Monday, March 03, 2014


It was a rainy Sunday morning, and I had one last opportunity to take a day trip from Milan to one of the surrounding cities. And so it was that I jumped on a decrepit old train and headed out to Cremona.

I chose Cremona for a fairly flimsy reason. Many years ago a friend gave me a copy of Edith Templeton’s 1954 travelogue/roman a clef ‘The Surprise of Cremona’, and it’s long been one of my favourite books. Templeton wrote her Italian travel journal with a dry, cynical sense of humour and a slightly scandalous sense of sexual adventure, making it read like a cross between Baedekker and Sex & The City. So when I looked at the map and saw that Cremona is relatively close to Milan, I took the opportunity to visit.

To be honest, the other two options were only in consideration for similarly specious reasons: Verona because of the reference in Shakespeare, and Modena for the balsamic vinegar brand. Cremona was at least a literary reference that had something to do with the city itself.

The entry into Cremona by train filled me with trepidation. There are badly maintained apartment buildings and industrial sites, intersected by the occasional freeway. As I walked through the rain in the direction of the city centre I wondered if I’d be catching the next train back to Milan in disappointment.

But I needn’t have worried. The grubby modern buildings quickly gave way to slightly shabby but still lovely 17th and 18th century townhouses, set on cobbled pedestrian malls with smart shops and cafes at ground level. And at the very heart of the city, the streets expanded into large piazzas dominated by positively gargantuan ancient structures. There was a mammoth cathedral and a ridiculously tall clock tower. Nearby was the basilica, and a colonnaded city hall with its original painted ceilings still intact.

Admiral Ackbar insisted on the doing the whole “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” thing on the clock tower, which was a bit pointless as it doesn’t lean at all, but I let him have his fun.

But best of all, I stumbled across a little open air market where I bought goats cheese, a hard cows cheese, green olive bread and pistachio biscotti – a simple feast of wonderful Italian food. And they also had vin brule, the local version of mulled wine. It’s never a bad day when you have mulled wine.


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