Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 1114: Bergamo, Venice, Lerici, Piemonte, Friends & World Cup Mania
By girasoli from Hawaii, Summer 2006
Page 2 of 23: Info and Reasons for Visiting Each Place
If you are just interested in my adventures, you may want to skip this page. If you are interested in the reasons I chose each location, read on...
Last year I spent a morning in Bergamo while my friend went to a conference for work. My time there was much too short. I had decided right then and there that I wanted to return to Bergamo to spend more time experiencing this lovely little city. So, I chose Bergamo as my first stop thinking it would be the perfect place to deal with jet lag.
Bergamo is a town which is divided into two areas - Città Bassa (lower town) which is the modern part of Bergamo and Città Alta (upper town or high town) where you will find most of the historic buildings and tourist sights and also where I will be staying. Bergamo is very easy to reach by train. There is a bus connection at the train station that takes you to the funivia (funicular) that takes you to the upper town. Some of the popular sights in Bergamo include Piazza Vecchia, Torre Civica (the tower) and behind the piazza, and the amazing Duomo. While wandering through Bergamo, you will find many windows filled with delicious little treats to satisfy any need.
Coccaglio is a tiny little town, which is located between Milan and Verona. It is located in the area called Franciacorta. This is not a town on the tourist path but a special town where my dear friend Katia lives. During my first trip to Europe, back in 1999, in Vernazza (Cinque Terre), I sat waiting for the train to arrive on a cement bench next to this nice couple, Katia and Guido. Lucky for me, the train was running an hour late. During that time, we struck up a conversation, exchanged emails, and then rode together to La Spezia where we were both making connections. We kept in touch through email. The following year, Katia met me in Verona and took me to her house where I spent the night. Our friendship has grown over the years. Each time I have returned to Italy (except my trip to Sicily), I have stayed with Katia and her family. This will be my fifth stay with Katia...AND...Katia and Guido will be married this December!
My first visit to Venice was in 1999, which was also my first trip to Italy. I had not heard of Slow Travel (actually I don’t think it was established yet) and instead was following the “Rick Steves” method of traveling, trying to cram in as much as possible in two days, which was my first mistake. Don't get me wrong, I did get some helpful tips from Rick Steves but the pace of trying to see as much as possible in as little time as possible was not one of them.
My impression of Venice was too many tourists and too many pigeons! The people of Venice did not appear to be as friendly as the people I had come in contact with in the other places I had visited while in Italy and I was constantly lost. I even ended up in the hospital at one point. Not actually IN the hospital as a patient, but while trying to find may way back to my hotel I somehow ended up on a road or path which went right through the middle of the hospital, or at least that is what I recall.
There were things that I remember being amazed about including how the city was run with only the use of boats - the ambulance boats, the garbage truck boats, etc. and there was no denying the beauty of Venice. But, I did not have an "I love Venice" stay and felt that I probably would not return to Venice again. It was a little too challenging for me, as a person with no sense of direction and it was much too crowded, although I did know in advance that summer was the most crowded time to visit Venice.
Two years later, on my third trip to Italy, I decided to give Venice another try. Still no Slow Travel website or at least not that I was aware of. Before leaving, I made sure to read more on Venice and I also bought a better map. On this trip, I booked a hotel for my last day/night in Venezia Mestre, which is a town on the mainland just across the causeway from Venice, so that I could easily transfer by hotel shuttle to the airport the following morning. This way, I was not committing to too much time just in case I felt the same about Venice but I still wanted to give it another try. Again, there were TONS and TONS of tourists in the touristy areas of Venice, BUT this time I liked Venice. It was almost like the Green Eggs and Ham story. Even though I told myself that I didn’t like Venice and would never like Venice, everyone else told me to give it another try and that just maybe I would like it...and I did! This time the people seemed friendlier and I was able to find my way around more easily. My time there went by much too quickly and I wanted more and more. When I left, I started thinking about possibly returning some day.
After discovering Slow Travel, reading many wonderful Trip Reports about Venice, and reading some of the travel info pages on slow travel such as the Venice Sestieri - the neighborhoods and where to stay page and the 200 Things To Do and See in Venice page (not that I was intending to attempt to do the 200 things), I started to seriously think about the possibility of returning.
So, here I am going back again, five years later, even more prepared, with the same good map, and the wonder of what I will discover. This time I plan to wander, discover the unexplored areas, and ENJOY VENICE for four days and nights.
Next on my itinerary, will be a visit to Empoli, a town located about 30 minutes from Florence. This is where my dear friends Francesco & Irene live. I was very fortunate to meet Francesco through a travel board when planning my first trip to Europe back in 1999. I was looking for information on Florence and he was interested in learning more English. We began to write back and forth and after a few months of corresponding, we decided to meet for dinner during my stay in Florence. My mom was nervous about me meeting a strange man that I had met over the Internet. I assured her that after many months of corresponding and the fact that he was bringing his girlfriend, Irene with him, everything would be fine. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Il Pizzaiuolo and then went up to Piazza Michelangelo, which overlooks the city of Florence. It was a wonderful night.
Over the years we have continued to keep in touch and get together when I have visited Italy. Francesco & Irene were married in April 2001 and had a baby girl named Sara in May 2004. They have a beautiful house which was custom built for them right next door to Francesco's parents' house. During my last couple of visits, I have stayed in Empoli with Francesco's parents. The big news this summer is that Irene is pregnant again. **Update - Aug 20, 2006 - It's a boy!!!
I have visited the Ligurian region a few times, staying in Camogli, Santa Margherita, and Cinque Terre. I wanted to return to Liguria again and visit a different area. I decided on Lerici after reading so many wonderful things about Lerici on the Slow Travel board and after remembering a friend's comments about how she loved Lerici.
Lerici is a resort town located on the southern part of the Ligurian Coast also known as the Italian Riviera. It is nicknamed the Bay of Poets because Byron, Shelley and Keats all hung out here. Although Lerici cannot be reached by train, it can be reached by local bus or taxi from La Spezia. I made a reservation at the Doria Park Hotel. This will be my "splurge" hotel as I reserved a deluxe room with balcony and sea view.
I will end my trip in Piemonte. First stop is Saluzzo. This will be my longest train ride as there are not any direct connections from Genova to Saluzzo. I will actually change trains in Torino on the way there! A friend told me about his trip last year to this area, which was one of the deciding factors in choosing Saluzzo as my first base in Piemonte.
After four nights in Saluzzo, I end my trip in Torino for my last five nights in Italy before heading to the airport hotel. I decided to go to Torino after reading about the Olympic preparations, reading articles about Torino, and then watching the Olympics.
Piemonte and Torino are beginning to be more popular destinations and I wanted to make sure to get to this area while it is still relatively unknown.
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