Nov. 17 (Saturday)

by Jonah

From Lugano to Bergamo

I took advantage of the Lugano hostel’s free wireless (if you held the laptop in the air just right) to do a little reserach on places to stay that night. The website of one of the campgrounds in Switzerland that Berck had found said they offered caravans to rent for a night. So I found the hostel’s public phone and inserted my credit card to call them. A woman answered in German. “Do you speak English?” “Nien!” “Are you open?” “Nien!” She tried to tell me something else and then handed the phone to a male. “Hello?” “Hello! Are you open?” “No, we are closed until two of February.” Their website didn’t say anything about being closed in November and December, but apparently that’s what everyone does. So much for that idea. It had seemed like such a good one. I was back to square one and extremely discouraged.

We decided that Switzerland was just too expensive and just to head back to Italy. We drove through several connecting towns with a quite a bit of traffic (though all of it moving because of the roundabouts) down small roads with confusing intersections until we got near Bergamo. Then we headed north into the Italian Alps. I had Berck drive and drive until the road got narrower, the towns got smaller, and the terrain steeper. Finally, we entered a national park with a bi-directional road that was only one lane wide. We passed a lorry with him backing up a bit and us almost scraping the side of the mountain. Then the road ended in a little parking lot and a trail beckoned us upward. If we wanted to find our way to the hostel in Bergamo before dark, we wouldn’t have time to hike, but we decided to anyway.

The trail switchbacked nearly straight up the side of the mountain. I shed my jacket, my sweater, then my flannel shirt. It was cold enough for my breath to show, but I was marching upward in my t-shirt carrying my other clothes. We came to a fork in the road with a big rock spray painted what was in each direction, although we didn’t understand it. To the left looked steep and rocky. To the right was it continued above the treeline further up than we could see, and one sign said “PASO” and another “REFUGIO.” We headed right until we got to the top of a little ridge. The trail descended before ascending again, presumably to the PASO. There was a little stone house with a solar collector sticking out of it further along the trail, presumably the REFUGIO. We enjoyed the view, and I got dressed again because I got cold as soon as I stopped marching uphill. We could have kept going, but we did want to try to get to Bergamo before it got completely dark. The trip down was a lot faster.

We drove straight down the mountain, easily following the signs to Bergamo. Unfortunately, we ran into the same problem we had with every other city we’d tried to drive into in that we had no idea what road we were on when entering the city. The only way to figure that out was to follow the signs to the center of town to get our bearings. Fortunately, Bergamo actually had STREET SIGNS, which made navigating oh, so much easier. Once we figured out where we were, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out where to go, especially since Berck had pulled up the hostel website that morning and printed a PDF of the map it provided. We were going great, came to the right roundabout, but then I didn’t realize how poorly drawn the map was and had Berck take a left instead of continuing straight. I realized our mistake when we were on a suddenly on a divided highway. So I had him get off at the next exit and turn around. So we went the other direction, but forgot to exit because we were looking for the roundabout we’d gone the wrong way on. So we drove all the way down to the next exit and turned around again. This time we exited at the right place, but the roundabout was gone. Had we gotten off the wrong exit? Where had it gone? We got back on the highway and drove back and forth a couple of times trying to find out missing roundabout. By now it was dark, and as always happens, Berck had to pee. I had him pull off the highway and pee in an empty Coke bottle. Now he was much less agitated and we tried to find the missing roundabout again. I had him exit at what I thought was the right exit again and this time go right, but that didn’t lead anywhere.

Not knowing where to go, I let Berck wander around a residential area and get us lost. Fortunately, you can always find your way back to a big city because there’s a sign at every corner that informs you what direction it lies. Berck kept driving down smaller, narrower, and less busy streets. Finally, I gave up and told him to turn around. He started to pull into a driveway on the left when a scooter suddenly appeared outside his window. Berck didn’t seem to notice until there was a loud smack as the scooter hit our left front fender. The scooter kept going, wobbling down the road as its driver turned his helmet around to look at us. Berck pulled into the driveway and turned around, but the scooter was long gone and didn’t come back. A middleaged lady walking down the sidewalk laughed and said something to the effect of “Bene, no mala,” it’s okay, no harm. So we continued on our way.

We wandered around for a very long time when suddenly Berck’s random driving brought us to… the missing roundabout. There was a dadgum sign for the hostel on the correct turn too. From then on we followed the signs to the ostello up into a residential area that we wouldn’t possibly have been able to navigate without them. The hostel had a measly number of parking spaces with signs all around saying there was towing 24 hours a day on the ample curbs that weren’t blocking anything. Berck creatively parked one end of the Sirloin into a parking area, and we went in to register. The guidebook had promised us 50 Euro doubles, but they were all out (in November??) We could pay 70 Euros for the privilege of taking up a whole dorm room or 18 Euros a piece of we slept dorm style. Of course, it was an HI hostel, so males and females were separated. We were exhausted, had no other ideas of where to go, and decided to just stay where we were.

We still hadn’t had supper, though, and in the neighborhood where we were, there were no restaurants or bars around. So we went out to the bus waiting at the OSTELLO stop right outside. Berck thought he could buy tickets from the driver (he said it said so on the side of the bus), but that would have been the only bus in all of Italy where that would have been the case. The driver said no but he had five minutes to buy some from the hostel before he left on his route. Berck ran back in to purchase four of them, and we left when he got back.

There was an Aussie on the bus who struck up a conversation with us. He hadn’t bought a ticket, and Berck explained to him that there was a tiny chance that an inspector would board and demand to see his ticket and then a fine, and that some Italians never bothered to buy tickets because it just about evened out to pay the fine whenever they were challenged, and it saved them the trouble of having to find an open shop that sold tickets. The Aussie said he was working in Switzerland and had come down for a quick holiday. He had studied the bus map and the last bus came back around midnight or so.

The bus we were on was very small, and we soon found out why as we climbed the hill and passed through the narrow city gate of Bergamo Alto, the high part of the city. It dropped us off on a cobblestone square, and the Aussie took off to find a pub. The driver and a another guy on the bus took off too. Berck studied the bus schedule at our stop to find out exactly when the last bus left. It said 7:54. It was 7:30! Berck wasn’t sure, so he asked a lady who had just boarded and was waiting for the driver to return. She told us it left in a few minutes, obviously not understanding had his question. So I tried, “When is this bus fine.” “Ahh! Eight o’clock,” she answered deliberately. We had just enough time to grab some pizza. I picked a delicious one covered in mushrooms, and Berck picked an exciting one covered in all sorts of things. As soon as he took a bite he exclaimed, “Aaaugh! Fish!” so we traded. We wondered around the city a little bit and then had to hurry back to get to the bus. We got there right before it pulled up, and he took off as soon as we boarded. We didn’t even have to use another ticket because once you stamp your ticket in the stamping machine on board, it’s good for 75 minutes.

Anybody need two Bergamo bus tickets?

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