You may remember that we flew from Copenhagen to Italy via Milan. Well, we chose the wrong day for our fight. Why? Because the Milanese Air Traffic Controllers also decided to strike that day! This meant our plane was delayed by 5 hours. If I was a smart girl I would have written my Copenhagen post during that time, but I had recently invested in a very hearty edition of British Elle, so alas I spent the whole time pining away after unaffordable fashion.
When we finally did get to Milan, we needed to get into Milan proper, as we were at Malpensa Airport. In my baby Italian, malpensa translates to bad thought. This was quite apropos. We arrived in Terminal 2. As soon as we got outside, we noticed big buses that said “Malpensa to Milano Centrale”. Eric said, what do you think? I had it in my mind that we should take the train into town. So I had us walk all the way to Terminal 1 train station. What did we find? That the trains had also been on strike from 9:00-5:00pm that day and there wasn’t another train going to Milan for 2 hours. The man at the ticket counter suggested we take the bus. Excellent. Italy: 1, Chelsea: 0.
We buy our tickets for the bus (which was cheaper than the train) and get on board. First stop? Terminal 2. Excellent. Italy: 2, Chelsea & Eric: 0
We get to Milano Centrale train station and grab our bags asap. Since we were so delayed, I’m scared that there won’t be any more trains to Bergamo-the little town 30 minutes outside of Milan where we have rooms booked for the night. There’s one more train, and it leaves in 5 minutes. In a mad dash we buy our tickets and run for the train so we don’t miss it. With a sigh of relief we board the train…and we sit for another 10 minutes. Of course we do, it’s Italy. The train is late. Italy: 3, Chelsea and Eric: 0.
Our train pulls into town and we walk outside. The padrona of our B&B has told us to call her when we arrive and she’ll pick us up from the train station. We spy a group of payphones and try them. Naturally, none of them accept actual money-only Italian credit cards. Excellent. Italy: 4, Chelsea & Eric: 0.
It’s ok! There’s a McDonalds across the street! I know that they have free wifi! If we get free wifi from them, then we can use skype to call our B&B! We go inside and order an ice cream (hazelnut!). We ask for the password to the wifi. The guy behind the counter asks me if I have an Italian cell phone. No, why? Because they send you the wifi password by texts. Only works on Italian phones. Of course it does. Italy: 5, Chelsea & Eric: 0.
At this point I’m ready to tear my hair out. Our last resort is the hotel across the street. We plan to go in and beg them to use their phone. They are nice enough to let us use the phone. We call our hostess on her cell phone. “Oh, I expected you hours ago! I’m at home now, I can’t come pick you up. My car broke anyways. Can you take a taxi?” Oh, a taxi? You mean those ones we saw when we first walked out of the station an hour ago? Sure. Italy: 6, Chelsea & Eric: 0.
We trudge our way back to the train station (all of this takes place within one block of the train station). We ask one of the taxis if they can take us to our B&B. “Ca’Rossa? Of course. Lovely place! Which one do you want to go to? There’s two”. But look, we wrote down the address! Haha! Italy: 6, Chelsea & Eric: 1!!!
A short drive later we are at our B&B in the Italian countryside. All of the stress of the travel day goes away when we see our lovely room. We’re staying in a beautiful house behind the Upper Town of Bergamo and a giant breakfast spread is served every day. Hooray! Italy defaults! Chelsea and Eric win!!
At breakfast we meet the other residents of our little B&B and our padrona, Pierangela. A band of 3 Francais from a suburb of Paris. When we ask them what they do, they tell us they are part of a troupe that does Renaissance reenactments! They are here to explore all the little medieval towns (including Bergamo)! Wonderful! As soon as they found out we were coming to Paris they invited to come visit them.
After breakfast we make our way to the medieval town of Bergamo, or Citta Alta –Upper Town. It takes us about 30 minutes of winding through the Italian countryside to get to Citta Alta. It’s a beautiful, hot walk so when we get to the main square I introduce Eric to the icy glory of granitas.
In the main square, a local group of gardeners had installed a live exhibition of local plants, flowers and grasses all over-turning it into a veritable oasis in the middle of this medieval Italian town. They even had sprinkled bean bag chairs and café tables with umbrellas throughout, so people could sit and enjoy the garden and square at their leisure. We decided this was a wonderful place to draw so we spent the afternoon sketching and watercoloring.
Then we grabbed a little lunch at the local bakery and strolled around the sights of Citta Alta.
That night we ate at the local eatery La Grotto Azzurro, the Azure Cave. The food there was the Italian food you dream about-fresh, colorful ingredients. Hearty perfect portions. I had literally the best pizza of my life there. Pizza Lucca with mozzarella and mozzarella di Buffalo (2 types of mozzarella forever now), pomodorini or cherry tomatoes and melanzane fritte, breaded and fried eggplant. The mozzarella was fresh and plump, the tomatoes were ripe and tangy, and the breaded and fried chunks of eggplant were heaven itself. I had an entire pizza to myself, which I couldn’t believe but it was so good my stomach couldn’t get enough!
Then when our 15 year old waiter asked in whispered English if we wanted dessert, how could we say no? They had profiteroles for goodness sake! So we ordered 2, thinking we would get 2 individual profiteroles. Nu-uh, two orders of 3 giant profiteroles each! Fat pastry puffs stuffed with sweet cream and drenched in chocolate icing. We didn’t think we could eat it all but somehow our stomachs made room for the food. They recognized this rare treat. Eric even found room for coffee. Then he profiterolled me home and we went to bed with full bellies.
The next day we took a day trip to Lake Como. The lake region near the northern Alps of Italy is home to several major lakes, including Como. Como seems to be one of the most popular as it’s home to the town of Bellaggio, which inspired the super luxe hotel in Las Vegas. We decided to visit the smaller town of Varenna.
The major part of our day was spent drawing this darling town over lunch.
Then we walked around to see the rest of Varenna. After about 10 minutes, we had done that so we did it again.
Varenna was so lovely and pristine-crystal blue, sparkling water, endless skies and vast ranges of the Alps watching over you. Rainbow houses dotting the lake are visited by buzzing boats going to and fro. This was the perfect mix of a lovely town that’s easy to get to, but not overrun with tourists. Endless winding stairway alleys, good, artisanal gelato and stunning views-an incredible day.
On our last day in Bergamo we moved house to another apartment owned by the couple running our B&B. We did a little perusing around the downtown area, and then went up to Citta Alta again. This time, we were able to take the furnicular!
Then we enjoyed a Bergamo tradition, apperitivo. Che bellisima tradizione! During “happy hour”, an unmarked time in Italy-just early evening, all the bars and cafes serve you little appetizers with your drinks-for free! We visited a few of the outdoor cafes in Citta Alta and did a bit more sketching.
The next day we headed to Venice, and with no strikes or troubles we got there easily. My friend, Little Brett, is living and working in Venice at a hostel so once again we joined up with a friend in Europe! Next post, all about the decadence and decay of Venice!