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Italy II: 4-8 June - Bergamo and Verona

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

As I wrote in the previous blog, I’d spent the morning in Milano, where the walking tour had been rained out. I took the train then to Bergamo. Maps gave decent directions, and I spent 20-25 minutes pushing and pulling my gear through the wet street to the Hotel San Giorgio. Apparently the booking was for 2 persons, the default on the website I use, and I usually correct that. The receptionist changed the room from one with a pair of twins to one with a single larger bed. Room 20 was reachable by lift, had enough space but was short on storage.

View from the town center of Bergamo up the hill to Bergamo Alta

Back in 2020, I’d email’d two guides in Bergamo regarding their “free” walking tours. While preparing for this trip, I renewed those connections, and Agnish and I texted to adjust my start to 3, as it would be tight to get from the hotel to the lower city’s crossroads. I was there about 15 minutes early, so got a bottle of water and waited. Agnish is a pleasant young man, North Indian, had lived in Boston. He was in the process of getting his degree and was setting up his own tourist business. Since the start of the year, he’d been on hiatus from giving tours, but wanted to take me solo on a walk about the upper city.

Getting a bus pass, we rode up to the Citta Alta, and then took a funicular to the very top, the second part of Bergamo to be established, the San Vigilio Hill. His desire to share his knowledge was evident in the passion of his presentation. Albeit speaking a bit too fast for me, and apparently unaware of the ambient noise’s distractions, we still maintained a running dialogue sharing bits of history, sociology, religion, architecture.

Returning to the old city and entering through the old walls, he took me to the cathedral, where Sunday evening Mass was underway. We stopped at a cafe where I had 2 glasses of Lombardi red wine., a Valcalepio and a Curtefranca, accompanied by bresaola e caprino (goat cheese). The food was served with olive oil and toast, with olives, potato chips and peanuts on the side. Agnish just had a campari.

We walked around a bit more before he parted for down the hill at 6, having made a dinner reservation for me in the citta alta.

Front facade, Basilica Cattedrale di Sant'Alessandro in Colonna, Bergamo
Basilica Cattedrale di Sant'Alessandro in Colonna, Bergamo

With time to occupy before the 7:30 dinner, I returned to the Basilica Cattedrale di S. Alessandro in Colonna and found that Mass was over and the building still open. I was able to visit the interior and take some pictures.

A bit early for the dinner reservation, I entered Cafe Mimi. For a starter, strudel di pasta brise farcita con patate, Branci, mela e noce mescala, servito si fonduta di Gran Padano d.o.p. e gocce di miele di Trescore, with a glass of white: Santa Sofia’s Lugana. The main was paccheri con ragu di coniglio alla ligure con marsala pinoli et uvetto, with a glass of Goudes’ Villa Dominizia, a Riserva Valcalepio. While both servings were small, they, along with the delicious wines, were actually filling and awesome. I did go for dolci, crumble tiepido di mele et uvetta, servita con crema al masscapone. A cappuccino (which Italians don’t drink after 10:30 am!) to finish.

The skies were darkening as I left Cafe Mimi, and I considered heading back to the bus stop for a ride down the hill. Per Google Maps, it would take 10 minutes longer to walk than ride (if I found the stop in time.) So I opted for the stroll downhill, stopping along the way for pix here and there, and eventually ending near the hotel, and heading to my room. It had been warm, so a brief rinse off in the shower before sleeping, then setting the AC to 22-degrees C. The bed was firm, but I was able to roll enough in the slim bed without incident.

Both my phones decided to alarm, the A21 at 5:30 and the A14 at 8, but I finally got up at 8:30. The WiFi was decent, and I figured to book the last week’s worth of hotel rooms, the time in Abruzzo and Puglia, as well as a last night in Rome before the return crossing. I had an email regarding a tour cancellation in Florence, to process it through GetYourGuide which I couldn’t get to work. I then booked an alternate on Viator for a different afternoon - Florence seemed to be shut down for tourism that weekend?

Under overcast skies and in cool temperatures, I left and headed to the lower city’s center. A market was on the far corner, so I crossed and walked under the umbrella tents, looking at goods and then past the food trucks.

My second walking tour was at 3, so I chose to slowly saunter up the hill to the Citta Alta. I even recognized a point where, the evening before, the pair of men heading to their B&B had split from my path.

I sought the basilica/duomo, finally finding it about 1pm - it was closed until 2:30-3. Across the plaza from the basilica was a building Agnish had told me was a library, so I crossed and entered, getting directions to both the reading room and the toilets. I spent about an hour updating my journal with a day and a half’s activities.

Inside bar, The Tucan, Bergamo Citta Alta
Inside bar, The Tucan, Bergamo Citta Alta

Fish & Chips, The Tucan, Bergamo
Fish & Chips, The Tucan, Bergamo

Outside after my scribbling, still cloudy and spritzing a bit, I decided to grab lunch. At The Tucan, an Irish pub, I had fish and chips with a draft Kilkenny ale. It was just up the street from the meet-up point, on the main tourist drag filled with shops hustling all manner of “stuff”. I especially wanted to avoid those slippery street stones. The fish was probably the thickest piece of cod I’d had at any point when ordering fish&chps. The batter inside the crust next to the actual fish was a bit undercooked, so I peeled off the breading and just had fish with the slightly under-crisp chips, served with a delicious garlic-infused mayonnaise.

Matteo proved to be a year or two younger than Agnish, and had a group of twenty, where I was the only “Yank”, a term I use to self-describe myself. His tour was a combination of history and food, the latter being giving recommendations for cafes and restaurants. We never actually entered a building, nor were there any samples. His commentary was cursory, having explained that he felt most would be forgotten in 6 seconds anyway. He ended at the starting point, at the base of the funicular, collecting “donations” for his 2-hour tour.

Returning to the chapel which is alongside the cathedral, I visited, honoring the restriction of no photography. Then across to San Alessandro, getting some additional photos of the timber vault and raising the ire of a “church fascist” who had been scolding several tourists who had entered the sacramental chapel and not moving to pray.

Feeling hungry after hearing about food on the tour, I then went in search for somewhere offering regional specialties.

La Ciotola looked like it would do the trick. Casencelli alla bergamasca (con burro, salvia e pancetta) was an interesting starter, a ravioli-like stuffed pasta in an oil sauce, topped with bacon. The house wine was from La Collina, and my first glass was a bianco spino Valcalepio bianco (like a pinot grigio) from Bergamo. With the Cotechino in padella con polenta grigliata main, the red was a cabernet-merlot blend. The sausage was mildly tasty, no spices, and served with a “hockey puck” of grilled polenta, again bland. The starter was tasty. I made no notes as to how I returned to the hotel.

Up Tuesday morning (6 June) to finish packing, then showered and dressed, to check out and walk the 20 minutes to the train station. I caught the regional train to Brescia at 9:06 where I looked to use the lockers. The room was locked, and the station staff directed me to the newsstand where I was able to leave my gear for the morning. Off to the Tourist Office, where the staff spent a good 5 minutes highlighting an extensive tour of the city which I suspect would have used a full day. Armed with a city plan, I was off to the square in front of the duomo. With the knowledge that both cathedrals would close at noon, and having two to visit, I was cursory with outside shots, and entered the Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta e Ss. Pietro e Paolo, the duomo nuovo.

Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary and Saints Peter and Paul, Brescia
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Santo Pietro e Paolo, Brescia

Built with a shortened nave and lacking much in the way of ornamentation, it left me cold.

Alongside, with a round footprint, the Concattedrale invernale di Santa Maria Assunta, the Duomo Vecchio, it is fairly unique.

Winter Co-cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, (former cathedral) Brescia
Concattedrale invernale di Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo Vecchio), Brescia

Round churches were discontinued after the Council of Trent, a few survive. The interior is dark, has multiple levels, with a gallery ringing the interior nave space (that male/female separation) with the high altar up a series of steps. The high altar space was being renovated, so I was unable to explore. The crypt was interesting, and there survived a lot of art on the walls and column capitals. I found the old cathedral to be much more worthwhile than the successor.

Outside, I was able to get photos of both buildings, separately and together. Alongside was a former church, now being used as a community medical center, which has a splendid square tower. At noon, with 90 minutes before the next train not requiring a premium for a seating reservation, I climbed the hill to the castle and wandered a bit.

Some nice views, it was sunny, bright and bordering on hot. Several museums filled the interior spaces, with admission charges which I passed on, not being able to spend enough time there. Back down the hill, and guided by Maps, I returned to the station.

Collecting my bags, I had 10 minutes to spare for the local train. The express arrived first, 15 minutes late, and then I boarded and we left on time. However, we pulled over several times on sidings to wait while other trains proceeded to Venice, including one 20-minute pause. We were 45 minutes late into Verona Porta Nuova.

A large open space fronts the station. Across is a huge “sanctuario”, which I first assumed might be the cathedral of Verona, albeit well away from the central city. It turns out it was “just” a church. After passing in front of the sanctuary, and then crossing a bridge over a controlled river, it was a slight downhill to the hotel. Room 309 at the Hotel Siena Verona was ready; a small room with a large bed set up against the corner, I unpacked the toiletries and then took 15 minutes flat on my back.

Back down to registration where most helpful staff provided a map, directions for the cathedral, the 48-hour pass for museum and church visits. A few turns and the square with the Arena; beyond I found the main shopping pedestrian way, and then another left to the cathedral square.

Cattedrale Santa Maria Matricolare, Cathedral of  Santa Maria Matricolare, Verona
Cattedrale Santa Maria Matricolare, Verona

With less than an hour to closing, I immediately went inside the Cattedrale Santa Maria Matricolare of Verona, securing a city pass. First on my list was the Baptistry,

followed by the crypt and then the nave. Many murals decorated with trompe l’oeil ornamentation filled the walls and ceilings. There are some interesting altars in the side chapels. No art in the windows, with the circular clerestory openings being filled with pastel glass.

After the cathedral’s interior, I exited to the archeological crypt, with many remains of tiles and stones. A chapel down below felt spiritual and I found it a great space, albeit a bit dark, but closing was approaching and they had dimmed the lights once.

Langelo Blu Dell‘ Accoguenza at Cathedral entry, Verona
Langelo Blu Dell‘ Accoguenza at Cathedral entry, Verona

Back into the open air, I discovered it had sprinkled while indoors, and was then surprised by a brief downpour. Looking for that exterior shot of the cathedral, I got to the east end (which is where tourists typically enter!) and then the western facade, which appeared to be open for evening services. Due to the proximity of many nearby buildings, the Nikon wasn’t able to get a full view, so my mobile came to the rescue.

Heading back to the hotel to drop the camera, I stopped at the Basilica di Santa Anastasia. With better interior lighting and an approachable size, the sun peaked out from the storm clouds and filled the nave with a rainbow of colors through the stained glass.

Passing a market, I got nuts and bananas, and picked up a limonade, which came in a large durable plastic glass, in a size that would allow me to have more water at night without refilling.

After dropping the camera and purchases, I discussed the various restaurants I’d passed on my walk in Verona. Her suggestion was to dine at Tre Risotti, as it served the more Veronese of cuisines. First course polenta e fantasia (sopressa, gorgonzola, funghi), was a corn pancake with stripes of mushrooms, melted cheese and sliced sausage. Hot and good, I wasn’t sure the mushrooms were fresh. It was followed by risotto con codeghin e la peara, a traditional Verona dish, to broaden my eating experience, which I found tasty but needing both pepper and cheese (which I asked for, only getting freshly ground pepper.) No surprises with cubed horsemeat. Pastisada de caval con polenta was beef stew with polenta, which wasn’t great. I’d asked for a bottle of water to go with the half liter of vino rosso alla spina - a merlot del Venteto that was the house red.

Five guys were nearby, talking the printing press business. Working for a firm based in Chicago, they were an international team pitching a new client: a Mexican, an Italian, and three from various offices in the States, we had a delightful conversation, and I got them to stop talking shop! My dolci was sbrisolona con la “Grapa”, a short crust pastry with a slug of eau de vie.

At a quarter to eight, down the hall a child started screaming in German, however I stayed in bed until nearly half past eight. It took me a half hour to get ready, and I was in the train station with plenty of time before heading to Mantova, arriving at 10:30.

View of the exterior of Verona train station across plaza
Verona Porta Nuova train station

Verona train station platform with train
Verona train station platform with train

Following Maps’ direction, I headed toward the cathedral, stopping in the Tourist Office for a paper map and recommendations.

Duomo di San Pietro / Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, Cathedral of St Peter the Apostle Mantova
Duomo di San Pietro / Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, Mantova

Circling around the Duomo di San Pietro in Piazza Canonica San Pietro, I got my angles, albeit I didn’t really get to include the dome at the crossing which was hidden by the three-story tall facade. With double aisles on either side of the center of the nave, the coffered vault ceiling, the flourishes above the ribbed columns and around the frescoes on the walls of the chapels and in arches of the side vaults, the white and light touches of gold presents a bright, tall, awesome space for prayer.