I started writing this while sitting outside the railway station in Bergamo. It wasn’t a sunny start to the day but the square in front of the main building was pleasant, with a view past the fountain and up the main road to the Alta.
The station is quite small (with the potential to get very crowded) and as rain wasn’t forcing me inside, staying outside was a pleasant option. Plus I was hoping it would give the socks I washed last night a chance to dry. (#BackpackerLife)
Why was I here so early? Checkout was 10am and the B&B didn’t offer the facility to leave my luggage with them until it was time to catch my train. While it is only a 40 litre rucksack, after about 20 minutes’ walking wandering around the city with it on my shoulders does become a little less enjoyable, so finding somewhere to sit is a good option.
I already knew which platform the train I wanted was departing from. For this station at least the railways really do run like clockwork – the timetable, printed on paper, apparently two months ago says my train will leave from Platform 7. No waiting in front of the main departure board, alert for any flicker in the ‘platform’ column, ready to dash at a moment’s notice for the platform at the furthest end of the station.
If I was a gambler I might be disappointed by the lack of excitement.
Breakfast this morning was at a bakery. I was about to scan the QR code on the table to find the menu when the waitress asked me what I was wanted to order and on hearing my answer we simply had a conversation about what I would like to eat.
I’ve no idea whether any of my requests were actually on the menu or if the policy was just: we’ll make you what you want. She was a little surprised that I didn’t want bacon with scrambled eggs but would prefer a vegetarian option. What arrived was a plate of eggs scrambled with lightly sauteed courgettes and mushrooms.
And because it was a bakery, the basket of bread that arrived before my meal was more impressive than the usual breadsticks and slices of baguette. Unfortunately, the pigeons were also impressed and I was caught in a pincer movement, left fending off the Red Baron and his cousin.
The train was already standing at the platform when I wandered in 20 minutes early – a very leisurely way to board the double-decker – and we left the station right on schedule, moving slowly out of the city before picking up speed to call at a series of local stops until we reached Treviglio half an hour later.
Between the train’s calling points, the landscape was flat: ploughed fields lined by small trees with the occasional traditional red bricked and red tiles farm house.
The train passed a tractor factory at Treviglio Ovest. I wondered if any English MPs had booked a holiday here.
At Treviglio I would apparently have six minutes to change to a regional and therefore faster train for my actual destination. I was keeping an eye on The Trainline app for platform information and I found that my next train (from Milan) was currently running five minutes slow but mine was now three minutes slow. I might still gain an extra two minutes to change trains.
In the last two years since I last travelled internationally by train, railway travel has become stupidly easier. You’re not reliant on announcements to tell you what is happening with journey times and, theoretically, you don’t have to scramble off the train to work out which platform you need to be dashing for.
Treviglio was a bigger station than I expected and I didn’t yet know which platform I needed to go to. However, Platform 1 which I had arrived at was in front of the station building so I checked the departures board and wandered over to Platform 5.
The train from Milan had apparently made up time and was no longer late.
One problem… or so I thought with Italian trains… there’s no overhead storage for your rucksack and I hadn’t seen any luggage racks at either end of any of the carriages I’d been in. There were other backpackers on the train with their luggage wedged between their knees and their seat in front, looking up anxiously to see if the train was going to fill…
Then, a hallelujah moment. There’s a reason why the seats are in groups of four…
If you’ve got cabin-sized luggage (40 litre rucksacks for example) your bag will fit perfectly in here. If you’re roaming the world with anything bigger, you might have to wedge it in.
The train called at several small towns, travelling through flat rural landscapes framed by rolling hills to the North. We passed bee farms – line after line of painted wooden hives – and low lying villages where the tallest buildings were the honey-coloured stone church towers.
It wasn’t long before we arrived in Desenzano.
I write this update while trapped, yes, trapped in a pizzeria.
With the exception of Friday night, it’s rained every night I’ve been in Italy. When I say ‘rained’ I mean drizzle and light showers. Tonight? It’s torrential. Proper full on downpour. I’ve been forced – FORCED – to take shelter in a pizzeria. Don’t send help.
This rain has been threatening to strike all afternoon. On arrival into Desenzano, to say the view “was a bit murky” would be an understatement. The mountains across the lake and, actually even Sirmione along the sharply curving bay, were barely visible. The term we are using to describe this is atmospheric.
On arrival I had spotted a poster for a Banksy exhibition. For those of you who haven’t clicked this yet: as well as being a Doctor Who geek, a bit of a railway station nerd and a history enthusiast… I also love a bit of street art… so a Bankys exhibition advert was always going to get my attention (faster than a magpie is enticed by something shiny).
The venue was Desenzano’s castle which was built in the 9th Century, using existing Roman foundations. (It would be more surprising if there hadn’t been any Roman infrastructure to build on). The castle was initially just a defensive structure – i.e. a wall – that protected a small village from raids by bandits, neigbouring villages and invaders from Hungary. It was gradually added to but now its main purpose is to host exhibitions.
At €3 for a ticket, it’s worth a visit in its own right. The combined exhibition ticket is €10. Take cash! It’s one venue (so far) that has not accepted a card payment. I had to go looking for a cash machine.
The exhibition at the castle wasn’t limited to featuring only works by Banksy – there was an array of work by other artists.
The picture of the astronaut (below) is a strange one… looking at the visor in the image on Instagram (once I had uploaded it) I could see a man sitting in the helmet with his arms folded; while I was taking the picture, I could see a woman’s face; and when I just looked at it the painting before I raised my camera I saw a strange set of shapes. Right now, I can see two men standing beneath the sun with the man to the right of the visor pointing something out to the man on the left.
After this, I took a leisurely walk around Desenzano, down to the lake shore…
… and went in search of aperitivo in a wine shop where they served me one of the local wines – groppello grapes, grown on the Western shore of Lake Garda, another one for your next pub quiz.
The wine was excellent but the accompanying snacks were not of the standard I have become accustomed to since Friday.
I suspect it will be a waterproofs kinda day tomorrow.