic.


  1. Isis, when we were in Germany in 1977 Jim's mom came over and we hopped on a train and rode to Bern, Switzerland spent the night being the unseasoned traveler and knowing nothing about where we were we walked around for a bit went back ate dinner and crawled in bed. We were exhausted and only wanted to sleep. The next day we decided to go to Italy we hoped another train for Stressa, again no clue where we were going or what to see. It was a beautiful lake there and we spent some time exploring wandering and then back to the guest house for dinner and bed. Our final leg took us to Innsbruck Austria. Again we had no clue what to see or do so we just kind of wandered around lol. Remember things were different then no passports for active duty all we needed were our ID cards. I had no way of researching where we were going that I knew of or what to see. But we had fun anyway. My mother came over in 1978, and she had an itinerary on what she planned to see and where to go. We drove to the places she told us to lol. It was fun and I enjoyed our 4 years there. Hawaii was the best though.

  2. Kathy, we still haven't been to Austria or Switzerland. I wanted to go to Austria for Christmas this year, but alas I'll be in Virginia.

  3. So funny, why is it that you are so lucky? Lisbon, the Palace and our huge, huge suite!!!

    It may not always start great but with you it always ends up great in one way or another!

    Great pics!

  4. Isis,

    I have never been on a trip that something doesn't happen and it's those things that make a trip memorable.

    I would love to have a deep tissue massage right now. Sounds marvelous.

  5. OMG, the minute you said Star Wars II I recognized it. The scenary is gorgeous. What a trip.

  6. Despite all the trials and tribulations, sounds like you had a great time. Love the pics! Looking forward to hearing how Scotland was. :)

  7. Beautiful, thank you for sharing. And I have no doubt the challenges of this journey will weave thier way into your future stories. :)

  8. my friend, I am combining comments from your Lake Como experience and your Novel Addiction post...First, you keep plotting and writing all you want!! Your writing is enchanting and I am so excited for you that you are realizing your dream and getting that story out on paper. We are on leave right now, but will be sure to get comments back to you.

    Skipping ahead - glad you finally got to enjoy Lake Como :) Let us know when you are going to the Casta Diva - it sounds perfect and I am always all about pampering (just make sure I am back in a wine-drinking way!)

    Say hi to your DH from us too!

  9. Wow! Great pics, Isis. I'd say all the mishaps were worth it--I mean, it's Italy! The closest I've been to a foreign country was when I was stationed on Adak...on a clear day we could see Russia. K

  10. Isis, the title is so true. Nothing is ever easy for me even when it should be easy. And this time it was all my fault! Anyway loved this blog and I have got to go there! Deb