Virtual Tourist (a web based social networking/forum based advice service) has over a million members. As well as providing advice, sharing information & photos, many members arrange to meet up in towns & cities from all over the world. Some of these meeting are arranged many months in advance, including the annual "Euromeet" in the late Spring/Early Summer, in 2010 we met in Krakow, in 2011 Bitola & Ohrid in Macedonia. In 2012 it was the turn of three English girls, Susan, Jane & Gillian, who organised an excellent weekend in the town of Bergamo in Northern Italy. Each meeting has a theme this years's being "it's Your Meet", where the only "organised" events were the evening meals (for obvious reasons). However some members made suggestions which became VT Meetings in their own right, two will be included in this report.
The meeting is over a weekend, starting on a Friday, this year was the first weekend of June (UK Diamond Jubilee) and on the 1st June some members had already arrived, however I had to book leave from work, so the first day I had to travel from Reading to Bergamo, with my flight (with Ryanair) and accommodation already booked way back in January. I have travelled to the VT Meet on my own but this year a work colleague, Daniel Renton also wanted to come. At about 09.55 we left Reading for Paddington on a First Great Western High Speed Train, then by Underground (Hammersmith & City Line) to London Liverpool Street station from where the Stansted Express trains run. We arrived at the airport just before 12.00, so still had ample time to go through security, and we boarded the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 14.00 flight. Ryanair flights although suitable for budget travellers, fill their planes up, and are constantly trying to sell their customers with either refreshments, duty free, gifts & even scratchcards!
We landed on time 16.55, passed through Passport control, and boarded the first No 1 bus to Bergamo FS (Stazione Ferrovia) and with Daniel's and a couple of ladies shopping in a supermarket (at which we had stopped to get a drink), we found the Abelia Holiday Home, where the owner Fabrizio, warmly welcomed us, we settled in, and then started a walk to find somewhere we could buy some supper.
Bergamo is a town which is on two levels, the hotel is in Citta Bassa (low), the older town is Citta Alta, with a funicular connection between the two. At the top of the city is the Citadel and many other old churches & other buildings, squares, tree lined avenues and narrower winding streets. At the top of the funicular we found an opening to the Piazza Mercato della Scarpe, where there is a bar, "PolentOne" which specialises in polenta dishes & drinks, and for 8 Euro I had a bowl of polenta with wild board stew & a "glass" of local beer. After our supply Daniel & I continued to explore Citta Alta, and had another beer in the Caffe Cittadella bar before we decided to head back to our hotel. We noticed that on our route back there were small porch-ways which had vending machines selling drinks & snacks 24-7.
The following day Saturday 2nd when the sun was shining, the temperature very warm, Daniel & I had signed up for a day trip to Grumello del Monte. Our hotel served breakfast, we had a selection of cereals, biscuits, toast & jam, yoghurt, fruit juices & tea/or coffee.
We caught the suggested train (09.07 from Bergamo to Brescia) alighting at Grumello del Monte at 09.28. Here we met other VT people including Rita (from Riga), Karl, Cindy & their family (from California) & others. The "main" party came by cars & minibus, but we had plenty of time to explore this small town in the hills, and had coffee in Kiwi Caffe. We all sat outside.
The meeting started 10.30, the minibus & cars had arrived and the Castello del Monte was open to us. We had a guided tour of the Castello, the rooms, tower, chapel & cellars (for winemaking & keeping wine cool), later we also tasted several of the wines which were served with local bread, cheeses, & cold meats, and even with chocolate cake.
After the tour we had the opportunity to buy some wine, and then we went to Agriturismo La Becaccia farm & restaurant. We sat outside on the terrace, and tried locally baked pasta, wine & water.
Daniel & I had a lift to Bergamo from David Sutton,
In the evening we went to the Citta Alta, for the VT evening meal in Antica Trattoria La Columbina, Via Borgo Canale 12, not far from the Citadel, however when Daniel & I arrived the restaurant wasn't ready for us, and so we joined Valentina, Patrick & other VT'ers on the pavement cafe of Marianna ( drink & nibbles)
The Antica is in an old building, has terraces with great views of Citta Bassa. Due to the large number of people attending Daniel & I had to sit separately, but we both met some great people. I was sitting with Valentina & the lovely Slovenian couple Jerca & Marko (appropriately as Daniel & I had plans to visit Slovenia later on this holiday),
The menu included:
Asse di salumi tipici, Lardo alle erbe, Prosciutto Crudo
Polenta taragna con funghi, Stinco, coniglio, brasao, Polenta, Patate al forno
Semifreddo (ice-cream & chocolate sauce).
Everyone also had a quarter litre wine & half litre water.
After dinner we were all able to meet other people and have some VT goodies, including T-Shirts & sunglasses.
Daniel & I walked back to our hotel.
On Sunday Daniel & I signed up to join in the picnic arranged by Gillian. The picnic was in park land alongside the Serio river and in the Lower Seriana Valley. We bought our own food & drink for the picnic, but everyone shared what they had with all. The Valley is near the end of Bergamo's tram line at a stop called Pradalunga. Clear water flowed from the mountains to the valley, we were truly in the countryside. Daniel & I met VT'ers at the station from where the tram left at 12.03.
A group of us sat at a picnic table & shared out our food, cold meats, cheese, salad & fruit, bread, biscuits & cakes, talked and shared stories & took photos.
Our group stayed until about 15.00 & went back to Bergamo by tram. During the afternoon Daniel & I had a rest, cup of tea, before we set of for a farewell meal back in Bergamo Citta Alta. The restaurant was Il Sole, not too far from Piazza Vecchia, The menu included:
Bis di Pasta, Rissoto, gnocchetta di patate, (Rice with chicory and local cheese, potato dumplings with tomato sauce & cream)
Bis de carne - arrostodi vitallio congillo con polenta (roast veal & beef with potatoes)
Macedonia con Gelato (fruit salad & ice-cream)
Wine, water & coffee.
The meal was over by 10pm, and everyone went outside to the terrace to hear the bells ringing, a tradition which goes back to the times when the town people were called in before the town gates were closed, a medieval curfew. I also had the chance to talk to VT people including Giampeiro & Kimberly (who work for VT), & say my farewells to my VT friends.
The following day most people were moving on, some taking early morning flights, others moving on, including ourselves.