Italy: Days Off / Off Days

Greetings from rainy Varese, Italy. It's pouring outside, so I'm currently sitting inside the hotel listening to some Chet Baker and going through some recent photos I thought I'd share. Days off on the road can be tricky. Every day you're not playing a show is a day you're burning money on gas, lodging, food, etc. and not bringing anything in by selling tickets, CDs, etc. Too many off days can sink a tour, but not enough and you'll burn out physically and emotionally. The tour started with 9 shows in 8 days in Scandinavia, and by the end of it I was sick, underfed, and underslept. So I set about fixing that by treating myself on these off days to stay at an incredibly cheap Air BnB I found in the village of Cernobbio, a gorgeous little town overlooking Lake Como. To get to my apartment, I had to traverse the tightest set of switchbacks yet straight up the mountainside all the way to the top. It is with a heavy heart that I must confirm that every stereotype about Italian drivers is true, and it was about as stressful as it gets making that drive. The view from every single room made it all worthwhile, though.

In the morning, I soaked up the atmosphere from the little patio deck before heading down the mountain into the town of Como, where I walked around the famous lake and explored the architecture. The shoreline is dotted with historic, elegant villas that look like a cross between a mansion and a castle. When you get up close and find out that Napoleon stayed there, you realize you're walking in some pretty amazing footsteps. Near the south end of the lake, you pass the airplane hangar (private planes take off from and land in the lake all day long), and then as you begin walking back up the other side of the lake, you reach the Como-Brunate funicular.

The Como-Brunate funicular is an incline railway built in 1894 that travels up the mountainside at a 55 degree angle. Riding it, you rise about 700 meters in seven minutes, and at the top, you're treated to breathtaking panoramas. I had an equally breathtaking pizza and local beer at a restaurant overlooking the lake (every single meal here has been memorable, especially the lasagna with beef/veal/pork/boar), and then took a walk to a beautiful church and and another vista point before heading back down.

At sunset, I headed to the cathedral in Como, the largest church I've ever encountered. They began constructing it in 1396, and the result looks like what would happen if you combined three of the most ornate, historic churches you've ever seen into one mega-cathedral. While I was pretty blown away by the space, I was pretty exhausted and ready to get home. According to my iPhone, I'd climbed the equivalent of 150+ flights of stairs in all my hiking around over the past two days (that's nearly the equivalent of two trips to the top of the Empire State Building by foot.) I engaged in some dark chocolate gelato therapy to ease my sore muscles and headed home for a quiet night.

The second morning in Cernobbio was overcast, so I was glad I got my outdoor activities done the day before. I sat on the patio overlooking the lake and wrote a song, which almost never happens on tour. I guess that's how relaxed Lake Como made me feel. Then I went on a little adventure to drive some more harrowing roads to Nesso, a tiny village about an hour away from Cernobbio. Hidden far down from the road (I'm talking another 44 flights of stairs) is an old arched Roman bridge that crosses the river as it flows into Lake Como. It's a totally serene spot, but something seems off because you can hear the sound of gushing water even though it's nowhere to be seen. If you actually make your way onto the bridge, though, you find that a deep gorge cuts the village in half, and far in the back of it is an enormous cascading waterfall. Boats will sometimes cruise up to the bridge and just under it (the river becomes to shallow to continue on past that) for a view that you can't get from land. But I was perfectly happy to sit on the ancient rounded steps that lead straight into the water and just absorb the scene as the fog hung low over the mountains around me.

Tonight, I play my first ever Italian headline show here in Varese, and then I begin the massive journey back to Amsterdam to return this car and fly to the UK for the next leg of tour. I've been here almost three weeks and I'm not even halfway done yet!