The ferry system works very well and is relatively inexpensive, especially if you purchase a day-pass for multiple trips to and fro. In retrospect, I realize that it would have been even more economical for me to purchase a week-pass, since I stayed in Varenna for eight days.
I enjoyed riding the ferry as I explored various towns and villages around the lake. My first adventure was to the touristy town of Bellagio, which is ideal for window shopping if you enjoy looking at designer handbags, jewelry and scarves. Walking up the steep hill from the waterfront, one encounters more shops—offering more handbags, clothing, jewelry, Venetian ornaments, and gorgeous Italian lingerie—and some excellent restaurants and cafes with more reasonable prices than can be found lakeside.
I also found a yarn shop! This was not as easy as it sounds. I was looking for yarn in the first place because it was a bit chillier in the evenings than I had thought it would be, so I needed a warm scarf for my neck. Of course, scarves and shawls are offered in just about every shop in Italy, especially around Lake Como, but what I had in mind was a hand-knit, thick wooly scarf, not a thin cashmere pashmina. So I decided to knit my own, if I could only find some yarn and knitting needles...
After asking several storeowners in Bellagio if they knew of a place to purchase yarn, and receiving absolutely no help from them at all, I persevered anyway and eventually found a tiny yarn store near the top of the hill where, as Rick Steves says in his guidebook to Italy, the locals shop. The kind proprietor showed me all of his skeins in many colors and provided me with knitting needles, too, so I was thrilled that my perseverance had paid off.
So now I had something to do while waiting for ferries, while sitting on park benches after touring sumptuous lakeside villas (such as the Villa Melzi), while relaxing with a cappuccino in a quiet cafe, and late at night, too—Varenna is a small town with no nightlife to speak of. And within 48 hours I had knitted a beautifully warm wooly scarf to wear around my neck during those bracing ferry rides across the lake.