It was a day of pleasant discoveries—starting with the new Art Caffè tucked away in a corner of Piazza Pontida (now the centre of pleasant city life in Bergamo). The bar at the entrance leads to a narrow vaulted room with tables where we sat to have an excellent coffee. But the surprise is that the entrance and this space form two sides of a sixteenth-century courtyard defined by columns and glazed-in arches. It was too chilly for us to sit out, but the little square tables and coloured folding chairs seemed to hold the promise of memorable conversations in pleasant company.
The actual walk was two and a half hours up to Città Alta and San Vigilio, over to the other side of the hill and then back to near the starting point. First we walked up Via Nullo and then went up the old stepped way, Via S. Lucia Vecchia—shallow steps climbing between old houses and garden walls with hints of greeenery. The ordinary street below, and then the experience of this different world (and it’s free).
From Via Tre Armi at the top we went on to behind Città Alta (Porta S. Alessandro), up the hill to S. Vigilio and then (it being a clear day) up more steps to the open space of the former Castello to admire the Alpine panorama from Monte Misma to Monte Rosa. Then down again, and via the modern steps to Via Cavagnis (we were now on the other side of the ridge from Via S. Lucia), where, at the third hairpin bend we took the pedestrian path Via Sotto le Mura and shortly after reaching Via Beltrami went down a thinly-wooded path (Via Roccolino—’via’ usually ‘street’ also means any public ‘way’) with wild spring flowers scattered casually about, occasionally constellating a whole grassy bank.
This took us to the pleasant Valverde area at the foot of Città Alta. It was another discovery to be able to walk up to Porta San Lorenzo and Città Alta with green fields and trees on either side. From there we walked along the top of the city walls to Porta S. Giacomo, down Via S. Alessandro, and down some more steps to Via Nullo. At the corner of Via Statuto we stopped to admire the Art Nouveau Villa Bracciano and were amused by another discovery: the flowery, organic Art Nouveau letters redolent of ‘art for arts sake’ and the supreme importance of plant and flower forms in life and art, spelling out the motto of the industrialist owner: Labor omnia vincit (work achieves (or even: conquers) everything). On this fine spring morning, we were not in total agreement.
At a few minutes to twelve we were waiting outside the Osteria d’Ambrosio (also known as ‘da Giuliana’) on Via Broseta close by our starting point of Piazza Pontida. They clearly didn’t open till 12 and there were soon about a dozen other people waiting too, including four building workers with white boots (painters or plasterers) and thick tartan shirts (slightly different, but all white blue and black). Some minutes after 12, when they were all ready inside (we later understood why everyone had to be at action stations), the door was opened and we went in—through the entrance with its old wooden tables and paintings, plates and doubtless many other things on the walls, through to the courtyard, covered over in this season but still luminous, where we took two places at a long table that soon filled up with other people. In five minutes the whole place was pretty full and then completely full.
It wasn’t chaotic, I’d say more very lively, a variety of people all content to be there. That it wasn’t chaotic was thanks to the efficient staff and Giuliana herself, the lady in the white rimmed glasses who clearly enjoyed the daily challenge. She came up to our table and asked (or told) everyone ‘Will you be finished by one?’ And then, ‘You’ll have to be out [gesture] by 1.10: I’ve got a group of 50 coming’. (The gesture was left hand flat facing down, right hand below this, flat but vertical, and brought up to hit the left palm with the base of the thumb.) This was her style—familiar and in control. But just think, she had actually accepted a group of 50 people and agreed to fit them in—most people would have said it was impossible.
So this was our last pleasant surprise of the day. My gnocchi with saffron and flecks of bitter trevigiana lettuce was delicious, the salad bar was the best and most varied we’ve ever come across, our slice of perch was excellent with largish crispy breadcrumbs, and all (with wine and water) for €10. We chatted with the man sitting next to us. Coffee was only at the bar, in small glasses, with grappa and sambuco bottles there for those so inclined. We were indeed so inclined: a fitting end to an excellent morning.