Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Lot To See

One of the first things that we learned about our trip was that there was a lot to see in such a beautiful country and just three weeks to get it done. We were going to go it alone - no tours groups. We made out fine, as it turned out.

Rushing wasn't going to help - we'd miss out on all those great little discoveries up an alleyway or down a dirt road, or that train to a town just an hour away and towards the mountains. So, we decided to limit ourselves to the north with Rome as the southern limit - coastal Tuscany (Pisa) as our western boundary, then Trieste to the east. There were modifications of course, there was nothing rigid about the plan. We went to Slovenia (still Yugoslavia, then), and Switzerland on day trips.

Always there was that amazing train system (to someone from Rhode Island, anyway). If we missed a train, there was usually one leaving soon to a town near the one we wanted to get to. So, there'd be a little exploration while we waited for the proper connection.

And always plenty of walking - most of it up or down a hill, but even that was great considering how flat Rhode Island is. Lots of sun, not too hot (we went in June), and no unbearable humidity. That was a surprise to me, considering we were surrounded by the sea, and warm days and cool nights are not normal in summer in Rhode Island. It tends to get very uncomfortable here in the summer.

We had enough rain to keep things interesting - how to stay dry and still get around on foot. But it was nice to have a good thunderstorm to break up the pattern.

By the time we got home we were very tanned and very healthy.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Piazza Vecchia In The Old City

This really gives a flavor of the old city - the medievil architectural style - the statues and columns. The fountains, too, of course. These are as plentiful as bell towers in Italy.
Notice the lions, including inlaid into the top center front of the center building. Bergamo was once part of Venice whose symbol is the lion.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Map Of Lecco and Bergamo

Bergamo is just to the right of center on this map. Lecco - and Lake Lecco are at the top left. Lake Lecco is actaully an extension of Lake Como, a world famous resort for the wealthy. Many top celebrities have homes along the lakeshore.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lake Lecco

On our first trip out alone, my companion and I went to the train station and bought a ticket for the next train leaving. It was going to Lecco and we had no idea what was there - we just knew that it was a one hour trip. So, we figured it wouldn't be too much time wasted if we just turned around and came back.

We started to see cliffs rising steeply - almost vertically - on each side of the tracks as we got about halfway there. It was very impressive for someone from Rhode Island which is a very flat state. There were grape vines everywhere, too, and cows in the fields.

One of the joys of the Italian trains was the ability to slide down the window and get a great view of the terrain from your compartment.

Lecco was a small town - we arrived about dusk. There was a wooden train station if I remember right - a few small shops and a cafe. We went into the cafe for a coffee and to call our hosts in Bergamo. That was our first exposure to "pips" and the tones the phone made as you were running out of time to put the pips in. The hostess was extremely helpful, as were most people that we ran into in Italy.

It was dark by the time we found the shoreline of the lake. Boats were tied up at small docks, and lights shone across the lake from the houses on the other side. Nobody seemed to be out doing any fishing - it was almost pure silence and peace at the lake.

We took the last train to Bergamo after another coffee in the cafe and saying goodnight to our new friends there.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cute Drawing Of The Old City

This is a drawing of the old city - the high city (citta' alta). It is a walled city; the walls are for fortification - to fend off attackers. Bergamo was part of Venice in those days.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Travelling Cheaply

One of the things we learned when we decided to "leave the nest" of our host's apartment was "pensionnes." These are low-cost lodgings, like a boarding house, that were popular with retirees getting by on a small pension.
Hence the name, pensionne.

Our travel guide - "Let's Go Italy," gave the best for each town and we never ran into a bad one. We always got a bathroom in the room - not shared - and I doubt if we ever paid more than $25. a night.

We would stay in a new town for anywhere from one day to three or four, depending on how much there was to see. Florence, for instance, merited three days, Rome four, and Venice just one and a half because of the expense and it was raining the whole time.

Then we would hop on a train - say from Milan to Florence. That was about seven hours if I remember right. We'd leave at night and we'd sleep on the train. Always second class, and that was always fine - no problems or discomfort. Comfortable enough to sleep, anyway. That's what counted; this would save the money of a night at a pensionne. This obviously worked for the longer journeys but we had many all night trips. Just about every third night or so. When we pulled into the next destination, we'd leave the bags in a locker at the train station and see which pensionne had a vacancy and if we liked the way it looked. If the place was decent, and the owner friendly, we'd end up staying there. After booking a room I'd go get the bags and head back to the pensionne for a shower.

Sleeping on the train saved us money for a good meal and, generally the ticket money to the next town.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


My companion and I stayed with friends in a small town just outside of Bergamo, called Seriate.

If it has taken second-billing so far, it is because it seemed to just be an extension of Bergamo. Not a separate municipality, although, it is of course. It just seemed like another set of apartments and streets radiating out from Bergamo's citta' bassa. The shops, stores, and restaurants all seemed to be a short walk away in Bergamo. ( At least it seems like a short walk in my memory!)

There was more distance between the buildings though, as you got further away from Bergamo. It was spreading out a bit. Not becoming rural yet, but there were more open spaces and a gorgeous river, roaring over rocks and flowing under a bridge, a cafe on the bank and a church with the obligatory bells just past the bridge. A bit of wilderness just across the street from where we were staying.

As an American, I was amazed at how everything seemed to be made of stone and so little made of wood. In my home town of Providence, Rhode Island, we had wooden "tenements" - wooden apartment houses, usually three stories ( floors) tall with a porch for each floor. All seemed to be made from the same plans.
The only stone or brick houses were in the more affluent parts of the state.

I don't think that I saw a wooden house until we went into the pre-Alps, up in the foothills of the Alps, where there was cafe in a log cabin, surrounded by pine trees. We were in Teutonic Italy then, and you could see, hear and almost feel the German and Austrian heritage and tradition.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Campaniles, or Bell Towers Everywhere

One of the most chaming things about my trip to Italy was the daily ringing of the church bells. This happened many times a day from many churches at the same time. All very glorious to a tourist that doesn't experience this at home. The bell towers are called campaniles (camp an ee lay).