Dear Readers, As some of you know, I am back home in Virginia, busy with getting back into life here and catching up in the Yoga Teacher Training that I’ve started before I left. Somehow, only a week into this trip, I became so busy with planning the next day and trying to go out and enjoy the evenings (my usual time to write) that I had to stop posting. Till now (or rather, the last few posts). However, my mind and spirit are still in Europe, even though my body is not, and I do want to continue the story and I’m going to keep the tense present. I hope you enjoy the rest of the trip!
It’s both a sad day and a happy day in the Cinque Terre. Sad because we’re leaving this wonderful place – even the Cinque Terre seems sad. The warm sun of yesterday has turned into spitting rain and the surf’s up. We have a last, early, breakfast with Beppe, say our goodbyes and catch the first bus down the hill to the train station.
It’s a happy day, though, because Susie and I will be reuniting with our Camino friend, Amedeo. If you have read the saga of my Camino journey in this blog last year, you will remember that I met Amedeo in Spain a couple of days after Uli, my German walking partner, had to leave. It was Amedeo who accompanied me on the climb to Mt. Irago to the Cruz de Ferro, where I left the stone that I had been carrying with me for 350 miles as a symbol of letting go of my spiritual burdens. We walked together and shared our life stories, some invented prehistoric tales, and cocino maragato. He kept me going when I wanted to stop, shared the agony of my broken camera, and celebrated with me in Santiago when I finally made it. Following the travel rule of “it’s always better to stay with someone who lives there,” I contacted him right away when I knew we were coming to his country. He then graciously offered to pick us up in La Spezia, close to our 5T base, and drive us the 2 1/2 hours to his home in Bergamo, just north of Milan. He also agreed to show us his beloved mountains, the Dolomiti, and accompany us to Venice. Fantastic!
So we meet in La Spezia. There are hugs all around and after a quick stop for coffee, we drive north over the pass through the rain. For most of the journey we regaled him with our travel stories of Popes and prosecco, and before we know it, we’re in Bergamo. A fabulous steak lunch precedes a tour of the town.
Bergamo was originally built on a hill at the foothills of the Alps. Originally settled by the Celts, it has always been an important town from ancient Roman times through medieval times and the Renaissance. On top of the hill is the walled medieval old town, the Citta Alta (upper city). Below is the more modern Citta Bassa. The most fun way to get to the top of the hill is to take the funicular – built before there were cars – and enjoy the views of the Citta Bassa and beyond. At the top, we strolled through the medieval streets, visiting the beautiful old squares, the Santa Maria Maggiore church, and the Colleoni Chapel.
I’m intrigued by the story of Bartholomeo Colleoni. He was a condottieri, a mercenary soldier from an important local family in the 1400’s, who was extremely successful at winning battles. He fought for his hometown of Venice, then for Milan, then for Venice, and ended up settling down just outside of Bergamo. Not only a soldier, he was also well known for his charitable works and helping the local villages with agricultural improvements. He wanted to be buried in the Santa Maria Basilica, but wasn’t allowed, so he tore down the church’s sacristy and built this ornate, pre-Renaissance, pink and white marble jewel for his remains. You might say it took balls to tear down the church’s sacristy, and Colleoni had them. Three of them, so they say. His coat of arms (and gate decoration) has sets of three fat commas. They are a play on his name (which in Italian sounds a lot like testicles) and he was proud of them, because they are everywhere!
After a stop at the cafe at the top of the funicular to admire the view, we walked down the hill back to the car. We weren’t really very hungry, but Amedeo stopped at the store for some cake for the evening. Tomorrow the plan is to drive through the Dolomite mountains, ending up in Venice. However, the rainy weather that we drove through to get to Bergamo made for snow in the passes. It was unclear if the passes were even open. Amedeo made some calls and, after some time, determined that we were to go through the mountains after all. BUT we have to leave at 6am, because more snow was forecast for that afternoon. I repack my bags because I’m coming back to Bergamo and call it an early night. Maybe we’ll see some snow tomorrow!