There is no better way to learn about Italy than visiting its less-known, more relaxed cities. With the intention of going off the beaten paths, I visited Parma and Bergamo last weekend for a weekend escape from the 24/7 dynamic Milan. I want to hunt for the humble trattorias and their simple, satisfying, inexpensive cooking. I want to look into those elegant, tranquil courtyards inside of the residential houses with historic outlooks. I listen to how people talk on the train, how they converse with the baristas while quickly sipping their espressos, and how they complain about the weather over phone.
I come to Parma because like everyone, I want to pretend for a day at least, that I am Italian. There is no easier city to do that in than Parma. One can walk the markets without bumping shoulders with other tourists, eat a sandwich made of the irresistible local prosciutto at any hour of the day, have a late aperitif down an alley cast in an orange sunset glow. Walk along a narrow street in the historic center and see grandmas hang wet clothes from the balcony.
Parma and high art don’t collide often in the same sentence, but when I am standing in the middle of Teatro Farnese and reading through Correggio’s fresco masterpieces in National Gallery of Parma, I am left completely speechless. Those artists have built these works with meticulousness and extreme attention to details. Looking at these frescos and wooden panels, I can truly feel the religious piety that these artists have devoted into their art.
Bergamo, a gorgeous city slightly north of Milan, is also a precious gem overshadowed by its metropolitan neighbor. Housed the stunning Renaissance-style Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo also features Venetian rocky city walls and fascinating underground waterways. Hidden and understated elegance, is the characteristic that Bergamo shares with Milan. Inside of every torn down residence exterior, there is always a cozy and chic courtyard. La dolce vita to the core.