Sometimes you need to get far away from the maddening crowd, and one way to do that is go somewhere else for the day. We did this twice when in Milan. Our first day trip was to Bergamo, a classic hilltop town. Actually it is a tale of two cities – the upper and lower city. In order to visit the upper city it is best to use the funicular – an elevator that goes up the steep hill “diagonally”. It is fun to ride and fairly inexpensive (the same as bus fare) – probably because the locals use it everyday. Better yet, if you are a pizza delivery person you ride for free.
Once you step out of funicular station – you step back in time. The upper city is basically a medieval city complete with high city walls, ancient churches, disturbing carvings and narrow streets. At times its streets are very steep, and you wish you were as nimble as a mountain goat. What we love about the place are the views, the sense of history and the fact that you can’t buy souvenirs there. It’s a real Italian town. The upper city also houses a branch of the Bergamo university that is dedicated to music (the local Santa Maria Maggiore church has a continuous and well-documented tradition of music teaching and singing for more than eight hundred years), so you see a lot of young people out and about in the city. For us the must see places are the park overlooking the lower city and the Piazza Vecchia (the old town square) and its quirky fountain.
Unlike the upper city, the lower city is a mish-mash of old and new. There you will come across a 15th or 16th church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, as well as apartment complexes (complete with surveillance cameras), supermarkets, and modern hotels. You will also meet the nicest people on the planet. Along the main street (on Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII ) there is the best “take away” pizza place. It is run by a local couple who treat you like family. Locals love to eat here – and so do we. (Six years later we came back!) We also met up with a lovely grandma who insisted that we go ahead of her while in line at a local supermarket – while in line she chatted away to us in Italian and we nodded like we knew what she was saying; she was so sweet. It also reminded us of our last visit to Bergamo six years ago, when a young man invited us to stay at his house so he could take us skiing (yes, Bergamo is close to Italian Alps).
Another great day trip is Lake Como. Nowadays it is famous because George Clooney has a villa there; however, it was a popular resort town for locals and foreigners long before George was a glimmer in his dad’s eye. Of course, when you visit the place for yourself, you quickly see why. The lake is surrounded by gently rolling hills, and even has it’s own classic hilltop town. It is a playground for the very rich of course. You can buy your own traditonal villa and keep your boat at the local marina if you desire. If you are a wealthy out-of -towner who wants to visit Como for a few days you can be flown in on a private float-plane. Even “poor” people like Wade and I enjoyed it. Walking along the picturesque lake is a treat in itself. One famous villa is now owned by the city of Como and therefore is open to the public. You can walk through it’s beautiful gardens and feed the local birds after having lunch. It’s the perfect place to be outdoors. We can’t wait to go back. Like Bergamo, it is the perfect place for day trippin’.