Lois and I are sitting in our second story flat in Lezzeno, Italy, watching and listening to Lake Como, one of Italy’s most gorgeous and famous bodies of water. From where we sit, it feels as though water is lapping around and under the house. We are so close to the lake that we could dive in from our living room window.
Lake Como is in northern Italy at the base of the Alps. It was gouged out by ice-age glaciers and is the deepest lake in all of Europe.
Villages cluster here and there along the shores of the lake. On the opposite shore from us lies Colonno, not far north of the villa of George Clooney, Lake Como’s most famous celebrity.
The town we are staying in is Lezzeno:
Ten kilometers to the north is Bellagio, considered by some to be the most beautiful town in all of Italy.
We dine on an outdoor terrace overlooking the lake, and we can see the lights of lakeside villages like Varenna and Bellano through the bedroom window before we doze off at night listening to the waves of the lake.
Sometimes it just seems unfair that I get to do this. In the past I’ve felt roughly deserving of the sorts of vacations in which one spends three or four weeks in paradise in order to recharge before coming down to earth. This is different. This is nonstop paradise.
Between the present moment and the time of my final post on Ireland, a month has passed during which we’ve lived in some of the most stunning places along the eastern Adriatic, all in what had until recently been Yugoslavia. So I need to backtrack a bit.
Within a few hours of our departure from Ireland on the first of July, we found ourselves living 10 kilometers north of Dubrovnik in a tiny Croatian bayside village named Zaton Mali.
Although we couldn’t quite dive into the turquoise Adriatic from our house, the sea was as close to our front door as the pitcher’s mound is from home plate.
We swam in it every day;
We discovered (and nearly rendered ourselves senseless on) a rope swing in a hidden cove.
we snorkeled; we kayaked;
we discovered hidden beaches and lay about on the shore.
With our friends, John and Shaun we ferried to lovely nearby islands, like Miljet.
In Mljet we also learned about naturism.
Accompanied by John and Shaun we travelled north and spent two days hiking in a Croatian national park that seems so impossibly breathtaking that many have called it the most beautiful place on earth – Plitvice Jazera.
We learned all about what caused these sixteen lakes to spill into each other in such spectacular falls and why the water in the lakes was so turquoise. It’s because of magic.
In Plitvice the water is simply irrepressible.
And before our trip to Plitvicke the four of us had taken a drive across Croatia’s southern border to Montenegro, a country so newly hatched from what was once Yugoslavia that I hadn’t realized it was an independent nation. One half hour south of Croatia along the coast of Montenegro we’d rounded a bend in the road and had to stop the car because the driver was no longer capable of keeping his eyes on the road. He was distracted by this:
And also by this
Montenegro is generally regarded to be a Second World country. We ate lunch at Catovica Mlina in Morinj. ….
Maybe we should all strive to be second world countries.
From Morinj we drove farther around the bay to the tiny World Heritage town of Perast.
We swam in the Bay of Kotor;
we had drinks at the beachside “Pirate Bar”;
we strolled through the charming town;
and we had a very difficult time finding the motivation to leave the place. Perast is located near an extremely narrow strait at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor. For a good part of its history Perast was part of the Venetian empire due to its strategic location as a town whose cannons could easily pick off any ship entering the bay. As a result, this town of no more than a few hundred people is packed with historic Venetian palaces, each with a glorious view of the Bay of Kotor.
One of the advantages of being footloose is flexibility. We shifted our plans, and within less than a week Lois and I were living in one of those palaces in Perast. Naturally it was but a stone’s throw from the mountain-rimmed Bay of Kotor.
Sometimes the view got obstructed, though.
Since it’s the second world, they make you eat outside….in places like this:
The night before dropping Shaun and John off at the Dubrovnik airport, Lois and I had stayed in a small hotel that looked down on the nearby town of Cavtat and its lovely bay.
We had a parting dinner at the edge of the harbor in Cavtat with Shaun and John. Between courses I tried to get a photo of the bay, but something went wrong with this one; I think the sun must have been going down.
I must confess that by this point I’d begun to wonder whether such constant megadoses of beauty might be harmful. Maybe one more stunning vista would render me blithering and catatonic, forcing Lois to take me for a spin through Fresno for an aesthetic detox. So I wasn’t at all sure whether I’d be able to handle things a week later, when it was time for us to depart for our next gorgeous ex-Yugoslavian destination – Slovenia. Readers who have a better memory than I may recall my description of a conversation in an Irish pub with two German photojournalists who considered the Slovenian Alps to be the most beautiful place they’d ever seen. By this point in our travels I was fairly sure that I’d seen the most beautiful place on earth in at least half a dozen different locations and that one more might send me off of the proverbial (aesthetic) deep end……. but I’m retired. After 46 years of work I’ve earned the right to an episode or two of insanity in my dotage. We decided to spend a full week in Slovenia. We flew from Montenegro to Ljubliana and then drove northeast toward the corner of Slovenia that borders Austria and Italy. This is where we stayed:
Warning: The mountains in the photo are actually much closer than they appear.
And this is what the neighborhood looks like.
We took a drive into the high country.
We had a picnic here:
We drove through the Soce River Valley. Lois and I went rafting just downstream from this spot:
Apparently someone had dumped a truckload of turquoise crayons into the river.
Can anyone recommend a reputable aesthetic sanitorium? Slovenia has one for the suicidal only 10 minutes down the road from our hotel – the longest ski jump in the world. One raving lunatic flew 750 freaking feet through the air off of this one, a world record.
Note: most of what you see here is just the landing area of the ski jump.
Among my favorite Sara Teasdale poems is one called ‘Barter’. In it she says, “Spend all you have for loveliness.” I’ve suspected that readers may be getting the wrong idea about how much Lois and I have been spending for all of this loveliness. Keep in mind, however, that the person who arranges virtually all of our travel and all of our stays in apartments, B&B’s, palaces and castles is Lois. She shops at Cascine Market in Florence; she is able to purchase an entire summer wardrobe for the price of a tank of gas. What we have been paying for living in paradise is less than what we pay for housing in Sonoma County. When this became clear to us a couple of months ago, it dawned on me that it would (theoretically) be possible for us to do this in perpetuity. We could spend our entire lives seeing one ‘most beautiful place in the world’ after another…..and never come close to experiencing all of the beauty this world offers.
Sara Teasdale actually has quite a bit more to say about loveliness than I’ve described; here’s her poem in its entirety:
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.