16 May 2020 - Day 35 – Brescia
As planned, I was up a bit before 8, had my communal shower, dressed and packed. For breakfast I grabbed a banana and drank some apple juice. After checking out, I got to the street and rolled to the station. My 9:06 train to #Brescia from Bergamo was two platforms over, so I had to use the tunnel, which meant hauling the frigging roller down and up flights of stairs. I wonder how older folks get their bags to the platform???
The R1 4909 train arrived almost on time, and I was walking north out of the Brescia station about an hour later, using the escalators to get from the middle platform. My hotel, B&B Millefiori was a kilometer away, an easy 20 minutes. Arriving at #14 on a one-way brick street, the arched wooden double door for the 3 upper levels looked rustic. My instructions were to buzz “D”, and the response was a click as the door unlocked. I’d been I touch with the Senora by email through booking.com over the past few days.
No lift, but only one flight of stairs. It’s a small, compact studio flat, a twin bed but a full bath. Compact frig, hot plate and a juicer. Free WiFi and two available plugs. No room to open the bag, but I’m only here for the night. I got my keys and told my host that I’d be catching an 8:30 train in the morning, so we arranged to leave the keys on the small desk.
Brescia has an old and a new cathedral. Per the maps, they are practically adjacent to one another, pretty much due east a half kilometer. The sky had been cloudy all morning so far, and the weather wasn’t expected to change. Temperature would be in the 60’s all day. So, with my heavier jacket, the journal and spare equipment in the rucksack, I grabbed the Nikon and head down the stairs and off to churches.
On my way I passed the city council chambers, closed on Saturday, but the palazzo in front was filled with activity as it was Market Day. I veered through the rows of vendors, looking at produce, clothing, hard goods and junk. Thinking to have a snack, I got a roll from a baker, some Bagoss di Bagolino, a hard aged cheese which the cheesemonger shaved a quarter kilo for me, and some Cuz, a sheep salami from Coreno Golgi, sliced into half centimeter slices. I was set! And the town clock struck 10:30 as I entered the square, although I didn’t get the mechanicals at work.
Coming to the Piazza Paulo VI (già Piazza Duomo), only a narrow alley separates these two west-facing cathedral buildings, with the Duomo Vecchio to the south. Both would be open until noon, and then close until later in the afternoon, so I wanted to use my hour well. As the Duomo Nuovo would be open later, I started with the older building. Concattedrale invernale di Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo Vecchio) has a round nave with a raised round vault. The entrance is from the west off the piazza through a single tall door. The external façade is mortared stone, without any finishing.
Entering, the nave floor is set lower by about 1½ meters, with the encircling higher curved side aisle behind thick arched columns. The walls and floor are all unadorned stone. Advancing to the crossing, color appears, albeit a good deal of it is faded frescos or paintings. The domes over the crossing and sanctuary are stunning. The sanctuary is heavily gated to protect the high altar.
The noon closing was approaching, so I put the new cathedral off until sometime between 4 and 7 when it was open again. My GPSMyCity research had advised visiting the City Museum, Museo di Santa Guilia, and Parco Archeologico di Brixia Romana. I had a ticket to the latter, and it was on the way to the former. I decided to be chronological, so the archeological park was first. I’d bought tickets (one through Viator, one directly) which, it turned out, gave me access to both sites.
The Brixia (Roman name for Brescia) site was a former three-room temple and an outdoor theater. Pre-Christian Era, the Celts had been granted Roman citizenship, and the Capitolium here was built by Vespasian in 73CE on a model of the Roman Republican temple at Capitoline. It lay undiscovered until 1823 and excavation continues.
The City Museum, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Longobards of Italy, Places of Power 568-774)” follows on the demise of the Roman rule and the Longobard influence on early Christianity. To quote from the website: “The site is composed of parts from many different epochs: a stratification of memories and a continual source of unexpected discoveries. The complex was built on the ruins of impressive Roman town houses and includes the Lombard church of San Salvatore and its crypt, the Romanesque Santa Maria in Solario, the Nuns’ Choir, the sixteenth-century church of Santa Giulia and the monastery cloisters.” With tile work, frescoes, columns, carvings and precious ornaments, this museum, with the park, is probably worth a full day on its own.
About 4:30 I headed back to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Duomo Nuovo. Cruciform in layout, the western nave portion is foreshortened, with a much longer space for more nave and sanctuary to the east. The two transepts contain an elaborate Moretto altarpiece to the south, and a modern memorial to the Brascan Pope, Paul VI.
The rectangular column bases at the cross support arches with elaborate carvings, which extend up into the clear lights (windows) of the dome. Dedicated to the Assumption, construction began in 1604, and took over two centuries to complete. Bombing during World War II damaged the dome, requiring reconstruction. The new cathedral is also known as the summer cathedral, to the old’s “Winter cathedral”.
As the organs had been removed from the old cathedral to the new, I resolved that if I attended Mass, it would be the Duomo Nuovo. Unfortunately, the Saturday Vigil Mass was at the winter cathedral, so I decided to explore a bit more of the city center. To the north up a rise was the Castello di Brescia.
It housed a military museum and offered some great views over the city below. Bad timing for me, as it was just closing as I arrived. On my way back down the hill, I passed the nearby Club Fermodellistico Bresciano, a model railroad museum, also closing.
Cutting my missed opportunities, I decided to return to the flat. Putting the remains of my “lunch” into the mini-frig, I pulled out my journal and scribbled 3 pages. Then with my netbook on my lap, I began the blog. After about an hour of creative reporting, I decided I should go find dinner. Checking my options on my phone, I decided to head north where a couple of Italian restaurants were close together. I could look in the window, peruse the menus and see what appealed. My second establishment was an immediate winner: Osteria al Bianchi dal 1881. With a daily menu of no more than 6 items per course, I knew that the source food would be fresh, and more likely regional.
Okay, so I raised a few eyebrows coming in. First off, solo. Then an Americano. But I was immediately made welcome, given a nice table with enough light and room to read and write, and sufficient time to relax. With nary a clue, before coaching, I asked for the malfatti al burro versato to start, the stracotto d’asino as a secondi, with taccole al forno as a side. Then I asked what I’d ordered, although I often wait until I’ve eaten to ask that question. Malfati is a vegetarian dish, made with spinach, ricotta and flour (plus seasonings), and would come with a flavored butter. They recommended a glass of white from the menu, a Lugana “Novellli”. Next would be a pot roast stew of “asino”, which translates to donkey, but in this case would be boar. It comes with baked polenta. The side dish is pea pods, baked with olive oil and seasoning. A red for the game stew – they picked the Val Lagarina Esegesi, from the Trentino, the region directly to the north, including the Alto Adige.
Nothing I wouldn’t eat, and all in styles of the region, covering from Bergamo to Mantua. The primi was tasty, worth repeating, somewhat savory and went nicely with the crisp white, a trebbioano di lugana varietal. The boar stew was delicious, and the robust Bordeaux blend with a touch of pinot grigio matched. I’d noticed a cheese table on entering, so interjected a request for formaggio before dessert. A local gorgonzola (which originated in this region), a crumbly hard silter and a Brescianell stagionata, a semi-soft cow’s milk from southwest Lombardy. Extra bread, and another glass of red, of course.
Dessert was sbrisolona, almost a large cookie, it is a specialty of nearby Mantua. Meant to crumble and break apart, this torte included walnuts, and orange and anise flavoring. I wanted a fruity herbal tea to go with it, but all they had was chamomile. So I made do with the complementary glass of limoncello.
My journal was up-to-date by the time I paid my check, so as I headed back, I swung by the piazza near the cathedrals and found a few spots where I could put my camera down solidly and get some night shots of the two churches. It had rained while I was dining, but there was a break long enough for pictures. Heading back to the flat, sitting on the table as I entered were 2 oranges, two croissants, and a small yogurt. I pulled out the netbook and downloaded photos while charging batteries and then writing the rest of today’s blog. What is becoming a normal start time tomorrow, I’ll see how this bed suits my back and shoulders.