Apeldoorn, October 31—
TOO SHORT A STAY at I Mandorli early this week, sharing its pleasures with our friends Richard and Marta; but this is a trip with a social purpose, and we flew up to The Netherlands yesterday.
We'd driven from Monferrato to Bergamo on Thursday. What a drive: we took the wrong highway at Alessandria, forcing a turnaround and losing twenty minutes; then the wrong toll-gate at Milan, winding up in the dreaded town of Rho where I'd been stopped by a traffic cop twenty years ago: another loss of twenty minutes.
That meant we were no longer following Richard and Marta, and had to find our way to the day's destination using a description that misled us. Get off the autostrada at Casella Bergamo, it said; so we went past the Bergamo exit, expecting Casella Bergamo to be next. It wasn't: Seriate was; so we went on. We took the next exit, though, and a good thing we did: "Casella" turns out to mean, simply, "exit." I'm going to look more closely into this later; I suspect casella is more like "tollgate"; uscita remains legitimate Italian for "exit": but I could be wrong.
Phone calls, small roads, traffic congestion; and finally we pull up in front of a café and wait for the hotel to send someone to lead us into Trescore Balneatico, an odd little suburb outside Bergamo, where we spend the night at the Hotel al Torre. We'd spent half an hour finding this hotel the night before, consulting a 1997 Michelin Guide we found in the breakfast room at I Mandorli. Bergamo was indicated, because we fly out of here: it's the third airport of Milan these days, much used by cut-rate airlines like Ryanair. We'd have preferred staying in the old city of Bergamo itself, fascinating and dedicated to good eating — little birds (thrushes) with polenta being only one of its delicacies — but the hotels are full; there's a feria on, a business show of some kind; Milan and Verona and Bergamo are dedicated to these big commercial expositions; in a way trading and trade fairs have kept northern Italy and central Europe busy since the Amber Route days.
The hotel turned out to be quite nice, with an inviting garden, a pleasant bar-café, a comfortable big bedroom, and an acceptable restaurant; and Trescore is only twenty minutes' drive from the airport. Bergamo Orlo e Serio, as the airport's called, is small and accessible once you figure out the car-rental return (always an airport problem, it seems) and deal with the improvements being made (ditto), and yesterday's flight to the equally provincial Dutch city of Eindhoven was smooth and quick.
From that airport, a bus ride was enlivened by a small accident when a little delivery truck pulled out in front of us, earning its German driver a sober lecture (delivered in Dutch) from our driver. Oh well: no harm done, though it was unsettling; miglior qui che giù, better here than up there, said the Italian fellow next to me who'd shared our flight from Bergamo, pointing up toward the heavens.
Train to Utrecht; change to train to Amersfoort; change to train to Apeldoorn, all quick and efficient once you figure out which platform you need. Low-roofed Dutch houses; open Dutch pastures; orderly rhythmic lines of Dutch elms in the fading autumnal light. I ignore the industrial complexes, the endless clusters of huge new apartment-building suburbs, the occasional heap of scrap metal or concrete awaiting orderly recycling. Italy is delightful and cluttered, like the shouted conversations of the Italians in the airplane; The Netherlands, here in the east, away from the big cities, is delightful and serene. We feel at home, wherever we are.