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Report 866: Castles, Caves and Cablecars

By wendy lynn from California, U.S.A., Spring 2005

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Page 14 of 16: Bergamo, Bellinzona and Unterschachen

photo by Joe

Alex at Castel Grande in Bellinzona, Switzerland

We started the day with a tepid shower (plumbing seems to be the only thing outdated at Ca’ Rossa). Alfonso served up a great spread in his living/dining room with the view. We had mandarin oranges from his tree which Alex loved. The torte was fabulous as were all the delicious treats, breads, warmed rolls and yogurt. The kids were even treated with powdered Nestle and cold milk. They loved it. Oh, yes, and good strong coffee. Alex managed not to make too much of a mess. 120 Euros later, we were on the way to Citta Alta.

Old town Bergamo is charming up on a hill--quite well preserved, upscale and not over touristed. It has a real sophisticated northern Italian air. We got through the city gate without knowing where we were going, so we parked in the first place we saw. Eventually we found a map and managed to navigate to the Piazza Vecchia (always a good place to go in Italia). Wow, what an elaborate church. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duoma is a beautiful Romanesque building.

We walked around for awhile enjoying the scenery and took some photos—really pretty. Joe thinks he could live here. We tried the local specialty, polentina, a rounded sweet cornmeal cake filled with lighter pound cake and alcoholic chocolate pudding, all rolled in sugar. Wow! Wendy and Julia loved it.

While we were writing a few postcards, Wendy mentioned how it was October 31. Suddenly we had a very homesick Julia who cried and missed her friends, wondering what Halloween celebrations she was missing and how her little buddy at school was doing without her. We all agreed that it was very sad and tried to move on.

We found a foggy playground. Alex liked the spring loaded motorcycle and Julia had fun on the dog.

We made our way to the funicular to the hilltop castle. Tickets were fairly straight forward so we took it to the top. Interesting turf-topped castle at the end, but we couldn’t see anything on account of the fog. Our parking time was expiring so we returned to the car. On the way Alex fell asleep in the stroller which we took as a sign to move on.

We got in the car and enjoyed the leftover zucchini and prosciutto pizza. Once past Milan, Brother woke up screaming, apparently because his natural urges caused an emergency situation. Despite our best effort, the “problem” resolved itself before we could find a W.C. We found a rest stop and gave him some dry clothes. We’d been on the road for one hour.

After crossing into Switzerland without any problem, we quickly came upon Bellinzona. We could see multiple castles out our car windows and saw signs that the area claimed to be “castle country.” We decided it was a good place to stop and explore and eat lunch.

Bellinzona is a city in one of the Italian speaking cantons of Switzerland. We looked at the Castello Grande but had no clue as to its history. We didn’t take our Switzerland book with, but we did feel that Bellinzona was a good call. We got lots of pictures while the kids ran around and played on the castle grounds.

We didn’t feel all that hungry, having had the pizza just a few hours back, so we decided to forego lunch and head for the Gotthard Tunnel. Once through the tunnel, we easily found Altdorf (thank God for the good signage in Switzerland and Italy). We drove past the Hotel Reiser which was recommended to us. It looked very nice. We had decided to stay in nearby but more remote Unterschachen to save a few dollars and stay off the beaten path. Altdorf probably would have been a better choice given the driving we were doing and how it was getting dark and how they probably weren’t going to be that busy at that time of year anyway.

The curving twelve kilometers into the valley seemed long after a big day, but the Hotel Alpina (also recommended to us) was very nice. Gigantic, clean and comfortable rooms, great beds and a decent restaurant, although it didn’t live up to the Simmerlwirt. The restaurant had some kind of autumn menu featuring wild meats. Wendy thinks she ate mountain goat, but wasn’t sure. It tasted good, and the kids shared a schnitzel. Good beer all around.

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