My lodgings are in the unsavory part of the city, across from the train station, on the wrong side of the tracks. This isn’t the famous and distinguished grit of LA or NY. The hotel itself is clean, modern, and utilitarian. My bathroom is equipped with one smallish towel, one bathmat and a bidet towel. Nothing to wash my face with, but my caboose will be squeaky clean. Outside my window is the local kabob grill and bar, its patio populated with old, hairy, pot-bellied men smoking and drunkenly singing Italian love ballads at 3:00 p.m. at the top of their lungs. Welcome to Brescia. At first glance, it’s disappointing.
On my initial venture outside, I skirt past the pot-bellies, homeless and graffiti (I later discover a better route) for a hopeful investigation of the central Old Town. One should not judge a city by its train station. Brescia’s old town doesn’t disappoint. I find a center filled with narrow, cobbled lanes, many for pedestrians only, winding around picturesque piazzas, two Duomos (one dating from the 11th century), Roman ruins and even its own hilltop castle. Brescia is charming. Better yet, with its moat of unappealing urban sprawl and neighbors like Lake Como, Milan, and Venice, Brescia has been forgotten in most guidebooks, ensuring there’s nary an American accent to be heard.
I’m enjoying my Aperol Spritz aperitivo and nibbles on the Piazza Paolo VI after my stroll, listening to the Italian chatter punctuated by the clock tower clanging the quarter-hour. The sun paints long shadows over the pink café umbrellas and focuses its golden eye on the Duomo. I recall my gelato school classmate proclaiming that he shunned café locations in central piazza locations, adamant that these attractive, central old town destinations are mere tourist traps for the ill-informed. I’m now convinced he’s an idiot. There is nowhere else I want or need to be at this moment. Brescians know how to live “la dolce far niente” and this city is lovely.