A few nights ago, I randomly signed into my CouchSurfing account and stumbled upon a teeny tiny post that mentioned a “meet-up” in Monza. I didn’t even know CouchSurfing (CS) had meet-ups, I just thought it was a voluntary hospitality website… so I looked a little closer, and low and behold, the event was being hosted at (you guessed it), Turne!
Since Turne is my Italian version of Cheers, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad to attend the event last minute. I ran through all the normal “what if” questions, but I just decided to go for one drink and if I couldn’t find the group, I could always speak to my favorite bartender while sipping on my signature Nordic Mojito (Mojito with Vodka).
However, two minutes after entering Turne, I met up with the CS group (no signs or symbols necessary to define whether or not you’re apart of CS– you kinda just know)! The conversation flowed from person to person, sometimes in Italian, sometimes in English… some people knew each other, some people didn’t… it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere.
With new CS friends in my contacts list, I was eager to attend more events nearby. Days later I asked if anyone would be interested in the Bergamo Walking Tour- and Miguel responded!
So Sunday morning rolled around and I literally rolled out of bed… made it onto the train, with a ticket in my hand, just as the doors shut behind me… can you say, AWESOME?! 50 minutes later, I met Miguel at the station and walked to the town hall to meet our local host, Silvia.
Something you should know: Bergamo is spilt into two cities and they’re not side by side… they’re spilt into high and low. Yes, you heard me. So we started with 7 people at the bottom of the city “Bassa”, grew by 5 when we took the funicular to top of the city “Alta”, and then we ended up as a group of 4 once we sat down for lunch at a local Bergamaschi restaurant.
Il Circolino Ristorante is located in Bergamo Alta, past the large square and on the right. I’m 100% positive that I would not have found this restaurant on my own, nor would I have expected the wonderful seating arrangements based on the front entrance.
(Thanks for the great tip Silvia & Luigi!)
In good company with three other food enthusiasts: Federico, Miguel & Silvia, we studied the menu and made our decisions. Federico and I chose the casoncelli ravioli (7,00), while Silvia and Miguel picked their choice of pizza (8,50 each). After everyone got a taste of each dish, it was unanimous that the ravioli were the favorites :)
The menu was decent, the prices were good, the local dishes made up for the pizza and the atmosphere was oh-so-nice. I could’ve stayed there all day on Vicolo Sant Agata 19… chatting in the shade while breathing in the fresh mountain air.
Even though we just finished lunch, our stomachs were still grumbling for that little extra something… and that’s when our walking tour “officially” turned into a food tour because we all decided that we needed to search for a Bergamaschi dessert. So just minutes after we paid, we found a local bakery and decided on the renowned, ‘Polenta e Osei cake’.
Now, let me just say that the idea of eating polenta as a sweet dessert did not sound appetizing to me at all… but food curiosity got the best of me (it always does) so I just went with it.
Verdict? Nice, moist, sweet and guess what?! It did not have one grain of polenta in it :) Turns out that this is just a “touristy treat” to represent the freshly made “polenta” (which is one of the key ingredients to many of the local Bergamaschi dishes) with marzipan “osei” (Bergamo dialect for birds) pecking at the top… phew
Taste-wise? At first bite you’re greeted with a heavy coat of sugar crystals, and then you’re introduced to the soft layers of cake and mousse. While devouring each of our halves, the locals gave an approving nod with big smiles across their faces. To be honest, I enjoyed it, but foodies with an even sweeter tooth will love it much, much more.
Following the cake we ventured into the basilica for 2 minutes, and then we went next door to visit the tomb of Gaetano Donizetti. I’m not really sure who he was but I did learn some local info about him that Wikipedia left out… and if you want a mini-history lesson, keep reading: it is said that this warrior was very strong and carried some extra “baggage”. Extremely proud of his polyorchidism, he made it into his family symbol. Now, people all over the world visit just to touch this symbol for luck, but I just felt dirty… I thought they were cherries… they’re not.
On that note, our tour of Bergamo Alta was complete! In order to get down to Bergamo Bassa, we contemplated two options: take the funicular or take the scenic route. Of course the funicular was the easier choice, however I told myself that I could have a fruttini if we walked… and 30 seconds later I had one in my hand.
Even though the stairs do not seem very appealing, the view is TOTALLY worth it. And with my raspberry fruttini in hand, I didn’t even realize we had already made it to the bottom. But even if I didn’t have my fruttini, I can assure you that these stairs were much easier then the Great Wall of China.