A Weekend in Bergamo

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Bergamo is a city that my dad and I could agree on.

There is plenty of fantastic art (for him), both in museums and churches, but not so much that you’d feel overwhelmed.  There is plenty of fantastic food (for me), both in restaurants and in shops, but not so niche that only die-hard foodies would enjoy it.  The only issue we might run into is if my mother were to come along.  Bergamo is a hill town and rarely lets you forget it.  The streets slope every which way and mountains pop up out of nowhere as you turn the corner.

I went to Bergamo last weekend because everyone else I knew was going to be away and I didn’t feel like staying in Pavia.  I wanted to take a quick trip, somewhere that wouldn’t monopolize my weekend, but also to a place that had at least a drop of historical importance.  While you could easily make Bergamo a day trip from Milan, having a couple days there turned allowed me to relax instead of simply digest sights.

I left Saturday morning and made it just in time for lunch.  Bergamo is a bit disorienting to arrive in because the train doesn’t let you off in the tourist part of the city — città alta.  Instead, you arrive in città bassa, the low-lying section of town.  Walking through the streets I thought I had finally figured out the secret to transportation — this wasn’t Bergamo, this was Providence/Hartford/Baltimore!  Bergamo looks like the epitome of anytown USA in a way that was comforting to someone who has been away from home for a while, but would be dull to anyone on a short trip to Italy.

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I got started “touring” immediately.  After a frightening trip up the funicular, I realized I would be spending my time isolated in città alta, much to my delight.  Bergamo is an enchanting maze of medieval Northern Italian buildings that bustles as if you had turned the clock back one hundred (or two hundred) years.  It’s adorable, but it’s not pretty.  It’s enchanting, but it’s still living.

If you want to do some museums, it’s a wise idea to get the Bergamo Card for 10 euro.  This gets you free entry to the campanone (bell tower), ‘800 museum, ‘500 museum, duomo treasures museum and the temporary set-up for the Accademia Carrera.  If you aren’t in a museum mood, I would still HIGHLY recommend the Accademia Carrera or the Duomo Treasures museum.  While the Carrera is only a temporary set-up for the time being (the real museum is under refurbishment), it’s fantastic.  There’s just enough paintings to not feel overwhelmed, but still feel like you’re seeing something.  I loved nearly every one.  There’s also a supposedly important Mantegna painting that was recently refurbished.

The Duomo Treasures museum is some artifacts and ruins found underneath Bergamo.  It’s pretty neat and worth checking out if you’re interested in the history of the town.  Both museums are kind of pricey for not offering much, so I’d recommend choosing one or the other.

The churches of Bergamo, however, are completely free and, thus, a must see.  Go in the Duomo.  Go to Santa Maria Maggiore and the little church next to it.  If you see a church in Bergamo, visit it because it will be one of the most ornate churches you have ever seen in your life.  I’m surprised I didn’t injure my neck from gawking open mouthed at the ceilings.  The reckless use of gold may make you question our entire society, but that’s okay.  You can reflect at the ex-Convent of San Francesco, a much calmer — and in my opinion more holy — place that’s on the outer edge of Bergamo and another (free) must-see.

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Of course, no trip would be complete without a few good meals and Bergamo will more than take care of you in this respect.  I had my two lunches out, choosing to make Saturday dinner out of prepared foods in my room (apparently it’s hard to find a place to eat dinner without reservations, go figure).  I had my first lunch at Cooperativa della città alta — a welcome recommendation from my guide book.  The food was cheap, good and traditional.  It wasn’t a gorgeous location, but it felt authentic.

My other meal, however, was a bit more expensive, completely indulgent but also completely fantastic.  From the first time I walked by La Cantina di Via Colleoni, I was enthralled.  The menu was unique with Italian ingredients in a new way.  The place looked gorgeous, had a million wine bottles on the wall and just seemed to call to me.  Miraculously, by arriving extremely early for Sunday lunch, I got a seat and a fantastic meal.  It was the kind of place that managed to perfectly walk the line between being a place with real Italians and perfectly catering to tourists.  I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  My only suggestion?  Make a reservation.

Bergamo is a lovely city for a small break, but perhaps not a huge destination.  The museums are interesting, but rely on multi-media in a scary way.   Walk around, have a nice meal and then take the train back.  You’ll have a beautiful time, I promise.

Do you like taking day trips or do you prefer weekending?

If you do want to stay overnight, I highly recommend Albergo Il Sole.  Cheap and centrally located by Piazza Vecchia in città alta, I loved it!  Email the hotel for a reservation.

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