It's a shimmering hot day, but there is cool blue water to look at as we ride along. We stop for lunch in a town called Mezzolago - the middle of the lake - and sit under parasols overlooking the water. I eat delicious pasta with sardines, then look down in the water to see a few enormous fish and hundreds of silver tiddlers blissfully unaware that I've been scarfing their brethren. (Apparently there was also a woman sunbathing topless, but I wasn't quick enough to catch this exciting spectacle.)
I leave Howard fixing John's video camera, which he's been lent for the afternoon, to the front of his bike while I go on ahead up the Passo Tonale. It's a beautiful ride - through woodland and past sunlit streams, on a narrow road with lush green grass to either side. Howard streaks past me in very short order and we pull over on a patch of gravel. The view is nothing but sloping green hills fading to blue with the distance, and the rolling ground is studded with violet gentians. Soberingly, there's also a pretty cross and offerings of flowers where two young motorcyclists met their deaths.
From here on, John and Sandie decide to take the more direct route while Howard and I pick one that's more wiggly but stays up high and avoids major towns. We go in and out of evergreen woods and refuel at the most eccentric petrol station I've ever seen: the kiosk is decorated with photos of Formula One drivers and German Shepherds, and a carved wooden tortoise sits smiling on the pump.
The last leg is motorway. We're late and hungry and the road goes through dozens of tunnels. I find Italian road tunnels terribly alarming - they're lit dimly if at all, making it impossible to see the usually poor surface, and drivers overtake in there despite unbroken white lines. We stop for a rest at a closed and deserted service area, and sit on the crash barriers surveying the lake below. It looks cool and inviting and I hope we get there soon.
As we descend to the level of the lake the sun disappears behind the mountains. There's still a fair stretch of dual carriageway and urban sprawl to traverse, and when we roll into Valmadrera it all seems depressingly industrial. We can't find the Hotel Bellavista - two signs on a roundabout point in different directions - and suspect the beautiful view promised by its name to be a lie.
Then we're there, last as usual, ushered into the underground garage by a welcoming proprietor and up to our room by his wife. The hotel is right on the lake and the vista is very bella indeed. I make a rather lame joke in Italian to the husband, and one in English to the wife which makes her really and truly say "Oh, signorina! Mamma mia!"
After dinner at the adjoining restaurant I potter down the hill, past the scary local youths, for real Italian ice cream at the gelateria. White yachts are bobbing on the water and the lights of the towns around the lake are reflected in the waves. Tiny headlights weave around the opposite bank, the night air so calm you can hear the engines. We go to bed with the window open and fall asleep to the sound of ducks and gulls.
And tomorrow we will be back in Switzerland. So far in Italian I have:
- Rung down to reception and requested two extra pillows
- Ordered a round of drinks consisting of one beer, one glass of white wine, one Limoncello and one hot chocolate
- Asked to refill my water bottle with tap water at a bar
That twelve week evening course at Bromley College was money well spent!
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