Hard Hit Bergamo is Open and Ready to Welcome You!
Tis Travels is currently on a 3-month journey through Italy. Follow “Tis Travels” on Facebook and Instagram! This post is about Bergamo, the third stop on the “Tis Returns to Italy” journey. Bergamo is an Italian city just east of Milan, that was particularly hard hit during the pandemic but is thriving today.
During the dark days of the pandemic, I felt a bond with Bergamo, a city in the north of Italy that was hit extremely hard during the early days of the pandemic. I watched the heart-wrenching news of its hospitals filling up, decisions being made on rationing care, and morgues running out of space for the dead. From my quarantine isolation in NYC, I felt for Bergamo, the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy as NYC bore that burden for the US.
Forming a Bond in the Dark Days
As both Bergamo and NYC worked to fight the virus, residents lived under restrictions, with all staying indoors except for essential reasons. To keep Italy at the forefront of travel advisor’s minds, the Italian Tourism Board put on regional webinars highlighting the sights, food, and culture of each region. From my isolation, I looked forward to those webinars as a way to stay connected to the country I love. The glimpses into the regions of this beautiful country provided an escape from the darkness of those days, giving a bit of hope for future travels to Italy.
One webinar I recall best was broadcast from Bergamo’s Piazza Vecchia in the heart of the old town, called “Città Alta”. To introduce us to the city, a local guide walked around the deserted old town and pointed out some of the sights. This empty city was hauntingly beautiful.
The guide wandered the lonely streets, pointing out sights tourists used to visit. She ended the tour on Piazza Vecchia where a local chef from a restaurant on the square called Trattoria Sant’ Ambroeus, was waiting to do a cooking demonstration. He introduced viewers to casoncelli, the local pasta, and proceeded to make it as we watched. How I longed to taste this local version of ravioli, with its distinct shape holding a flavorful bite of local meat and cheese in a buttery sauce.
I wanted to be there. I wanted to walk the streets of this beautiful city that had experienced the kind of loss my city had experienced.
Finally Traveling to Bergamo!
As soon as things started to improve in the summer of 2021, I booked a flight to Italy for August. Bergamo was one of the first stops on my 3-month stay. Finally, the day arrived and I was on a train, heading to this city with which I’d felt such a connection.
I quickly settled into my apartment, anxious to explore the streets of the old town. My initial wanderings lead me to Piazza Vecchia. I stopped to take it all in. There was such an immense change from the complete emptiness during the heart of the pandemic to this vibrant busy square, full of life. People filled the tables outside. Half of the square was being filled with plants and flowers in the annual project to turn the piazza green. I decided to sit and watch this happy scene at Bar Flora, a caffè in the corner with a bird’s eye view of it all.
An Unexpected Storm Gathers
As I was choosing my seat, I noticed a storm cloud forming over the piazza. To avoid getting soaked, I chose a table fully covered in case of rain. The storm clouds darkened and the rain began, developing quickly into a heavy thunderstorm. Everyone scattered, finding shelter wherever they could.
The storm flooded the piazza and keeping everyone huddled in their temporary shelters. Eventually, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun came out. People began to emerge from their places of refuge.
In a way, it seemed fitting. The residents of Bergamo had survived the storm and were emerging in the sunshine, resuming normal life, or perhaps a new normal life.
Learning to Live Again in Bergamo
That evening after dinner, the people of Bergamo were all out taking their usual evening walk, greeting their neighbors, walking their dogs, and looking in storefront windows. I enjoyed the evenings in Bergamo, sometimes stopping in at a local bar for a drink, sometimes sitting and watching it all from a bench.
The next day I had lunch with Mariangela and Laura who work for the Bergamo Tourism Consortium. We met in the outside garden of Da Mimmo, an excellent restaurant in the heart of the city. They happily chatted about Bergamo, almost as if it was the great love of their lives. They proudly talked about the local food I was eating, with particular pride in the cheese which has been recognized by Unesco. It was such a heavenly meal made perfect with their conversation about this beautiful city.
What struck me most was how focused they were on life now and the future of their city. This was true of other residents I met. There was very little talk of the dark days. For the people of a city that experienced what was arguably one of the very worst blows Covid could inflict, they don’t dwell on that. Instead, they cheerfully talk about how Bergamo is better than ever. They explain that the familial bonds they have always felt about the people of their city are even stronger today.
Enjoying All of Bergamo’s Experiences
All of the people I met from the Bergamo Tourism Consortium instantly felt like old friends. They have jobs perfectly suited for them as they are extremely proud of the work they do and the role they play in promoting the city they love.
One evening they arrived on the square near my apartment to take me on a tour using one of their new Tuk Tuks. It did not seem like work at all for them as they happily described each location. We left the Old Town and explored the surrounding areas, from San Vigilio with its panoramic terrace to a monastery converted into a restaurant. Next, we descended back into the newer part of town and saw plenty of bars and restaurants full of people winding down from the workday and enjoying the perfect weather at the outside tables.
I quickly realized it would be terribly difficult to fully appreciate it all unless you had quite a bit of time there.
At Long Last…
Finally, we arrived at Piazza Vecchia and I headed in the direction of Trattoria Sant’ Ambroeus. I was finally going to try the casoncelli I had seen being made there a year ago. I felt a bit sad as my new friends waved goodbye and sped off on their new Tuk Tuk.
I settled into my table, enjoying a glass of white wine, and awaiting my casoncelli. As I looked out on Piazza Vecchia, I took a moment to appreciate how far we have all come. It was a beautiful moment, full of hope for the future.
And the casoncelli? I could never fully describe how amazing it was. You are just going to have to go there and try it yourself.
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