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Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
We make a circuit and enjoy looking at the green fields and the hills in the distance. The weather has taken a turn for the better--it is now sunny and warm--making the drive even better. We pass through a couple of small villages and then a couple of larger towns--Chieri and Pino Torinese--which are much bigger than we expected and quite busy on this Saturday.
....
Diana spots a place to park just down the street from the Trattoria Bel Deuit--Piemonte dialect meaning "the good way of doing things". When I made our reservation, we got the last table available--"the table by the door". When we enter the restaurant, we are greeted warmly by the friendly staff and shown to "the table by door". The boss jokes that we need to drink more wine to make up for the location. (The restaurant has a large rear room that gives you a view of the imposing church - that's where the good tables are.)

Lunch is fantastic.....we share a Piemontese appetizer plate highlighted by a mousse of whipped gorgonzola and a spinach pie. We skip the pasta course and both have versions of "frys"--meat for me with lamb chops, frog, and brains--and vegetarian for Diana--eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, cauliflower as well as pieces of apple, pear and chocolate. Diana enjoys two glasses of Arneis and I like my glass of Barbera. Diana says it is the best meal of our trip so far.

We aren't hungry for dinner so we just watch some television for the rest of the evening.

Tomorrow is a big Italian holiday--May 1--and the only definite thing on our agenda is to do a laundry.

Jim and Diana

Oooh Chieri. I know it was just passing through, but I'd be interested in your 'first impressions', as it's a place we've thought about staying as an alternative to being in the city.

Lamb chops, frog and brains. What a combo! I've not had frog, but am open to the idea of eating it. Brains have always been a step too far for me - I can be a rather squeamish eater, the thought over-riding the taste.

Italian television is still a very odd thing, indeed I recall the owner of Politian apartments in Montepulciano avoiding putting televisions into the otherwise well-equipped apartments, such was his embarrassment at what was broadcast. That said, we've long had a soft for the (6:30-8pm?) L'Eredità, a series of word / general knowledge rounds, ending with 'the guillotine' where 6 pairs of words are presented. Firstly the contestant has to guess which is the connected word, with each wrong answer halving the total, but finishing with them having to find a single word that combines with all of them. It is typically fiendish, and I've seen very few correct answers, and have yet to get one right myself when watching.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
That said, we've long had a soft for the (6:30-8pm?) L'Eredità, a series of word / general knowledge rounds, ending with 'the guillotine' where 6 pairs of words are presented.
My Steve loved that show and wrote an article explaining it for the old SlowTrav site. He hasn’t watched it in years. I will dig out that article and post it!
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Sunday: May 1
Day 6: Torino​


Today is the Festa dei Lavoratori (Labor Day)...Primo di Maggio (May 1)--a big holiday in Italy. For us, it is laundry day.

After breakfast--the room is packed again--we gather our laundry bags, put them in a suitcase, and head out. The streets are very quiet (a combination of it being a holiday and a Sunday) but there are police cars at every intersection near our hotel blocking streets leading to the immense Piazza Vittorio Veneto and those along the river. I suspect a May Day demonstration is scheduled but there is no sign of crowds or banners.

We easily get to the laundromat. We unload the laundry and I park around the corner. Two washes are loaded (the machines dispense soap automatically so no need to bring detergent).

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A young woman wearing a summery dress (with the price tag hanging out the back) comes in, puts her wash in a machine, uses her card in the payment machine, then walks out. We notice that the machine hasn't started and start to run after her but she has disappeared. We speculate endlessly and finally conclude that she didn't have enough money to start the machine. Another couple comes in with a dog (the laundromat has one designated machine for animal bedding, etc.). The dog is fascinated with Diana's hand piecing.

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The young lady finally returns, minus the price tag, inserts the correct amount of money, starts the machine, and sits down to wait. We can stop speculating about her predicament...

We don't especially recommend this establishment. The floors are dirty and there are no carts to carry your wet laundry to the dryers and you really don't want to drop a sock on the floor, but we are done after an hour and get back to the hotel quickly. The streets have reopened but things are still very quiet. I had hoped to return to Trappazino for lunch but they are closed for the holiday. The places that are open are packed. We wait a while and walk over to an odd little sandwich shop called La Mangiatoja which is close by, open, and has tables available. They advertise the longest sandwiches in Torino and have many untraditional and odd combinations on their menu--some with french fries included on the sandwich (like in Pittsburgh). In any case, the staff is friendly and the sandwiches are tasty--I have capacollo with burrata and 'nduja (a hot spicy sausage spread from Calabria) and Diana has the porchetta with the french fries.

As we go back into the hotel, I notice a "stolpersteine" (stumbling stone) right at the entrance to the hotel. These little plaques set into the pavement commemorate a person (mostly Jewish) who was murdered in the Holocaust and lived at this place. This memorial was started by a German artist and there are plaques like this all over Europe.

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The weather has turned beautiful and we decide it is too nice to go to a museum so we decide on another drive into the country. But first I make one more attempt to drive into the riverside park--the Parco Valentino..and today we are successful. On this holiday, the park is mobbed with the Torinese...picnicking, strolling, kicking soccer balls, or just lying on blankets on the grass.

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We are able to drive close to the river and find a parking space. I go for a short walk to the Borgo Medievale--the 19th-century recreation of a village from the Middle Ages

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--and get a close-up view of the Po.

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We then drive out of the city toward the Parco Naturale di Mandria and one of the royal castles--La Venaria Reale. The route out of the city seems endless but we finally emerge to a green landscape with several ranges of high mountains in the distance. We pass through a couple of towns that are closed up tight but, as we near the park entrance, we see many people walking towards the park entrance and a long line waiting to order at a nearby gelateria. We can't enter the park in our car so we head towards one of the Savoy hunting lodges which became the site of one of their palaces. In turn, the Savoy commissioned the development of a new town as an embellishment of the palace and established extensive gardens surrounding the palace.

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It is now a big tourist destination and on this holiday, the street is thronged with gelato-seekers (like us) and other visitors.

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We brave the lines and get our gelato--limone and fragola for me, pistacchio and stracciatella for Diana--and sit in the piazza, enjoying our gelatos and people watching.

Back at the hotel, I go out for one last Torino walk covering some new territory. The local parks are still crowded and the restaurants that are open are setting their tables for dinner. I get to one of the main streets--the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II--and, unlike other places in the area, it is busy--stores are open and bars are filled.

We decide to eat dinner at a Ligurian fish restaurant--Sciamadda-just around the corner from the hotel...taking a break from the Piemontese cuisine. We have walked by the place many times during our stay and it was very appealing. I am able to make reservations through their Facebook page which is very handy. We decide to eat at an outdoor table and everything is very pleasant--the waiters are charming and friendly, the food excellent--we share an order of gently fried stuffed zucchini blossoms and a dish of panissa (deep-fried strips of farinata which is a chickpea flour pancake). Diana has the Ligurian specialty--trofie pasta with pesto--and I have my long-awaited first fritto misto- a big plate of fried shrimp, calamari, and various small fish. The Ligurian white wine--Pignato--goes down very easily. Very satisfied, we take the short walk back to the hotel and sit on a bench on the piazza enjoying our last night in Torino.

Tomorrow we are off to Asti where we will be joined by our friends from Rome, Maureen and Franco.

Jim and Diana
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Yes, absolutely agree about SlowTrav/Slow Europe. We're in a little apartment I found on Booking.com, just down at the bottom end of Via A Doria. If you've got any favourite restaurants in Lerici, I'd be happy to know! Hope your trip carries on well.
I have never had a particularly memorable meal in Lerici....the fish places on the dock are all okay. The best place we have eaten in town is La Bonta Nascoste


but we haven't eaten there in many years.

We ate with Pauline and Steve at a pleasant place on the big square in Sarzana ( a very nice centro I think) but unfortunately, the place is permanently closed.

We like to go up in the hills with our Italian friends to eat panigacci in Podenzana....you can get them closer to Lerici but Podenzana is the mother lode.

Good luck.
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
The young lady finally returns, minus the price tag, inserts the correct amount of money, starts the machine, and sits down to wait. We can stop speculating about her predicament...

We don't especially recommend this establishment. The floors are dirty and there are no carts to carry your wet laundry to the dryers and you really don't want to drop a sock on the floor, but we are done after an hour and get back to the hotel quickly.
I definitely recognise such predicaments, and it's always reassuring to get such swift confirmation that things are alright for that person.

I'm not sure we've found a commercial launderette that we could recommend, and as I'm sure if the case with you, we have used a few over the years. One 'not bad' one was in an out of town shopping centre (I think near Cuneo), as it allowed us to put the stuff in, do the food shopping etc. and return. plus the shopping centre cleaning staff probably cleaned it as well. At least with these machines, with in built soap, the hardened clumps of soap powder are avoided! Always some thing of a chore, but it can also function nicely as a 'slow down' day.

I used to struggle with fritto misto, partly as I enjoy fish, but less shellfish/*seafood, but I'm working on that.

* Which we tend to refer to as the 'squiddly-diddlies'

Thank you for sharing your experiences, pictures and text of Torino. It's a city that remains special to us, so a great reminder of how much we've enjoyed it. Onto Asti, with its wonderful sprawling weekly (or is it twice a week) market, one that I recall being very good indeed. Enjoy the Moscato (and indeed Brachetto) if you have a glass, brachetto being my aperitivo of choice, the sweetness, fizz and acidity refreshing palate and body after a day exploring.
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Monday: May 2​

Day 7: Torino - Asti​


Another sunny day....but everyone says that rain is in our future later in the week.

After breakfast, we take a last look out our window over the Piazza Carlina,

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pack up, check out, and load up the car for the short drive to Asti. We take the fast route on the autostrada which takes less than an hour. We stop to fill up our Renault: gas costs Euro 1.85 a liter which converts to about $8.00 a gallon in US dollars--significantly more than we paid three years ago but thanks to a very favorable exchange rate (for us), the pain of the purchase is somewhat reduced.

The approach to Asti is very commercial and our hotel--the Lis--is on the far side of town so it takes a while to circumnavigate the historic center. The hotel is right across from a big park and has parking spaces in front. The room is spacious and comfortable and the staff is very friendly. They warn us that the elevator is very slow--it takes 20 seconds to go one floor--but it is very quiet.

Our friends from Rome--Maureen and Franco--are arriving by train at 1 pm and we pick them up at the station. Everyone is happy to see one another since it has been three years. The hotel is a bit of a walk from the center so we decide to drive to the sandwich place--La Farcia-- for lunch and hope to find parking close by. We luck out, finding a legal space on the Piazza Statuto, a short walk from La Farcia. It takes a minute to find the nearest machine to buy a ticket but the ladies have gone on to La Farcia and commandeered a table in the alley outside before Franco and I arrive.

The wide range of sandwiches on offer are very appealing and less "out-there" than the place where we ate yesterday in Torino. The Romans both chose one with "insalata russa"--a Piemontese specialty of chopped vegetables in a mayonnaise, Diana has her favorite mortadella, and I have a simple prosciutto and mozzarella. Everyone is pleased with lunch.

After lunch, we walk into one of the main squares--the Piazza San Secondo--a very handsome piazza dominated by the Collegiate Church of San Secondo and ringed with shops, bars, and government buildings.

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We do note for future reference that there is a Grom gelato shop. We walk around inside the Romanesque-Gothic church that dates back to the 14th century, looking at the frescoes, statues, and paintings.

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I particularly like this fresco showing the city of Asti several centuries ago.

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Then we stroll on the main street, Via Vittorio Alfieri, which is pedestrian only and makes for very pleasant meanderings. Alfieri was an important 18th-century Italian playwright and writer--"sometimes called the father of Italian tragedy" and a native of Asti.

Getting back to the hotel is not as straightforward as getting in...the traffic patterns around the park and the big parking lot require a wide circuit to get back to the hotel. The problem is compounded by confusing directions from the GPS and we get to see a lot more of Asti than we bargained for. But it is all a learning experience...I like to say that by the time we leave a town after a few days, we have usually figured out the traffic patterns and best ways to get around.

While the others rest or work in their rooms, I go out for some more exploring. A stop at the tourist office gets me more brochures about museums and places to visit in the countryside. I am disappointed to learn that we will (again) be unable to visit the Asti Sinagoga...it is owned by the Torino Jewish community and access is tightly controlled. Next time....

I walk the length of the Corso Vittorio Alfieri and through some of the back streets....it is a very attractive and pleasant town. I make a detour to check out the Torre di Troia...the highest remaining tower in Asti which Franco and I plan to climb to see the views over the city and surrounding area.

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Before dinner, the four of us pile into the car and set out on a short drive in the county. We get caught up in rush hour traffic but soon are on curvy country roads with expansive views of the rolling hills. Our destination is the Castello Montemagno (Franco loves castles) and, while we can see it from the road, we miss the turn twice to get close. We drive up the hill and are disappointed to learn that the castle is closed up tight.

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Courtesy of La Rivista della Natura

After admiring it from the outside, we head back to Asti.

We are having dinner back in town at the Ristorante L'Angolo Beato, very close to where we had parked earlier. However, my expectation that we would be able to park in the same place is dashed so we drop Maureen and Diana near the restaurant, and we set out in search of parking. After a few minutes of driving away from the center, we finally find some legal spaces and, figuring out where we are on Google maps, follow their directions back to the restaurant--about a seven-minute walk.

Dinner is excellent...the restaurant is very nicely appointed in a high ceiling room with old wooden timbers in the ceiling. The food is all great and the wines even better. Among the dishes we enjoyed are: snails (Franco's favorite), insalata russa, a vegetable flan, carne cruda (the best one yet), vitello tonnato (cold veal slice in tuna sauce), agnolotti (local version of ravioli), beef cheeks in wine sauce (rich and tender), a bonet (local chocolate pudding) with almond cake, and a semi-freddo with chocolate sauce (slice of ice cream with sauce).

The wines--all very local from the area we had just explored--an Arneis (white) and a Ruche (very smooth rich red)--were well received by the whole table. A wonderful evening...

Franco and I have no problem finding where we left the car and it is easy to get back to pick up Maureen and Diana. We negotiate the roundabout route back to the hotel, which passes the very large, bright, and crowded traveling amusement park set up in the big parking area, without a hitch.

Tomorrow we drive to Bra to meet a friend of Maureen's for lunch.

Jim and Diana
 
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Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Tuesday: May 3
Day 8: Asti​


Excellent breakfast spread in the Hotel Lis....which is in line with the comfortable room and the accommodating staff. The only slight downside to the hotel is its location...outside of the "centro storico" but that makes it a little easier to get out of town on driving excursions.

Today in Asti is the Feast of San Secondo, the patron saint of the city. Events are scheduled all week including a fireworks display over the river last night and a band concert in the park tonight. This morning, there is a display of the traditional Italian flag throwing (sbandatieri); these displays take place all over Italy in conjunction with local ceremonies and competitions. These displays are interesting because they are not put on for the tourists but are performed as part of historical tradition and involve the entire community from the young to the old.

The main square--Piazza San Secondo--has been fenced off and a good-sized crowd--almost all locals--is gathering before the scheduled start of the program at 11 am. Before the participants arrive, their approach is signaled by loud and insistent drumming as the colorful procession of flag throwers, drummers, horn players, and dignitaries dressed in medieval costumes enter the square and take their places. They are greeted by loud applause from the assembled crowd.

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We are treated to a display of color, motion, and sound where flag throwers in various groups demonstrate their skills--waving the flags according to traditional patterns, throwing the flags in the air and catching them or throwing them in the air for others to catch them. There are "acts" where the participants climb on the shoulders of their partners and carry out the moves from there. All are accompanied by drums and horns as well as applause and shouts from the onlookers.

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Along the side of the square, a medieval kitchen has been constructed and costumed "villagers" are preparing boiled meat and beans (the Distribuzione della "minestra del povero") in large pots over an open fire to "distribute" after the ceremonies.

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We have to leave before that because we are meeting a friend of Maureen's for lunch in Bra, about an hour from Asti. Bra is known as the cradle of the Slow Food movement and the place where we are eating--Boccondivino--is "the temple" of the movement. We have been twice before and are happy to return. I hope to be able to take a scenic route off the main highway but, due to a balky GPS, we end up going directly to Bra. We find a parking space just up the street. I am taken aback when we first enter because the main room is packed with a large noisy party but we are directed to a quieter side room where we meet Michelle who had arrived before us.

An excellent lunch...the menu at Boccondivino is quite traditional and all the dishes are delicious. Among the five of us, we enjoy insalata russa, carne cruda, lardo, local Bra sausage, vitello tonnato, agnolotti di plin, snails, a local rabbit specialty, and a perfect panna cotta. I will be happy to return to Boccondivino in the future.

On the way back to Asti, I detour to admire the very dramatic landscape around Barolo and La Morra in the Langhe area of Piemonte--the hills are steep and the vineyards fill almost every available space on the hillsides.

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Photo from The Buyer UK

In Asti, the rains finally come. The locals are happy...they have had little or no rain for three months...but we remain in our rooms. There is no enthusiasm for dinner after our large lunch but I go to the nearby supermarket to buy some snacks and we sit in the hotel lobby, socializing with Maureen and Franco and having some prosecco.

Tomorrow our Swedish friends Ulf and Elinor are coming from Torino for the day and I am hoping that the weather cooperates.

Jim and Diana
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts

The wines--all very local from the area we had just explored--an Arneis (white) and a Ruche (very smooth rich red)--were well received by the whole table. A wonderful evening...

Tomorrow we drive to Bra to meet a friend of Maureen's for lunch.
Great to see mention of Ruchè, definitely a lesser-seen grape, but one that is always worth trying. I've even had a single variety grappa made from Ruchè, which is most definitely an uncommon thing.

I thought we parked a short walk south-east of Brà station, but can't see a car park listed there (so maybe we parked on the street?), but this one does look good https://goo.gl/maps/eKaG3y3EM88kydtu8

We found it a rather contradictory place, being a spiritual home of Slow Food (I forget the restaurant name), but also at times a merely humdrum city. A friend set expectations for us beforehand, so we knew not to expect a quaint foodie paradise, and that helped make it enjoyable.
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Wednesday: May 4​

Day 9: Asti​


Nobody told us there was a market today but right across the street, we see a line of market stalls selling food, housewares, umbrellas, and who knows what else.

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The sun has returned after the rain last night and, after breakfast, we walk down the street with Maureen, occasionally stopping to check out some merchandise. Then we walk into the big park--the Parco della Resistenza--and sit on a bench for a while. The park features a big memorial, a number of smaller statues of Astigian historical figures, and a pond with turtles and fish.

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It is now time to pick up our Swedish friends at the train station and we find the streets pretty crowded, noticing that some roads are blocked off for the market. We have to drive slowly down the street in front of the hotel, sharing the road with shoppers and strollers but we are able to accomplish our mission without hitting anyone.

We have a lovely reunion with Ulf and Elinor--we haven't seen them since the beginning of the pandemic--and try to return to the hotel to sit in the lobby to talk. However, the market is much more extensive than I had thought and the streets leading back to the hotel are completely blocked off because of market activities. We change course and decide to find a bar in the center to sit at and catch up.

The center is also packed with more market stalls and people. I now remember seeing on a poster announcing the week's activities in connection with the celebration of Asti's patron saint that there would be a "Fiera Carolingia" held all day--from sunrise to sunset--all over the "centro storico." I drive as close as I can get to the Piazza Statuto, drop off the passengers, and try to find a parking space. Which turns out to be easier than I feared...there is one legal spot available in a small lot nearby. I make my way back and find the others just sitting down at a table at a bar in the center.

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We catch up for a while--exchanging news about families and how we made it through Covid--before reversing direction, getting the car, picking up the passengers, and heading out of town.

We are having lunch at a Slow Food recommended restaurant in a nearby town--Rochetta Tonaro--and the Swedes enjoy driving through the very green countryside. Arriving in Rochetta Tonaro, I put the restaurant's address in the GPS but the directions are confusing. We drive around the center of the small village, ask for directions (which we obviously didn't understand), and I finally call the restaurant. The man who answers the phone at the restaurant gives me directions--some in broken English and some in rapid Italian. After a few more minutes of driving in town, a white van driven by a man dressed in chef's clothes overtakes us, shouts out the window "ristorante", and leads us to the parking lot across from the restaurant. We had driven past the place a couple of times already but hadn't noticed it since we were still outside of town.

We thank him profusely and apologize for our stupidity. The meal at I Bologna is well worth the effort...the restaurant is very pleasant with widely spaced, large tables, attractively decorated, and very quiet (though there are quite a few other diners in the place.) The meal is excellent--shared plates of carne cruda and vitello tonnato, then tagiolini with meat sauce for three of us and agnolotti for Diana, and panna cotta and a semi-freddo for dessert. We also enjoy the bottle of a local Barbera d'Asti that we share. On the way back to Asti, we take smaller roads through the gentle hills, passing through a number of small villages, many vineyards, and lots of groves of hazelnut trees.

Our plan to return to the hotel to talk some more before their train back to Torino is foiled again...because we find that the market is everywhere...every possible route back to the hotel that we try is closed to traffic. So we give up, go back to the station, drop Ulf and Elinor, and say our goodbyes. We are very happy to have seen them again.

Getting back to the hotel continues to be challenging....the blocked roads lead to heavier traffic so it is slow going as we try to find a chink in the market's defenses. There isn't even a policeman in sight to ask for help. Finally, we are able to reach the small road at the back of the hotel and we leave the car there and walk the rest of the way. The desk clerk has two possible solutions--wait out the market somewhere else or go the wrong way down a one-way street to the road in the front of the hotel and inch our way through the crowds to a parking space in front of the hotel. We try the second option and it works...

While Diana rests in the room, I take advantage of the beautiful day and set out to explore other parts of town and find the restaurant where we are going for dinner. The walk is wonderful--I stop at the very impressive, large cathedral which is located at the far end of Asti. The entire building is quite remarkable...very high ceilings, frescoes everywhere, and massive decorated columns.

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I walk past the Domus Romana and take a picture of a floor mosaic through the window.

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I encounter another of the old family towers that remain from Asti's past, a church spire, and an impressive wooden door.

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My walk back to the hotel takes me back through the center of town where I am again surprised that the market is still going on. They really meant from "sunrise to sunset". I don't think I have ever seen a market that was so extensive for such a long time, especially in a smaller city like Asti.

As we drive to dinner, the remains of the market are still impeding our route to the restaurant. Street after street is blocked off and we have to make a wide circle of the center but we finally arrive. I drive into the piazza to drop off the ladies and intend to head off to find parking on a side street but Franco informs me that since I have already breached the ZTL in the piazza, had my car's picture taken, and will probably be fined, I might as well park there since the damage is already done.

The Osteria del Diavolo features a mixture of Ligurian and Piemontese dishes...Liguria--on the seacoast--is the neighboring region...so the menu features a lot of fish and seafood. Most of us opt for a break from the Piemontese--fish soup, fritto misto, Ligurian special dishes like branacajun (a baccala and potato spread), cappon magro (a salad of fish and vegetables artfully arranged in a pyramid). There is a unique dish of a cheese spread topped with artfully arranged cooked and raw vegetables. We drink the same Arneis that we enjoyed a couple of days earlier. All the dishes are beautifully plated and most of the food is very good. The service was a bit flaky and, since it was our second big meal of the day, things went on a bit too long.

We have one more car challenge before we can call it a day. Because of street cleaning, we are limited to parking on the side of the street in front of the hotel. All spaces appear to be filled but there is one space where the access is limited by a tree. Franco measures the space with his arms extended and judges that I can make it. I am dubious but, with directions from Franco and Diana and the help of the sensors in the car, I get the car in with inches to spare. Whew!!!

Tomorrow we are having lunch with another Italian friend of ours.

Jim and Diana
 
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Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
We were able to park right at the top of the street that Boccondivino is located on...and had a short walk down to the restaurant. We didn't spend much time in town...having a single-minded purpose to eat lunch.

I never answered your question about Chieri...but, other than being surprised how big it is, we had no chance to form an opinion.
Great to see mention of Ruchè, definitely a lesser-seen grape, but one that is always worth trying. I've even had a single variety grappa made from Ruchè, which is most definitely an uncommon thing.

I thought we parked a short walk south-east of Brà station, but can't see a car park listed there (so maybe we parked on the street?), but this one does look good https://goo.gl/maps/eKaG3y3EM88kydtu8

We found it a rather contradictory place, being a spiritual home of Slow Food (I forget the restaurant name), but also at times a merely humdrum city. A friend set expectations for us beforehand, so we knew not to expect a quaint foodie paradise, and that helped make it enjoyable.
 

joe

500+ Posts
After a few minutes of driving away from the center, we finally find some legal spaces and, figuring out where we are on Google maps, follow their directions back to the restaurant--about a seven-minute walk.

Franco and I have no problem finding where we left the car and it is easy to get back to pick up Maureen and Diana.
I have been reading your adventures, and can sympathize with the parking issues - I've always found this to be problematic for me in Italy. IAC, here's a tip that can make the "getting back to the car" part easier : After parking the car, you can tap once on the blue dot of your GPS location in Google Maps, and a menu called "Your Location" will pop up from the bottom. Among the options (perhaps swiping left), is "Save parking". Pressing on this will leave a location pin on the map ("you parked here"). I've used this in crowded parking lots, instead of trying to remember rows, etc.
 
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Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Thursday: May 5
Day 10: Asti​

Not sunny this morning, but not raining...so, after breakfast, we set out to do a little sightseeing. The men will climb the Torre Trojana--the tallest remaining tower in Asti--and Diana and Maureen plan to visit the crypt and museum of Sant'Anastasio located in the remains of an old church. We take the car, drop the ladies as close to the Crypt as we think we can, find a parking space (Italian parking lots have narrower spaces, all perpendicular instead of angled, with less space between the rows to maneuver...so Franco can't figure out why I am unable to pull in at a perfect 90-degree angle), and walk towards the tower.

Asti museums don't generally have ticket takers but utilize a centralized ticket system with electronic readers at each site. We are admitted and start the climb. The tower was built in the 13th century by a powerful Asti family and was restored just before 2000. It is 115 feet to the bell tower...199 steps...but the old stone steps have been replaced by a sturdy, wide wooden staircase. The climb is not difficult and, at the top, under the bell, we admire the views in all directions, though the overcast sky limits how far we can see.

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While we climbed the steps, Maureen and Diana visited the crypt of the church of Sant'Anastasia. It's a museum of excavations and remains of this 12th-century church and monastery which was demolished in 1907. Artifacts include Roman items as well as the medieval ones. As usual, Diana is taken with old decorative designs that she uses today in her quilting.

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Franco and I stroll down the main street on our way to the Crypt to meet Maureen and Diana. I go to retrieve the car and discover that it is possible to drive straight to the entrance of the crypt.

Franco has to teach a class remotely this afternoon and the rest of us are having lunch with a friend from the Compuserve Italian Forum days in the mid-1990s. Livio lives in nearby Alessandria and we are meeting him in Canelli, a wine town about a half hour from Asti. There is no problem reaching the center of Canelli and we grab the first parking space we see. It takes a few minutes to get oriented and walk the five minutes to the Osteria dei Meravigliati where Livio is waiting for us.

We are surprised when we enter the room...walls and ceiling are painted a sky blue with fanciful designs, there are "clouds" hanging down, and an ornate chandelier hangs in the middle.

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We have a great reunion with Livio (Maureen hasn't seen him in many years) and we spend some time catching up.

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The menu is standard Piemontese and the four of us order a mixed antipasto with the standard specialties (carne cruda, insalata russa, a vegetable tortino with cheese sauce, and vitello tonnato). Three of us have the "tajarin" cacio pepe (a decidedly un-Piemontese preparation) but with nocciole - Piedmontese hazelnuts - and Livio has the agnolotti di plin. We drink another Arneis....our white wine of choice in this area. I indulge in a panna cotta which is rich, smooth, and delicious. An extremely pleasant lunch....both the food and the company.

On the way back to Asti, we detour to see one of a series of installations spread all over Piemonte called Le Panchine Grande (The Big Bench Project). There are now more than 200 of these large-scale benches set in the countryside as tourist attractions. The project was developed by an American expatriate living in Piemonte "to support local enterprise, tourism, and craftmanship in the towns that host these out-of-scale installations".

https://bigbenchcommunityproject.org/en/

This particular "panchina" is set on top of a hill up a very steep curvy road. Since it has started raining, we admire the bench from the road and take in the sweeping view of Canelli and the valley.

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Before we start our descent from the hill, I take our first poppy photo of the trip.

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Back at the hotel, the afternoon's activities are limited by the steady rain that is falling so we stay in our rooms, working and reading.

No one has much of an appetite for another restaurant meal so we again sit in the lobby with prosecco and snacks. We walk out to get a carry-out pizza for Franco, who had missed our meal in Canelli, and have a pleasant, sociable evening talking.

Tomorrow we leave Asti for Piacenza.

Jim and Diana
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Friday: May 6
Day 11: Asti-Piacenza​


We have our last breakfast at the Hotel Lis....we have been very pleased with this hotel--the rooms are comfortable, the breakfasts are excellent, and the staff is friendly and accommodating. It's raining pretty steadily, complicating the process of packing the car. Maureen and Franco are aware that their luggage will be in the back seat with them--a combination of small trunks in European cars and heavy packing (but lighter than usual) by us. We have one medium-sized suitcase and two carry-ons, plus a large computer bag full of wires. That pretty much fills up the trunk.

Piacenza is about an hour and a half away, virtually all on the autostrada. We are delayed for about 15 minutes by an accident on the road, but we get to Piacenza in plenty of time for the class that Franco has to teach virtually this afternoon. The drive into the city is a little challenging....lots of narrow streets and turns....but not as challenging as getting the car into the underground garage. With Franco's assistance, we maneuver into a stall (each parking space is walled off). We then find that the elevator from the garage to the lobby is out of order, so we have to wrangle all our bags up a flight of stairs.

Our room (a junior suite) is very large, with a separate living area, bedroom, and huge bathroom. It looks like we will be comfortable for the next four days. We need to have a quick lunch and start to walk in the rain to a recommended sandwich place about 10 minutes away, but, just outside the hotel, while walking through an arcade, we see a possible place for lunch and decide that it makes more sense than a rainy hike.

Lunch is fine...a salad, some fried vegetable "meatballs" and a plate of risotto...and we are back at the hotel in plenty of time.

Maureen and I decide to go to the massive Palazzo Farnese, where a number of the civic museums are housed. The most famous holding is in the Archaeological Museum--the Piacenza liver. Unfortunately, the museum pretty strictly enforces a prescribed route and it is difficult just to see two or three of your main interests. We start out looking at an intricate wooden model of the building

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and pass through rooms with many pictures of the Farnese family and their exploits.

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Getting to the picture gallery, their most famous piece of art is a round Botticelli canvas (a tondo) of Mary and the child Jesus. It gets its own room and is beautifully displayed.

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As a counterpoint to the rest of the exhibits, I was taken by these modern chairs set on a loggia overlooking the courtyard.

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It is still a long way to the Piacenza liver, the distances are challenging, and we are reaching our limit of endurance (especially with our masks). At the Archaeological Museum entrance, the guard is not sympathetic to our going right to the liver and points us to the prescribed path...starting with prehistory, some of which would be interesting at another time. The path is long and circuitous with many dead ends but we finally arrive at the star of the show. The liver has its own section in the museum with a number of well-designed explanatory panels placing it in historical and religious context.

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Here's the short version....it is a bronze tablet used by the Etruscans (dating from about 200 BC) as a guide for divination and reading the future. This link to the Atlas Obscura article gives more information.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/liver-of-piacenza

We spend a fair amount of time examining the piece and reading about it....it is actually quite fascinating. We continue onward looking for the exit but have to pass through the Roman section (this is one of Maureen's specialties) and she is attracted by many of the exhibits. We press on and have to walk through rooms and rooms of antique carriages, up and down stairs, through the bowels of the palace,

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before we are directed to the elevator and freedom.

Our weekly laundry is next on the agenda for us so we get in the car and follow the GPS to the Speed Queen Laundromat. The place is packed--we have never seen so many people doing laundry at the same time. Luckily there is an available machine and we are able to get the clothes washed and dried quickly.

We go to dinner at a place in town where Maureen had been before, La Piriena. One of their specialties is one of my favorite dishes, "gnocco fritto"--fried dough served with assorted salume. We also have the local pasta specialities....delicious and delicate tortelli and pisarei e faso (small gnocchi with a bean sauce). Diana is happy to find "sbrisolona"--a traditional almond cake from Mantova--served with zabaglione sauce. We drink a wonderful, ten-year-old Gutturnio--a local red. All in all a terrific meal and a good change from our nine days of Piemontese food. The restaurant, which had been empty when we arrived at 8 pm, was packed when we left at 10 pm...a very popular place, and deservedly so.

Tomorrow we will take Maureen and Franco to the train for Rome, from near Milan, after having lunch en route.

Jim and Diana
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Tell Maureen and Franco that the luggage between them on the back seat is to 'stop the children squabbling' ;)

Re: the museum, I can to a degree understand that in the most popular tourist locations / most famous sites, where it's probably the most efficient way to get the hordes through. Also for school parties who may need to be 'encouraged' to pay attention. It sounds somewhat like benign authoritarianism in this instance. I also think the chairs are a clever design, being genuinely artistic, but also something that might look great in a chic office / the right garden / popular with children.

I do like finding aged wine on wine lists, and despite claims from some that Italian's don't protect their wines well from heat, we've had great success when we've found them, so I am doubtful about treating those claims as normal . It's especially pleasing to find aged wines other than the 'prestigious' regions.
 
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Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!

Zurers in Italy 2022: Sunday: May 8​

Day 13: Piacenza-Montepulciano: HEALTH BULLETIN​


No, you haven't missed a day but, unfortunately, I tested positive for covid this morning. I felt really bad last night so Diana insisted that we take a self-test. Mine showed two strong bars, hers was negative.

In any case, we decided that if we were going to have to isolate, it would be better to do it in southern Tuscany than in a hotel in Piacenza. So we packed up, checked out (before the hotel staff could call the covid police), and drove 3 and 1/2 hours to an agriturismo near Montepulciano.

I had been in touch with the owner and she said that she had an apartment available and would shop for us and help us with the local medical system.

So here we are in beautiful southern Tuscany. I have mild symptoms now...a cough and a runny nose. I am hoping that Diana can avoid being infected but that doesn't seem likely.

So there may be a delay in the reports as we enter an enforced "vacation from our vacation." The internet connection here is iffy so being online may be a challenge.

We are pretty bummed about this development but hope that the infection doesn't last too long and we can get back to business as soon as possible.

Jim and Diana
 
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Valerie

100+ Posts
Oh no! Jim, so sorry to hear this! Hope you test negative and feel better very quickly and that Diana doesn't get it! (A friend here was positive and she and husband wore masks inside to avoid him getting it. He slept on the couch for a week, but it worked.)
Take care of yourselves!
 

joe

500+ Posts
Sorry to hear about this, and I hope you both go through this as well as possible.
FWIW, I slept on a couch for a week, but still apparently infected my wife - back in February, at the height of the Omicron wave. My personal conclusion was, that if this happens again - I will isolate myself from her completely and as soon as possible. She wasn't extremely sick, but still -the sickness might have been prevented.
 

susan

100+ Posts
I'm so sorry! I hope it you feel better soon and Diana somehow escapes getting it! Glad you were able to arrange a good location to pass the time with help getting groceries, etc. Take good care!
 

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