Sunday, 20 July 2014

Tasty Italian Benches

Miggy and Mungo and I have been on our summer travels looking for benches. It's not as easy as you'd think. Last year in Greece it became a Mission Impossible so this year I tried to make it simple: three weeks, five benches. Is that too much to ask?

Miggy, my best imaginary friend: But you don't want just any old bench, do you? You want great benches.

Indeed I do. And as I'm paying for the trip, I expect both of you to find at least five great benches here in Italy.

Miggy: I found some stunning benches in Varenna on Lake Como.

Glorious view, Miggy, and pretty benches. But there's a bin in the way.

Mungo, my imaginary husband: I need to get something to eat though. Looking for benches is hard work.

Miggy: The spaghetti benches here are delicious!

Mungo: Did you know there are 500 different kinds of pasta in Italy?

It looks like you guys are going to eat your way through all of them.  Haven't you found even one bench yet?

Mungo: Yes, I've got this selfie at Lake Como.

Fantastic view, Mungo. But we can't see much of the bench. And selfies are a bit naff. I can't count this as one of your five.

Miggy: How about these red benches then?

Sorry, but these are pretty ordinary benches. And we've already got a lot of red benches on Benchsite.

Miggy: Green?

OK, Migs, but here again, these are not interesting benches. The view is nice, yes, but I can't count this as one of your five.





Yellow AND round?

Nice try, but no.

Inlaid wood?


Eighteenth century?

I told you: we've got too much red. Look, why don't you stop and ask someone?

Mungo: We tried that. We saw three pilgrims and I asked them, Pray thee good Sirs, canst thou pointest us to a bench?

The Pilgrim's Progress, 1673

And what did they say?

They couldn't.

I have to say, these fellows don't look local. 

Miggy: I know. That's why I also said Potete aiutarmi a trovare un buon pasto?

The word pasto looks suspicious here. Is that the Italian word for bench?

I think so. They pointed us to this:

Another spaghetti bench.

Miggy: The word spaghetti means little strings, so this looks like string. Brilliant!

Mungo: And then we stopped for a glass of vino and noticed these nice stone benches.


Mungo: And this one built into the wall.

I'll have to take your word for it since it doesn't look like a bench from here.

Miggy: This is near that little trattoria where we stopped for some penne lisce with basil and tomato.

Mungo: I didn't fancy the vermicelli when I found out it means little worms.

Miggy: I had strozzapreti, which apparently means strangled priests.

Mungo: We had a glass of wine there. The views are something else!

Miggy: Every way you turn it's a glimpse of paradise.

Can I just remind you both that we are here to look for benches. Beautiful views and pasta are all very fine but it's BENCHES we're after.

Miggy: Seashell, I think you're going off the rails.

We're offering you fabulous benches from Lake Como and you're rejecting every one.

Mungo: I'm exhausted by it. 

What part of NO SELFIES don't you understand?

Mungo: I'm going to have to fuel up with a plate of tortellini.

Miggy: Wow! I'm going to need a plate of this too! There's a little Roman Osteria over there. 

 Mungo: I think they don't like the look of us for some reason.

In A Roman Osteria by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Good, then maybe we can get on. I can't help but notice that all these benches are from Varenna: did either of you actually take any pictures anywhere else? 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa perhaps?

Or Venice? 

Miggy: Well, I did meet a very nice man in Venice, but there wasn't a bench in site.

I thought so. You were out waiting for the moon to hit the sky like a big pizza pie. 

Miggy: No, it wasn't amore. Nothing like that. 

Mungo: We worked really hard to get these pictures. We looked everywhere.

Miggy: We walked up and down the lake shore.

Mungo: We climbed long flights of stairs.

Mungo: We climbed short flights of stairs.

Miggy: We left no stone unturned.

Mungo: And it was raining.

Miggy:All the benches were wet. 

Mungo: It was hard to find a place to sit down.

Miggy: Yes, and then when the sun comes out, everyone grabs the benches.

Mungo: We decided to go for a coffee.

Miggy: Coffee is part of the daily grind in Italy.

Mungo: Yes, it helps you do stupid things with more energy.

Where did you go? 

It was Starbucks I think.

How was the coffee?

Miggy: A bit creepy if I'm honest.

I took this picture for you.

These aren't benches. 

Mungo: What about this one then? The Lasagna Bench. 

This is appalling. 

Mungo: The Mozzarella Boy thought you would like it. It's edible.

Miggy: The Mozzarella Boy looks rather yummy, in an Italian pasta sort of way.

Migs, could you stop talking about food. We need to find some benches 
and . . .

Mungo: I prefer pizza. If only I could find a pizza bench . . .

Miggy: Pizza is realllllly valued in Italy.

Mama mia! Enough with the food! Can we please find some good Italian benches? Is that too much to ask?

Miggy: I'm going to go out on a precarious balcony limb here and say that this is the most work I have ever done looking for benches.

I hope you guys are not telling porkie pies here.

Miggy: Would we lie to you?

So are you saying that after three weeks of travelling in Italy, these benches come from just one lake?

Miggy: You could say that, yes. 

Mungo: But Lake Como is a very beautiful lake. 

It's incredibly romantic. There are lots of places for lovers to sit.

George Clooney has a villa on Lake Como. Could this be him and Amul Alamuddin?

They come to their villa here, keen to avoid the papparazzi.

Miggy: I've been looking for a house here myself. Lago di Como would be a great place to live.

Oh, don't start, Migs. Everywhere we go you look for houses. 

I've only found one house in my price range though.

It's a bit small but the light is good.

Mungo: Yes, I've noticed that Lake Como has atmospheric shadows.

Mungo, I'm not paying for atmospheric shadows. I am paying for benches. Do the words Bench and Site mean anything to you?

Miggy: You need to cool down, Seashell. How about a nice dip in Lake Como?

Mungo: Or how about an ice cream? The convent around the corner makes a fabulous gelato and there are new flavours every day.

Mungo: Yesterday I had the most delicious uva fragola.

Miggy: Oh, that was lovely! Have you tried the pistachio?

And that zabaione is to die for.

Mungo: You get two scoops so you can try two new flavours every day. My favourites are limone and tiramisu. Or pesca and cioccolata.

So, after a warm rainy swim in the lake we stroll along to Lo Scalino and sample all the flavours going.

There are twelve choices today, so we find a bench to sit on and take our time.

It rains, but that doesn't matter. The view is terrific. And so is the melon and hazelnut ice cream. 


Miggy and Mungo and I set out in June on our annual bench-finding expedition. We have been to Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. We camped in a very small tent with minimal gear; it gets tense. In particular, Mungo gets sick of pumping up the airbeds.

When terrible weather set in we took a bungalow at Camp Spiaggia in Abbadia Lariana near Lecco. Our room was smaller than our garden shed at home but we had a bed with clean sheets and we were out of the rain.

We ate ice cream every day at the unforgettable Lo Scalino in Abbadia Lariana where Camilla Candiani makes home made ice cream every morning in her kitchen and sells it at her front door from 2 to 5 pm.

The bench photos were taken at Varenna on Lake Como at the end of June. It was rainy. There was thunder and lightning. Torrential rain caused waterfalls to pour down the sides of the mountains. We didn't care. We swam in the lake and walked around looking for benches.

There are many beautiful villas on Lake Como, including the $25 million Villa Oleandra at Laglio, owned by George Clooney. During our visit, preparations were being made for his wedding. In the end though, he got married in Venice.

The indoor benches shown in this story are in the Villa Casa Monastere at Vardenna. 

This family home dates from the 1750s and the lakeside gardens are filled with plants, flowers, trees and statues.

The gorgeous oil painting In a Roman Osteria was painted in 1866. The Danish artist is Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). He is one of many Danish artists of his generation who were fascinated by Italy. 

The three people eating lunch on a bench is a painting by Frank Hobbs, a landscape painter who also works from the figure and still-life. Its title is Palcoscenico, the Italian word for a theatrical stage. Since 2008 Frank has spent his summers in Cortona, Italy, where a big part of Italian life is the piazza - the town center. In a small town like Cortona, sooner or later during the day or night, everyone, resident or tourist, ends up passing through the two main piazze of the town. Observing the comings and goings on this urban stage is like watching a lively improvisational performance where small human dramas (or comedies) are enacted. Frank's online gallery at  includes paintings, drawings, and hand-pulled prints. His website is at

Sophia Ting and her good friend Emily make environmentally friendly and very comfortable pillow covers, cases, and inserts, like the Coffee is always a good idea one shown in the story. The pillow covers cover a wide variety of themes such as holidays, animals, birds, oceans and love. Their shop is Angle Beauty at etsy

The picture of lovers on rickety benches was taken further up Lake Como at Dervio.

As for food benches, there are already quite a few on Benchsite, including some delicious edible benches. Watch out for summery ice cream benches, which Miggy is particularly fond of. 

Karin Kaufmann was born in Germany and moved to Oregon in 2008. At her Spindleyarn shop you can find hand spun yarns, hand made accessories and baby toys. And this is where I found the wonderful crocheted pasta dishes eaten by Miggy and Mungo. The penne lisce with basil looks delicious, especially with a slice of tomato.

"And, behold, as they came up with him, he made them a very low conge" is from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1673)

The pizza bench is by Liren Chen at Mozzarella Boy and the Lasagna Bench are both from a previous story about Edible Benches. It's all rather complicated; I can't begin to explain it. Better just have a look.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (with bench) and the Venice gondolier (without bench) are pictures I coloured from the wonderful adult colouring book Inspired Colouring Travel, by Parragon Press. The whole world is in there and you can paint it any colour you like. I coloured the popsicles too, by the way but I cannot claim this colouring book to be Adult. 

The Spaghetti Bench is one of a series by Pablo Reinoso, a French-Argentinean artist and designer. Starting in 2006, Reinoso used public benches, which are anonymously designed and travel across cultures with an out-of-time, old-fashioned quality, as a starting point for his reflections . . . These new creations have multiplied and found homes in very diverse places. The black spaghetti bench is at Sudeley in England and dates from 2010. The fabulous benches can be seen on his website at though these two photos come from Pablo's postings on Wikimedia. and

The Daily Grind is a coffee shop in Pullman, Washington. Pullman is home to Washington State University so not surprisingly, there are lots of students in there. They have wonderful coffee and massive cinnamon rolls.

St Arbucks is a coffee shop we saw in Wiltshire a couple of years ago. It doesn't look much like the Starbucks we normally see. There's a fullstop after St. and a capital letter for Arbucks. What a difference punctuation can make! For more perfectly punctuated benches see

Sign Fail is one of the brilliant discoveries I have made on etsy. Michael Bancroft from Melbourne makes funny sign replicas inspired by real-life hilarity - the best of Chinglish and Engrish on handmade funny signs, cards & magnets. There are lots of Sign Fail signs here on Benchsite. Because they're quirky, cool, inexpensive, great fun.

Pinocchio was photographed on a bench in Orvieto in Italy. I found the photo in the Etsy shop of Haya Gold from Tel Aviv. Haya does fine art photography, fine art prints, and home decor. When Haya's friends asks her What's new? they know there will always be something new; her shop is constantly getting exciting new stuff. Most photographs displayed in the shop are on fine art heavyweight paper at the convenient size of 8" x 10", however all the photographs can be enlarged to almost every size and on any kind of material.

The Papparazzi is a 1997 sculpture by Steven Gregory, photographed at Cass Sculpture Park in 2009. The 'house' Miggy looked at was also in Cass Sculpture Park. It's called The Pavilion and was made by Thomas Heatherwick in 1993.

Our summer bench-finding missions have taken us to Germany, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, and several other places. Here is the link for last summer's Mission Impossible in Greece:

And just in case you've missed it, we got high on alpine benches this year. Just how high might surprise you. 

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