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Alliteration Gone Mad!! A Brief, But Blissful Break In Bewitching Bellagio And Beautiful Bergamo

Alliteration Gone Mad!! A Brief, But Blissful Break In Bewitching Bellagio And Beautiful Bergamo

Old Apr 15th, 2005, 05:50 PM
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VARENNA

Varenna was probably the one disappointment of our trip, but maybe that was partly our fault because we didn't really give it much of a chance to win us over - perhaps if we had visited it during the day it would have been a bit livelier and more attractive looking. I had hoped to see at least the gardens of the Villa Cipressi (& hopefully get a little peek inside as well) but as things turned out we didn't arrive in Varenna until somewhere around 7.15 p.m. leaving us only two possible ferries to catch back to Bellagio - at 9.00 pm & 10.35 pm. It was getting dark as we walked along the shorefront from the ferry-dock & there were only a couple of people around. Even as we cut up past the Bar Nilus towards the town the place seemed deserted & Liz decided that she didn't really want to spend our last night at the lake in such sleepy surroundings. This meant that our mission was to have dinner over the next hour or so & catch the 9.00 ferry back to Bellagio. As we reached the main square, the Piazza San Giorgio, we passed the Royal Victoria Hotel & seeing that their restaurant seemed to have a good crowd inside we decided to have a look at the menu posted outside. Given that the Royal Victoria is a 4 star hotel I had expected the menu to be too pricey, but in fact they were very reasonable. As it turned out, we were actually in the Victoria Grill & not in the hotel's "posh" restaurant.

On entering, we found the restaurant to be simply furnished, with red & white checked tablecloths & an animated, informal atmosphere - in fact, just what I had pictured a "real" Italian restaurant to be like. All of the customers we could see appeared to be Italian and indeed our feeling was that many of them were locals as they seemed to be familiar both with each other & with the waiting staff. Having had pizza the night before in Bellagio, I had intended to try something different tonight, but the majority of diners were digging into their own pizzas with great gusto & given our tight time-frame I figured that the pizza would be ready pretty quickly. Following the same reasoning Liz chose the lasgane as it appeared on the daily specials menu. So, pizza & lasagne for two nights in a row - do we live on the edge or not? Told you we weren't great foodies

The waiter brought us our drinks & some crusty bread & it wasn’t too long before Liz had her lasagne as well as a side plate of fries (incidentally, we LOVED the fries both here & the previous evening in La Grotta, Bellagio). I ate one piece of bread and then, although I didn’t particularly want it, I took another as there was no sign of my pizza yet. As I bit down on the bread I felt a sharp pain & realised to my dismay that I had broken one of my back teeth. Naturally, I started to probe away with my tongue & of course the gap seemed huge but, thankfully, after the initial pain when the tooth first broke, there was no further discomfort, even later on when I had hot and cold drinks. My concern over the broken tooth started to be replaced, however, by concern over whether we would catch the 9.00 ferry. Liz was just finishing her lasagne (which was delicious) when my pizza was finally served at around 8.40 which meant that I had 20 minutes to eat it, settle the bill & get back down to the ferry. I am sure the people at the table next to us must have wondered what on earth was going on as I polished off the pizza at breakneck speed and the waiter looked very puzzled to be asked for the bill just moments after serving the meal. We left in such a hurry that I am sure some of the other customers must have thought that we were running out without paying. Running as quickly as possible (bear in mind that we are no spring chickens!) we toyed with the idea of cutting down one of the steep stairways which are a feature of the town, but we weren’t sure if they would take us right down to the shore or if we might end up lost & so we stuck to the main street. As the road bent round we could see the ferry from Bellagio just coming into dock but it wasn’t until we got down to the bottom of the hill that we realised we would catch it OK.

Back in Bellagio we tried to ‘phone home from the call boxes next to the ferry dock but we couldn’t get any of them to work. Although they have an English language option we kept getting some sort of error message in Italian which we guessed might mean that the boxes were full and couldn’t take any more coins (when this happens at home you can make emergency calls only). We decided to go back up to the hotel to call home from there & check again on the Pope’s condition. We called our own home first & checked that the boys, who were being looked after by Liz’s mother, were OK & then I called my own mother. I had literally just put the ‘phone down when the Pope’s death was announced. It was very hard to know just how to feel; great sadness, obviously, but also a sense of relief that his suffering was finally over.

We were curious to see how the news would affect the town, but to be honest, there was very little sign that anything had happened. We walked up to the Piazza Della Chiesa but there was no sign of activity at the church & although the customers in the Bar Sport were watching the news on TV there were no obvious signs of sadness. Conscious that this was our last evening in Bellagio, we walked right through the town, up and down the terraced alleyways until eventually, tired out, we ended up back down at the lakeshore. We went over to the San Remo for a final drink, but, although it was still open, there were no customers inside and so we walked on to the Carillion Café, which although not as nice looking as the San Remo was busier inside. The hot chocolate was so good I had a second cup & then we reluctantly made our way back to the hotel.

Sitting out on our terrace we looked back on what had been a long, but enjoyable day, albeit with a sad ending. It was hard to believe that it was only this morning we had been in Menaggio but we were glad that we had packed so much into the day and had seen so many of the delights that this beautiful area had to offer. Although sorry to be spending our last evening in Bellagio we consoled ourselves that we still had a visit to Bergamo to look forward to before returning home.

More to follow....

Jim
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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BELLAGIO TO BERGAMO


Sunday morning, after breakfast, we bade a reluctant farewell to our room & terrace (oh! our terrace!) and checked out. The hotel reception agreed to let us leave our luggage in their office while we went to morning mass & then did some shopping. Although not quite as nice as yesterday morning it was still pretty bright with just a few clouds scudding overhead. As we were a little early, we sat in the main square outside the church and watched the locals arriving. Although it sounds like a bit of a cliché to say that one of the most enjoyable things about a trip to Italy is the people watching, we had certainly found that to be the case during our short visit. Mass was a pleasant, though low-key, experience and (bearing in mind our lack of Italian) didn’t seem to be especially affected by the Pope’s death the previous evening.

The main item on the shopping agenda was to buy gifts for the two mums & Liz’s sister back home and having done a good bit of window shopping already, Liz had decided that a few silk scarves would be packed away in the luggage for the journey home. I know that fashion is a subject close to the heart of many Fodorites (God bless ‘em) but I can’t honestly say that it is a particular interest of mine. Nevertheless, even an unreconstructed slob like me couldn’t fail to notice that the shop windows were full of lime green and orange clothes and accessories. The key question, of course, is were those winter’s colours going out, or spring’s colours coming in? And the answer……cue fanfare……

Sorry, don’t have a clue.

Anyway, Liz bought a variety of scarves in every conceivable tint of lime green and orange (as well as one black one – don’t know how that got there) all of which were gratefully received on our return. Adding a lime green bag to a similarly coloured scarf she had bought for herself, she looked the part with the black shades she had bought in Menaggio. Realising that it was now, sadly, time to begin our journey back to Bergamo we headed back down the hill to the hotel to collect our luggage only to be met by a surprise – crowds! The area around about the Metropole & nearby cafes could only be described as bustling, mostly with what appeared to be day-trippers – I suppose it’s a Sunday afternoon thing. I had read a lot about how over-run with tourists Bellagio could get in season, but since our arrival it had been so quiet that I hadn’t really appreciated that point. Given that this was probably just a taster of what would follow as the year drew on we began to realise that that coming early in the season was probably a good idea after all.

We collected our luggage and as we had some time to kill before the next ferry to Varenna we managed to shoehorn ourselves into the one available table on the San Remo’s outside terrace. Although the smoking ban in Italy had been followed 100% in all of the bars and restaurants we had visited, it doesn’t apply outside and unfortunately we found ourselves in the middle of what appeared to be the All-Italian Smoke Blowing Championships being contested by the tables either side of us – at one point I thought that a new Pope had been elected already.

We moved over to the ferry-dock where the ferry to Cadenabbia was about to leave and just as the barrier had gone down two American couples ran up but were unable to get on. One of the women was a little annoyed because she thought that it had been the Varenna ferry leaving early so I went over and explained to her husband (I assume) that it was OK and that the Varenna ferry would be in shortly. We got talking and I learned that, although the four came from Oregon and Southern California, the man I was speaking to now lived and worked in Luxembourg. His friends had come over to Europe to visit and they were taking a driving holiday around the Alps. As it turned out, he had visited Glasgow last year and he was very complimentary about both the city and the people; I suppose he might just have been being polite, but he seemed genuine enough. When the ferry arrived we boarded together and on the journey over to Varenna we had an interesting talk about travel. He asked if we had visited the US and we explained that we had been to Florida a couple of times but realised that it would be a mistake to think that Orlando was typical of the country as a whole. He made the point that the US was so large and diverse that it was difficult to say where or what was typical and he recommended that we visit the West Coast, especially San Francisco and Seattle. Liz replied that for as long as our boys were calling the shots we would be hard pushed to bypass Florida on any visit to the States. We also discussed the relative spending powers of the pound, dollar and euro and he laughed that, although his friends were finding their trip expensive, he was OK because his salary was paid in euro. I was dying to ask if he read Fodors, but chickened out!

Disembarking in Varenna, we said goodbye to our American friend, took one last lingering look back over to Bellagio and made our way up the hill to the railway station. Regular readers may recall that I had neglected to purchase return tickets on the journey from Bergamo, but with the shrewd foresight for which I am renowned I had made sure on arriving in Varenna that there was an automatic ticket machine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been shrewd enough to make sure that the machine was actually working. It wasn’t. I knew from SlowTrav and elsewhere that the advice in such cases was to seek out the conductor ASAP but we hadn’t had our tickets checked on the journey out and so I wondered whether we might get away with it on the way back. I was very quickly disabused of this notion, however, when the conductor came into our carriage just as we were pulling out of the station. He didn’t seem at all concerned about our lack of tickets, however and was friendly enough as he wrote us out a ticket for the journey and reminded us to change at Lecco. The rest of the journey was uneventful and shortly before 4.00 we found ourselves pulling into Bergamo where we would be spending our last night in Italy.

More to follow....

Jim


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Old Apr 22nd, 2005, 02:49 PM
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Still waiting, Jim ...........
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Old Apr 22nd, 2005, 02:53 PM
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Holly,

Would you believe that I'm sitting working on the Bergamo part right now?

Sorry for delay but this is taking longer than I expected - what I really need is a good editor!

Hopefully will be ready to post tomorrow.

Thanks for your interest,

Jim
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Old Apr 23rd, 2005, 08:23 AM
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BERGAMO

Initially, our night in Bergamo had been arranged purely for practical purposes. The flight back to Glasgow on the Monday morning left at 11.00 a.m. and even if it was technically possible, I didn’t really want to be rushing back from Lake Como first thing in the morning sweating over whether we would make it in time. As I researched the town, however, I discovered that it might well be worth a visit in its own right. The town is split into two distinct areas with the walled, mediaeval Citta Alta (High Town) perched high up on a hill overlooking the modern Citta Bassa (Low Town). Our own regular Fodor’s poster, Patrick, had mentioned previously how charming the Citta Alta was and the more I found out, the keener I became to visit it. For those who are interested, the town’s tourist office has an excellent website (http://www.bergamotour.com/uk/index.htm) with several “virtual tours” which give a good idea of the main sights and landmarks.

Although most of the hotels in Bergamo are in the Citta Bassa, the hotels which seem to get the highest charm ratings are in the Citta Alta, with the Agnello D’Oro, a small family-run hotel and restaurant being a particular favourite. Much as the area appealed, however, I elected not to stay in the Citta Alta because I wasn’t sure how convenient it would be for the trip to the airport in the morning. I had originally booked the Best Western Cappello D’Oro, mainly because I got a good rate (108E), but also because it was close (but not too close) to the railway station and it would be easy to find because it was on the main street, the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII (Pope John XX111 came from the Bergamo area). A couple of weeks before our trip, however, I noticed that they were offering an even better rate (95E) and so I telephoned Best Western’s UK reservation centre to ask if they would apply the lower rate to my booking. When the agent replied that this wouldn’t be possible because the 95E rate was for internet bookings only, I cancelled my existing reservation there & then, with a view to immediately going back into their website to make a new booking at the lower rate. Before doing so, however, I decided to have a fresh look at all of the hotels in town and this turned out to be a good move. The 4 star Excelsior San Marco, (http://www.hotelsanmarco.com) which seems to be generally regarded as the best hotel in town and had been over my budget when I first looked, was now offering a special weekend rate of 99E for a double room. The San Marco is also on the main street and although it’s a bit further from the railway station than the Cappello D’Oro, the trade off was that it was correspondingly closer to the Citta Alta and so I snapped it up.

Our arrival in Bergamo couldn’t really have been much more different from that in Bellagio. Whilst the latter wasn’t far short of a ghost town when we arrived, it seemed almost as if everyone in Bergamo had turned out greet us. On emerging from the station, we walked across a bustling square and into the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, which was busy with people, all apparently out for their Sunday stroll and most of who seemed to be going in the opposite direction from ourselves. It was quite a hazy day and ahead of us the towers and buildings of the Citta Alta seemed to almost float in mid-air at the far end of the street. As we walked past a couple of landscaped areas, every available seat and bench seemed to be taken by people talking animatedly. I noticed that these groups seemed to be of all ages, with young and people talking and laughing with their elders and it struck me that this was something we didn’t see much at home, where the different generations generally seem to keep apart. The whole atmosphere was very enjoyable, but the walk to the San Marco was proving to be a little bit longer than we had expected and we were starting to feel our luggage weighing us down. Although we hadn’t really over-packed, we had bought a large suitcase with us which was a bad idea. For possibly the third year in succession we made a mental note to buy more sensibly sized luggage when we got home and then, just when I was beginning to wish that we had stuck with the Cappello D’Oro (which we had already past) we came to the San Marco, set back from the road behind some pleasant gardens. The reception area was impressive compared to our usual standard of hotel and our spirits rose even further when we were informed that we had been given a free upgrade to a deluxe room at no extra cost. I later found out that these rooms can cost between 167E and 250E so our rate of 99E had turned into an even better deal than before. We were on the 5th floor and found the room to be extremely spacious with a good sized bathroom and best of all, a balcony with a marvellous view looking up to the Citta Alta. We didn’t get to see the standard double rooms but I reckon that their weekend offer of 99E is a real bargain if you can get it.

After a quick break to freshen up, we went back outside and made the short walk round the corner to the funicular station where we took the cable car up to the Citta Alta. Actually, cable car is a misnomer as the carriages don’t actually leave the ground but rather run up a rail set into the hillside. Although the journey only takes a couple of minutes, there are no seats and the passengers were packed in quite tightly, which I suppose might be an issue for some people. If this method of transport doesn’t appeal, you can take a bus or even walk it if you are up to it. On the way up we enjoyed spectacular views of the Citta Bassa and surrounding countryside unfolding below us like a 3-dimensional map and then we found ourselves in the Citta Alta funicular station leading out on to the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe-Market Square). If the Citta Bassa could be described as “bustling” then perhaps the best word to describe the Citta Alta was “heaving”. There seemed to be crowds of people everywhere and later on Liz and I formed the theory (quite possibly incorrect, mind you) that the crowds in the Citta Bassa were locals, whilst those in the Citta Alta were mostly tourists and day trippers. There was a clear flow to the crowd with virtually everyone seemingly heading northwards along the main street, Via Gombito and so, taking a deep breath, we joined the throng.

Even the narrow crowded streets couldn’t disguise the allure of the Citta Alta and it seemed that around almost every corner there was a little square complete with fountain or statue. Passing by the Hotel Agnello D’Oro we could see why it seemed to appeal to so many and then the road led us in to the main square of the town, the Piazza Vecchia. If you look up Bergamo in a guide book or on the Internet you can bet that you will see a reference to, and probably a picture of, the Piazza Vecchia which is the Citta Alta’s hub. It’s undeniably beautiful but I don’t really think that we saw it at its best. Although there are a number of café/restaurants in the Piazza, only a couple of these were open and in a curious way, although there were many people passing by around the fringes, the actual square itself seemed a bit lifeless. The wastepaper bins around the square were full to overflowing and although people had left their litter lying next to the bins the breeze and blown some of it across the Piazza. Coming from Glasgow, where people are notoriously careless with their litter, I suppose I have a nerve criticising anywhere else, but it really was a pity to see such a beautiful spot looking rather untidy. Walking through the porticos at the far end of the square into the Piazza Duomo we were disappointed to find the cathedral closed due to building work but the adjacent Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore more than made up for this. I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable about either art or architecture, but it had possibly the most ornately decorated interior of any building I have ever visited and was a truly breathtaking sight. Emerging into the sunlight we made our way back across the square and rejoined the human traffic making its way along the Via Colleoni.

Although it was on the early side for dinner, we were both starving as we hadn’t really eaten properly since breakfast. There are several restaurants in the Citta Alta, many of which are pretty pricey (for our budget, at least) but I had read that Da Franco’s was a good choice within our price range and so we stopped for a look at their menu. The place looked nice from outside and the prices were very reasonable but unfortunately it still hadn’t opened yet and we really wanted to eat NOW. Walking along, it had seemed as if almost every second person was eating sliced pizza (a lot of the litter I referred to earlier consisted of pizza wrappings) and we soon came across the source of this pizza glut. On the right hand side we could see a scrum of people competing to push their way either into, or out of, a small door-way which turned out to be a take-away pizza bakery (sorry, but I can’t quite recall the name – maybe something like Fontana?). The windows were filled with large bakers’ trays of really delicious looking pizzas and the inside was reminiscent of TV footage I had seen of the trading floor in a Stock Exchange – everyone seemed to be trying to push their way towards the counter clutching small pieces of paper. Although the crowd was a bit off-putting, the pizza looked so good and we were so hungry that we decided to act on the principle of When In Bergamo………..and worked our way into the crowd. Although one of the more clichéd Italian stereotypes is their supposed inability (or unwillingness) to queue, we hadn’t really come across this up until now. Here, however, it was every man and woman for themselves and it was only as we got closer to the counter that we realised the pieces of paper were actually receipts for the orders they had already made and paid for at the cashier’s desk near the door. Faced with the prospect of having to fight our way back through the crowd to place our order with the cashier we were considering just calling it a day when I found one of the counter assistants asking what we wanted and so we just gave our order verbally. The girl cut two large slices of pizza from their respective trays with a huge pair of scissors and when she weighed them we realised that you paid by weight – the bigger the slice the more it cost you. It only took a couple of minutes to heat them up and then we paid the cashier on the way out of the door. What had appeared to be a completely disorganised system had actually worked out perfectly well.

We took our pizzas to another little square of the main street and although they had cost only a few Euro they were both filling and delicious and gave us renewed energy to join the crowd for the last stage of our walk through the Citta Alta. We passed through the Piazza della Cittadella where we spent some time browsing at a local crafts market and then, passing through a large gateway we found ourselves out on hillside of the Colle Aperto, which seemed to be a natural conclusion to the walk. From there, it’s possible to take another funicular even further up to the very top of the hill, but we chose to stop here and sat on a bench overlooking the city walls and, beyond them, the hills leading down to the Citta Bassa in the plain below. We sat for some time with a couple of gelato cones just enjoying the view, but it was now getting a little colder and we decided to retrace our steps back into the town. The crowds were thinning out now and we again passed by Da Franco’s which was now open. After our pizza and gelato, however, we didn’t really feel that we could sit down to a meal and so instead we stopped at the Bar Donizetti for some tea and hot chocolate. It was now early evening and there was definitely a chill in the air. As we went to catch the funicular back down to the Citta Bassa, we stopped to have a look in the café inside the station and noticed that there was an empty table on the outside balcony and so we decided to stop and have another drink and enjoy the view. The view really was sensational but although the spirit was willing, the body was weak and we were finding it just too cold to sit out any longer. In the circumstances, we ordered bowls of minestrone each and then moved to a table inside. The minestrone was warm and filling and it occurred to us that between the soup, the pizza and the gelato, we had actually had a full 3 course meal – just in 3 different places!

If you visit Bergamo, the Citta Alta is an absolute 100% must which will stick in your memory for a long time, but it might be best to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Make sure you stop off in the funicular station café even if only for a drink and try to get a table on the outside balcony – it must be a real joy in the summer.

We took the funicular back down to the Citta Bassa and stopped off at the hotel again to put on some warmer clothing. Walking through the streets of the lower town was pleasant, but there weren’t many people about and all of the shops were closed. We headed for the Sentierone, where I had read most of the cafes were located, but looking ahead we could see people milling about outside a church and as we got closer we saw police cars, bright lights and TV cameras. Our curiosity getting the better of us, we went inside the church (which turned out to be St. Bartolomeo’s) and found that the place was absolutely packed to the extent that we could only just get inside. There was a poster pinned up in the porch and even although we had virtually no Italian we could see that this was to be a memorial service for Pope John Paul II. Standing among the crowd at the back we could see the TV cameras positioned at various strategic points throughout the church and then the service began. Judging by their red caps, the service was led by two cardinals and although we couldn’t understand what was being said, it was a beautiful experience, the singing in particular. After around 20 minutes standing, however, we were beginning to find the heat unbearable (remember we had changed into sweaters earlier) until we simply had to go outside for some fresh air. We weren’t the only people feeling uncomfortable and as we went out we could see a teenaged girl, lying on the ground just at the door, who presumably had been overcome by the heat. Along with several others, we stood outside listening to the service, which was being relayed by loud speaker and indeed we could see pictures from inside the church on the TV monitors outside. Shortly before the service ended, an ambulance drew up and the young girl we had seen earlier was wheeled into the back – it was hard to see what condition she was in but we couldn’t help but feel concerned that an ambulance had been considered necessary. As the service ended and the crowds began to come out, we watched the TV reporter doing his link to camera and we couldn’t help laughing at the antics of some of the children desperately trying to get their faces on TV.

Many of the people who had been at the service made for an elegant looking cafe nearby and so we decided to join them. As usual, we had hot chocolate and tea although, (unlike in Bellagio and the Citta Alta) the young waitress seemed quite bemused by the fact that Liz wanted hot tea with milk. She brought around a dozen different types of tea bag, all of which were obviously flavoured or perfumed, except for one which we couldn’t quite work out. Needless to say, whatever it was, it turned out to be extremely pungent and quite impossible for Liz to drink. We enjoyed ourselves watching some very elegant looking old women getting stuck into their gelatos and then went back outside. It had been a long day and we were getting tired, but we went for a short walk around the Via XX Settembre, which seemed to be the main shopping area, before heading back to the hotel. There was free internet access in the hotel lobby and so I made a quick stop to check on the football results back home (calamity! Celtic got beat), e-mail some relatives in Canada and of course, check into Fodors, where I posted a “Good Evening From Bergamo” message. We went to bed tired, but happy after an enjoyable and memorable day in a beautiful part of the world.

Not very much more to tell now but, like most of this report, this part has gone on for far too long so, as usual, more to follow……

Jim
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Old Apr 23rd, 2005, 09:44 AM
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Lovely report, Jim. Thanks for all the detail, and the weblinks. Very helpful.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2005, 12:06 PM
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Truly a fun read. I'm another fan of Menaggio as a place to stay, though we spend a lot of time on the ferries between it and Bellagio and Varenna when we go there.
I understand what you mean when you say that this site got you to take a trip somewhere. We just returned from the Dordogne area of France having been spurred on to do that by the many glowing (truthful) reports of the area. Glad you have joined the ranks of the fans of Lake Como. Thanks for an enjoyable report on a favorite area.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:16 PM
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Thanks again to everyone for your kind comments.

I'm afraid the report is far too long (about as long as the actual trip itself!) but I didn't keep a journal or take any notes and so the only way I could remember the details was to more or less retrace our steps.

Anyway, I should be able to finally bring it to a close early next week. In the meantime, it goes without saying that I would be happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

Jim
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 07:04 AM
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Excellent Report! Loved the details.
You've sold me... Northern Italy here we come!

By the way - I live in Orlando - so if you need any info, suggestions etc for your next trip with the family - email me. [email protected]

So happy you enjoyed your weekend!
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 03:40 PM
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LindyE,

Thanks so much for your kind offer. Our Florida plans are still a bit unclear at the moment because of the cost - the £550 car repair bill we got on our return from Italy hasn't exactly helped our budget!

I'll keep a note of your e-mail address just in case, however

Hopefully I'll be able to post the final part of my trip report tomorrow.

Thanks again,

Jim
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 04:42 PM
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HOME AND CONCLUSIONS

I awoke next morning to the sound of Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk” on the hotel’s radio alarm and thought, half-asleep, what a nice way to start the day. When Bebel Gilberto’s “Tanto Tempo” followed it occurred to me that either I was at home and had dreamt the whole trip, or else the hotel staff had ransacked my CD selection. The next track was Mariah Carey, however, which was enough to make me pop my head out from under the covers to find the off switch.

As we were only staying for one night we hadn’t fully unpacked and so it took us no time at all to get ready for breakfast. The San Marco’s breakfast room is up on the top floor and their website shows a lovely roof garden where apparently breakfast is served during the summer months. Even though I had realised that they probably wouldn’t be serving out on the roof garden this early in the season, I had hoped that we would at least get a chance to take a look. Unfortunately, however, we found that the entire top floor & roof area was closed for building work and so breakfast was served in the hotel restaurant (which, incidentally, is reputed to be one of the best in Bergamo, but is closed on a Sunday). The hotel advertises a full American buffet breakfast, but we found it to be much the same as at the Metropole in Bellagio, with the addition of some rather sorry looking sausages and rashers of bacon. Given the rate we paid we could hardly complain, but if I had paid full rate I think I might have been a little disappointed in the breakfast – it was OK but nothing special. The whole breakfast arrangements seemed a little bit disorganised – for example, they had to open up another section of the restaurant because there weren’t enough tables ready – but maybe this was because it wasn’t being served in the usual place.

Breakfast aside, we were very pleased with the San Marco, with the reception staff deserving a special mention for their friendly and helpful attitude. We hadn’t been looking forward to the walk back down to the railway station to catch the airport shuttle bus, but as we were checking out the receptionist advised us that the bus actually stopped off first at the bus stop right across the road from the hotel. There was a timetable at the bus stop and although the traffic was busy (we had checked out at around 9.00 a.m. to catch an 11.00 a.m. flight) the bus arrived bang on time.

There is a very large shopping mall right across the road from the airport and we toyed with the idea of paying a visit but we couldn’t find how to get to it. The road was too wide and busy to cross and so I’d guess that there is an underpass but it didn’t seem to be signposted and we weren’t bothered enough to go looking for it. Going through security, two separate people just in front of us were found to have scissors in their hand-luggage (not nail scissors, but “proper” sized ones – you have to wonder what planet these people live on) but I didn’t see any action being taken by the security staff, other than confiscation of the offending items. When I bought a hot chocolate in the airport café and found it to be weak and powdery I finally realised that our Italian trip was over.

Looking back, I had invested so much time in preparing for this trip that it would have been easy for it to have been an anti-climax. And yet, it wasn’t: despite the generally cool weather, both Bellagio and Bergamo were everything we could have hoped for and the fact that we struck it lucky with both hotels just made it all the better. I know that there is a school of thought that you can over-research a trip, but I found it very satisfying that so many of my plans fell into place and that, in the main, I knew broadly what to expect.

Will we go back? In general, I have an aversion to going back to the same place twice – well, not exactly an aversion, but there are so many places to see that it seems a waste to go over old ground and my natural curiosity always drives me to try somewhere new. In Bellagio’s case in particular, however, I just can’t imagine that we won’t return there sometime. In fact, Liz was so smitten that I think it is inevitable that one day we will find ourselves once again sitting out on the terrace of Room 110 of the Metropole – sooner rather than later if she has anything to do with it. On balance, however, I would probably go at a different time of year; from what I gather either late May or early September seem to offer the best compromise of having good weather and yet not being too busy. I would also encourage anyone reading this who is travelling through Orio Al Serio airport to consider staying in Bergamo itself, rather than just heading automatically for Milan. I haven’t been to the latter, of course, but Bergamo itself is definitely worth the visit.

One thing is for sure……..we will positively, absolutely, definitely return to Italy. Many things won us over – the scenery, the way of life, the food, the hot chocolate(!), the cheap and reliable transport (at least that’s how we found it) but, above all, the people. Almost without exception we found them to be friendly, helpful and polite and although it’s easy to say that most of the people we dealt with were in service industries and therefore had a vested interest in keeping us happy, I have travelled enough to know that isn’t always the case. Our lack of Italian wasn’t a problem at all, except to make me feel rather ashamed at my feeble attempts to learn the local lingo – not the first time that’s happened on a trip, but this time I might actually do something about it. Next time I go to Italy I intend to be able to hold some sort of conversation with the locals beyond Per Favore, Grazie and Prego.

And that’s about it really – thanks for your encouragement and I’ll be happy to help further if I can.


Jim


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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 05:04 PM
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I loved your trip report; and your story about the swans had me laughing out loud!
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 05:13 PM
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JJBhoy-I too LOVED the swan story. If you are familair w/ the tv series Seinfeld there is an incident w/ a bird that hasn't observed the unwritten law about avoiding cars and people as George has killed one and then is forced to drive the wounded pigeon to a vet to impress a woman. I had a similar experience wherein a goose (they make pillows out of them right?) flew INTO the side of my car. He/she paid w/ its life but I had to pay 750.00 USD to fix it and our insurance co. kept saying "and then it flew into your car, is that correct?". Others much nicer than I wanted to know if I attempted mouth to beak,etc. Heck he cost me a bundle!!!
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 05:43 PM
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suehoff,

Wish I had thought of the mouth to beak joke - I would have worked it into the story!

Jim
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Old Apr 28th, 2005, 07:57 AM
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I was just wondering how you typed such long reports with the risk of the site/your computer crashing? Did you tye them eslewhere first and cut & paste in?

Diz
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Old Apr 28th, 2005, 03:44 PM
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Diz,

I typed the first couple of parts straight onto Fodors, but after making so many typos I typed the rest onto Word documents and was then able to do spell checks & corrections before cutting & pasting them.

Jim
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Old Sep 15th, 2005, 03:12 PM
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Topping for Elaine.

Jim
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Old Jul 23rd, 2007, 03:44 AM
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Jim

Your post brought back great memories. My wife and I (Aussies) visited Bergamo in early summer of 2004 for a weekend away while working in London. We stayed in Stresa becuase an old Sicilian I had worked for when younger told me that I must visit the Borromean Islands. We stopped over in Bergamo because Ryanair flew there. Our hire car took on a life of its own and followed the signs to a car parking station in Citta Bassa. The first thing we did in Citta Alta after stepping off the funicular was have a coffee on the outside balcony of the Funicular cafe. Magnificent! Thanks for bringing it all back!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2007, 04:23 PM
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jets60,

Surprised to see this one resurface again! Glad you liked it.

Jim
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Old Aug 14th, 2007, 02:15 AM
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It might be 2 yrs old, Jim, but it's a great read ... many thanks
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