14 May 2020 - Day 33 –Monza and Bergamo
My plan for today was to make a day trip to Monza before heading to Bergamo for two nights. When planning it, I had hoped to find a baggage storage place in Monza, so that I could continue north. Not finding any there, I booked a place supposedly near the Milan Central Station. While finishing up organizing my bag last night, I checked Google Maps to make sure I could find it. Without any luck, I decided to leave my bag at the hotel and do my roundtrip morning excursion that way.
The train ride to Monza is 20-minutes direct, and those trains run frequently from central station, so the early start I planned wasn’t critical. I was up before 8, downstairs with my bag by 8:15 and had cereal and yogurt with a banana before checking out and leaving the roller. At the train station I found the 8:50 train and rode up to Monza Sobborghi. Exiting the station, it was a 15-minute walk, crossing both branches of the River Lambro.
Now, there really isn’t a cathedral or a bishop in Monza. The Basilica di San Giovanni Battista is known as "Duomo di Monza", which would imply the contrary. Wikipedia states “Monza has always been part of the Diocese of Milan, but is in the charge of an archpriest who has the right to certain episcopal vestments including the mitre and the ring.” The façade of the western entrance mimics that of the shape of the Duomo di Milano, without overwhelming ornamentation. The marble is seemingly stripped in lighter and darker gray stone. A cast statue of St John the Baptist stands over the central door in front of an ornate rose window. To the north of the entry is a tall square brick bell tower with an analog clock on one face.
But the interior is marvelous. Frescos cover the ceilings of the nave and two side aisles. The side aisles are doubled, but the outside aisle are all smaller altar shrines and chapels. A pair of organs hang on the nave walls just before the crossing, which supports a dome. The sanctuary is in a half-dome apse with a ciborium over the high altar. Nine o’clock Mass had ended, and the organist was doodling while setting stops, so we on the tiled checkerboard floor were treated to snippets of tunes. I’d entered just as she was performing the recessional. Any time I get to hear a King of Instruments play, I’m one happy camper.
Of special note is the Cappella de Teodolinda with the Iron Crown that this late sixth century Lombard Queen of Italy “gave” to John the Baptist when she had a chapel built on this site. The chapel and crown require reservations to view, which I hadn’t done. However, I did spend some time in the Treasury/Museum. Carvings from the Holy Land, and Medieval Age art are on display.
My itinerary had a return at 11:27, but I was pretty much done, not impressed with this industrial city, but glad I had visited the basilica. Opting to walk back via a longer route, I crossed onto the island via the Bridge of Lions, a narrow stone bridge guarded by a pair of reclining statues at either end. Walking through a commercial district, I stopped at Parliamo di Thé to get a cup of herbal tea and a pastry. Relaxing a bit, I put some of my thoughts into my journal. Leaving the island on the Via de Gradi, I needed to make a right turn to get to the passageway under the train rails so I could get to the station. After a 10-minute wait, a train to Milano Centrale arrived.
Back in Milan, I hoofed it to the hotel, collected my roller, and returned to the station. I had about 20 minutes to locate the train to Bergamo at 12:05, and was able to board the carriage just after it had been announced. We stopped in Monza on the 45-minute ride, but the lightly overcast skies still allowed me a great view.
Once off the train and after lugging the roller down and up stairs from the platform to the modern waiting room, the route to the hotel took 10 minutes. Walking half way around a rotary, across the Piazzale degli Alpini, I walked to the address. Nary a sign or indication of lodgings, I finally guessed that the “My Room” was the (B&B) Room Center Station Hotel, and I attempted to buzz in. Up half a dozen steps, using a lift up two levels, I found the reception, and was able to park my luggage in my room. The bed looked comfortable, there was floor space for the suitcase to be left open, and, best of all, I had access to a patio space with a chair and table to look out over the city.
When planning my two night stay here, I’d hoped to get a cooking class, to learn a little about the local cuisine. In correspondence with the tourist office, they suggested four different packages, all of which depended on having enough participants. Frustrated, I sought out Guruwalk, and arranged for two local young men to give me private walking tours. My first would be this evening, and I’d be able to visit and photograph the cathedral ahead of time. Leaving all but the camera and journal, wearing the heavier jacket, I headed out into town.
Bergamo is divided into districts – the station and where I stay are in the flats, the old city is up on the hill, and the newest area is near the airport. As the cathedral was up the hill, I headed that way. Once I achieved the Viale Roma, I had a pretty much straight shot to the funicular.
Approaching a corner, to my left was a fairly gruesome memorial to the local partisans, while across in a park was a statue of Francesco Nullo, an Italian patriot and military officer in the first half of the nineteenth century, born in Bergamo.
Next, an obelisk erected to Napoleon was on the same square as the Torre dei caduti, an resistance observation tower. I noticed that most of the building were either banks, or had been banks, as the street name changed to Viale Vittorio Emanuele II and a wide formal park took up the right side.
Coming to a small rotary, the street began to rise as it curved to the right. Grand residences with stone walls and heavily treed properties began lining the way. Now the terrain changed, with a steep rise to the north.
At the funicular station, dual rail tracks with adjoining concrete steps ascended for 700 meters. Queuing up, I stood as the small car chugged its way up the incline. At the top, it seemed that pedestrians ruled. Leaving the “station”, I walked down Via Gaetano Donizetti past a museum and a church. At the corner the apse and dome of the cathedral were in front of me. Determined to try to walk fully around, I walked past the back of the building and found a small street which brough me along the north side to the main western façade of the Basilica Cattedrale di Sant’Alessandro in Colonna.
The piazza in front of the church is quite short, and the building has several very tall elements. Fortunately, there’s a campanile on the square that is open and offers an excellent vantage point. With the smaller central doorway kept closed until special feast days, the entrance is to the left through a grand arched doorway with filigree, statues on the porch. The external façade includes short columns of different color marble, a repeated diamond pattern that is vaguely an optical illusion and a small rose window in the center.
On entering, the nave has three sets of arches where the side aisles are used as chapels. With a dome at the crossing, the transepts contain splendidly elaborate chapels, the south to St Alexander with his relics, while the north is to the Virgin. The main altar and the high altar are in a semicircular apse, up seven white marble steps, with carved wooden choir stalls built into the wall. Fresco paintings line the sanctuary walls, separated by gilt stucco flourishes. Staring at the ceiling paintings caused me to develop a crick in my neck as they are so stunning.
Leaving the church, I hurried over to the Campanone. I wanted to be sure to get in before my appointment, and still have time to get pictures. After paying my entry fee, I decided to climb the 230 steps rather than take the lift. Only slightly winded, I bided my time waiting for the vantage points I wanted to carefully get the photos I felt I needed. Of course, that meant waiting for a gaggle of young Asian women to finish taking about 100 selfies with the dozen phones, as each phone needed its own version. As it was approaching 5:30, I needed to get down to the street and back to the upper funicular station to meet Matteo.
Matteo is a GuruWalk guide who lives in Bergamo. When we began dialoging three months ago, he asked after my interests, and I explained my cathedral obsession. He wanted to know if he should guide me there, and I told him I’d probably do okay on my own, and for him to focus on the Cittá Alta. So in addition to basic information on Bergamo, he’d focus more on the curiosities, the legends and some “fun facts” about his hometown.
Once I got to the station, Matteo was leaning on a wall observing he pedestrians. With a big smile, we recognized one another at the same time, and hugged, at least as best we could, given a half-foot height difference. After asking how I found getting to Bergamo, and what I thought of the cathedral, we set off to walk the heights along the edge, looking south to the flats.
Our first stop was a plain-looking church, St Andrew’s, which had both a splendid interior, as well as a great overlook of Bergamo.
As it turned out, our next stop was another church, this one dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, renown for many frescos: Chiesa Di San Michele Al Pozzo Bianco.
With the entrance tucked away in a corner, it didn’t even look like a church, but the inside was quite a surprise. Not something that would have come up on my radar on my own.
Continuing along our circuit, we came to Parco Sant’Agostino, with a stunning view northeast to the Alps. Situated by a former monastery, I elected to skip entering the church and just enjoyed the view.
The slate walkway alongside the cobbled street took us along the old defensive walls, past a fortress site and to the San Lorenzo Bastion.
A gateway into yet the higher city, we continued to climb. Matteo told me a story of some marital improprieties that centered around this gate. The road would have taken us a long ways around the rise, so we took the shortcut through a field to get to the former Carmelite monastery.
After 6, it was closed, but I did get a shot of the courtyard through the gate.
Further up the road we stopped at the Punto Panoramico. Here I got a light lecture on the history of Bergamo, at least for the period from pre-Roman times through the medieval period. Matteo made it interesting, talking about the various armies that had rolled through Lombardy and sought to use this highly defensible and strategically placed location for their defenses. Of course, he mentioned several rulers whose foibles were good for a laugh.
Another small funicular was around the bend, but it went off to the heights to the west, and we were heading back, walking another strategic wall and overlook. We passed a small enclosed children’s park, and a gym-like facility with a soccer field, a large indoor pool and a strange sculpture.
Opposite was a railing full of locks, something I’d come to find all over my travels. The street followed a bend in the walls, giving me at the Cannoniera di San Giovanni a stunning long view of the walls of the old city.
Turning away from walking the wall, we started down Via Arena.
While closed, we passed the Museo Donizettiano before coming to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, a twelfth century church with an ornate marble porch and a lavishly gilded interior hung with tapestries.
We made a quick visit. Then we both headed to the funicular station, and, after I paid him his fee, we hugged and started to part. He expected me to stay in the city, but I decided I wanted to walk down the stairs to the base, which is how he was going to get home (ever frugal.) So we both began the walk down, saluting each car as it passed us either going up or down. Matteo was heading to his girlfriend’s, as he was cooking dinner tonight. I asked about a Bergamese restaurant on the way towards the station, and he recommended Bobino. Inexpensive, the menu is fresh and kept simple. Plus they spoke English.
Matteo headed off to the east, and I continued to the south. At Bobino I got a table and a glass of water to start, followed by a bottle of a local Valcalepio. (Merlot-Cab blend) Curious to how Italians perceive tomato bread, I got the Pata negra con bruschetta al pomodoro, and relax while breaking out the journal.
It turned out to be Jamón ibérico like I’d had in Spain, with bruschetta. For the primi, Gnocchi di zucca con ragù’ di salsiccia. Early pumpkin, per the server, made fresh, with local sausage in the sauce. Tasty. Tagliata di roast beef alla griglia, my seconde, came very rare, on a bed of arugula with shave parmesan. A bit to rare for my taste (I’d asked for medium rare), so I sent it back to have them wave it over the flames – and fortunately, it came back not quite medium, and still pink. The pasta and beef went well with the wine, and I treated a neighboring table to a pour, as I wasn’t going to finish a full bottle. No room for dessert.
The 10-minute walk to the hotel took me by the Church of Sts Bartholomew and Stephen, dark and closed for the evening, but might be worth returning to view. When I got to the B&B, I buzzed myself in promptly and rode up three levels to the room. I’d brought the remains of the bottle of wine back, so I sipped on the last glass outside as I went through my nightly rituals of downloads, writing and posting.