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The end of our stay in Italy has arrived.
After seven days of touring cities, riding buses and playing games, the pace for the University of Notre Dame men's basketball team quickly changed once the Irish arrived in Como, Italy. The tour's final destination provided the perfect backdrop to a trip the coaches and players long will remember.
Following the final game Tuesday night in Vicenza, a nearly three-hour bus ride finally brought the traveling party to its final destination in the wee hours of the morning. A Wednesday boat ride around Lake Como was cancelled due to inclement weather forecast in the area for most of the day. Upon departing the bus following our ride to Como, we were treated to cooler temperatures and a steady breeze, a welcome relief from the high temperatures we encountered during the first week of the trip.
With no planned agenda for Wednesday, most members of the Irish travel party took time to sleep in and walk around the town. Our hotel, Palace Hotel, is situated in the heart of town, across from Lake Como and next to the piazza where most of the restaurants and shops are located. With its proximity to the water and Alps, it is a popular tourist destination for Italians, as well as the Swiss and Germans. While walking the streets of Como, several other languages could be heard.
The University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team, on the first leg of its 10-day tour, was also staying at our hotel. As members of the two teams mingled in the lobby and compared itineraries, many of the Irish players became tour guides of their own and gave the Penn players insight into what they could expect when they visited such cities as Venice and Rome.
When in Como, one must-do activity (and it only costs 8.5 euros, 11.30 in U.S. dollars) is an eight-minute ride on the Funicolare (funicular railway) Como-Brunate that connects the city of Como with the village of Brunate. Opened in 1894, it is used by both tourists and residents and provides a spectacular view of Lake Como and the small villages and towns scattered around the lake.
While Wednesday provided a chance for relaxation, the Irish became tourists again on Thursday during their final day in Italy as they were treated to a boat ride around Lake Como. While looking at the small towns and villages from the boat, it's not difficult to see why this region of Italy is so appealing. Irish sophomore Steve Vasturia could only remark, "What a perfect way to end this trip."
While enjoying the scenery as well, senior Pat Connaughton was equally impressed when he saw a couple of people dive into the lake from a diving board situated in front of one of the hotels. "That was awesome. Did you see that guy go off the high dive? That's something that I want to try," Connaughton said.
After two hours on the boat, we got off in Bellagio, a lovely village surrounded by the Alps and lake. The town's narrow cobblestone streets are adorned with lovely shops and restaurants, and musicians can be heard in the alleyways. While many took time to seek out some last-minute gifts, some members of the Irish team (Connaughton included) used it as an opportunity to dive into Lake Como. Heading to one of the local hotels as they got off the boat, several players dove from a diving board similar to what Connaughton had seen earlier in the day on the boat ride to Bellagio. It proved to be both fun for the players as well as an easy way to cool off.
After nearly an hour in Bellagio, we then took a short boat ride to the other side of Lake Como where our bus was waiting in the town of Cadenabbia. From there, we ventured over the border and into Switzerland to visit Lugano. Though Lugano was not originally on our itinerary, our tour guide Rob added this as a bonus to the trip because he thought all would enjoy the ambience of this historic, yet modern city.
Lugano is situated in southern Switzerland and surrounded by mountains and Lake Lugano. Similar to Lake Como, it is a tourist destination, with many outdoor activities available to its vacationers, including swimming, boating and kayaking.
From Lugano, our bus brought us back via highway to Como where the traveling party enjoyed a final meal together. Coach Mike Brey spoke, thanking our two primary tour guides, Jill Walsh from Anthony Travel and Rob. Brey gave a special shout-out to Rob who proved to be the perfect host throughout our stay in Italy. We'll long remember the stories and information he provided us on the places and cities we visited.
In closing, Brey remarked to the team how important this week had been for everybody involved with the program. It was a chance for all involved to get to know each other better both on and off the court. All the players agreed it had been a special nine days.
--by Bernie Cafarelli, assistant athletics director