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Report 1114: Bergamo, Venice, Lerici, Piemonte, Friends & World Cup Mania

By girasoli from Hawaii, Summer 2006

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Page 21 of 23: Visits to Asti and Acqui

photo by girasoli

Here I am with Diana at her beautiful B&B in Acqui Terme

Why Asti & Acqui Terme?

I first read about all the towers in Asti back in 2003. I love towers, taking pictures of towers, and climbing towers. Since first reading about all these towers in Asti, I have often thought about seeing them for myself. Once I finalized my plans for my trip to Piemonte, I put Asti high up on my list of day trips.

My reason to visit Acqui Terme was more personal. As mentioned earlier in this trip report, much of the Piemonte region information I learned about was from Slow Travel. Diana was one of the people who helped me enormously with my plans. During our communications, we both brought up the idea of possibly meeting while I was staying in Torino. When I got to Torino, I gave Diana a call. We talked about communicating again midweek to make final plans. We made our final plans on Wednesday to meet on Friday afternoon after her guests at her B&B left, as she would have the afternoon free.

My plan was to take the 9:00am train to Asti, which was a 40 minute direct train, spend a couple of hours in Asti, and then continue on by train to Acqui Terme, a 50-60 minute ride. Diana would meet me at the train station in Acqui.

I woke up early Friday morning. I got ready for my day and then went downstairs to have breakfast. While enjoying my breakfast and reading my morning paper, I suddenly realized that I had lost track of time. I now only had 20 minutes to make my 9:00am train and I also still needed to purchase a train ticket. I ran back up to my room, grabbed my things, did some speed walking to the train station, and arrived with five minutes to spare. I wasn’t sure where the automatic train ticket machines were located and so I headed to the ticket line hoping that there would not be a long wait. I looked up at one of the boards on my way to the window and noticed that the train I thought I was taking was delayed by 40 minutes. I wasn’t positive though if that was my train and so I continued to rush to the ticket window. I could not figure out why my train would be delayed if it was originating in Torino and hoped I was mistaken.

When I got to the ticket window line, there was one person in front of me and three ticket windows open. A moment later, a woman with a strong foreign accent got in line behind us. She started telling us very loudly in English that she had five minutes to catch her train and seemed to expect that both of us were going to let her cut in line. I was so amazed that she just assumed we both spoke English. I also thought she was quite rude. The woman in front of me ignored her. I did not respond immediately but when she started complaining, sighing loudly, and muttering about hating to be late, I told her that my train also left in five minutes and I was also in a rush. About a minute later, all three people completed their transactions and we all proceeded to the open windows. I was fortunate to get a very nice man at my window. I asked him if my train was indeed late. He said that he had not heard about any late trains and he would check with his colleagues. A moment later, he confirmed that yes; my train was running 40 minutes late. So I guess my speed walking was just my morning exercise.

I bought my ticket and headed for the train. I was aware that I would be sitting there waiting 40 minutes but my delusion was that somehow a new announcement would be made saying that there no longer would be a long delay and so I didn't dare wander Torino during this delay. I am guessing that in reality this never happens. So there I waited along with many other people. A few started to board the train since the air conditioning was on. At first, I thought that maybe that meant that the train really wasn’t going to be delayed. Wrong again. I then asked a young couple if they knew why the train was late. They told me there was an “incidente” which later I found out was damage on the track between Torino and Asti from the storm the day before. Now as I mentioned earlier, the worst word you can hear when taking a train is “in ritardo” and on this trip, I have learned that the second worst word you will hear is “incidente!”

I boarded the train and found a compartment with one other young girl inside. This train was one of the IC trains that has compartments on one side and a long hallway with windows on the other side. We sat silently. I listened to my nano while she read a magazine and chatted on her phone. Fifty-seven minutes later, the train finally departed. There was an announcement apologizing for the “57 minute” delay. I loved the way they made sure to announce exactly 57 minutes and not an hour delay. Then about 10 to 15 minutes into our journey the train stopped again, this time in no mans land. We sat for another 15 minutes. I wondered if we left when we did just so the train people would not have to admit that the delay was actually more than an hour. The train finally started up again but a few minutes later it slowed down to a crawl. I noticed many people on the train getting out of their seats to look outside. I of course joined them. There by the tracks were men shoveling rocks back under the train tracks. This made everything crystal clear. The track was partly washed away from the storm the night before. At this point I was very happy that we were creeping by until we passed that part of the track.

We finally arrived in Asti almost two hours after my original 9:00 am departure time. When I got off the train, I noticed on the board that all the trains were now delayed at least one hour. NOT a good day for train travel. Lucky me! I called Diana and told her what happened. I was originally going to spend a couple of hours in Asti but now I realized that in order to have time to spend in Acqui Terme, I would have to take the next train, which left in about an hour. After Diana and I made our plans, I headed out to explore the town with my map from Katia.

I was surprised to find that Asti was nothing like I imagined it to be. I read about all these towers and thought they would be all over the town. In reality this was not the case. I didn’t get that immediate feeling that I get in many places in Italy but did feel that Asti was a town that could probably grow on you, and to be fair, I did not spend much time there.

I stopped in a great little shop to buy some delicious pasta for lunch. The people in the shop were very friendly and helpful. I stopped in a second shop to get some bread. I found a park bench in the piazza where the Palio is held later in the year and began to eat my lunch. It was a beautiful day outside. A nice elderly man sat on the bench next to me and started a conversation with me. He was very kind. After finishing my lunch, I went into the church in the San Secondo Piazza. As soon as I entered, a man came up to me to inform me that the church was closing in five minutes. I took a couple of pictures including a picture of some of the banners (Pali) from the famous Asti Palio and then left. I took a couple more pictures outside of the church and then headed for the train station, stopping for an espresso on the way.

The train to Acqui was a new regional train. It was very comfortable. The scenery along the way was breathtaking. Diana was at the train station when I arrived. I was so excited to finally meet her! I told her more about the hour delays on the board and that I was worried about how this could mess up the afternoon trains for my journey back to Torino. One thing I always try not to do when traveling alone is to travel at night on a train. We decided to talk to the woman at the ticket window to check on the schedule for the trains heading back to Torino later on in the day. This woman at the ticket window was probably one of the kindest train ticket workers I have ever met. She actually called the Asti station to find out if the trains were still delayed. She told us that everything was normal and so I proceeded to purchase my return trip ticket. The woman was ready to sell me a ticket with an hour wait in Asti. Since I always print out the train schedules in advance and had researched my choices beforehand, I showed her my print out with another possible connection in Asti with only a 12-minute wait for the train to Torino. In order to get this combination, you needed to type in the two train routes separately. She warned me that there was only 12 minutes between connections to make the second train. I figured the worst that could happen was I would end up taking the original second train she was going to have me take anyways and asked for the quicker connection.

After purchasing the tickets, we drove to Diana’s B&B. It was about a five-minute drive into the country from the main town of Acqui Terme. The B&B was gorgeous. I had originally considered staying there but thought it would be too difficult getting around without a car. I was delighted to finally see this B&B that I had read so much about. Diana gave me a tour of her place and then we had a delicious late lunch (second lunch for me) of a local ribiola cheese, fruit, and bread with her husband, by the pool. We had a wonderful time talking about so many different things. Time went by so quickly. Finally we realized that it was getting late. I took a few pictures of their B&B and then we drove back into town for a quick tour. We stopped in a little shop where Diana secretly bought me a bottle of olio di tartufo. I was touched by her thoughtfulness. Although we did not have much time to spend in the town of Acqui, I still felt this immediate affection for the town. It is hard to explain why but know that I want to come back some day to spend more time in Acqui and explore this wonderful region of Piemonte. If only I could be brave enough to drive. Just think of all the options that would open up to me.

Diana dropped me off at the train station and I caught the train back to Asti. The train ended up leaving about five minutes late. At this point, I had my doubts about catching that connecting train to Torino, BUT the one thing you can usually depend on is the connecting train also being late. I actually could have still caught my second train to Torino with the Acqui train arriving a little late if I ran, but because the Torino train was also late, I had about five minutes to spare when I arrived in Asti.

Once arriving back in Torino, I found another Exki restaurant and stopped there for a quick bite. I did not want to eat a big meal as I already had two lunches. I bought a piece of quiche and some yogurt. After dinner, there still was some time before dark. I decided to explore the area down by the River Po. There was a boat ride that I had thought about taking and I wanted to check out the schedule for the following day.

I was amazed at the beauty of this new area. Every day in Torino, I was continually surprised by this wonderful city. I think many people have missed out by not putting Torino on their list of places to visit. Then again, I guess part of the reason I liked Torino so much was because it was not so overcrowded with tourists.

While heading to the river, I saw a couple of restaurants that looked enjoyable and took note of their location as possible places for my last dinner in Torino the following night. Down by the river, there were a few little bars and some tables set up with jewelry and other things being sold. A rainbow appeared just as I reached the river. It was fun to watch people one by one notice this beautiful rainbow. I found the boats but did not find a schedule posted. I hung out for a little while enjoying the area and then headed back to my hotel.

Despite the morning train delay, I had a wonderful day, especially getting to spend time in Acqui with Diana and Micha.

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