Bergamo … home of one of Milan’s international airports.Â So, it must be boring, huh?Â Over populated, busy, grubby around the edges, perhaps?Â Well, not in the old part, Bergamo Alta!Â And that’s where OH had found a hotel for us for those first couple of nights after our arrival in Italy.
I don’t remember much about the airport itself.Â Airports are airports, if you know what I mean, and only the unusual ones stand out in my mind – like Las Vegas, where you can be off your plane and standing on the pavement in fifteen minutes flat*.Â But we picked up our hired car, struggled with the Susan-the-GPS for a few minutes, and then we were away.
Bergamo Alta is built on a hill, like so many of the older settlements in Italy.Â It’s a walled town (which says much about the conflicts which were rife in the days when it was built) and as you drive up to a gateway, you might say (as OH did):
‘Fuck!Â You want me to drive in THERE??’
Driving into one of these hill towns can be terrifying.Â You can’t see what’s coming round the corner, and even if you manage to identify which roads are one way, there’s no guarantee that Italian drivers will honour that instruction.Â In fact, it was in Bergamo that we met a little old lady sailing down the middle of a one way street towards us, waving us off as we honked at her.
Eventually we came to a piazza.Â Susan said we’d arrived, but could we see the hotel?Â We could not.Â OH turned to me and said:
‘OK, you’re going to have to ask someone where it is’.
OK, so I’m learning Italian, but it’s one thing to be quietly chatting with friendly, helpful people on Skype, and quite another to flag down a passing Italian and ask for directions!Â But I did it.Â I collared a nice looking middle aged man and asked.Â He looked panicky and quickly told me he didn’t speak English, but then relented and listened patiently while I told him the address I was looking for.Â And once he realised I could actually speak a little of his language, and understand his replies, his face split into a grin and he couldn’t do enough to help.Â He even walked me into to a side street and pointed out where the hotel was (yes, we were that close) and where we could park while we unloaded our bags.Â Big (short-lived) sigh of relief.Â Short-lived because the hotel didn’t have a car park, so once unloaded, OH had to go and find somewhere legal to leave the car. After much huffing and pessimism from the ‘glass-half-full’ man, he did find a slot about five minutes walk away – at the top of this street.
The Hotel Vecchio was lovely.Â The guy on reception was lovely, too, but he didn’t speak English so it was up to me to translate again.Â The room was spacious, spotlessly clean, and had a little balcony where OH could smoke.Â What it didn’t have was Wi-Fi.Â Â It had cable, but sadly my laptop does not, and the only place I could get a signal was downstairs in the breakfast room.
On the second morning, OH went down first, and when I went to follow him, the lift wouldn’t work.Â I walked around the corner looking for the stairs .. and there weren’t any.Â Rooms, yes.Â Door to the balcony, yes.Â Stairs, no.
I went back into the room, rang down to the desk and in very bad Italian told the lady who answered the phone that I couldn’t call the lift.Â In perfect Italian** she replied that I should wait there and she would come up.Â Turned out that the lift was having maintenance work done – which seems to happen an awful lot in Italy.
Anyway, after a wonderful breakfast of local cheese, bread, yoghurt, and fruit – with a good cup of English tea – we set out to explore.
Bergamo is pretty.Â It’s full of shaded narrow streets and unexpected cobblestoned squares, and specialist shops of the sort that we don’t seem to have anymore.Â There are fountains, churches, restaurants .. and zillions of dogs.Â Dogs everywhere.Â Dogs on leads, and off leads. Big dogs, small fluffy dogs … but surprisingly little evidence of their passing, if you’ll excuse the pun.Â I guess the Italians pick up.
Bergamo is pretty, but it’s quite small, the streets are (as I’ve said) narrow, and everyone has a car and/or a scooter.Â Parking isn’t just at a premium, it’s practically a blood sport.Â And so it was with some trepidation that we decided to drive out for the day.
When we returned, naturally, the five-minutes-walk-away parking slot was gone.Â We drove around the town a couple of times (I mean literally, all around the town) and finally, by driving down a ‘forbidden’ street through an archway, we found a spot right opposite the local Carabiniere office and left the car there for the night.
And that’s probably when they started following OH all over Italy.Â We got pulled over by them for the first time the very next day.
* They want your money, and they want it NOW.
** Perfect Italian, for me, is beautifully pronounced, without strong regional accents, and sloooow.