Piemonte-2007 Archives

July 9, 2007

Gelato Run 2007

My last few trips have been to Paris (twice), Burgundy, and Israel. We haven't been to Italy since our Bologna-Ravenna-La Marche-Rome trip of 2005. Time to return.

While the boys are away, Larry and I will head to Piemonte for 2 1/2 weeks. We scored a direct flight to Milano using FF miles, for which I am profoundly grateful. Even though it's Alitalia.

We land in Milano on July 24, and Larry's friend C. is determined to pick us up. No amount of persuasion will work to change his mind, so we're just cheerfully accepting his hospitality. At some point, he'll put us on a train for Torino. In Torino, we're staying at a great looking loft with air conditioning, which will be our base for four days.

Plans include a lot of walking, visiting the Cinema Museum in the Mole, the Egyptian Museum, more walking, some good food, and enjoying getting our feet on the ground in Italy once again.

Then, we have 12 days in a little house in a village between Asti and Alba. Casa Nella Vigna. We have a long list of towns to visit, keeping to within a one hour range. There's plenty to see and do in the area.

We'll have one night in neighboring Liguria, at a seaside hotel. Hotel Casmona.

Leaving two weeks from tonight!

July 22, 2007

And, They're Off!

I'm packed. Larry, not so much. However, I have convinced Mr. "Why do you need more than four outfits for a 17-day trip when we'll have a washing machine?" that two 22-inch bags are not going to work this time. We compromised on a 22-inch and a 26-inch, plus my carry-on and the laptop.

We drove the boys out to Camp today. They're thrilled to be back in the woods, in their little testosterone-filled heaven. Evan has what looks like a nice bunch of boys and counselors, Dan is excited to be "staff" this year. If this year is like those in the past, we'll hear from them exactly twice all month, while we'll be sending e-mails every other day.

Need to get the house in order tomorrow, then twiddle my thumbs until the cab shows up.

Italy! Whee!!!

July 25, 2007

Topless in Torino

We' re here, although our bags are not. For reasons unknown, everyone from our plane who actually went to Milano, instead of transferring elsewhere spent a long frustrating time watching an empty luggage carousel spin. We eventually learned that everyone's luggage (and this was about 15 people) was still back in Boston.

So, Torino. We like. It's elegant, attractive, the people are charming, and the food's good. We've been doing a fair amount of walking, a bit of eating and drinking, some necessary shopping, a lot of gawking. Found a place last night where we sat with a bottle of wine and some delicious antipasti. Our hotel is great.

Today, more walking, perhaps the Egyptian Museum in the afternoon. And if we're very very lucky, our bags will show up at some point.

July 26, 2007



Tuesday early evening, we used our little Torino guidebook to make a walking tour of the Quadrilatero Romano nearby. It's an area of tiny streets, old churches, buildings newly restored or in the process, lots of little cafes, restaurants, and interesting galleries and shops. The people-watching is a wonderful facet of the scenery. We didn't want a large meal, so ended up in a friendly little place called L'Acino on via San Domenico, where we could watch the parade outside. We had a bottle of Barbera and a mixed antipasti for two. An array of little plates with vitello tonnato, a warm puffy cheese torta, some cheeses, a salad of farro and arugula, some mystery meat (thinly sliced tongue?) with a zippy green sauce, and a zucchini flan. Everything was great, and I loved all the little tastes.

Wednesday morning, we headed out into the centro, again using the walks in "A Civilized Traveler's Guide to Turin" by Eugenia Bell. Torino's blocks and blocks of arcades reminded us of Bologna, another city we like. Torino feels full of contrasts in scale--you walk down small dark streets, and then turn into long straight ones where sunlight shines, then into a shaded portico, or into large open piazzas, or tiny ones. We ended up spending two hours in the Egyptian Museum, which luckily has English on the display cases help you make sense of the 300 sculptures of a goddess with cat's face. Actually, I wound up finding it quite interesting.

Continue reading "Torino" »

Torino, Torino

Thursday morning, we headed across the street to the Museo Civico de Arte Antica, where there was an exhibit of ancient Afghanistan artwork we've seen posters for. As you climb down the steps, you get a good view of the remains of the Roman theatre. There were fascinating pieces in the exhibit, showing the elements of Greek, Roman, Indian, and other civilizations that the Afghan cultures traded with or were influenced by. And again, signs and explanations in English next to the Italian.

Next, we wandered through the overwhelming markets at Porta Palazzo. This is said to be the largest open market in Europe. There must be hundreds of cheap clothing vendors, then produce, then housewares, then more produce, and still more clothing around the sides. Inside market halls are meats and cheeses; and every kind of seafood imaginable in another. Some day I do want to cook a scary octopus. Here's the recipe I got--throw the octopus into some boiling water, let it cook until it's tender when you stick a fork in. Let cool in the water, then drain, slice, rub with oil, and grill.

I didn't get the octopus today, but did console myself with a bag of the tiny yellow plums I love.

Next, we walked over to the Quadrilatero again to have a coffee at Al Bicerin, the coffeehouse dating from 1763, always owned by women. A bicerin (layered drink of coffee, chocolate and cream) sent a nice amount of caffeine and sugar into our veins. I had wanted to visit the church across the piazza, the Santuario della Consolata. There's a ton of over-the-top Baroque decoration, and in a side room, hundreds of ex-votos going back centuries. An ex-voto is a piece of folk art expressing gratitude after a recovery. We saw ones detailing fires, falls, tram accidents, illness, a lot of wartime injuries, work accidents, all sorts of horrors. There's even one carved into a boat, after someone was saved from pirates.

We had arranged to meet up with a friend of a friend, an American who has been living in Torino for a few years. We sat at a cafe in the pretty Piazza Emanuele Filberto, and talked for a long time over nice crisp salads.

Continue reading "Torino, Torino" »

July 29, 2007

To San Martino Alfieri, Asti and Around

Friday morning we took a cab to the Europecar office in Lingotto, and then drove the short distance to check out Eataly, the SlowFood showcase store. The place is an huge new space, laid out like a Whole Foods Supermarket. There isn't an enormous amount of stock, since everything seems so carefully chosen. You can eat and drink in the various departments-- a cheese plate or salumi plate here; pasta or pizza there; wine over there; salads and vegetables near the produce area. We each had a very good plate of pasta for lunch, and bought cheese, bread, oil, fresh pasta, and some other goodies. That's a whole aisle of just olive oil.

Larry insisted on using his laptop and GPS to guide our way to the cottage. I don't trust the damn thing after my experience using it to go to the school recycling center in Boston, when it told me to continue on Blue Hill Ave for 5034 miles; and then directed me east through Roxbury and the South End to go to my western destination. But we got to San Martino Alfieri in under an hour.

The cottage is at the very end of the village, up a steep road where if you met a car coming from the opposite direction, one of you'd be in trouble. It's very cute, comfortable but not overly tarted up. There are several levels of terraced yard, pretty views down the hills, and a huge fig tree. The figs aren't yet ripe, which is torture. Here's a picture of sunrise from the bottom terrace:


We drove over to the larger village down the hill, San Damiano d'Asti. It's a pretty, everyday town with an old main street shaded by porticos, a small piazza, and light industry and modern suburb surrounding. We bought some basil at the fruit and vegetable store from what must be the saddest woman in Italy. The poor thing sighed, frowned, and could barely manage to open the cash drawer. I hope she has tomorrow off.

Continue reading "To San Martino Alfieri, Asti and Around" »

July 30, 2007

Two Hilltowns


On Sunday, we had a lazy morning and then took a drive. It's been an adventure finding detailed information about the villages in Piemonte. The guidebooks tend to focus on the large towns and cities, and the more popular wine towns. I've found myself pulling information from several sources--several guidebooks, SlowTrav posts, piles of tourist office pamphlets, maps, the looseleaf binder in the cottage--and then cross indexing to make sense of routes, opening hours of castellos and interesting churches, local shops for cookies and chocolates, market days, museums, less expensive places for lunch. The area is packed with small treasures, it's just a bit of effort to find them instead of driving past what seems to be an unremarkable village.

We wound up driving to Costigliole d'Asti, a pretty larger town with a castello, a cooking school for foreigners, and a wedding in a church staffed with what looked like security guards. Outside of town, a road led up hills and around hairpin turns to Calosso. This was the prettiest village I've seen so far in the area. Old houses, steep streets, a castello, an old tower, churches, and amazing views down into the valley and across to crests of hills. We had lunch at the restaurant of the enoceta, on the patio overlooking the panorama. It was hot under the awning, but the view made up for it. Several groups of families were also eating, and the place looks like a popular destnation for a Sunday drive and pranzo. We really loved this place--the food was wonderful, the people funny and friendly. Antipati of vitello tonnato, and robiola with an herbal sauce; agnolotti al plin; and desserts of a peach stuffed with amaretti and cocoa, and a light hazlenut cake with zabaglone. Desserts in Piemonte are to die for. La Crota de Calos, Calosso, closed Wednesdays.

We followed roads through more villages, and were very amused to see a crossroads outside Montegrosso d'Asti where two scantily-dressed ladies were waiting to transact business of a personal nature.

Continue reading "Two Hilltowns" »

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