The Mole Diaries: Bergamo
As a student of English Literature and Italian at the University of Reading, I had the privilege of spending my third year abroad in the picturesque northern town of Bergamo. The town is divided into two centres – the Città Alta (upper city) and the Città Bassa (lower city), connected by a charming little funicular and easily accessible walking route. Whether on a cold and starry night, or a blazing summer’s day, the great wall that divides the town is the perfect spot to go to with friends, to soak up the incredible view and watch the world go by. Bergamo is a wonderful slice of the traditional Lombardy lifestyle.
Bergamo is host to one of the most easily accessible airports I’ve ever visited. It’s easiest to take a flight with Ryan Air directly to Milan Bergamo. Upon arrival you can buy a ticket for the ATB bus service, located just outside the airport doors, for around 2 euros, which is such a bargain in comparison to taking a taxi.
L’Università degli studi di Bergamo is probably one of the only universities in Italy to offer an accommodation service, which makes it quite appealing to Erasmus students. Personally, I felt it was a great choice to apply for housing this way, as it places you right at the centre of student life, and you will share an apartment with other Erasmus students, which equates to the opportunity of embracing many more cultures. Rent prices here range from €270 - €350, depending on whether you want to share a room; bills are included in this price (BUT NOT WIFI!!). There are some drawbacks to living in this accommodation; you may not end up speaking as much Italian as you should, you definitely won’t do a lot of work and you will put on weight from all the glorious food people will cook for you. The accommodation service can be just as frustrating as your average Italian proprietario and there is a distinct lack of internet access. You have to go to university to access this (which for me was only a five minute walk away at the Economics campus) and/or purchase an Italian sim card to have internet on your phone. I suggest purchasing this ASAP or even beforehand if possible.
Alternatively it is best just to search for accommodation on Easy Stanza, which is a really handy website. Many people arrive in Bergamo and stay at the Central Hostel, then do their house-hunting, with the help of local Erasmus groups like ESN or AEEGEE. In all honesty, housing in Bergamo is not an issue, and you will find a place to live easily enough.
The easiest and cheapest method of getting around Bergamo and the surrounding areas is by bus. As obvious as it may sound, you have to buy your tickets before you get on a bus - from news vendors, tobacco stores (these are on almost every street and sell stamps so you don’t have to traipse around finding a post office) and ticket machines at bus shelters – then stamp them on the bus. I for one didn’t even realise, because I’ve never lived in another country before. Occasionally you might end up getting fined if you don’t do so. You can also buy an abbonamento on a monthly or yearly basis; this is cheaper for students and available for purchase at the ATB centre in Porta Nuova.
I highly recommend taking the funicular to the Città Alta at least once during your time in Bergamo, simply because it’s such a lovely experience, with another interesting view, and it’s not something particularly common to the UK. You can use your abbonamento or pay for a ticket, which is only €1.50 one way.
If you want to get the most out of Bergamo, just walking around is the best means of transport. This way you tend to stumble across the most beautiful things, and you wind up really feeling like you are a part of the Italian lifestyle. Bergamo isn’t a massive place, but the walk to and from the Città Alta balances out all of the incredible food you will be eating.
Bergamo is a quiet place, with a reputation of being relatively conservative. If you only want to party during Erasmus then Bergamo is not the best place for you (though neither is Italy, because there is so much more to experience than just this). The large majority of people go for aperitivo, which is a fabulous selection of nibbles and/or larger dishes accompanied by a few refreshing drinks.
Be prepared to receive complaints and meet police at your door at what we would usually consider reasonable hours. For instance, we once received a fine of €200 euros for being ‘loud and disruptive’ at 11pm on a Friday night, at my apartment. There are some popular clubs and bars in Bergamo; Clash Club, which is open until 4am on weekends, and Le Blanc, where there is a club night every Thursday night after the aperitivo. These clubs are very different to the ones we are used to at home, in the sense that they are pretty bad.
Not to worry! Transport links to Milan are excellent, and there are a plethora of bars and clubs there. They range in price drastically; you can sometimes find a decent priced club for €10, such as Magazzini, which includes entry and a drink. Others may try to charge you €30 - €50 only for entry, but it is Milan and you may find yourself hanging out with Roberto Cavelli or some other fashion idol. The amount you spend really depends on how much you want to party.
Bergamo is not Milan, most markedly in the sense that everyone there speaks Italian (or Bergamasco) and not English. If you want to improve your Italian, Bergamo is a perfect place. The locals generally don’t speak English, and there are projects such as the Tandem Exchange programme in place which can be really helpful for language learning. If you feel that you need the support of living in a place where English is the predominant language then Bergamo probably isn’t for you. However, as daunting as the prospect might sound you will quickly find yourself adapting to the culture and understanding how things function, even if you never knew a word of Italian before. This element of not understanding everything simply adds to the adventure.
Must Do’sEat ice cream at La Romana Gelateria. Believe me, this is no ordinary ice cream experience. Have Aperitivo at one of Bergamo’s unique venues. My personal favourite was a place called I Giardini in Piazzale della Repubblica, very close to Porta Nuova. Visit Bergamo Underground. This is a well-kept secret and something that the large majority of tourist guides will not have info on, purely because they don’t know about it. The caves are a feature leftover from the town’s medieval defence system, and can be found along Viale delle Mura, and in Via Vagine (yes that’s a real street name) in the Città Alta. It’s likely you might need a hand from one of the locals to find these caves, but it’s worth the effort. Besides, it’s completely free to enter and at least you’ll be making use of your language skills! Museo di Scienze Naturali e. Caffi. Even if science isn’t your thing, the museum is a must-see, especially since entry is free and upon arrival you will be greeted by a very large woolly mammoth!
Accademia Carrara di Bergamo. The gallery hosts some excellent seasonal exhibitions and is just one of a host of easily accessible art museums in the area.Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia. Football isn’t simply a game in Italy; it’s a way of life. You might not be a fan, but you should at least see the home squad Atalanta Bergamo play one game, because it truly is an experience like no other. Piazza Vecchia and the Duomo of Bergamo. Integral and essential elements of the Città Alta – these attractions are always free and almost impossible to miss.