By Marjorie Eisenach
Eccoci a Bergamo! While arriving in Bergamo via a brief flight from Birmingham, England, I started to reminisce about my first arrival in Italy over 40 years ago. As a college junior I had taken an overnight train from Paris, arriving in Milan early in the morning in one of those old fashioned sleeper cars that held six individuals in slings attached to the compartment walls.
Sleep deprived after nine hours in a train, the central station in Milan seemed like a combination of Dante’s inferno and an amusement park with smoke billowing in the cavernous space and pigeons winging their way to the lofty top of the station roof. I heard my first word spoken in Italian by an Italian in Italy, facchino, or porter.
Last night’s arrival was more pedestrian, but had its own highlight and is somewhat indicative of the changes in Italy. I sat next to a young Indian woman on my crowded plane flight, which had been dominated by the wails of an infant who had trouble adjusting to the atmospheric changes in cabin pressure. I didn’t realize that the Indian woman spoke Italian until we were landing, and we started to chat about her recent day trip sightseeing in London.
Bergamo impresses me as being affluent, well maintained, and definitely worth a day trip if you have the time. Located in the Alpine foothills not all that far from Milan, Bergamo is divided into two parts, Città Bassa, the new city, and Città Alta, the older, more beautiful city on a hill, which can be accessed by a funicular from Città Bassa.
We had two lovely experiences while walking around Bergamo Alta. We stopped for a pre-prandial aperitivo at the Pasticceria Cavour on Via Gombito. The place was an unusual mixture of candy shop, liquor store, coffee bar, and mini-restaurant. As our photo indicates, it features an amazing display window, being the proud recipient of the 2013 award for the best Bergamo shopping window. We were delighted by our drinks and appetizer plate chocked full of creative amuse bouche featuring fresh seafood, polenta, wild mushrooms, fried Parmesan cheese, and a lovely Gorgonzola creation.
We traveled a few steps to the Trattoria Tre Torri at Piazza Mercato del Fieno, a tiny restaurant built in what looked like an old tower filled with ancient implements. It seats around 20 people and serves up tasty casonsei, a Bergamasca specialty which is called casoncelli in Italian, stuffed pasta that looks like rough-shaped ravioli and is filled with roast beef, sausage, bread crumbs, with a hint of cloves, and is covered in fresh sage, parmesan, and pancetta. Here is a site that features an authentic recipe with photos, http://culinariaitalia.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/bergamo-style-casoncelli/.
Bergamo impresses you as a wealthy city with a reverence for its past, as it was important in the unification of Italy. The Mille or 1000, the followers of Garibaldi, met in Bergamo before going to battle. A bar in the Città Alta, the elegant Caffé del Tasso, is one of Italy’s most historic cafés. Opening in 1476 as a tailor shop, it later became the spot for the warriors to meet for a drink before going into battle. The lower town is less charming but more bustling and could be a neighborhood right out of Milan with its posh shops, eager shoppers, and monumental architecture. Bergamo was also the birthplace of Gaetano Donizetti, a composer of bel canto classics and the opera house is named in his honor.
About the Author
Marjorie Eisenach has traveled Italy extensively via numerous trips over the past 40 years, and resided in the country for nearly two years. She currently lives in Minneapolis where she teaches Italian language courses and helps American and British travelers prepare for visiting Italy. For more information, visit www.ItalyandItalian.com.