In the winding alleys

Travel tales

In the winding alleys

It was a bright morning as I walked out of the Malpensa Airport in Milan. I had to catch a bus to a small town called Verbania at the bus bay just outside the airport. I got into the bus with a few American tourists still feeling a little groggy after an all night-flight.

I watched the outskirts of Milan flash by. About an hour into the ride, a beautiful lake appeared alongside, the famed Lago Maggiore, which hugged the road the rest of the way — its deep blue waters shimmering in the bright sunshine. It is a sub-Alpine lake 65 kilometres long and four to five kilometres wide and stretches across two countries — Italy and Switzerland. Pristine white boats bobbed lazily in the small docks while a few gently cruised in the turquoise waters. I was the last passenger of the bus and was dropped right at my hotel, the venue of a mathematics conference I was attending.

The next morning I went for a walk. Verbania is a small, beautiful Italian town on the shores of Lago Maggiore. I immediately fell in love with the quiet winding alleys and cobble-stoned streets almost completely bereft of people! In one of the turns, there was a small open square in the middle of which a tiny fountain gurgled and sang all by itself.

After a short while, I reached the Duomo (means the main church) of the town.  Priceless paintings by some famed Italian masters adorned the walls. Quite a largish congregation of townspeople was watching the singing and choir service presented by a group of cherubic children from a local school!

   On another afternoon, we were taken on a visit to three Borromean Islands in the middle of the lake — a short distance by boat from each other. They are known as Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Superiore. In medieval times, they belonged to a wealthy family of merchants called the House of Borromeo, who had embellished these islands with fine palaces which contain priceless collection of art works and parks which are now tourist destinations. This family’s emblem of five circles was later adopted as the symbol of the Olympic Games.

I was strolling in one of the parks with Prof Hilderbrandt, a German mathematician and as we were talking, he suddenly began to run. Now, he was a man of truly Teutonic proportions! Looking at my surprised expression, he exclaimed ‘There iz only five minutes for ze boat to leave!’ I thought he was a senior professor and the boat can surely wait. But the boat left in exactly five minutes and everybody was onboard! Another fine moment  was a visit to the grave of Bernhard Riemann, a great mathematician whose discoveries later influenced the work of Einstein. A sick Riemann had come from his native Germany to convalesce in the salubrious environs of Verbania. But he was never to return to his homeland and died in Verbania in 1866 .

How to get there

Verbania is about 90 km from Milan. There are plenty of flights to Milan from Bengaluru. I took the Sri Lankan Airlines, which is very convenient.
From Milan, trains, buses and taxis are available to Verbania.
There are a number of reasonably priced hotels in Verbania. The hotel I stayed in was il Chiostro.

Dr Muniraja Gopal
(Head, Department of Mathematics, Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College)
(The author can be reached at

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