Caravaggio – Bergamo Revisited – Airport Refugees

One of the side effects of the renaissance of budget air and cheap flights is that a number of small regional airports have become major hubs for carriers such as RyanAir and Wizz Airlines.

Bergamo airportSmall airports in places like Volos, Greece ; Orio, Italy, ; and Charleroi, Belgium weren’t designed with thousands of passengers passing through each day in mind. They are adapting, upgrading, and building the infrastructure.

Take Bergamo – actually Caravaggio Airport Bergamo Orio al Serio or as referred to by RyanAir – Milan/Bergamo. In fact it’s about 45 km from Milan about 4 km from Bergamo and actually sits in the small city of Orio al Serio. Last year this small airport served over 7 million passengers!

A funny thing happens because of the mis-labeling and the fact that this is a transport hub for RyanAir, WizzAir, and Pegasus which has flights to and from destinations all over Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey. Lots of people come to ‘Bergamo/Milan’ simply because it is where they can catch a flight to where they are really going. That’s why I was there in September. I wanted to fly from Barcelona (actually Girona) to Volos, Greece but there were no direct flights and the cheapest way to get there was to fly with RyanAir to Bergamo, wait 7 hours overnight, and then catch an early morning flight (again with Ryanair) to Greece. Since I arrived at nearly midnight and left at 7 a.m. it seemed silly to go all the way to Milan or Bergamo only to wake up after a couple of hours of sleep and take the bus or a taxi back – who needs the expense of a hotel room and a taxi for a few hours sleep…I decided to sleep in the airport.

And so did hundreds of other people who were catching flights to Romania, flights to Turkey, flights to Barcelona, flights to Paris, flights to Moscow, flights to Sofia etc etc etc –

There just aren’t that many seats or benches in the waiting area and they weren’t going to let us into the departure lounges before 5:30 am. So, it was like being at a protest or stuck at an airport during a storm or at some kind of hippie camp.

Around me were circles of strangers making friends and playing cards on the floor. Groups of girls sleeping in a circle on the ground while one stayed awake to guard their bags, older travelers walking around warily and eyeing everyone as if they were potential thieves, a guy with a guitar sitting outside strumming. Groups sat around with beers or bottles of wine while others found bare floor to curl up with their bags under their heads.The scene was completely surreal and certainly would have been looked on with approval by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, for whom the airport is named – especially since I noted a couple engaged in some serious hanky-panky under a sleeping bag in the alcove where his bust looks out over the airport party. Here’s my favorite blurb about Caravaggio from Wikipedia:

Airport renaissance

Caravaggio’s novelty was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro. This came to be known as Tenebrism, the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value. He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissions, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew. Thereafter he never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success atrociously. He was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope.

An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, tells how “after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.” In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. He was involved in a brawl in Malta in 1608, and another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. This encounter left him severely injured. A year later, at the age of 38, he died of a fever in Porto Ercole, near Grosseto in Tuscany, while on his way to Rome to receive a pardon.

caravaggio

And then – when they opened the departure lounges and allowed us to start going through security, the sweepers came in, the cleaners mopped and suddenly it all seemed just like any other busy little regional airport.

 

Girona, Spain – a very pleasant accidental stopover #slideshowsaturday

Girona, SpainIn 2011 and 2012, Vagobond was taking me all over Europe and Asia and even into North Africa. I was doing my best to save money so that we could emigrate from Morocco to the USA, and in the process, I often got lucky in discovering places I might have otherwise missed. I’ve placed a small slideshow of this visit at the bottom of this post. 

World travel is at it’s best when you find something completely wonderful and completely unexpected. As I mentioned before, in order to get the cheapest flight from Fez, Morocco to Volos, Greece – I had to arrange a couple of stops and layovers along the way. The first one was just to get out of Morocco.

The cheapest flight was to Alicante – which I was tempted to take because I love Alicante – but the problem was getting a connection that would lead me to Volos. I needed to get to Milan and a flight from Alicante to Milan was nearly triple the cost for a flight from Girona to Milan and would have involved going several days earlier. I know, that wouldn’t have been so bad, but the truth was, I was already feeling a bit guilty about leaving my wife and new baby at home for a few days so I didn’t want to stretch this out any longer than necessary to get me to the sailboat and then back home.

So, I flew to Girona. I’d been to Barcelona before but never to Girona. I figured it would be just another RyanAir town and I might be able to get lunch, have a nice walk, and then after my 7 hour layover – head on to Bergamo/Milan.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Girona itself is scenic, historic, charming, and filled with a veritable treasure trove of things to see and do. I’m not sure how it would be to spend a few days there, but my seven hours were very nice.

From the airport it was just a couple of Euro to get the bus into the city center. From there, I just started walking.
From Wikitravel:

Geographically set at the confluence of the Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Güell rivers, it has been a focal point of this region in Catalonia since prior to being part of the Roman Empire.
The Old Town is on the east bank of the river, with pedestrianized narrow streets surrounded by the old city walls. The “Rambla”, running parallel to the river, contains many street cafés and touristic restaurants. Tourist information is at the south end of the Rambla, beside the river. The newer town center on the west bank has wider streets contains more shops and hotels, plus slightly cheaper restaurants.

The town around the bus station is pretty blah in terms of just being newish concrete buildings with nothing particularly inspiring in terms of shops, restaurants or architecture. I walked along with what seemed the natural flow of traffic and soon found myself at the riverside La Rambla.

After enjoying a coffee, I walked up the cobblestone streets towards the largest spire in sight. It turned out to be the Saint Felix Church which since I always enjoyed Felix the Cat cartoons appealed to me greatly. With 2000 years of history, Girona is truly a jewel of culture and history.

The Força Vella (the old town) is surrounded by a beautiful wall which appears to have been either preserved or restored in a very authentic way. Inside, I especially enjoyed strolling through the ‘Call’ or Jewish quarter which was like wandering through a veritable maze of cobble-stoned, narrow and steeply sloping streets.

Inside the cathedral, I was told to not take any pictures by the harried attendant who was also telling about twenty other people not to take pictures. I stopped but I had already taken this one.

With a wide Gothic nave and a very impressive Baroque façade it felt like I was stepping back in time.

Of course, I had to visit the Arab Baths, El Banyos d’Arabs. It must have once been an incredible hammam. It was a nice reminder of the power the Arabs once wielded over southern Europe. The legacy of the moors is directly responsible for some of the most beautiful architecture in Spain.

Girona, SpainSome interesting facts about Girona:
* The ancient cathedral, which stood on the site of the present one, was used by the Moors as a mosque, and after their final expulsion was either entirely remodelled or rebuilt.
* The cathedral contains the tombs of Ramon Berenger and his wife, the Count and Countess of Barcelona.
* It is possible to walk the entire length of the walls and climb the towers, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Girona and the surrounding countryside.
* The slogan of Girona is “Girona m’enamora – Girona inspires me with love”

For those interested in famous architects, the Red Bridge of Girona (which truly is red) was designed by Gustav Eiffel. I’m amazed at how many things I’ve seen that he designed – in fact, I’ll probably write a future post about his work.

And for those who are fans of Salvador Dali, there is a Dali Museum in Girona that I wasn’t able to see on this trip but that is reputed to be beautiful and wonderful.

After that, a sandwich and a beer and I hopped on a bus back to the airport to catch my flight to Bergamo/Milan for another 7 hour layover.But first I took a picture of this wine shop- you don’t see a selection like that anywhere in Morocco…

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