June 10, 2012: Village Shopping

Dominica and I got hardly any sleep last night and what we did get was poor.  Maybe two hours at best.  We spent most of the night crying interspersed with talking about memories of Oreo.

We went to breakfast this morning first just Dominica while I watched the girls and then Liesl and I while Dominica watched Luciana.  Luciana is just so naughty at breakfast that we cannot really handle all going at once.

After breakfast we got the girls ready for a day out driving.  The last two days of long distance driving was neat and gave us a good overall view of the region that we are in and, mostly, allowed us to rule out large portions of the area that we are definitely not interested in.  Today is our final full day in Piemonte and we need to really look at the local area carefully to make sure that we have a good feel for it.  This is our only chance and this was the primary mission of this entire vacation.  That is not to imply that we were wasting time the last two days, ruling out those areas was quite important as no matter how much we might love one place if we were wondering if the grass was greener just over the fence we would be no better prepared to decide that if we had not looked at all.

Dominica and Luciana headed out to play on the main terrace for a bit and I sat down with Liesl to have a talk about Oreo.  I didn’t want her to ask about him, like she often does, and us be caught either having to lie about him or to suddenly have to tell her what happened.  This is Liesl’s very first exposure to death and so this was pretty hard.  She talks about dying from time to time and even yesterday she said that the whale, a plastic ride-on rocking toy at the playground on top of the mountain, had died and she was sad and would not ride on it, but to her death is way too abstract and confusing.  So we talked as best as we could about Oreo.  Liesl and I cried together for a bit but then she was suddenly fine and wanted to go outside and play with Luciana.  We are assuming that this will be an ongoing discussion but we wanted to get it kicked off as soon as possible so that we would have as much time as we could before we return to New York so that there is no chance that she is expecting Oreo to be waiting for her in the car when we get off of the plane – which is pretty much what she had been planning on up until today.

Our driving today is over a very small area geographically but the roads are very windy and you move quite slowly so even going just a few miles can be quite a big undertaking.

We started by heading over to Barbaresco which is very small and right next to Neive.  We took the “back roads” although this can be a very confusing concept in Italy as, quite often, there are no main roads.  I think that Barbaresco is completely devoid of main roads but I am not sure.  Barbaresco was really nice, but really small.  Probably too small for us.  It would be like living in the country with us needing to go into Alba for every little thing.  That would be easy as it is really close, but we are hoping to live in a place where we can walk or bicycle for day to day things like basic groceries.  So we didn’t stop in Barbaresco but drove right on through just looking around.

We worked our way down to Alba, the main city in the region, and did more driving around than we had done the other day.  We got a bit of a feel for the city.  It is quite small for a city, about thirty thousand people, making it very similar to Ithaca including the hills and the wine.  We didn’t stop anywhere in Alba, it was a quick pass-through drive, but we wanted to see some of the different areas in town.  While what we really want is to live in a small village there is a decent chance that living right in Alba will make a lot of sense for us, at least initially, because we will have modern facilities there, can do everything on foot or on bike, can rent easily and can use it as a base for figuring out exactly where we actually want to live.  So we need to consider it and the neighbouring city, B’ra, quite seriously as well.  B’ra is only minutes away and is just a tiny bit smaller at about twenty seven thousand.

We drove south out of Alba and went through Rodello.  This was our first town where we actually turned off of the main road and went into the little town itself.

Rodello was great, but boy does it look expensive.  It is a lot more modern than most of the little hill towns.  It is big enough to have its own resources yet is right next to Alba.  It has great views too.  Probably not an option for us.

We were driving south of there on a big, winding country road where, on the side of the road, there was a gelato truck, just out in the middle of nowhere.  Well, we just had to stop then!  So we did.  We pulled over, there was actually gobs of parking, a great view of the towns that we were trying to reach and a picnic area with granite benches and tables (longevity overkill for a picnic area, I think.)  The gelato was the best that we have had since Boppard although Dominica and I both feel that the shop that we used the most in Boppard, just one block towards the river from the main square, remains the best that we have had all month.

As we were eating our gelato I noticed a Ferrari coming up the road below us and head towards the bend that would bring him past us.  So I walked over to the road to get a look.  Nothing like a Ferrari screaming by in the middle of the Italian countryside.  But, it was actually about twenty or thirty Ferraris in a massive convoy!  I’ve never seen so many exotics all at once.  They just kept coming and coming.  There was even a Testarosa.  Several of them honked, revved their engines or acknowledged us in some other way.  The girls working the lonely gelato stand said that this wasn’t really uncommon.  Only in Italy.

From there we drove out into the country onto one of those back roads and it turned into a steep down hill climb that started to remind us of our adventure on the mountain yesterday.  In reality it was nothing like that and not stressful but had we not done what we did yesterday, it might have been.  Single car width little road, really steep descent, hairpin turns, no end in sight… it was great.  We stumbled on some really cool places and ended up in Sinio which was a pretty neat little town.

At this point Dominica needed me to find her a restroom which is a surprisingly big deal in rural Italy, nothing like in the States where you can always find a restroom, so we attempted to get back on to the beaten path and see what we could find.

We came into Montelupe and I drove on up into the old town on the tight cobblestone streets and found a gorgeous square where we parked the car and let the kids out to play on a really great playground that they made there.  The main village square has tons of parking and they built a “terrace” for the village residents that has some of the best views that we have seen yet in Italy.  On a clear day, a sign read there, you can see the Matterhorn!

There was a public toilette advertised in town but the doors were locked.  Uh oh, that isn’t good.  So we tried the only restaurant in town (we tried to eat there.)  They said that they were full and could not seat any additional people and would not let us use the restroom (Italians are really friendly but restaurants in Italy, by and large, are not.)

We left Montelupe and decided to run back towards Neive and, if we had to, use the hotel.  We could drive around small towns for hours and never find anything if we were not careful.

As we passed back through Alba we decided to try the train station there.  Dominica ran in but there was some confusion about finding or accessing the restrooms so she gave up and we raced back to Neive and our hotel there.  Pretty silly, but it worked.  So we got there and everyone took a bathroom break as we were not going to let that happen again.

Then it was back out to explore some more.  This time we took the main road right into Alba to speed things up.  We went past the Avis shop so Dominica now knows where that is in comparison to everything else.  This time heading through Alba we found a Lidl grocery store which had worked for us a few days ago so we stopped and did some quick grocery shopping.  Finding groceries in Italy is pretty hard, these shops are well hidden, and on Sunday only the biggest ones are open and not very busy – possibly because the people who are most likely to shop on a Sunday are also the ones who don’t know how to find them.

We got through Alba and headed south to start looking at villages again.  Retracing some ground here but attempting to go through Alba via a different path.

We knew that Borolo was supposed to be really nice because that town is both very famous and has the regional wine museum which we really wish that we could have gone through.  We drove into Borolo, parked in the main parking area for town and walked around the old town, up to the castle and around the back streets.  We wanted food but even in a tourist town it is nearly impossible to get food on a Sunday afternoon in Italy.

We found a bar (called a cafe in the States) that was open and serving sandwiches but no pasta.  We really wanted pasta but made do.  It had just started to rain when we got there but we sat outside and enjoyed a soft rain (we were under a roof but open to the air) and ate a light mid-afternoon sandwich there.  Liesl spent a good deal of the time dancing around in the rain and playing with the water that had collected on some of the tables that were not under the roof.

From Borolo we wanted to head for home but La Morra was marked on our map by out hotel owner as a place that we should go and it was, more or less, on the way back so Dominica let me detour there to see it.

We pulled into La Morra thinking that it would be a quick drive-by town but it was really neat so I pulled over and found some parking near the middle of town.  We got out and started walking.  This town really looks to be quite cool.  They had quite a crowd of tourists milling about here and there.  Tourists in these kinds of towns seem to mostly be people from the local area but from other villages.

La Morra was a little bigger than other hill towns that we looked at so far.  They are a bit more touristy as well, but not terribly so.  We walked around the town checking out the back streets, the side streets, new parts of town, old parts of town.  They had several really cool, old churches and a neat little garden with hedges and paths between the hedges.  Just the right height for a Liesl to run through.  So I took her through there and she was quite happy.

We walked up and up until we came out in the top of town where they have a large square.  It turns out that La Morra is the highest point in the area and has a commanding view of The Langhe region.  They have a large platform area to stand and look out over the region with a neat map showing the directions of the different towns so that you can stand there and figure out what everything is out on the horizons.  Very cool.

Up at the top of town there was a farmer’s market still underway.  The last few vendors were just closing down.  One was selling fruit, one was selling cheese and one was selling hazlenut products like cakes and truffles.  So we stopped by the hazlenut products vendor (you don’t get to see these in the states!)  They had really amazing stuff and we bought a bit of it like truffles, honey cookies and a hazelnut cake that is a specialty of the region here.

Dominica has hypothesized that Europeans use hazelnuts in the same way that Americans use peanuts. In the States, peanuts are in everything as is peanut butter.  In Europe the peanut butter thing is replaced by Nutella and other hazelnut spreads and hazelnuts are absolutely everywhere.  Very odd.

We are very glad that we decided to stop in La Morra.  So far, this surprise gem is our leading contender for places that we would like to live and it appears that it has the housing necessary to actually live there.  Many towns look great but would logistically be impossible as there are no houses or apartments to live in so the point would be moot.  La Morra actually has new buildings and old too.  Very well done from a town planning standpoint, and it has great outlying “suburbs” as well.    Hill town suburbs are a funny thing, tiny hill towns of fifteen hundred people with outlying suburbs of maybe fifty people.  Looks really neat though.

From La Morra it was back to Neive and the hotel.  Our last day of sight seeing and touring around the region is over.  We returned to the hotel so that Dominica could get to packing.  Tomorrow we have to leave for Milan.  The evening was spent trying to pack and keep the kids under control until everyone fell asleep.  Much of the evening was Luciana and I out on the terrace with me trying to keep her out of the way as she tries hard to unpack everything as Dominica packs it.

I drank one of our surplus bottles of wine tonight.  Only two left to ship to Milan with us tomorrow.  That did not work out as planned.  Oops.

Our hotel owner stopped by and borrowed one of our car seats so that she can use it to drive the Skaiaas to the Alba train station in the morning.  They leave to head back to Norway a few hours before we leave for Milan.  It worked out well that we had the car seats available.

Another late night tonight.  Tomorrow morning we have to drop off the the girls at the Alba train station, then I have to return to Avis to drop off the car then our hostess will drive me back to the train station.  Then it is a couple of trains from Alba to Torino to Milan where we will spend the night.  The day after that we have a flight our to Barcelona.

The night trains from Torino to Barcelona being cancelled really messed up our plans.  That made for a lot of unnecessary stress and a ton of work as Dominica has been trying to figure out how we are going to get to Barcelona for days.  Very frustrating.  We have no idea why all of the night trains that were scheduled along this route are no longer available.  It appears that the run has been canceled.  We bought our Eurail passes based on using them this way.  So now we waste a day of travel trying to make up for that.

We are very sad to be leaving The Langhe.  We really hope to be back here, very, very soon.

At the end of it all, Dominica cannot believe how well I did scouting out locations remotely.  I appear to have pinpointed exactly where we would most want to live down to just two to three miles in all of Europe.  I had done a lot of homework on this to determine that this is where we wanted to be.  It was no small task but I had been pretty confident that the Alba regions was what we were going to like.  There is little doubt now that this is our target region.

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  1. Oh, hazelnuts! I told you they are under appreciated in the US. Peanuts, take them or leave them, but hazelnuts are devine!

    So sorry about Oreo. He was such a sweet little pup. 🙁

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