On a recent trip to Northern Italy, we planned a stay in the ancient city of Bergamo. It is everything a northern medieval city should be: walled, with twisting, turning, nonsensical streets that are too narrow for a car (even the tiny, European variety) to navigate. In a city like this one, we were determined to enjoy every charm available. We booked a room in a renovated hotel that was originally built in the 1500s, overlooking the main piazza and famous bell tower of the city. A fairytale kind of place.
The city of Bergamo is teeming with shops selling linen clothing at outrageous prices and pastries of every variety that would certainly lead to outrageous weight gain. There is, of course, more than one ancient and unbelievably lovely Catholic church and the streets are filled with accordion players and men with mandolins singing love songs in strong, Italian voices that carry over the square and follow you down the street.
All of this seems somehow natural in a place like Bergamo, and not fanciful or overly romantic at all. Cafes spill out onto the street and groups of friends and lovers alike drink Aperol spritzes and glasses of wine, but never to excess – because that is not the Italian way. Just enough to make the world a little rosier and the music a little more melodic.
We weren’t sure how we found such a lovely place that seemed, in some ways, untouched by time. After arriving, we spent our first day happily exploring, getting lost, finding ourselves again. We trekked up and down the older part of Bergamo, the Città Alta, which is very high up and accessible by funicular (or, a lot of steep walking). Cobblestone streets, Venetian walls, and views of the younger city below, orange terra-cotta roofs dotting the landscape.
There are not many hotels in the Città Alta, however. And we couldn’t fathom how we had been so lucky as to score one not only in this older, lovelier part of Bergamo, but also with a view of the main Piazza Vecchia and the 12th century Campanone, or the Civic Tower, which, 230 steps up from the street, houses the largest bell in all of the Lombardy region. How fortunate were we? We discussed staying a few extra nights in this magical place and this wonderful room, as one can’t really have too much of a good thing.
It had been a very long first day, though. We had arrived at the Milan airport after two flights, and then drove to Bergamo, parked the rental car and hiked up, up, up into the Città Alta, and then spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring. We were exhausted, but excited to spend the next day wandering around more of the city and admiring its ancient history.
We were all tucked into bed, thanking our lucky stars for this fortuitous find, visions of Italian pastry dancing in our heads … when it began.
We no longer wondered how we had been able to book this gorgeous hotel across from the ancient bell tower. The bell, you see, rings 100 times every single night at precisely 10pm. Every. Single. Night. It is a reminder of the closing of the city gates during the Venetian domination of the city.
But, with covers pulled up to our chins on this first night, we did not know this. We only knew that the bell was ringing. Over and over again. Seemingly unceasingly. One hundred times. Right outside our window.
Bergamo was still a fairytale place; however, not all fairytales have happy endings.