Friday, September 5, 2008

Borromean Islands -- Sept. 5, Day 3

Scott Keneda 91T and I are the Emory co-hosts for Italy's Magnificent Lake District, but we're not the leaders. Our travel director has been leading tours of Italy for seven years and while the job sounds exotic, it's a lot of hard work. The day we arrived she said arrivederci to a previous trip. The day we leave, she says boun giorno to a new group of travelers. The season runs though November and after it's over maybe she can take a vacation herself.

Valentina didn't start out in travel. In fact, the native of Milan has a master's degree in Spanish literature. Her first job was in advertising, but she quickly soured on it. She didn't like spending eight hours a day in an office doing work that frequently wasn't rewarding. "I got ... claustrophobic," she said to me.

Everyone I've met in Italy, save one very serious security guard in the Milan airport, speaks at least a little English. Many Italians, like Valentina, are fluent (and can easlity wield English words like "claustrophobic"). And the Italian communications technique as romanticized in American movies (with lots of "ahs" attached to the end of words and hand motions going in every which way) are basically true. (Something Valentina completely acknowledges ... she has a nice sense of humor about her country.)

After leaving her ad job, Valentina, who stands about 5 feet, 2 inches and weighs maybe 100 pounds with a hairstyle that is tied up in a different way each day, entered the travel industry. She knew northern Italy well and wanted to introduce visitors to her country. For the last seven years, she has done just that. She contracts with our travel vendor, AHI, which sets the trips (although she does have some input on daily destinations and other aspects of the itinerary). Our speakers are assigned, too, but Valentina has worked with all of them, so their rapport is excellent.

The has a few more trips to go this season and then would like to take some time off and travel herself. Maybe to the U.S., where she has never been. "I want to go somewhere warm in winter, she said.

Her first choice was Naples, Florida. Perhaps a nod to the original in her country. Further discussion touched on Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Tampa. I suggested Southern California ("San Diego?" she asked. Good choice).

My final suggestion was Arizona. Especially if you like the desert.

Valentina found this possibility interesting. "We don't have deserts here and I want to see what they are like."

And that's as good a reason as any.


Our trip to the three Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore was a study in difference. The first, Isola Bella, is all about glamour. The villa that dominates the island is one of the most gorgeous and architecturally stunning in Italy. The second, Isola Pescatori, is all about commerce. Each island has shops, but the majority are here and the shopkeepers work hard to make sure your money doesn't get back on the boat. The third, Isola Madre, is about nature. The villa here is pretty, but the botanical gardens that surround it and flowers and trees from around the world are truly what make the island stand out.

Just writing one paragraph about it feels like I'm giving our seven-hour excusion to the island the short shrift. Believe me, it was pretty cool. And I've got the pictures to prove it. I may not be able to post them until after I get back to Atanta, though. Hopefuly you'll stick around until then.

Tomorrow: Milan