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Memory and Travel – Reflections on Bergamo and kindness to strangers


It’s funny how memory works in regards to travel. I was in Bergamo, Italy back in 2009 (and about 10 days ago but only to sleep in the airport but that’s another story) and my memory of it seemed to be perfectly clear. A very small sleepy place where I could walk from the train station to the Nuovo ostello di Bergamo in about 20 minutes. I even remembered a general map of how to get from the lower city to the upper city, where the funicular was, and how to get from the centro to the ostello.

So, last night, arriving at about 8 pm at the train station in Citta Basa – I started walking. I walked up the main boulevard past the grand square building in the area of the Sentierone and the Palace of Justice).I went by the 4 towers that housed The Health Tribunal, the Fair Curators, The Magistrate of Provisions and the Tribunal of Justice
and the famed 540 shops of the Sentierone. I strolled past the modern shops and began thinking to myself that I didn’t remember it being so…modern, so developed, so filled with luxury branded stores.

And as I kept walking for 30 minutes or so, I became less sure of where I was. At the point I remembered finding the stairs to the hostel, I found a hillside leading downward into a neighborhood instead of the ten flights of stairs leading upward that I remembered. Soon, I was in an area of closed shops and fairly modern apartment buildings. This didn’t fit with my memory at all.

I asked a few Italians if they knew where to find the Ostello di Bergamo but they didn’t speak enough English or didn’t know and then, I found a Moroccan kebob shop. They didn’t speak English either and my Italian is zero, but much to their surprise, this lost looking white guy wandered up and greeted them in Darija. My Moroccan Arabic is functional though far from fluent. Once they got over the shock of my speaking Arabic, they were very kind and interested.

They knew where the hostel was and I was far from it. One of them, Hisham, asked his boss if he could leave for a few minutes to get me started in the right direction. We chatted in Darija about family and life in Italy. He’s originally from Agadir and has actually been to Sefrou for some reason. I admit that I’m not always keen on meeting Moroccans in Morocco, but when I meet those who have left or travelled abroad, it is always an extreme pleasure. It’s something about the broadened world view and the shattering of the illusions the media puts in people’s heads. An expansive worldview makes a world of difference. The Prophet Mohammad said something like “Don’t tell me what you’ve read, tell me where you’ve travelled.”

In any event, Hisham and I were lucky to run into his Italian friend, Enzo who was waiting to pick up his girlfriend from work. Enzo speaks English and offered to drive me to the hostel. During this exchange, I was translating Arabic to English and English to Arabic – a good exercise that seemed to work.

So then, Enzo and his girlfriend drove me to the hostel which was miles from where I had ended up. Once at the hostel, I thought I remembered where the pizza place nearby was – but once again – memory failed me, so I ended up eating a frozen microwave dinner. And while I can say that my memories of the hostel being clean, bright and comfortable were right I was disappointed to recall that they require you (or at least me 2x now) to check out each day at 10am, leave your bags in the luggage room, and then check back in in the afternoon. Not ideal by any means- it makes me glad I took a day in Greece to just lounge in my hotel room.

Anyway, I’m excited to get back to Morocco but I have a full day and another night here in Bergamo. I had thought to take the train and get lunch in Switzerland, but the weather may not be cooperating – in any event there is a giant world food festival here as well as a world renowned organ music festival – so it may be best to stay here – besides the trip to Switzerland wouldn’t allow enough time to see the Alps.

Hotels in Bergamo, Milan, or Orio al Serio

Bergamo Hotels
Milan Hotels
Orio al Serio Hotels

About Bergamo, Milan, and Italy

Lonely Planet: The Italian Lakes Guide
Bergamo: The History, The Art
Eyewitness Travel: Milan and the Lakes
Frommers Northern Italy