What is the essence of travel? Is it to relentlessly run around, trying to tick boxes on a previously produced and researched to-do list? Or is it being present in the moment, drifting from one state of being to the next, immersing yourself in the experience? I was pondering this exact question while sitting in my room in Bergamo, Italy, halfway into my second day there. I felt the pressure to go out again, see some more things, do the stuff I had set out to do and finish that stupid list I had compiled….instead, I lay down for a nap. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning of this trip…
Day 1 – 24 May 2019
My day started at 5 am, getting ready for work. Since I didn’t want to sacrifice a whole day of paid vacation tie, I decided to go in early and get in a half day of work, before heading to the airport for this short trip to Italy.
I left work at 10am and got to the airport by 11, giving me just over an hour until departure. I love small airports, everything just flows effortlessly. The fligth itself was a little bumpy and Ryanair really is a low-cost carrier. No space, no entertainment (other than constant sales pitches), but it got me to Italy for around 50€, so I have no complaint.
As I walk out of the airport near Bergamo, I manage to just catch the A1 bus into the city, buying a 72-hour tourist ticket that lets you use all public transport in the city for 7€. The bus ride is crowded, it’s pretty warm and very humid out, but we make it to the funicular station within about 20 minutes. The funiculare is a good way to avoid climbing up the hill to the old city (Citta Alta) as it takes you up there within like 2 minutes, and it’s included in the 72 hour ticket.
I arrive at the top just before 2 pm and immediately spot one of the ‘must-eat-food-there’ spots I had picked out – PolentOne, which serves the typical regional polenta with different sauces. I grab the cheese polenta with mushroom sauce and a glass of the regional white wine and sit down to eat….and arrive in Italy. It’s very hot, delicious and fills you up fast; I couldn’t even finish the bowl in the beginning, had to let my stomach settle and digest while I people-watched and waited for check-in time at my accommodation.
After I check in to the UpTown B&B, into the red room (cue Hill House reference), I immediately head back out to explore the city, because even though the forecast showed mostly rain fo the entirety of my stay, it was still dry and sunnyish. I headed out of my B&B (situated in an apartment in a 16th century building) and walked towards the venetian walls surrounding the old city on all sides. Built in the 16th century, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and really are very impressive to look at. And you can walk on top of them for a good stretch and admire the view of the lower city (Citta Bassa) and the surrounding countryside – unless it’s as muggy and hazy as it was today… It was still a beautiful walk, which put me at the other end of the old town and another funiculare that I rode to the top of the old town at San Vigilio castle, once again walking and checking out the view. There’s some uphill walking and stair-climbing involved, but it’s so worth it. Just a piece of advice….wear comfortable shoes! Cobblestones and heels do not mix well.
On the way back to the old town centre I chose to walk instead of using the funicular again. i strode along winding roads, visiting the small, but very cute botanical garden along the way, coming back to the main street that runs through the old town at around 6 pm. I was starting to get hungry, but nothing much was open yet, in terms of dinner. I didn’t fancy making use of the aperitivo tradition (where you pay for drinks and have complimentary snacks), I wanted some real food. So after wandering up and down the main street of the old town for a while (it doesn’t take long, the street is only about a kilometer long) I settled on Il Circolino for dinner.
The restaurant is housed inside a building that was lastly used as aprison, which makes for an interesting dining experience when you start spotting the bars over the windows and other leftover signs of its former use. I had pizza (of course) and it was pretty good. Not the best I’ve had in Italy, but better than most I can find at home.
Since I had gotten up at dawn that morning I was pretty exhausted. So I returned to my room and decided on an early night, enjoying the very comfortable bed for a good night’s sleep.
Day 2 – 25 May 2019
I woke around 6am, as per usual, and decided to take a walk up to La Rocca before breakfast, as it was recommended as another nice viewpoint. The access to the tower was still gated shut (and cost 5€ on top, which I later found out), but the surrounding garden was nice to walk aroung in, althoug the view wasn’t more spectacular than it had been at San Vigilio the day before.
I had breakfast prepared by Francesco, an Italian with the longest dreads I had ever seen. I enjoyed the Caprese (tomato and mozzarella cheese) with some bread rolls and good coffee, talked to another guest staying there and then tried to figure out what to do with my day. The thing is, by the time I had come down from La Rocca, the streets were filled with masses of people, seemingly within five minutes the old town went from being completely empty, to crowded and noisy beyond belief. And that is so not my scene….I even bonded with an Italian nonna (grandma) over a shared annoyance triggered by some amazingly loud teenagers. I don’t know exactly what she replied to my exasperated (and loud) sigh, but I think she shared my opinion – anyway, we had a good laugh, even across the language barrier.
So after returning to my room, escaping the flow of people, I just sort of zoned out for a while. I didn’t really feel like heading back into the frenzy of sightseers, pushing and shoving to get the best selfie or most instagrammable shot. Instead, I watched some videos online, and reflected on what it actually is that draws me to travel. Is it checking things off a list, seeing as much as possible, or is it just being there, in the moment, and enjoying each experience as it comes. I felt sort of pressured to go back out, see all the things, because that’s why I was here, right? But it felt draining as well, so ultimately, I decided to let churches be churches, and had a very relaxing afternoon in my room. I did venture out briefly to a bookstore in the lower (modern) part of the city, and watched some more videos.
There was one final exciting highlight of the day, being a reservation at Da Mimmo, a restaurant in the old town that boasts having some of the best food in town. And I can tell you, they did not disappoint. I was treated warmly, service was excellent and the pizza was absolutely amazing. And the starter platter included some of the softest, juiciest mozzarella I have ever eaten. It was a very satisfying end to my stay in Bergamo.