Low Season, Minor Destinations

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There's patchy show in the fields as our train brings us down from Lecco, on the less famous branch of the lake called Como on the other side, north of Milan. We've been poking around in tourist towns in the midst of their very slow season. Farther up in the Alps, ski resorts will be busy now, but here in these pre-Alps south of the Dolomites, villages still put on the remnants of their Christmas markets to dwindling crowds, as people returned home to get back to work this week.

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The other night as darkness fell, just off a ferry and chilled through, we hustled into the second bar past the dock in the little village of Varenna. The left of the building was an albergo with rooms for E70. The right half housed a bar/community center/news stand/kiosk, run by husband and wife, he serving campari and sodas and complimentary tiny squares of anchovy pizza, she furiously vending lottery tickets and cigarettes behind the cash register. Four men played cards (one of them eyeing me suspiciously) while one of their wives watched. A cadre of rough dock worker types smoked and drank beer around a table, some of them seated, the less cool dudes having to stand. Valerie Bertinelli starred in something on Rai Uno TV.

It was family night, community center and happy hour all in one, and it was fabulous.

(Top photo, Varenna, Italy, and bottom, the card game, from EarthPhotos.com.)