Bergamo was, I thought, an airport city. A Luton, a Venezia Mestre. A destination only for its links to other, more exotic destinations. And so I was surprised when Matt suggested we go. We tucked in one of those 36 hour types of visit, meeting in Bergamo on Matt’s way back from Amsterdam. We arrived in time for dinner, the next day we walked and lunched before jumping on the train again.
Bergamo is home to a citta alta and a citta bassa. It was within the ancient walls of the former, in the under the porticos of a restaurant bar during aperitivo, that we saw it. Peaking out from under the shirt of the American at the table next to ours was a small leather holster, similar, I thought, to that used for a phone, perhaps for a GPS or a pager. It was then that I noticed the Tabasco sauce label, peaking above the leather.
Carrying your own bottle of hot sauce, permanently attached to your person with a holster deserves some kind of respect. And we felt a lot for this man who knows what he likes and who isn’t afraid to carry it at his hip, always.
I didn’t see the bottle come out of the holster so whatever its uses, it wasn’t for the stuzzichini that were ordered alongside his wine and grappa. Hot sauce requires its own kind of appreciation, and you don’t find much hot sauce in Italy.
We couldn’t get over it for the rest of our stay.
But what else to say about Bergamo? The narrow country lanes that wind around the hills at the back of the high town are ideal for motorbikes. We passed many – that is to say, many passed us – on our Sunday country stroll around a hill. But on Saturday night in the low city it was packs of youths travelling on scooters and conducting a shouted conversation who surprised us at corners and kept us from sleeping as they reved their motors and sped through the quiet streets.
For that arrival dinner we had, we ignored advice to dine in the citta alta from this Guardian article and our B&B host and instead followed the Lonely Planet to this enoteca. There, our Italian was complimented, we knew the word raffano. But we switched to English for the waiter to explain that my fish was to be sea bream, an ugly name for a tasty piece of fish. Also an expensive piece of fish. I skipped the glass of wine, instead allowing Matt the glass he had his eye on. It was a fair trade.
The highlight of the citta alta is the main street which stretches from one funicular to another. Lined with restaurants, pastry shops, well-curated window displays and tourists. We were there Father’s Day weekend, and I am sure it was for this that everyone was carrying olive branches as they walked through the town. It was also Spring, and I was so happy for the blossoms.