Around Northern Italy in a Fiat Panda

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The Contessa and the Commendatore Visit the Home Country

Friday Oct. 19: Padova ⇒ Bergamo ⇒ Como

food & lodging

Food & lodging notes

A We left Padova after breakfast in the Hotel Milano. The waiter conversed with me in Italian, correcting my grammar and pronunciation in a friendly, avuncular way. We headed west and detoured north for Bergamo, another walled hill town. Bergamo had a different aspect — more Gothic in its buildings than Perugia or San Giminiano. We wandered about, reading inscriptions about Pope John XXIII who came from Bergamo.

The bakeries featured different baked goods than we had seen so far. Possibly for All Souls’ Day, they were selling “dead bread” (a dark, soft spice cake dusted with powdered sugar) and “bones of the dead” (looked like biscotti or cantucci and came in hard & soft versions; the soft is “morbido”).

There were schoolchildren on a tour, eating their lunches sitting on the steps & walls of a garden. We saw them later getting their dessert — gelati — in the piazza where we stopped for a lunch of bread, wine and aqua minerale.

K The minimal detour to Bergamo was extravagantly repaid. (I’ll regret deciding not to detour further to San Pelegrino Termé for all the time until we do get there!) Bergamo is a beautiful and harmonious old alta città above a thriving modern town that, unlike Perugia, does not engender the urge to flee screaming to the far quiet countryside. Bergamo’s main square is one of the more pleasing we saw. I made a 5-photo panorama of it from our vantage at an outdoor café.

We left Bergamo alta in the middle of the afternoon shutdown. The Panda’s little yellow k in bergamo gasoline light had been winking at us for some time. We were near the autostrada, but had no idea how far along it the next service area might be. We cast about the outskirts of Bergamo for any open gas station, painfully aware that in doing so we were inexorably using up whatever pittance of gasoline was left to us. Finally we found a station that, while not exactly open, at least featured self-service pumps. Various people were standing around the property. Any of them might have been employees, or not, but none offered to help as we struggled to figure out the “international” hieroglyphics on the self-service pump. Finally we managed to get the pump to eat a 10,000-lira note, got some of the precious liquid into the Panda, and set out on the autostrada. A quarter mile beyond the entrance was an area servizio, at which we filled him up. So it goes. We drove on to Como, skirting Milano to the north.

A We arrived in Como, a lake town with the subdued, soft air of a resort just out of season, by late afternoon and checked in at the Hotel Continental. Parking was provided in an underground garage. We drove down a precipitous ramp after opening the iron gates ourselves and turning on the lights.

An airline flight attendant on the Boston-to-JFK leg of the flight had talked up the delights of Como. She said that a bus ran from there to Malpensa airport, so it was a reasonable alternative to Milano for our last nights’ stay. When we were unable to find a room in Milano for the final two nights (we must have called 25 hotels from Firenze), we settled on the plan of staying in Como and driving in to Milano the next day to turn in the Panda at its point of origin. We would then take the train back to Como and proceed from there to Malpensa the following day. Once in Como we encountered the one big reverse of the trip: there is no bus from Como to Malpensa! Perhaps the flight attendant had taken a bus provided by the airline for its employees. In any event, we had to revamp our plans before we could relax and enjoy Como. We finally settled on extending the car rental by one day and turning in the Panda at Malpensa — but we needed to find a Hertz agent who spoke English in order to see if this was possible.

A Keith gallantly got the Panda out of its catacomb and plunged back into the traffic. It was fully dark by now and our maps were not very helpful — minimal detail. He managed to find the Hertz agency, negotiate the extension of our rental, and get us back to the hotel.

We were then free to rest, wash, and join the passeggiata in progress. The center city was pleasant and lively…

K …A large area, 7 blocks by 4 or so, had been closed to any but “authorized” traffic.
A People were strolling about, buying groceries and what not. We passed three Mexican-flavored places. One of them was a simple corner bar-tabac that had a mynah bird in a cage out on the street. It whistled and chattered Italian phrases we could not understand.

We scouted out that evening’s restaurant, Il Solito Posto, during passeggiata and returned to it when it opened. Follow the link for an account of one of the more surprising and elegant meals of the trip. Il Solito Posto definitely counts as a “find.”