Exploring Medieval Bergamo

Our journey here to Bergamo in northern Italy by train was quite an experience. Our train which was supposed to leave Nice, France at 2:00 pm was delayed until 5:00 due to a “person on the tracks” as they put it which was very sad. Finally when our train left, it seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace and we didn’t arrive at Milano Centrale until 11:20 pm which was just in time to catch the last one hour train to Bergamo. Other than the delay, the train ride was quiet, but there was a somber moment when we passed through Genoa. Right beside the train was the collapsed bridge.

We are staying at NH Bergamo which is a Spanish chain of hotels we like. We were upgraded to a suite on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the old town. Last night we could see the lights, but this morning the view was even more magnificent and we couldn’t wait to visit it.

An easy 10 minute walk through wide streets lined with palm trees took us to the funicular station to the old town. There was a long line which at one point turned into every man for himself. Once at the top, we felt like we were in a different world. As in many hill towns in Italy, the cobblestone roads wind between the sand colored houses with stucco roofs, and at the top of the hill, there’s a church.

Walking up the hill we couldn’t resist a window display of what looked like yellow dome shaped cakes with powdered sugar. Known as Polenta e osier (sweet little dessert) it was a sponge cake filled with chocolate cream and was as light as a feather. The bakery, Nessi, has been there since the 1940s.

Santa Maria Maggiorie looked like a cream colored church with a dome on top, but in the front were two large marble lions. Stepping inside, I was completely unprepared. The entire church was ornately decorated with gold, statues, and paintings. On one wall were some early frescoes showing the last supper. They must be hard to maintain in the humid summer weather.

In the larger Duomo in town, there were brighter colors and less ornate decorations. Our guidebook said it was less impressive, but truthfully I liked the less ornate style better.

In the old town are towers dating back to the 11th century. At the museum a modern glass lift whisked us to the top for wonderful panoramic views of villas, gardens, churches, bell towers, and mountains to the north. Bergamo is in the foothills of the Alps.

Walking through the streets we noticed several old world restaurants with outdoor gardens. The one we chose was the type of place with linen tablecloths, linen napkins, and waiters dressed up. We dined on beef and mushrooms served with fresh polenta. It was delicious and served with breadsticks baked with rosemary.

After lunch, we decided to check out the shops and bakeries. Two tourists stood outside a shop with the words Sicilian Ice etched onto the glass door eating lemon ice. I hurried inside where I noticed several flavors on offer, all in natural colors. The lemon flavored one was unbelievable. It tasted like fresh squeezed lemon in perfectly crushed ice. It was so good I immediately suffered brain freeze, but on a hot day, it was perfect.

Our final stop was a museum giving tribute to the influence of Venice on the area when they ruled here long ago. Audio visual displays told the story of how the area had become a center of trade introducing new cultures and foods to the area long ago. However, it was mostly in Italian.

Dinner tonight was at a pizza restaurant. On the way back to the hotel, a fireworks show lit the sky. We’ll miss this town. Tomorrow we head to Parma.

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