Thursday, March 15, 2018

Surprising Bergamo and the Italian Train System

Wednesday, 14 March, 2018

Better get a BIG cappuccino, this is a long one.

Bergamo . . .

Home of the Bergamo Lions American Football Club.

The Evil Empire . . .

At least it was back in the first decade of the 21st-century when even famed author John Grisham described them as such in his 2007 novel about life playing American football in Italy, Playing for Pizza.

When I coached the Catania Elephants in 2008 and 2009, we played against the Lions each year, both times in Bergamo.

We lost a shoot out to the Lions in 2008 by a final score of 68-41.

In 2009, we came up short again in a more conventional game by a final tally of 35-21.

Those were the only two times I had ever been to the greater Bergamo area and, quite frankly, was not overly impressed.

Several of the Skorpions, most notably DL Coach Luca Pinto, said that I had to go to Bergamo on one of my day trips.

I was skeptical, but I trusted that Luca and the other Skorpions would not lead me astray.

Thus, on a sunny, warm day I headed to Bergamo via a train, a Milan Metro and another train.

I had to take advantage of the break in the weather as we have rain predicted for the next four days and then snow again on Monday.

The commuter train to Milan and the Metro from the Cadorna train station to Milano Centrale train station both went smoothly.

Buying my 8.30 Euros, first class, one-way ticket to Bergamo was a piece of cake at one of the automated kiosks, the next train to Bergamo left in 20 minutes.

It gave me time to gawk once again at the powerful, fascist architecture of this Mussolini era edifice.

We are BIG, you are small

I needed to find out on which track
the Bergamo train could be found

 The tracks are out there

 There it is on Track 13

That track number would turn out to be a bitter omen.

I boarded the train which was comfortably empty for the 50 minute ride to Bergamo.

I can't say if it was the beautiful weather, the book that I was reading, day dreaming about Milano Centrale's architecture, being a bit hungry or if I was channeling my inner Paul Sabolic but I made the greatest of rookie mistakes.

I forgot to place my ticket in the prominently displayed, yellow validating machine in the train station.

We had only pulled out of Milano about a minute before a train conductor asked to see my ticket. I happily gave it to him and he took a long time inspecting it before making me aware of my transgression. 

What to do?

Easy he said, I had to pay for a new ticket and for the fine for not validating the one that I was carrying.

Cost and fine?

48.00 EUROS!

He did say that my unvalidated ticket would still be all I needed for my return trip if I validated it in Bergamo before boarding.

Before coming home I checked with one of the Bergamo train stations ticket sellers to see if my unvalidated ticket would suffice for the return trip being that it said Milano to Bergamo.

She agreed with what the conductor told me if I validated it in Bergamo before boarding.

I validated my ticket, boarded the packed train headed to Milano Centrale and, of course, there was no conductor checking people's tickets this trip.

In retrospect, one of the things I've noticed on train trips in Europe is that if the train is empty, the conductors check peoples' tickets. If the train is full, they tend not to, too much work I guess.

Being the mellow fellow that I am, I didn't let this episode ruin my day or my attitude.

 Pets in Bergamo are HUGE!

 Monument to the Alpini

The Alpine are an elite mountain warfare military corps of the Italian army and Bergamo sits in the foothills of the Alps.

 Fully armed Alpini
working up a crevice

 I LOVE Centaur vs. Fish
wrestling matches

It was about a 15 minute walk
from the Bergamo train station
to Bergamo's Città Alta

The Città Alta (Upper Town) sits on the hillside and is the wondrous walled part of the city that incorporates Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

The Città Bassa (Lower City), from where this picture was taken, is the newer part of Bergamo.

Even though Bergamo sits in the foothills of the Alps, the city was ruled by Venice for 350 years starting in 1428 until Napoleon arrived on the Bergamo scene in 1797.

Torre dei Caduti
erected in 1924

A tribute to those from Bergamo who died in World War I, Benito Mussolini himself dedicated the tower.

Napoleon was here

Torre dei Caduti closeup

 Good looking bank building

 It was a pleasant walk from the
train station to the funicular that
would take me up to the Città Alta

Thank goodness, it would have been a steep walk up the hill on a warm day.

Not a good combination for fat people.

It was a shiny, new funicular

I was hungry, definitely in need of sustenance and wouldn't you know it, one of my Lonely Planet Italy guidebook choices for dining in the Città Alta was right across the street from the funicular station at the top of the hill!


They bill themselves as Italy's first polenta takeaway restaurant serving up steaming bowls of delicious polenta with a sauce of my choice.

I opted for a bowl of the Ragù di Cinghiale, taragna style. That's polenta in a wild boar sauce with taleggio cheese and butter.


Somewhat sated, I was now ready to explore!

A quiet piazza

What's that on the right?

From the 1800s, it was the
community clothes washing facility

Città Alta's Piazza Vecchio

Le Corbusier, the renowned Swiss-French architect, once called this piazza "The most beautiful square in Europe."

The Piazza Vecchio was
looking good today

Interesting Fountain

The Palazzo della Ragione on the left
and the Torre del Campanone on the right

FOUR church buildings on the
other side of these arches

The Baptistry

It was closed.

Tie up your horses please

Funny looking lion

 A Sun clock under the arches?

It's long and in the shade

How does it work?

Winter Solstice

Again, how does it work?

 A view of Città Alta's Church Central

Entry gate to the Capella Colleoni 

It was built between 1472 and 1476 as a magnificent mausoleum/chapel for Bergamo's favorite mercenary commander Bartolomeo Colleoni who led Venice's armies in campaigns in Northern Italy.

Touching the family crest on the right is considered good luck.

We have a big game on Saturday so I gave it a firm touch.

The Capella itself was impressive but no pictures were allowed. 

 The Capella Colleoni

 A lion guarding the entrance to the
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Located to the left of the Capella Colleoni, they share the same wall.

 Make that TWO lions
on guard duty

Photos were allowed in the Basilica.


The Basilica was built in the late 12th-century.

Murals are always a good touch

As are ornate painted ceilings

If the priest were in it,
I might have gone to confession


 Tapestries too!

Bishop down,

How much longer do we
have to hold this up?

Stop your bellyaching!

What is this lion eating?

Having looked at the exterior of the closed Baptistry, entered the interesting Capella Colleoni and taken lots of photos in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it was time to enter the final of the four religious structures in this confined area, Bergamo's Duomo. 

Duomo organ practice,

Bright Duomo interior

 Side Altar

 Main Altar

A final side altar

An amazing set of churches, they are so close to each other that I considered them as one for the purposes of my One Church per Day rule.

I was still hungry.

Il Fornaio
another prime pick for dining in
Città Alta according to Lonely Planet

Amazing array of pizzas
sold by the kilo

So many choices

I went with a slice of the margherita pizza.



These are classic Bergamo desserts called polenta e osei. They are pudding shaped cakes filled with jam and cream topped with icing and chocolate birds.

Temptation everywhere

Why I did not order at least one of these treats is a mystery to me.

 no . . .

. . . No . . .

. . . NO!

Another random tower

Pets in Bergamo are HUGE!

Stairway to Heaven?

This was supposed to be the highly
recommended Osteria della Birra

A cold beer on a hot day sounded good to me, but the Osteria was no longer here. This gelateria stood in its place.

Gelato is good on a warm day too, especially limone e fragola!

Old doors and their locks in these ancient towns and villages always interest me.

Città Alta jail?

Could use a paint job

The lock is better than the wood

How old?

This door looks secure

I continued to wander through the narrow lanes of the Città Alta and stumbled upon some things of interest.

Outdoor murals

 Monastery entrance

 Murals in need of restoration


 Capella di Santa Croce
dating from the 11th-century

 Backside of the
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

As is typical in Italy, I stumbled upon an unattended treasure and I was alone.

It was a small, open air room with murals on each and every wall.

Bright colors

Some wearing away gracefully

 Others holding on completely


Artists used every space available

 Pope John XXIII
was in this space too

Side entrance to the
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Nice plaque

 Dry fountain

Time for the annual
Bergamo Jazz Fest
Meditating on a Piazza with wonderful
Pantheon Steel Hand Pan music

I now headed to the
Torre dei Campanone

The views from the top of this tower were said to be worth the elevator ride up 52 meters, 170 feet, above the Piazza Vecchia.

The views were spectacular.

Looking towards the Alps

Looking towards the Città Bassa

View of Church Central

The Duomo

Looking toward the San Vigilio area

The cost of admission to the Torre dei Campanone also gave me access to the adjacent Palazzo del Podestà which houses Bergamo's museum dedicated to the period in the city's history when it was under Venetian control from 1428 to 1797.


Imagine that.

Does anybody do murals in Camarillo?

View from my seat at a coffee bar

 I just liked this
tobacco store sign

Commies again?

It was time to start the walk back to the train station.

Of course, I was still on full exploration mode.

Nice Arcade

 Chiesa dei Santi Bartolomeo e Stefano

I needed to enter yet another church today but for a good reason, this was not a random church.

Behind the main altar was
my reason for entering the chiesa

Lorenzo Lotto was one of the great painters of the late Venetian Renaissance period. Starting in 1513, Lotto spent a dozen years working in the Bergamo area.

Many of Lotto's masterpieces remain in situ, i.e., in the exact same spot where Lotto originally painted them.

At least four Bergamo churches have Lotto paintings known as sacra conversazione, sacred conversations between Mary and various saints.

Here is the one in the Chiesa dei Santi Bartolomeo e Stefano.

Lotto's Pala Marinero

Chiesa priest watching the tourists

In the April 25th Garden

April 25, 1945 was Italy's Liberation Day, the day that the Fascists were overthrown at the end of World War II.

Is that supposed to be Benito Mussolini who's body was strung up like this in Milan?

Pets in Bergamo are HUGE!

 One last church

No, I didn't go into this one.

By the way, I was wrong.

Bergamo is a fantastic city to visit even if the Evil Empire calls it home.

 It was a good day for exercise!

Reading Is FUNdamental!

Intrigue, Nazis, a Mob Hitman
and the 1936 Berlin Olympics

What more could one want from a good book?

One more practice and three more days until . . .



David said...

You left us hanging: was the unvalidated train ticket, in fact, accepted on the way back without any issues?

George said...


Yes and no I guess. Once validated in Bergamo, by all accounts of the morning rain's conductor and the lady at the Bergamo ticket window it should have worked but we'll never know as no conductor checked anyone's tickets in my car on the return trip.

This validation issue might be a subject for your magazine.