Tag Archives: Ispra

Surprises with Google Maps


Ispra’s town square from Google Maps

If you’ve never tried it, looking at the street view on Google maps is loads of fun. I’ve used it, of course, to check out my own home but also to look at potential hotels and other places to visit. The fun thing about it is that sometimes you can see cars, people, and animals that are familiar to you – they just happened to be around when the google car drove by mapping out the street.


A few days ago, I decided to “Google walk” down the streets of my parents’ home town in Ispra, on Lago Maggiore. I know the town pretty well so it was fun seeing all the old places that are so familiar to me. While I was “walking” in front of my aunt’s home, I noticed a car with two women standing outside. One of those women was my aunt and it brought such a smile to my face. You see, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago, and seeing her once more was such a blessing. She was always a really fun loving woman, full of life. The expression on her face as the funny-looking google car was driving down her street taking pictures was absolutely priceless! Her and her friend were looking at it like it was “una bestia rara” – a rare beast! (I love that expression – it’s so fitting!).

Try it sometime, you’ll love it! Especially when you discover little gems like I did! What a special treat!

My Italian Hometown of Ispra


A few years ago, I wrote some posts about my time in Ispra – the town on Lago Maggiore that my parents hail from…and that is very close to my heart! I feel at home there whenever I visit – as if it’s in my soul. Here is a gorgeous pictorial of this beautiful little town on the Eastern shores of Lago Maggiore.

Ispra is affectionately nicknamed “La Perla del Lago Maggiore” – the pearl of Lago Maggiore – because it is one of the most beautiful villages along the lake. The afternoon sun shines on it and it’s gorgeous shoreline. It is about 70 km from Milan along the shores of Lago Maggiore and it sits between two rocky hills that slope gently towards the lake – Monte dei Nassi and Monte del Prete. The views of the nearby mountains is stunning, and on sunny clear days you can see the majestic Monte Rosa – an Alpine peak always covered in snow which glows pink when the sun shines on it.

Ispra’s history is impressive, being first inhabited in prehistoric times and then as a settlement of the Celtic Insubri. The Insubri were a civilization made up of Ligurian, Celtic, Etruscan and Gaulish tribes. They were the original founders of Milan in the 2nd century BC. These people lived by fishing and agriculture and were later colonized by the Romans followed by the Lombards and Franks during the Medieval Era. The Renaissance brought the noble and powerful Visconti and Torriani families from Milan who fought each other for domain over Ispra. It remained under Milanese rule until the Borromeo family (of Isola Bella fame) took it over. For a short while, it fell into decline with a brief occupation by French and Spanish troops, but rose once more to aristocratic status during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. During this time, the current port was built and used as an important base for the transportation of goods through the Swiss border. Several riots by local patriots against the Hapsburgs took place here and finally Ispra joined Garibaldi and the troops of the Savoys, the future kings of Italy, to overthrow the Hapsburgs. Many artifacts have been discovered, including engraved stones, jars, amphora, Roman tombs, an ancient canoe and a parchment dating back to the 8th century – all these evidence of Ispra’s occupation during history.

Ispra’s center, dominated by the beautiful church of San Martino, was inhabited by aristocrats for many years – thus resulting in some impressive mansions throughout the town. My parents told me stories of sneaking into the grounds of these villas as children to climb the fruit trees 🙂 Some of the aristocratic families were still living there then and the entire town knew about them, even though they didn’t associate with the common folk! My mom says she remembers a special “box” near the choir loft in the church that was reserved only for them. The beautiful church, San Martino, has frescoes dating back to the 17th century! My parents were married in this gorgeous church over 50 years ago! In more recent times, I took refuge in this church during a huge summer thunderstorm 🙂

Ispra, La Perla del Lago Maggiore, never disappoints me and I look forward to my visits with anticipation!

Coming Into the Home Stretch


Returning to Ispra after my galavanting around Milan and Como, I found new areas to explore. After visiting some friends that lived on the north end of town, I realized that I didn’t know that area at all! So one day, after lunch (and leaving my mom with her sister), I set out. First destination was the lake. But instead of heading South as I always do, I headed North. Now I had been to the edge of the north beach before, and had even looked at one time about continuing in that direction, but had been intimidated by the lack of a path and the many granite boulders hugging the lake’s edge. But this time, since I knew that there was a path there somewhere, I braved the unknown. To my surprise (and relief), a path eventually appeared…and it was gorgeous! It reminded me of the Via del Amore in the Cinque Terre!!! Who needs to go all the way to Liguria when this exists here!

Winding along the lake’s edge, it was a beautiful and peaceful stroll. I was alone on this stretch of granite pavingstones with only the lake’s gentle waves lapping against the boulders. At one time, this area had been where the limestone mines were. When my parents were young, many of their parents worked there. My mom told me that when she was a little girl, her and her friends would ditch preschool in order to sneak down to this part of the lake to play! A bell would sound when they were about to blast, and the kids would take cover in some caves in case of falling rocks! Can you imagine the adventures they must have had? Today this area is filled with some gorgeous villas that even have water garages for their boats! When I reached the end of the path, I took a LONG winding staircase back up to the road.

From here I had to trek up to the top of the hill before heading down back into town. I passed some gorgeous properties – some new, but also some old stately villas!

The walk was strenuous but so rewarding!

Upon entering back into town, I passed a real estate office. In their window were pictures of properties for sale in and around Ispra. It’s always been my dream to own a little part of this little paradise! So I picked up their little property guide and started dreaming. Heading back to my internet connection, I began to do some research. To my surprise and excitement, I found an apartment in the center of town in the same complex as my mom’s friend. We had just been over for dinner the night before, so I was familiar with the building. We called him and he knew all about the place for sale….he even had the keys! What a thrill! The apartment sits on the third and final floor, and it has two bedrooms, one bath, two balconies, a kitchen, a large living room/dining room, a storage closet….and down in the basement a cantina! It is sunny and bright (the apartment, not the cantina!!! Haha) It is large and spacious! AND the price was great! But, with all this excitement comes the harsh reality of what buying a property in Italy really entails. Do I really know anything about renovating? What about finding reputable contractors? Yes, the apartment did need work….a new kitchen and bathroom would be great….new floors….removal of wallpaper and painting….some new windows….all the things I would need to make it mine! But the possibilities were clear. I had the picture of the renovated apartment that our friend had, and I knew that with some patience and some money, it would turn out beautifully!!!! So….I’m still dreaming and perhaps my dream will come true!

Sadly, our time in Italy has come to an end. We are on our LONG flight back to San Francisco. I have come back with treasured memories of my home away from home…and I have experienced life as it was here through my mom’s eyes. So much of who I am comes from this tiny little gem.

Ispra – La perla del Lago Maggiore
Ispra- The pearl of Lago Maggiore

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Discovering Some Family Treasures


After falling back to sleep around 4:30 am, we slept until about 9. By the time we made it down to the “bar” for breakfast, they were almost out of goodies! Luckily, they still had my absolute favorite – a marmelade filled croissant. The pastries and the coffee here are uniquely good – there is no comparison to anything I have had anywhere else.

After breakfast, we crossed the street from our hotel to head to the bank for some currency exchange. On the way, we passed Il Nazionale, the establishment that my grandparents had during the War. It was a bar and restaurant, with a few rooms to rent upstairs. My dad grew up here, and I have a picture of him as a little boy standing on this same balcony.

The house is now owned by an old friend of my father’s…and while we were strolling in front of it and stopping to take pictures, he saw us and invited us in!!! What a treat it was! I was able to see furniture, light fixtures, floors, and other things that were in the house when my Dad lived in it.

He was telling us that they want to redo the house, and they are planning on THROWING AWAY some of these pieces of furniture! Can you believe that they are just going to toss them? I am determined to see what I can do about saving them! Hopefully, I can figure out a way to send them safely across the seas to find a new home in California!

After living some of my father’s family history, we strolled towards the home that my mom grew up in. Her family home is located in the historic center of town, and as a historic building, the exteriors cannot be altered. Therefore, the outside of her home looks just like it has for hundreds of years….but evidently, the interiors have all been modernized.

Unfortunately, I was not able to see the insides. The small cobblestone alleyway was the path my mom took on her wedding day that led to the Church.

Visiting some old family friends, I enjoyed listening to stories of the “old days”! They were reliving their youth, and saying that even though they were poor, they enjoyed life! Perhaps it is just the story of the elderly, but they all looked upon their youth with such good memories.

Before being whisked off to dinner with another cousin, we took a walk down to the “lungolago” – the beautiful lakefront promenade. We sat on a bench, happy to take in the gorgeous panorama in front of our eyes!

Dinner tonight was at a town festival in an adjacent town, Sesto Calende, where my cousin lives. They were celebrating the feast of the “oratorio” – a sort of boys and girls club run by the town priests. My cousin used to hang out here as a boy, and now his son does. Rows and rows of tables were set up under some tents, and volunteer cooks made the meals. We had a choice of spaghetti with clams, codfish with onions, polenta with ragu sauce, tripe, or polenta with gorgonzola cheese! It was all delicious (except I didn’t try the tripe – a little too adventurous for me). And of course, a little bit of wine! Even though they were cooking for hoards of people, the food was prepared with such care and it was phenomenal. And the 5 Euro fee was a steal!

Time for bed now….we shall see what tomorrow brings us!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


It’s Great to be Back!


Yesterday, my mom and I left SFO for a two week trip back to my mom’s hometown of Ispra, along the beautiful shores of Lago Maggiore. The purpose for this trip was to bring my mom back so that she can celebrate a giant birthday party for all the 80 year olds in her home town! She is the Class of 1931…not high school class of 1931….but birth-year class of 1931. In Italy, that is how you identify yourself….sono della classe del … (I am from the class of….) Many of her coscritti (fellow 1931-ers) will be here; many of whom she hasn’t seen in more than 50 years!

We had a non-stop flight to Zurich on Swiss Air, a quick one hour layover, and then a hop-skip-and a jump over the Alps into Milan! The flight was incredibly timely and perfect…thanks to the Swiss for their precision!!!

Upon arrival in Milan, beautiful familiar faces greated us as we walked out of the “holding cell”. Of course, we walked through the “nothing to declare” line…they are really trustworthy here in Italy. They leave it totally up to you whether you want to declare your goods or not…gee, I wonder how many customers they actually get in the “something to declare” line!!! Guess they save on customs personnel that way! Ha!ha!

Being with my Italian family immediately brings me back to my childhood…I relinquish all responsibility and fall into their supportive arms! It’s wonderful! My cousin and his wife brought us to their home for some homemade tortellini in broth…a light dinner because they knew that after a long flight, we needed to have a light meal. It was perfect, and delicious! The tortellini were gorgeous, with a filling of sausage, meat, and prosciutto. The broth was made with the highest quality beef bones, and extremely light! Sorry, I didn’t take the time to take any pictures before I gobbled it down!

After dinner and some catch-up chatting, we came to our home away from home…The B & B al Lago near Ispra’s historic center. We wanted a place in town, as we are not renting a car and needed to be within an 80 year old’s walking distance range! This is a tiny place with only 3 rooms…but the rooms are spacious, clean, and modern! We even have air-conditioning! The only funky thing, and hopefully not too big of a drawback, is the crazy shower! It is in the corner of the bathroom, with a very modern shower head….BUT NO DOORS OR CURTAINS! There is a drain on the floor, a little tle lip encompassing the “shower area” , but without any doors or curtains, I’m not exactly sure how the rest of the bathroom won’t get wet when the water splashes off your body! I haven’t tried it out yet…perhaps there is some miracle of Italian engineering that will lay all my fears to rest!

I am writing this blog post at 3 am…darn time change! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow (or today, actually…I am so confused!) brings! I am so excited to experience everyday life in “my” hometown.

Summertime Reminiscing


Summertime, as a child, is a magical time filled with lazy days doing fun things!  I look back fondly on those days, before the responsibilities of adulthood set in, and sometimes something will trigger my memory and bring me back to those days.  My fondest summer memories are those spent in Italy with my family.  At the time, I probably didn’t want to go – I didn’t want to leave all my friends behind – but now, those are the summers that stand out in my memory!  We stayed at my aunt’s house in Ispra on the shores of Lago Maggiore.  I can still remember the smells of those summer days.  They say that smell is one of the strongest memories, and I have to agree because there was a special smell that I only remember from those summers in Italy.  Whenever I think about it, it makes me so happy and peaceful.  Perhaps it was the smell of the country (growing up in San Francisco, country smells weren’t really ever present), but it was fresh and so pleasant.  It seemed like every part of the day had a different smell – the mornings were fresh and pure, the afternoons were hot and you could smell the sun’s heat warming up the earth, and the evenings and nights almost had a perfume about them.  I can remember sitting at my aunt’s table, with the veranda open to the air, and listening to the sounds of the neighbors talking, the roosters crowing, and the insects buzzing.   My days were filled with lots of lazy, but also lots of fun.  I do remember getting frustrated that the adults all took 2 hour naps after lunch when all I wanted to do was something!  So, one summer, my aunt got me a kitten to entertain me.  Oh how I loved that kitten, and we played all sorts of games!  That poor kitten probably just wanted to rest as well during the heat of the full afternoon sun, but I didn’t let it!  No mind, it didn’t complain too much 🙂

Most afternoons were spent at the lake swimming in the cool waters of Lago Maggiore.  Of course, we had to wait the obligatory hour after eating before venturing out into the water, but because the days were so long, we spent many hours at the shore.  And then came the best part….every day after swimming and cleaning up, we would visit the local bar where my parents would enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, and I would get my favorite afternoon snack – a limonata and a “panino” filled with “prosciutto cotto” and cheese!  Yum…I can still taste the goodness of the bread and the sweetness of the prosciutto!  It was like being in heaven.  Why is it that the memories of food eaten as a child are always so strong?

The evenings were always spent with my grandmother in her very cool apartment.  She would have kept the windows and shades closed during the day to keep out the heat, and so her place was always cool and refreshing.  The cold marble on the floors also helped!  She would cook us a meal every night and we would spend several hours with her.  Sometimes I would even spend the days with her when my parents wanted to visit their friends.  She taught me how to embroider and crochet, and I enjoyed that time spent with her. 

I walked so much when I went to Italy.  We used to take the paths through the “pratti” or fields to get from my aunt’s house to the town center or to the lake – these were my favorite outings.  When I went back there 4 years ago, after not having been there for almost 30 years, I took my family for the same walks.  I was happy to find that I could remember them so easily and that they were mostly still all there! 

Spending time with my Italian cousins was also always a treat.  They treated me like a princess and it felt so good – even when I was in my awkward teenage stage, they still didn’t seem to notice and we had lots of adventures together.  My favorite one had to do with a giant thunderstorm my cousin and I got caught in.  Thunderstorms in that part of Italy are wild – the sky turns black and the water comes down in buckets!  Well, my cousin was visiting and we had decided to take a walk through the “pratti” to the lake.  This was our little adventure every time we were together.  This particular day, our parents told us to be careful because there was a storm coming.  Being young, we ignored their warnings and took off.  Well, as soon as we arrived into the town, the skies opened up and it began raining in torrents!  We had no where else to take refuge but inside the church.  Laughing and drenched, we waited it out under the porticos of the church.  A little while later, a car drove up and pulled up slowly outside the church – we saw our fathers in the car!  They had come to rescue us!  We got a bit of a lecture, but we didn’t care because it had been fun! 

I want to relive those lazy days in Italy – it seems like every time I visit now, I am always be bopping around and don’t have to just relax and take in the smells and the sounds of the summertime.  But I do get little pieces of it here and there, and it brings me back to those happy childhood days.