Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Italy: Spring 2011:Tuesday May 10: Sulzano- Sesto Calende

It's sunny this morning as we prepare to leave Lago d'Iseo…we pack up and say our goodbyes and sit by the lake for a few minutes before getting in the car.

On the way to Sesto Calende (near Milan's Malpensa Airport where we get our plane to Paris), we make a return visit to Bergamo, where we had stayed for a night on one of our first trips to Italy. Bergamo is a very attractive and sophisticated city…the lower "modern" town (citta' bassa) looks just as elegant as we remember it from 17 years ago with broad avenues and boulevards.
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We drive up the hill to the old city (citta' alta)

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and easily find a parking lot just outside the walls. We both have clear memories of the town and the walk to the center feels very familiar. The streets are lined with elegant shops and there is a very lively atmosphere.
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We reach the main piazza–(Piazza Vecchia)–which is one of the nicest in Italy…just the right scale; there are cafes and restaurants intermingled with the public buildings.

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At one end, you walk through an archway to reach a smaller piazza dominated by three large churches–the Duomo, Santa Maria Maggiore and the Colleoni Chapel. The outside decorations on the Chapel (the burial place of Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of the important nobles of the city in the 15th century) are over the top, but Diana is particularly taken with the section of the facade that is just the same as the Tumbling Blocks quilt her friend Sue has just made.

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Inside the chapel, the decorative splurge is continued and in the large church next door, Santa Maria Maggiore, it is redoubled.

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We are most interested in the intarsia (inlaid wood) panels of Biblical scenes designed by Lorenzo Lotto that are in front of the choir in Santa Maria Maggiore. They are usually kept hidden under wooden panels (also intarsia) but there is a private tour going on and they are minutely examining the details of one of the panel. So we get a chance to see much of the detail and coloring which is remarkable……

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There is also a notable intricately carved 17th century wood confessional

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and a nice Last Supper fresco to add to my collection.

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But the main effect of both churches is sensory overload, from the stuccoed ceiling to the luxurious tapestries to the carvings….it is hard to stay inside the church for too long.

We continue our walk through the back streets of Bergamo and stop for a bite to eat in a cafe on the main piazza….sandwich and salad. Then we return to car and continue the drive to Sesto Calende. We get to Sesto C. about 4 pm and get a nice welcome from the sisters who run the hotel. We stayed there on our first night in Italy 18 years ago and have been back a number of times. We decide to take a quick trip to Lago d'Orta, about 45 minutes away. We had stayed there for a few days about 10 years ago and I had liked it a lot more than Diana had…this trip was to see if our opinions were still the same.

The lake is still very pretty although not as picturesque as Iseo


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….but I find that the town has changed a lot–all the streets are lined with tourist-oriented shops and the center has a somewhat run-down feeling. We sit on the main piazza overlooking the lake having a gelato while several bus loads of tourists mill about. So I don't think I will be suggesting Orta as a destination to future clients.

The way back to Sesto Calende takes us through the Italian equivalent of an American suburban strip mall….shopping centers, discount and outlet stores and lots of fast food. Traffic is backed up at the light where the road crosses the Ticino River……it doesn't make us nostaglic for home :)

We have dinner at the hotel…..Diana has a special very light gnocchi baked with a bechamel sauce and then a very nicely grilled spigola with roast potatoes, while I have some delicate ravioli stuffed with ricotta and artichoke, some okay fried perch and a plate of excellent cauliflower. We drink a very good Muller-Thurgau from Friuili….The waitress is lots of fun; her English is excellent and she remembers us from previous visits.

Tomorrow off to Paris….

Jim and Diana

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