Bergamo & Monza

March 2016
More photos here

Wednesday 30th March
Our flight tomorrow leaves at 6.45, so staying overnight near the airport becomes essential rather than just convenient. I'm booked into the Hilton Garden Inn again, so I'm in room 137 again, just after 9.00, hoping to drop off to sleep weirdly early, as I need to be awake at 4.00. Setting the alarm on my phone it told me it would go off in seven hours. As I washed I thought 'hold on...' Turns out I'd switched off the Get time from network option and the phone was still on winter time. If I hadn't realised...

Thursday 31st March
I got some sleep, but not a lot. A blurry bus trip to Terminal 4, to be greeted at check-in by many old chums from previous mind-expanding Travel Editions trips led by Clare and Barbara. After swift progress through security, and an almond croissant and coffee, civilisation returned to my savage breast. No problems with the journey. Alitalia's in-flight mini pain au chocolate twist was underwhelming, though. Our coach was found swiftly, and we were whisked to Trescore Balneario for coffee and/or lunch. Four of us found a fine and unbusy pasticceria for good coffee and nice little apple muffins. I also spotted some tempting honey and cinnamon turrone on the counter, which was sneakily bought for me while I was in the loo.

Then we all met up again to visit the Suardi Oratorio where we were shown the frescoes by Lotto by a provided guide from Bergamo who wasn't bad, but who wasn't Clare. Fab and fresh-looking frescos, though, depicting the lives of St Barbara (especially) and St Bridget, oddly, she being an Irish saint. And with the statutory 'cute' pissing putto on the ceiling and figure said (but by whom?!) to be a self-portrait of Lotto. Back to the coach and to the Vittoria, our hotel in Brescia.

An early evening stroll of acclimatisation and architectural appreciation, during which no tourists other than us were seen. Then back to the hotel for our welcome prosecco and nibbles (including black charcoal croissants filled with ham), a talk on Brescia from Clare! You can't do what we do on an almond croissant, half a chocolate twist and a small apple muffin! We had four courses - my veggie sequence was the traditional roasted vegetables, followed by the risotto with apple and pear we all had, followed by my main, a small portion of caramelised onion soup. Weird, but fine as I'd had my hunger's edge knocked off by then. The vanilla gelato with chocolate sauce and coffee with biscotti finished us off, as it were. And so, sated with fine conversation, about art and cats mostly, we were in our rooms collapsing into our respective heaps by 10.00.

Friday 1st April
I slept like the proverbial. Breakfast featured a fine selection of cereals and their embellishments, fresh and varied pastries, good coffee and nasty watery juice. Our day in Brescia began at Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a church equally odd on the outside and the inside (see above right). After a quick pop into an interesting courtyard opposite, we made for Santi Nazaro e Celso, which has a highlight Titian - the Avaroldi Altarpiece - and a sweet and surprise interesting older gold-ground altarpiece in the sacristy. San Francesco d’Assisi had an altarpiece by Moretto, some fascinating older fresco fragments and a pair of lovable cloisters, one small one large.

For lunch five of us found an excellent panini place which made their own bread and even did gluten-free for our Ann. In the afternoon we had an impressive and impromptu visit to the Roman Capitoline temple before heading to the vast Santa Giulia museum complex, the City Museum in which has some spectacular Roman house remains too, the wonderful bronze Vittoria statue, Disiderous's Cross,  and an impressive 4th-century ivory reliquary casket. Stuff from the huge Tosio Martinengo collection too, including works by Raphael, Lotto and Moretto. Three cats spotted too - two painted and one sculpted. The church of San Salvatore is part of the complex. It has stony charm, old and mixed capitals, and fresco fragments. In the later nun's choir are some impressive if not (some of us agreed later) lovable frescoes by Ferramola, mostly. A well-earned gelato consumed on the way back (mine stracciatella and almond).

In the evening Clare's talk on Bergamo was a little dampened by a lack of chairs but when Barbara's complaint brought no swift solution the pair of us took direct action and dragged a bench and a couple of chairs in from the landing. Pshaw! The meal in the hotel somewhat similar to last night (roasted vegetables again!) but with some slightly more ribald conversation.

Saturday 2nd April
I can't go a whole trip without mentioning the c-word, so I must just mention that this morning's breakfast treat was confirming that the apple slice of a dark brown hue was indeed very cinnamony. We coached to Bergamo for 'The Morning of the Three Lotto Altarpieces'. San Bernadino was first, after which we followed the helpful chap who opens the churches by appointment to Santo Spirito, which was next on his list. Lastly San Bartolomeo - the last, the earliest, and the least impressive of the Lottos.

Here we stopped for caffeine, then the coach took us to the upper town, we looked around the fine square before splitting up for lunch. Our same group of five found a very nice eccentric little back street place (the Officina Dei Sapori in via Solata) which served good ravioli and gnocchi and polenta but was not too used to tourists and worked out bills on paper pads with a calculator. Slowly. Which didn't exactly make for an on-time meet backup with the group, in the Capella Colleoni (see right), to admire some Tiepolos. Then, after a look at its east end, Santa Maria Maggiore opened so we could go 'blimey' at its very populated plasterwork, admire the tapestries and love the intarsia panels on the front of the choir screen, after we'd found someone to reveal them, by removing the merely impressive intarsia panels which cover them. San Michele al Pozzo Bianco was deserted and had some rare Lotto frescoes (see right) and fascinating earlier stuff, including a very sweet Annunciation. We couldn't find the light for The crypt so had a spooky time admiring the frescoes down there by mobile-phone-torch light.

Then to the recently-reopened Galleria dell’Accademia Carrara for works by Lotto, Pisanello, Bellini, Crivelli, Carriani and not much that was duff, frankly. This gallery has been closed for ages, it seems, but has been done up a treat. An excellent plush and cheapish bilingual book of 100 Masterpieces too. After some minor coach-liaison difficulty we were soon heading back to Brescia in art-sated heaps.

In the evening a gang of six of us (including Clare) got very lucky with our choice of restaurant - the Antico Beccaria. Food, service, and presentation were all somewhat faultless. A complete lack of veggie secondi was more than made up for by a choice of four very tempting veggie primi.

Sunday 3rd April
A casual late-starting morning with a quick pre-coach trip to the Old Duomo, Santa Maria Maggiore, which was open for an exhibition of mostly nasty modern paintings, the worst and biggest one blocking the view to the high altarpiece by Moretto. An attractive mix of centrally-planned brickiness with a eclectically well-decorated transept (see right) and chapels. Also a sweet crypt (of San Filastro) and a standout carved red Verona marble sarcophagus of a bishop.

Then to Monza on the coach. After lunch (in a basic but bearable shiny Italian bar for the now-established Group of Five) The Cathedral Museum was visited, to admire ivory diptychs, fresco fragments, amphorae, and odd paintings. Then our timed visit to the Chapel of Theodolinda with its full tall walls of frescoes by the Zavattari (father and two sons). They've recently been restored and pretty much blew us all away. The provided guide also did good work with details about the choices and work involved in the restoration. And part of the timed visit involves the dimming of the lights and the dramatic revealing of the famous Iron Crown, spot lit in all its gold and bejewelled glory in a glass case slid out of the tabernacle. (It's called The Iron Crown because it was made to enclose a relic said to be a nail from the Crucifixion.)

Some time for tea, or in my case hot chocolate. I'd managed to get this far into my life without supping real hot chocolate, the sort that's like melty dark chocolate, and I liked it. With a blueberry muffin. Back on the coach to Milan Linate Airport and fractionally faster rigmarole than usual. Our wait was brightened a bit by my checking my email and finding an M&S advert offering me Multi-Tasking  Trousers, and the subsequent conjecture as to what these might entail. Alitalia couldn't manage a veggie in-flight snack, so I was offered a little bag of savoury biscuits, much like croutons. Our flight was late in, that nice Ann let me and Clare share her cab, so I was home with the cats around 10.30. They were happily fed and myself very asleep within not too many minutes.

Catalogue (and guidebook) Corner

The Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia had no good English guide or catalogue of paintings I could find, just two large hardback painting catalogues in Italian for €100 each. The shop there did provide the guidebook pictured right, though, which is excellent, in coverage and detail and impressive in design and illustration quality.
It bigs-up Brescia, of course, but it's never too relentless, or redolent of bad corporate translation.

  Accademia Carrara
100 Masterpieces
Visitor's Guide
The Carrara in Bergamo had two tempting new books. The large casebound book (left) of 100 Masterpieces has full-page illustrations facing considerable texts - usually two or three paragraphs - in Italian and English. Often the paintings are photographed in their frames. It's arranged roughly chronologically and has a handy introduction, giving us a history of the guides produced for the collection and admitting that this current book has entries cobbled together from the many entries written for the various catalogues produced for travelling exhibitions of works while the rebuilding was underway. The tasteful
small paperback guide (right) has chapters devoted to periods and geographical areas, within which are grouped the new thematically-arranged rooms. It covers only about the same number of works as the other book, and not the same ones. Each painting gets a page and a small paragraph of text, different from that in the other, and often a full-page detail. Both are desirable things, with readable and useful texts, but neither mentions the Veronese (and studio) painting I noticed and made a note of. And it's not on their website either.


Il Ritorno di Teodolinda 2015

The book about the restoration of the
frescoes in the Chapel of Theodolinda in Monza is bigger than the glass on my (A4) scanner. It was only in Italian but the illustrations are gorgeous, and there's a fold-out! I enquired about a version in English and it turns out that one has been prepared, but not printed yet.
I emailed them about it and they sent me a pdf of the text in English.


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