We had one of those marvelous experiences you have when you travel, at a time when we least expected it. We met a master bus driver, who performed amazing driving techniques on very narrow roads that impressed and entertained his bus load of tourists. I nicknamed him “Lucky” Lugano, a little flourish that hints at his skills, personality and poise. What a guy!
Constance to Como
We traveled most of the day, boarding a 6:30 AM ferry in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance (der Bodensee) in Germany and ended in Menaggio on Lake Como in Italy. Lake to lake, about 8 hours. A day with many memories.
The majority of our day was spent in Switzerland, docking at Romanshorn after a 45 minute voyage on an overcast, chilly morning. Few boats were on the lake that early, we stayed inside, sipping coffee, and peering through fog for our first glimpse of Switzerland. From Romanshorn, we took a Swiss Rail train for the hour commute to Zürich where we boarded an international Swiss train for a three-hour journey to Lugano on Lake Lugano, a deep blue alpine lake. We had taken trains through Switzerland before, loving the efficient service, clean and modern trains, where they serve meals and drinks in comfortable, cafe-like dining cars.
Speeding through the countryside, we marveled at alpine mountain peaks, quaint villages, and green pastures with grazing dairy cattle and sheep.
Switzerland is mostly mountains, snow-capped alpine peaks, spectacular lakes and waterfalls careening down granite mountains. Everything related to commerce, transportation, and housing is shoe-horned into the narrow mountain valleys — modern highways, railroads, villages and farms, and bridges spanning icey rivers.
Every few miles, trains disappear into dark tunnels for a few seconds or several minutes, then emerge into bright sunlight and the next splendid valley. The scenic landscape flashes by so fast, you don’t want to risk missing a view that could last a lifetime. Put down that book, don’t nap, and soak up one of the most scenic landscapes in Europe.
After a three-hour journey through Switzerland, we arrived in Lugano in early afternoon and boarded a bus for an hour drive along Lake Lugano. Our ride would be taking us over a mountain pass, crossing the Swiss – Italian border, and descending the Lugano valley into Menaggio. We knew the trip would be memorable.
Fifteen minutes from Lugano, we were speeding through lake side villages clinging to steep mountain sides. A minor earthquake tremor would send them tumbling into the green lake. All roads in Switzerland probably began as trails for horses, carriages, and carts. Some were widen, paved, and became highways. Those carved from mountain sides could be paved, but not widened. The latter describes the road we were traveling along Lake Lugano.
That’s where our bus driver took center stage. We came to a halt in the first village where stucco buildings were so close you could almost reach out the window and brush your sleeve against them.
Lakeside were stone fences enclosing villas with beautiful gardens and palm trees. Maybe twenty feet between apartment buildings and villa walls. How does a modern bus travel through such a narrow passage with traffic coming from both directions?
While we were stopped, I stared in disbelief as cars inched between our bus and the buildings. After a few cars passed, our bus squeezed around a bend narrow as a suburban garage door. I marveled how our driver, whom I later nicknamed “Lucky” Lugano, could navigate this route twice daily and maintain his sanity. He loved doing what would drive normal drivers around the bend, so to speak.
Stalled in the next village, we faced off with a line of cars at a one lane bend. Lucky opened the door, strode confidently to the cars, and glared at the drivers. In Italian fashion, he gestured with exaggerated hand and body motions, waving them to reverse into a driveway or turnoff to let him pass. If they wouldn’t, we’d be at a stand still the rest of the afternoon.
Guess who won?
Don’t try this at home!
After that showdown, I moved to the front of the bus to get a picture through Lucky’s windshield as he eased around the narrow bend. When he saw me taking pictures, he said something in gruff Italian, opened the door and motioned for me to go outside. He wanted me to get pictures of him driving through the village!
So I complied. I got out, ran ahead a few yards, and took pictures as he navigated through the next narrow bend. Lucky had two or three more tight squeezes, and kept motioning me to run ahead and take pictures as he navigated through each. For about fifteen minutes, I snapped photos, dodging around stalled cars, watching Lucky navigate around narrow turns, then running ahead to watch him perform driving skills you don’t learn in Drivers Ed.
When I got back on the bus, the passengers cheered Lucky, who waved backwards to acknowledge our appreciation. He was our hero of the day. Don’t you love Italians and how drama is so much a part of their daily lives?
On to Menaggio
We drove up a mountain pass through Lugano valley, passing villages, farm houses, produce markets, barns, and grazing livestock. When we descended into the next valley, Lucky was taking switchbacks with razor-sharp turns like a pro. We caught our first distant glimpse of Lake Como shimmering in the distance. A breathtaking view looking over red-tiled roofs of Menaggio’s hillside villas.
Even with all the memories of our day, departing foggy Friedrichshafen, traveling through Swiss valleys, and along both Lake Lugano and Lake Como, our favorite memory was riding with “Lucky” who made the nearly impossible look effortless. He was a pro. It was quite a day.
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Next stop: Menaggio
As many of you know, I also write mysteries and romantic suspense novels.
I recently published my first international thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan, which is available on Kindle as well as other ereaders, tablets, and smartphones.
I’m back in Europe for the summer to hire a translator and to research my next book which will also be a thriller based in Milan. I’ll be posting along the way from Milan, Stresa, Zurich and other locations.
I have a few posts on another blog, Anatomy of a Thriller, where I write about the process of researching and writing an international thriller. I’ll add more posts there as well.
Please share these links with writers or readers who might be interested.