Doing Bergamo in three days

Bergamo Card

Bergamo Card

The Beginners’ Guide to Doing Bergamo in Three Days

or

What the guide books often miss out

The beauty of the Bergamo Card

To ‘do’ Bergamo in three days probably the most convenient and cheapest way is to buy a 48 hour Bergamo Card, €15, and a One Day Airport Bus ticket €5. A little bit of planning should fill the 3 days remembering that (in order to make it seem a better deal) the Bergamo Card lists places that are free to everyone anyway so they can all be left to the third day. If used properly the Bergamo Card is, indeed, a good deal and allows you to get an idea of the city and its history. If travelling with very young children each card is valid for 1 adult and 1 child under six.

The Bergamo Card, is presently available for 24 and 48 hours from the time of the first use of bus ticket or after having been entered into the computer system at an attraction. If arriving by air you can get these at the airport from the transport company kiosk immediately in front of you once you’ve cleared customs, just to the left of the building exit. This kiosk also sells tickets for the buses going to Milan. The card is also on sale at the Tourist Information Office. There’s major building work going on at the airport at the moment (early summer 2014) but I don’t know how, or if, this work will have any impact on this information. The exact location might change but everything else should remain the same.

If you wish to follow a similar trip that I did over the course of three full days a considered use of your time could work in your favour as you can gain from the dead time overnight before using the second card – just take into account when you want that card to start depending upon your flight arrangements.

As is the case virtually everywhere in Italy in Bergamo you have to buy a ticket before getting on the bus. No driver will even have tickets or money if you attempt to buy one. If you are staying for any length of time in the city and don’t opt for the Bergamo Card makes sense to get one of the multi journey tickets. They are available for One, Two and Three days.

One thing it’s important to remember is that being a foreigner won’t wash in Italy if you’re caught travelling without a valid ticket. Inspectors don’t get on the buses very often, from my experience, but trying to argue you didn’t understand because you’re merely a tourist will only get you a visit to the police station. Currently the fine is €53 if you pay within 60 days of the fine being levelled, it triples after that. So if you get a ticket don’t forget to validate it in the orange machine next to each entrance on the bus. Normally you get on at the front and the back and get off in the middle.

The funicular

There are two short cable car routes in Bergamo. They don’t really exist in the UK and are a different type of transport and worth going on just for the novelty. There’s no great excitement, the journey last little more than 5 minutes and you don’t race along. The route that leaves from the main road at the bottom of the hill to Città Alta is a pleasant way to arrive in the old town. The other route is the one that takes you up to San Vigilio and leaves from outside the walls at the north-western part of the old town. These are run by ATB so any of the travel cards cover the cost.

When in the week to go

Arrive or leave on a Monday but don’t make it the middle of your stay. As is the case in many European countries Bergamo’s tourist attractions tend to close on Mondays (apart from public holidays). You might even find that some of the eateries will also take that day free as the number of people moving around will decrease. This might be less of a problem at the height of the season but then if you can be in any way more flexible in your travel dates you wouldn’t want to go in July or August anyway.

On the other hand for certain attractions being there at the weekend is useful. Two that immediately come to mind is the Donizetti Casa Natal (for opera fans) and the church of Santa Grata Inter Vites (for the macabre paintings behind the altar) – both in Via Borgo Canale.

Tourist Information

There’s a Tourist Information Office on the ground floor of the Gombito Tower, Via Gombito 13 in Città Alta. There’s also an office in Piazza Marconi, opposite the railway station, in the new town.

The best map I came across was given away free in the ATB (the local transport authority) office in Largo Porta Nova in the new town.

They tend to close at lunchtime.

What time to eat

Going to restaurants before the normal lunch break for local workers will allow for a less hectic experience, this is especially the case with the two restaurants chosen on this blog, the Autogrill in the Città Bassa and Il Circolino in Città Alta. Also if you choose to buy food and go for a picnic the places along Via Colleoni can get hectic when the crowds arrive and as you have to order, pay and then collect you could waste a lot of time in queues.

What time to visit the attractions

It might be stating the obvious but if you want to visit any of the main attractions arrive as soon as possible after they open. This doesn’t mean getting up at the crack of dawn as things don’t start opening until 09.00 at the earliest but getting the first hour before buses start to arrive from Milan is recommended. Especially in the low season, spring or autumn, Città Alta is quite pleasant in the early morning as cafés are starting to get ready for the rush and the Piazza Vecchia has few people around.

Markets

On Friday morning there’s a small general food market in Piazza Cittadella in Città Alta

On Saturday morning there are two street markets in the newer part of town.

The arts and crafts is in the Piazza degli Alpini, at the bottom end of Viale Giovanni XXIII, close to the railway station.

The food, clothing and general wares market is in Piazzale Goisis, the car park of the Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio football stadium, on Viale Guilio Cesare

Public Toilets in Città Alta

There’s a small building just up the hill from the Gombito Tower (the home of the Tourist Information Centre) on Via Lupo. Cost 25 cents.

Fruitvale Station

BART Fruitvale Station

BART Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station (2013) – dir Ryan Coogler

I’m still trying to work out what Fruitvale Station, the film about the ‘accidental’ shooting (in the back whilst being pinned down on the platform) of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 is trying to tell me. The film takes its name from the station on the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) system where this all took place.

It’s one of those films where there’s no need to shy away from talking about the ending as it’s about an actual event and the fact that a young black man ended up dead is well-known. I say ‘well known’ but I don’t know if that is really the case.

I tried to work out why I had no memory of the incident but then realised that at that time I was in China and followed events from the perspective of that country. However, even there I think I would have been aware if the reaction on the streets was such that had followed the criminal outcome of the trial of the police officers in the Rodney King case.

Yes there had been some reaction on the streets, both peaceful and more angry, but it was contained by either the organisers or the authorities. Perhaps when such events are happening all the time it gets difficult to expect people venting their anger in public. What it almost certainly does create, on the other hand, is a simmering anger where an increasing proportion of the public feel alienated from the society in which they live.

(Here it might be worth mentioning that, each year, something like 400 people die in the United States at the hands of law enforcement agencies. That’s quite an horrendous figure but we in the ‘non gun-toting’ United Kingdom should be careful about taking the moral high ground. It’s reckoned that about 50 people die in police (and other security forces) custody each year. Here they are rarely shot (although incidences of shooting are on the increase) but are more likely to be suffocated or crushed to death. What we should remember is that the population of the United States is 5 times that of the UK so living here is an even MORE dangerous activity than in the gun happy US of A when it comes to contact with the law.)

Although Oscar (as were most of the others who were detained after an altercation on the packed train as people were heading back home to the Bay Area after seeing in the New Year in San Francisco) was black that didn’t seem to be the main reason they were picked out from the crowd – although ‘institutionalised racism’ is never to be discounted, even in police forces with a substantial number of black or ethnic minority officers.

Inept transport police, whose attitude was aggressive and threatening from the start and, not surprisingly, on the receiving end of abuse from those who felt themselves to be falsely accused and detained, ended up killing Oscar by a single shot to the back, which punctured a lung which the hospital surgeons couldn’t put right.

There are similarities to the Rodney King case in the fact that the whole incident was recorded by tens of camera phones and the whole affair being posted on YouTube even before he was dead the next morning. But in our society even that is not enough to convict the police as the one who shot Grant was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served about a year and a half in gaol.

The forces of the state getting away with murder is nothing new but in countering this fact of life and demanding justice it’s no good in changing the victim into a saint and cry ‘it’s not fair’.

Oscar Grant wasn’t an angel. Why should he have been? Unless you get a lucky break it’s hard for working class children of whatever colour to have it easy in the United States. Figures show that their income has barely managed to stand still in the last 20 to 30 years, long before the most recent capitalist crisis and even during times of ‘prosperity. The ‘American Dream’ is a lie and the sooner the US working class recognise that the better it will be for them and – as their country is never backward in attacking and invading other countries – much of the rest of the world.

However, here the film makers decide to show that despite all the odds and the difficulties he was facing that on the very day before he was to die violently at the hands of the American state he was really going to turn over a new leaf. So the injustice he suffered was greater because he was trying hard ‘to get his life back’? This is a superficial approach and is no way to demand justice. If he had been really ‘bad’ does that mean the police were justified in killing him?

Rodney King wasn’t, by all accounts, the most likeable of characters but what was important in his case was the way that the State rallied around to distort the justice system to ensure that their agents and toddies would be kept from harm. The result was that Los Angeles burnt in 1992.

Investigating the case further I discovered that the family, within days of his death, had put in a ‘wrongful death claim’ against the BART with a compensation claim of $25 million – this was later raised to $50 million. Now, so soon after the event the family would have been vulnerable to all the legal vultures that descend in such circumstances, where the percentage fees for large claims are irresistible.

However, the family stuck with this claim and Grant’s daughter received $1.5 million and his mother $1.3 million EVEN before the case was resolved in court. Why is it that whenever things go wrong in capitalist society the loudest cry seems to be ‘compensation’. (It is interesting to note that $3.8 million is exactly the same that Rodney King got when he sued the city of Los Angeles.)

What the companies the size of BART pay out is chicken feed and in order to make sure there is no loss to the company they will merely put the price of a ticket up a cent or so. What it does do, on the other hand, is give the impression that any wrong can be righted if enough money is on the table.

A foundation has been established in Oscar Grant’s name to help those who are victims of such ‘injustice’ and perhaps some of the money from the compensation claims have gone to pay for its expenses. That doesn’t make the taking of the money any more acceptable.

If, as the film seeks to portray, on the day before his murder Oscar really was trying to find a way to provide for his family he surely wasn’t thinking that his death would be the quickest way to secure his goal.

Liverpool Biennial 2014

Liverpool Biennial 2014

Liverpool Biennial 2014

The Liverpool Biennial 2014, the eighth of its kind, started on 5th July and will continue until 26th October. The festival of contemporary art uses fixed exhibition space but a characteristic of the Biennial since the very start is the appearance of art installations in some of the most unexpected places throughout the centre of the city.

The ‘official base’ this year is the large building at the top of Hardman Street, at the junction which has the Philharmonic Hall on one corner and the Philharmonic pub on one of the others. Depending upon your age and knowledge of Liverpool this is known as the ‘Old’ Blind School (the reason for which it was designed by Arthur Hill Holme and built between 1849-51), the central police headquarters (which it was until they moved into the new building at Canning Place, opposite the Albert Dock, in the early 1980s) or the Merseyside Trade Union, Community and Unemployed Resource Centre (which it was from 1984 until the end of the 1990s).

There are 4 other locations in the centre which will have exhibitions devoted to the Biennial throughout the next ten weeks: the Bluecoat (in School Lane, right next to the shopping centre of town); FACT (in Wood Street); the Tate Liverpool (at the Albert Dock on the shore of the River Mersey); and St Andrew’s Gardens (a place that seems to metamorphose on an annual basis, having started out as Council housing, passing through to student accommodation to now an arts centre).

These five locations will be providing displays of national and international contemporary art under the heading of A Needle Walks into a Haystack.

What does that mean? At this moment in time I can do little more than provide the description given by the curators of this year’s Liverpool Biennial:

A Needle Walks into a Haystack is an exhibition about our habits, our habitats, and the objects, images, relationships and activities that constitute our immediate surroundings. It’s about effecting larger questions facing contemporary life and art, from an intimate and tangible scale that’s within everyday reach.

The artists in this exhibition disrupt many of the conventions and assumptions that usually prescribe the way we live our lives. They attack the metaphors, symbols and representations that make up their own environment, replacing them with new meanings and protocols: bureaucracy becomes a form of comedy, silence becomes a type of knowledge, domesticity becomes a place of pathology, inefficiency becomes a necessary vocation, and delinquency becomes a daily routine.”

(From the programme for the 5 principal sites.)

I don’t know if I understand all that. It will be interesting to see if I do by October 26th.

The formal opening took place on the afternoon of Friday 4th July in the recently opened brand new Everyman Theatre. Such affairs are rarely inspiring, too many people wanting to attach themselves to something that might enhance their reputation. However, one thing that I took from the event was the way that art now has to justify itself as giving back more than it cost to present/prepare in the first place. This isn’t new and is becoming almost a mantra now. I’ve never agreed with the idea of art for art’s sake but neither do I agree that art always has to have a price tag that is lower than the amount of money that ends up in the hands of private capital.

Any mention of the art itself was pushed into the background as people who had gained funding for this year made sure they would be in the running in the future. This meant keeping in the good books of Arts Council England, who have been signing the cheques in the past, and massaging the ego of the present Chair, Peter Bazelgette (responsible for ‘raising’ the standards in British television by providing the nation with Big Brother and Deal or No Deal, amongst others). Also local sponsors had to be mentioned as part of the obligation associated with their giving money (all of which would have been offset against corporation tax).

Dazzle Ship

Dazzle Ship

I suppose it’s become a sort of a tradition for the Liverpool Biennial to have at least one huge outdoor installation. In the past this has included a moving building, a carousel of trees and a red house. This year it’s the Dazzel Ship, a 1950s pilot boat which has been painted by the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. This can be found at the Canning Graving Dock, which is between the Albert Dock and the Pierhead beside the Mersey.

The official opening event of the Biennial took place on the evening of Saturday 5th July in the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. This was the world premier of a work by Michael Nyman, Symphony No 11: Hillsborough Memorial. This was commissioned some time ago but with the re-called inquest taking place in Warrington at the same time as the Biennial this piece of music has taken on a greater significance.

Always running in parallel to the Biennial is the Independents Biennial. Whereas with the ‘official’ Biennial the exhibitions and events take place in the prestigious locations the Independents Biennial tends to use smaller, more intimate galleries and basically anywhere which will allow the artists display space.