Day 199: BellinzonaSeptember 1, 2017 in Switzerland
Had our first hotel breakfast in ages this morning, as it was being offered for 3 euros/head - an absolute bargain! Lots of great food, and excellent value for money. You can really tell we're not in Switzerland any more! Checked out and walked down the street to pick up our hire car during a heavy rainstorm, got a bit soaked but oh well.
Headed north out of Como and almost immediately crossed back into Switzerland, heading for our destination for the day - Bellinzona. This is a small Swiss city that sits across an historically important trading route through the Alps. It's UNESCO world heritage listed because there's three castles and a large wall going essentially across the entire valley, blocking the way.
The locals in this area basically couldn't grow crops or raise livestock, and there aren't any natural resources either - so they built a few tollbooth castles and a big wall, and charged money for people to move through! Fairly ingenious idea I think!
We started at the newest castle, high up on the hill. Parked the car and had a look around, with great views across the valley. This one had been fixed up quite a lot, and now featured an exhibition about the pass and its importance to the area. It also focused on the roads and rail routes, all of which we'd bypassed yesterday while submerged in the train tunnel!
Back to the car where we drove down to the second castle, the largest and most impressive though still not the oldest. Had a good look around here as there was quite a bit to see, and plenty of the old wall remaining as well. Thankfully the weather was gradually clearing so we even got some sun!
Decided to leave the car at this one and walk down to the third castle just on the other side of town - it looked like a pain in the neck to park down there, and we decided to risk bringing Schnitzel with us (though realistically it was too hot for him in the car).
Quite a steep walk down, and we stopped partway at the supermarket to grab some sandwiches. It's a very strange town - everyone speaks and acts Italian, though you're still in Switzerland and paying Swiss prices for things.
The third castle, despite being the oldest, was actually slightly uninteresting. Most of the buildings had been remodelled or updated and didn't feel particularly old, though the towers still extant on the walls were cool and afforded good views of the town. By now it had clouded over again and a thunderstorm felt imminent, so we headed back down into the town and holed up at a cafe.
We waited for close to an hour but the thunderstorm never materialised, and neither really did the rain! Lucky us. Long walk back up the hill to the car, but we made it eventually. Although the trip here had only taken us 70 minutes from Como, Google was now saying the drive to our new Airbnb was about 2 hours 20 minutes - lots of traffic! Apparently Friday nights heading from Switzerland to Italy are notoriously bad for traffic, information that would've been useful a bit earlier!
So our poor Airbnb host had to wait ages for us, though we kept her updated on progress, eventually arriving just after 7. We're in the little village of Pognana Lario, about 20 minutes drive north of Como - directly across the lake from George Clooney's house, we'd later discover. Although it's a nice place, quite large and with excellent views, it's over a hundred steps up from the road, quite steep, and very exhausting. The neighbours' dogs are also very enthusiastic about barking at you, and of course Schnitzel is just as enthusiastic about defending himself and his family.
Finally made it up and settled in, before we realised we had no food! Which meant we had to tackle the stairs all the way back down to the road where there was a pizzeria. Tasty food, and we were able to sit at the balcony doors watching a storm roll across the lake. Only hiccup was that they didn't take card and we didn't have cash! So off to the kitchen for us - not really, they said we could come back tomorrow which was fantastic news.
Trudged up the hill again for an exhausting 10 minutes, but survived. Thunderstorm threatened again but never quite made it over to us.Read more