Day 14: This was a morning of mixed feelings. We pack the car, say goodbyes to Pippo & Nero, and ride a little quietly to the Pinerolo Train Station. We say rather sad goodbye to our fabulous hosts Emilio and Elena until we will see them back at home in July. We're soon on our way to Milan......... quietly. We arrive, await the hotel van, which never arrives, hail a taxi from the long line waiting fares, and when he is told to go to the airport hotel, he is VERY angry. THAT was an unpleasant ride, but I sort of understand his problem: SHORT fare, return to a mile long taxi line for another long wait. Oh well. We check in, take the hotel van BACK to the airport, catch the train into central Milan, and we're on foot for a few hours with only the objective of seeing the Duomo, and maybe La Scala. We arrive La Scala to find the last tour has just left the lobby. We go to the Duomo: Even though we've been seeing cathedrals for two weeks, THIS one is pretty spectacular. It's one of the largest in Europe, not as old as many we've seen, so it presents art from a period of almost complete Catholic rule.... Much of the artistry, windows, sculptures, portray some brutal human acts.... I'm only assuming in their period, this was portraying battles of good (church) vs. EVIL (humanism)......... scaring the "hell" out of the locals. We wander around some of the blocks there at the Duomo, all fashion centers, found a beautiful cheap (for the area) shirt for $103 US Dollars..........hah. We were quite surprised in the middle of all this central district to see the most bizarre sculpture on a building of the entire trip. For a couple hundred years anyway, THIS was a kind of private meeting hall for the religious ones in control....so they didn't want the hoi polloi to even THINK of coming through the doors. Just above the entry doors of this old scary building were these: Well and good.........but at the roof-line this frightening evil lurked: Oh well, we were too rushed to truly digest this inneresting place......and in a hurry.............and tired...........so: We get back on the train, and rather collapse early at the hotel. Day 15: EARLY wake up call, quick run to airport, flight to Frankfurt, flight to PDX, and before you know it, Serafina and David are driving us home (a mere 13 hours later and it's still mid-day in Portland). We're home................... Gus is laid out on the bed for some relxation and meditation about his adventures in Europe. The four of us go as might be expected to Portland's best Tapas Restaurant, Toro Bravo ...................... and our royal guests prepare to leave the next morning for home, I'm sure quite happily. They DID stay at peak hummingbird time, and I'm not sure ANYBODY would be happy to be tagged with cooking gallons of food every week. Sorry about that, but you should be proud, Serafina, the hummingbird population tripled under your care.....all those babies seem to be thriving. It was now late June, and there are many things we needed to begin doing......... As I finish this last diary entry of that trip, THIS IS a picture of ME watering between tomatillos and 7 foot high corn as of Sunday, July 19: Can you even see me? WITH this record breaking heat and dry July, THIS garden is growing like one would in the dry plains.........and consequently, planted a bit thick......we could NEVER have anticipated the kind of weather we're having now. TODAY is the 3rd day of 99-105 weather, 70 low at night in a house with NO A/C......and it's NOT fun.................but IS an adventure let's say. We haven't even bought a new fan for 15 years.........and are using one old noisy rattler. Perhaps THIS is the week, eh? THE positive side? We've begun eating a few tomatoes, squash, ALL herbs, carrots. The sad? The lettuce has bolted or burned. It's bitter. Dang. I hope EVERYONE's having a fabulous summer.
Monday June 16 *We are TIRED this morning. Yesterday was a BIG day and BIG food and......travel. We will do little today. See our last palace, hopefully a fun meal, and prepare to leave Macello. We fly out of Milan, so will spend the night prior to the morning flight there at a hotel near the airport. I think one has mixed feelings after 2 weeks gone from home. You don't want this to end, but I do wonder how things are where my favorite puppy lives........ *So, yes, we manage to visit another of the Savoy family palaces – one large enough that a village is attached to it here as it was at Stupiniggi. THIS castle is completely restored and open, unfortunately, not on Mondays. We walked some of the village, saw the main building, and noted that a psychiatric convention was being held, and huge catering company just now serving prensare, er lunch. Inneresting. Well, we wondered what THEY were discussing in there......... *We did drive not two miles to the royal gardens associated with this palace. That garden measured 6500 hectares and was completely dotted with trails, creeks, woods, buildings, stables, royal apartments, farm spaces, and quarters for workers ……unbelievable and gorgeous. *We return home and begin preparations for the inevitable departure back to the U.S. and the end of our adventures here. Some laundry is done, and much study given to packing now that our cases will have to hold more "cargo". *DINNER selection was easy. We went back to Emilio's old Chef Instructor's place in Pinerolo. Mauro is a mere 10 years older than Emilio. Yum.....as the sun set, and tennis matches were going on, Mauro prepared a special meal for the four of us. Tuesday June 17 - - Prepared to leave, Emilio and Elena were offering to DRIVE the two hours to Milan's Malpensa AIrport, but we insisted on taking the train from Pinerolo since the train experience for us seemed to easy. So yes, soon, we were alone in the world, heading for our last night in Italy. Before bedtime we would have a mere 3-4 hours in Milan providing we could catch transportation from the Hotel First AT the airport TO the downtown area. Oh well.......... **note July: I can't believe how busy I am at home now, the corn is 7' tall, tomatoes are getting red, lots-o-bees pollinating thousands of tomatillo blooms, I actually saw a hummingbird pollinating tomato blooms today, cilantro going to seed, picking zucchini & crook necked, lettuce bolting, picked 3rd cutting of rhubarb, and now have everything in yard wet enough so we can go to the coast and be with cousins for a couple of days. Whew! We DO NEED a break. It IS fun to write about the trip tho............ brings back memories.
Ah the MEMORIES of our trip to EUROPE STILL resound for us. But it IS fun to scribe out a few lines and pics here, since I can almost relive that grand experience we enjoyed in June. Sunday June 15 *Well, we WERE up late yesterday. We enjoyed sleeping in. But, we were still up at 0830……because today we have a two hour drive to near the French/Swiss border! They look further away than that: YES! We're traveling up into the Italian Alps! Hurray! We all are finally ready to depart 0930…..and we DO need to leave by then because the first major restored castle Elena has planned for us closes for lunch at 1200. *The drive is spectacular enough on its own… as you slowly approach the Alps, they get bigger and bigger....…. But that wasn't good enough for Emilio, he wanted us to see all the old castles along the way in a better view. We leave the freeway, and Emilio drives on the scenic 2-lane…… soon we begin to see them: *These Castles, sometimes 2-3 in your view are beautiful! . Some are owned privately, some abandoned and decaying. Some, however, are ROMAN ruins almost 2000 years old…. Seeing so many gives you a haunting feeling if you adore this history. You pass by one almost every mile or two seeing them perched on hilltops in defensive posts…. So many were built through these valleys because it was a major pass between France, Switzerland to Italy. They were needed to protect Italy from invading Goths, and the French. Even the farms along the way show that life is a little different here, and not as easy as working land on the valley floor: Our First STOP! This is something up to THIS day in our visit, we have not done. A GUIDED tour at a rather touristy place of a very restored, but small castle. The first tour didn't begin for a bit, we walked around a few minutes to see some and a surprise: THIS was beginning to not look so much like Italy, eh? Seemed like there lots of photo ops: The Sunday mass was just out, locals leaving quickly, but singing by kids wafter from the Church....we wandered in to find these kids singing in French: And it wasn't Church music.....the chapel was beautiful in its own right: Well, it was time to wander back.............. *This Castle was built in the 1500s. The tour guide would tell much about every room we see…… What a grand experience on its own, this oral history of the old building. We saw inner gardens, and the bedrooms of the French King when he visited. We learn that this nobleman was a friend of the French King so he came to visit regularly. The Castle was, originally built ENTIRELY because of defensive measures. When the first invasion from the north came long ago as Roman power declined in France, this location was so perfect, the local farmer villagers were attacked and pillaged. So....the richest guy in town (an “earl”) built a kind of fort with stones since rock, of course, was THE thing to fortify ANYTHING.. Then, invasion of warriors after invasion happened, and the fort got bigger and bigger… Finally, this little fort became the castle with one tower, and corner windows that could send and receive warning fire/signs of coming invaders…. With this NEW castle, the point withstood invasions. The "earl" did have family. The 1st son, inherited all the power of the castle, and surrounding farmers, but died childless. By law, the daughter had NO rights…..so it was decided (by who I don’t know) to give all rights to this place to another powerful rich guy nearby. HIS son also inherited the place, and also died childless. Same event again. And so it went……the passage of power through medieval times was something, eh? Hence, the display of outer wear to be donned when invasions were imminent were very interesting......seems it would be very awkward to have a sword fight in this garb: Until you're completely weighed down in your knight's garb: Hm. I thought I saw a knight trying to sneak in for a dress rehearsal: Nice tour................. but time's moving on..................we're back on the road. *We pass dozens of bikers…..on one of the numerous bike races in Europe of the summer. As if we are part of the race, our turn off to yet one-more spectacular restaurant that Elena & Emilio love is at the same stop the bikers take. Before all these uphill turns those bikers had to race on: We parked and walked up the hill to Ristorante LA CROTTA di cleo e Franca owned by Chiuso Il Giovedi in Chambave, Italy. Chambave is in the Valle De Aosta which means people in this mountain region enjoy sauces and rich butters...influenced by French cooking. * Once we're in the La Crotta, the place seemed to be very alpine, so lovely, jovial, we had NO idea we were about to begin the most involved meal I've ever eaten in my life. Even Gus scrambled to get out of the sack sensing something good was about to happen: *The owners wife is our waitress: She, Elena, and Emilio have a small chat, and soon we learn that we have ordered the Appetizer Sampler plate. HERE that doesn't mean a tiny portion of each, it means 11 separate Appetizer courses are going to be prepared fresh and brought out 2-3 at a time for our enjoyment. These were GRAND dishes, definitely Italian, but loaded with buttery french sauces too. Filling they were. **just to give you a size of these appetizer dishes. • Mark was full after the appetizers were done. BUT NO, the Secondo Main Courses are yet to come. The 3 others with Mark enjoy courses of richness: Rodger has a gnocchio/pasta w/rabbit ragout. Emilio & Elena have a black/bread cabbage soup topped with fontina cheese...a meal typically associated with this region. • Mark does give in to dessert a layered chocolate cake / mousse layers…scraped chocolate on top. Yumm. • We notice an attendant finishing up a huge patch of gelato for a group party upstairs……and ask for a taste. We get TWO big taste cups of Orange/Limone’ Gelato that is truly fabulous. This Gelato tasted exactly like a sweet orange and no mistaking the Lemon crispness at the end of your taste. Yum. • The owners/chef Chiuso and his maitre’de wife consented to pictures with the Americans. It gave us a chance to tell them this was the finest meal of our entire European adventure. * Completely full, we managed to make it back to the car since it was downhill. We proceed on, INTO the steep mountains. We pass just a few more old small castles, churches, of various ages until we come to Aosta. We pass the freeways that leave for Switzerland. Road signs are now printed in both French and Italian. People speak both French and Italian….. NO question that the culture has now changed although we are still in Italy. Many times from here on, I felt more like I was in either France or Bavaria depending on the view. *We are NOW 10K from Switzerland, 10K from France and have arrived at Aosta, a medieval city of about 50000. It is not just a modern ski resort here. At city center lies a 2000 year old roman wall, and theater with walls, arches, etc. The original Roman Gate to the original village: **and some of the original Roman walls: **and I feel I must say, these were started 100-200 BC. It seemed astounding to me that the Romans built this on this pass in the Alps to guard their empire. I can't imagine being a Roman soldier in 100 AD in this place in January....just wondering what the hell he had done to the General to be sent this far north (as he shivered in the cold). near the theater: But of course, the modern part of the town is scenic and inviting surrounded by these mountains. Part of the Aosta experience was simply walking the streets: Really. Are you sure we're still in Italy? The clock tower: The frosting on the cake is the MAIN Church begun 2000 years ago, and added on through the next 1500 years. It was almost unbelievable. The entry itself if pretty amazing: And you would never imagine that just seeing this from the side where it seems to say "very old" But no mistake, it is a beauty inside: Inside this church such great pains have been taken to preserve each period of the 1500 years of building/renovations. You see some walls have been dug into showing layer on layer of paintings, plaster, etc. *This was an ASTOUNDING FEATURE TO ME: UNDER the MAIN cloister, is the oldest one, built before ROME was a Catholic power. Those earliest Christian sect worshippers were likely to be persecuted if caught. So this place was called “the Crypt”: It was tiny, and truly ancient. It still had the classic arched ceilings, and support beams the mainstay of ceiling support for all early construction in buildings of any size. The stairway down into it was still the original stone but so old, the centers of the steps were curved inward.......... Haunting place this was. *We wander to find the oldest "school" of sorts near this place….a rectangular garden/ lawn enclosed by beams holding up a beautiful roof, that from any side, we see those steep ALP mountains shooting out above the roofs….. EACH beam is carved in individual sculpture and latin words above….meant to teach the “unwashed” how to read…… *We were finally exhausted and FULL of food. Seemed like the trip home was longer than coming up.... I wonder why. *Once again, and it being Sunday now, near our return home date, we DID end our evening on the magical terrace once again, listening to the river, watching birds bly into the trees for the night. *Tonight you sleep with dreams of a very unique spot in the world we saw today up in that mountain valley steeped in the Alps. This was again, a truly NEW and spectacular day.
Saturday June 14. We're almost fooled.....It appeared this would be a day to relax. Slept in till 0830 as did our hosts. Maybe we need to go to a hotel and give them a rest? I hope we’re not wearing out our welcome. If we are becoming like family, then it was time to leave days ago. Emilio and Elena have been incredibly generous, patient, holding nothing back. Today, we eat simple cereal at home, and wash a few clothes...YEP, THAT was overdue. I get a kick that I insist we hang our clothes out in the dry warm sun as all Italians seem to do. Well, do we sit in the sun for awhile? NO, we HEAD out for today’s adventure: a ROYAL tour of TURIN, but first a trip to the "supermarket". I COULD NOT have missed that....I have wanted to see what goes in inside any large European Grocery supermarket....and what IS sold there. The country house needed a couple items from the Italian supermarket. Either the Carrafour, or Coop are just a few miles away. Not to be denied this experience, we both jump in with Emilio and drive to Pinarolo to the Carrafour, and here were some notes: *Grocery carts…require deposit of a Euro 1 coin…which is returned when your cart is returned to the cart storage spot. Gee. But America can’t think of being this efficient…? *Italian grocery stores: a mammoth isle of Pastas, many we’ve never heard of, brands never heard of. A single medium aisle for cheeses, one third that may be all lovely FRESH mozerellas . Meats may be a bit more expensive, but even in large markets, tend to be high-end, MUCH better quality, and bought locally, NOT frozen and shipped in frozen, then set out to sell as IF they hadn't been. MANY more cuts from beef are available here not sold in America. Should I list them? *THE BEST THING ABOUT EVERY PRODUCT, esp. fresh items? Regulation has led to labeling that actually tell you EVERYTHING about any item: when packaged, complete nutrition list, COMPLETE additive list, COMPLETE info where/when it was grown, what region, village. NO worry about buying something and having an allergic reaction. *Produce: Instead of taking up all your produce and standing there at the self-check out finding the name of the item, there are marking stands IN the produce area…. You get your produce all labeled and coded BEFORE you are at the checkout where you annoy people behind you because you can’t find the way to price your Kiwi. So shopping was a FUN time. Next: return home, fold clothes, pick up Elena and head for TORINO! The FIAT capital of the world, home of the Olympics, one of the first capitals of Italy, a beautiful city. FIRST? Yet another stop at a small village restaurant that these two know of, Vecchio Camino. Yep, NO menu, perfect place. The place is half packed with a younger construction/blue collar Italian crowd, all men, where Saturday is considered a “half” work day….by noon-one they are off until Monday so they're here having a fabulous lunch, a beer, and watching soccer. Here we had a classic 3-course meal again: *Crespella – a fabulous dish I must learn to cook bechamel sauce. **recipe below, and the pic is a web pic** *Thin Steaks cooked slowly in wine *Salad Capreses *Rodger’s Chicken Caccatori *Dolci course: Fabulous Limone’ Gelato house made, a peach tart home-made, and Emilio’s house-made Tiramisu. ========== WE MOVE ON to TURIN: ============ **that first link is a great tourist site.........this next one, simply wikipedia for more "history" view of Turin. *Italy’s FIRST capital as a country was Turin. As a result there are glorious national buildings here. *As in many cities, the heart of the city still cradles the ancient Roman City Walls that surrounded the courtyards of Turin’s first residents after Rome’s invasion of the farming region. *Shopping in the “5th Avenue” of Turin was packed with a mixed, but tending toward young stylish hip people …… High End Shopping everywhere here……in blocks and piazzas. *Covered cement/bricke/granite archways covered lots of the sidewalks here in the older parts of high-end Turin….absolutely built to protect from winter snows and rains….the shoppers. This reminded me OF New York's finest as we walked along: The scenery was quite beautiful really: LOTS of this area had cars blocked out, and nice piazzas showing off old architecture of some of the original state buildings: Or these two churches....dueling priests? Some gorgeous supports: It was simply the name, but we didn't go in...I kinda wanted to see the menu: nice marketing choice, eh? *After lots of walking, we are taken at one of the beautiful corners into a chocolate makers shop / coffee/chocolate/dolci restaurant that OPENED in 1858 called Baratti & Milano. We are ahead of the dining crowd, so only fabulous desserts are being served with a mammoth exotic drink menu. We order a set of drinks, and with the drinks we are given a big tray of appetizers…..puff pastry covered anchovies, spinach, tiny bite size pizza pieces, buttery pastry covered with proscuittto, salamis, and other exotic tidbits. THIS was an extraordinary stop………Naturally, a small bag of chocolate treats were purchased and somehow ended up at home in Portland. This sculpture stopped us in our tracks....kind of eye-catching no? *Our TURIN Tour Continued however, as we ventured into the Fiat part of town. Turin is the Italian version of what Detroit WOULD be if it were successful. IT is a FIAT city…..We toured the FIAT factory showrooms to see all current models of FIAT, ALFA, etc., brands. A beautiful place. Thousands owe their jobs in Turin to Fiat. I kept thinking, hm. The last time I'd heard of Fiat was their being near bankruptcy years ago. NOW, with new mgt, they are so successful they are buying other car companies, as we all know in America. *By STATE regulation (as SHOULD BE HERE), mileage for all FIAT company cars ranges between 60-90 mph, and almost 0 emissions. THOSE regulations include the U.S. Ford and GM cars sold here,,,,SO…..GM and FORD have already been building cars that are efficient and even selling WHERE it is required for them to do so. In other words, they ALREADY have ALL the blueprints, specs, technology, to BUILD those cars in the U.S…..so why aren’t they? Corporate Corruption once again takes a bow. *The square but VERY tall beautifully built tower originally meant to be a synagogue, but never enough money to finish it….taken over by city, and has never found a real purpose, but has been saved because it’s so beautiful. *As dusk nears, huge crowds pour out of apartment buildings, and gather at almost EVERY restaurant in the city. Seems this city has a VERY REAL people feeling…as these crowds pack these places for the Italian equivalent of happy hour….it was astounding, I tell you, the number of people gathered throughout the city for drinks and appetizers. They will be dining later, but for a city this size, their sense of community was truly admirable. *We have driven around enough to have seen more of the Savoy’ ROYAL palaces in the city. GRAND ornate places….unbelievable. *We shop at an outlet store of Italian sports clothes……a fun time and a few new clothes, eh? *We are taken to the Eataly….without question, the most exotic food store I could possibly imagine. This is a Mammoth exotic grocery/wine supermarket where ONLY regional foods are sold. There are separate dining mini-restaurants throughout the store at each section: Seafood buys and dining choices, cheese sections / meats, wines, beer, produce (or vegetarians), and on and on. We toured the basement where you're allowed into the cheese storage area (hundreds of cheese wheels stored at exactly the right humidity and temperatures: **one CAN select one of the wheels so he'll be notified when it's cut. Even the proscuito storage vault is open for shop: Then we tour the wine storage areas – some 11,000 bottles, the beer section – thousands of Italian beers here. You can bring in your own bottles to be refilled: An unbelievable store. The ENTIRE idea here is: SLOW COOKING from sustainable regional foods. *Turin as a tourist stop slowed down for many years after the Olympics, but seems to be recovering a bit, but for an exotic city this size of a million plus, it remains largely protected from the millions of tourist slugs in southern Italy. Besides the magnificent downtown, there remains a beautiful exotic inner city here…. grand places. *As we left the city, we drove along the PO RIVER…..gorgeous sights, and the ROYAL Gardens are here full of exotic statuary. *******WE finally return home after dark, and arrive about 9:15, thinking we are done for the evening. At 11:00 our hosts announce they are hungry and ready for dinner, but not ambitious enough to prepare food. Are you kidding? WE DRIVE OUT of Machello at 11:10 to Pinerola ……for SUPPER! I thought at first they were kidding. *For the ONLY time in our visit here, we went commercial. The “Osteria Fuoroporta di Pinerolo” is a restoration of one of the old farmhouses that circled an inner courtyard….2 million Euro was spent in renovations to build a mammoth restaurant that encloses a: Bar, Pizzeria, Wine drinking restaurant, outdoor dining, that would seat a 1000. We had an excellent pizza, but for the first time ran into difficulties in the bar area. Perhaps this place is going through a growth stage, but it remains the ONLY experience in Italy I would tell anyone else visiting to avoid. ==note: this Crespella Recipe is from Epicurious, and I AM going to make it: == Ingredients: * 3/4 cup all-purpose flour * 2 large eggs * 1/4 cup granulated sugar * 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract * 1/2 teaspoon salt * 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole milk, divided * 2 tablespoons unsalted butter * 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella Garnish: * Garnish: confectioners sugar Accompaniment: chopped strawberries PREPARATION: Put a 12-inch ovenproof heavy skillet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Whisk together flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and 1 1/2 cups milk in a bowl. Add butter to skillet and heat in oven until golden, about 1 minute. Pour batter into skillet and bake until puffed, set, and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together Nutella and remaining 3 tablespoons milk until smooth. Thin sauce with additional milk if necessary. Cool pancake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes (it will sink). Dust with confectioners sugar and drizzle with sauce. Serve with berries. =========== WE LEARNED a new TERM while devouring some delicious food today: SCRAPETTA: the act of using bread to scrape the bottom of the dinner plate or bowl after eating delicious food.
Friday June 13 Well, maybe Elena & Emilio are getting a little weary of houseguests, they show NO sign of it, but ARE getting up earlier than their vacation hours should be. We are up early today too. Up at 8:00 because we’re all going with Johnny & Gabriella to her home-village of Saluzzo. This is yet another very old place with a castle, an old prison, now museum, and fantastic abbey opened in 1148 that STILL serves as a monastery/convent, the magnificent, partly restored, Santa Maria di Staffarda. **The link explains the REAL history of the regions struggles in history and has some lovely pictures of the village, and a couple of the abbey we were touring near the bottom of the page. We're getting so used to the little "Pilone" near the house, we almost stop to do the sign of the cross as we pass every day: We pass through many villages on the way, since Saluzzo sits at the very beginning of when the hills begin their climb up to the Alps, so it has spectacular vista views of Italian countryside. We pass ancient village centers, tiny streets, beautiful farms growing kiwi, hazelnut, corn, wheat, peaches, apricots, cherries, whatever the soil of that place favors. We reach Saluzzo, up on the hillside ......and begin a tour headed by Gabriella. *The Cathedral itself was absolutely fantastic and just as as dramatic as the medieval buildings but not all the flair and more modern detail that came in later art. The paintings here, still being uncovered, are softer in tone, quieter, more worshipful...and gorgeous: The DETAIL on those arches was staggering: In many places here, the restoration is still going on....it's astounding to see a wall of art that was once covered now being discovered again: Or here................... Even the front of the building originally had a painting on it: It was an lovely walk into the building from that front door, a step into history: The ceiling near the front of the chapel was spectacular: Or this view.............. I had only made a few notes since our tour seemed to move fast: *The large Dining Hall was impressive with food pass-throughs, and the next door led into a large room with a mammoth wooden beam ceiling adorned on medieval paints. *ON the wall in one place were small metal pieces of body parts...IF you were injured in battle, farm, etc., and you needed a "miracle" you wore one of these parts to work a "miracle": *Convents for men & women separated, but STILL in use. *LOTS of the ancient buildings are now privately owned, and have become expensive apartments, homes. *The stone streets showed an interesting concept: laid out with stones crosswise, except in the center where they ran hosizontally. Why? Drainage? No, it was designed that way so the horses drawing the carriages had an easier time moving up the hills. We continue tour of this town….and then next town which is full of wealthy beautiful large homes on the hillsides of these first foothills of the French Alps. Winters here are cold and snow laden. Then, as we depart, Gabriela must leave for a meeting with the Cheese company, so the surprise of the day was just for the four of us: We meander down off that beautiful hilltop, to another smaller village called Mantu. We arrive to see yet another much smaller castle and grounds, and on our descent, pass by an Osteria Restaurant that looks absolutely inviting outside. It adjoined a small Church built in 1656. The outside dining area looked wonderfully intimate, shaded, and inviting Even this guy somehow KNEW better than to just sit in the car for this place: We see the “menu of the day” board and realize THIS restaurant has NO menu so it IS the kind of place Emilio likes. It’s 11:57, at 12:00 we seat ourselves in the garden area and a lovely young woman quotes the menu of the day quickly in Italian, and in detail. Elena responds to her as does Emilio with questions. Before you know it, Rodger and I have sat for 5 minutes listening to an entire conversation not knowing what they said. There was NO question seeing their eyes light up that this may well be a good meal. *They tell us that today’s special has a cheese of the region, the Castlemagna Cheese (HEY! Gabriela! I wonder if this is from Your cellar). Another special was the Porcini Mushrooms today picked locally. There were 2-3 fresh pasta choices as well. WE order: *Mataglia Pasta w/sausage, pomodori *Fresh Pasta raviolis w/zucchini – other vegetables roasted inside… *Gnocchi in the castle cheese sauce *Lamb Ribs and roast potatoes. But of course, the meal began with a beautiful appetizer: *WINE - a limited release special wine made in the village ….fantastic. *Dolce: a flourless chocolate cake, a chocolate Pear dessert shaped into an exclamation point with a chocolate band. *panna Cotta with an orange/lemon sauce. Fabulous, all of them. They all looked this inviting: THIS became the FINEST dining experience I've ever known. In every way: atmosphere, service, FOOD quality and taste, etc. At the end I requested a chance to tell the chef what I felt, and the girl reveals that the only other employee here is the owner/chef, her MOTHER. And YES, I COULD tell her mother that. I did. What an experience. They both beamed knowing their work was appreciated. We drove home through villages we hadn’t heard of, ancient centers, in this region where tourists aren’t well known. The only group we saw was a bicycle group. **We have seen many bicyclists here.... obviously a very popular place to be in summer: open countrysides, old villages, wonderful people. FRIDAY EVENING: WE go to a village cheese festival in Moretta, Italy. Emilio tells us almost EVERY village has a summer festival whenever the specialty things they make there are in their prime. So tonight, the specialty of THIS village IS making cheese….. What a fabulous experience. We arrive, walk into a large tent and are given trays to pick up dinner items available: fruit salad, cold meats appetizer 1: cheese plate appetizer secondo: sausages, barbecued pork ribs w/o sauces, fries, and then beverages. A huge amount of food! We then wandered 30-40 farm booths. One, for example, was a small winery where only this man and his brother are making the famous Piedmont wines of that Barbera grapes. 1-2 year old Barbera wine is called: Barbera de ____ (whatever the estate is called), 2-4 Barbera wine if called: Neboroli, and once it passes 5-6 years, it becomes the expensive Barolo wines we see in Portland at speciatly shops. Nonetheless, THIS guys little farm is only big enough to produce enough bottles for his family, and his village. It sold incredibly cheaply, and was lovely lovely wine. One small farmer tent was a make of and seller of the very Castle Cheese Gabriela was curing in Macello. Another fabulous day for us, and an exhausting one. I believe I was the first to surrender to the call of the bed that evening. Haven't we run OUT of things to do yet? After all, it's just "farm country", right?
Venice comes calling......................................... Venice was NOT in the cards when we left the U.S., at all. I did NOT want to go to any big tourist trap and be in the middle of big crowds ooing and aahing over things everyone has seen in pictures and books all their lives. But in only two days, we were talked into this experience (Rodger wanted to go immediately)....... so, we're off to Venice. **By 0900 we’re on an express train out of Pinerolo: and will be completely across the country in Venice by 2:30. I don't plan on making a big diary writeup on this 24 hour trip, since it seems, everyone I know has already been to Venice. We're booked to/from Venice with a one night stay on one of the many Islands adjoining Venice, and for us: Lido is the one chosen: It faces Venice offering beautiful sunsets to visitors: NO other plans were made, so whatever happens will be at our whim.....MY way to travel. *We arrived and immediately bought 24 hour passes on Vaporetto, or "water bus" ferries. We are not sure which number is the express, so get on the “1”, and begin a trip to Lido on the slow boat, hah, it stops at every stop. But it's not a mistake....... because we're going slower, it’s an eye opening pass through Venice on the Grand Canal: we're seeing mammoth Yachts **We do see "staff" working these yachts while the rich play, I suppose, but the ONLY people we see aboard these are the poor workers in uniforms, washing, cleaning, etc etc. What a life.... We see, of course, spectacular OLD architecture, mansions of the gothic merchants, statuary, shops, etc etc. The vaporetto finally arrives Lido, we unload and quickly find a “V” bus and begin a 2-3 mile trip to the Hotel.....it sure seems we've a long way out on this little island to get to this hotel. *We do check in at the hotel, an almost new place, very nice with tennis courts, pool, bar, restaurant (that we fail to note closes at 10:00)…….we simply drop our stuff, and get back outside and onto the bus BACK to Lido’s port, and the vapo. By this time tomorrow, we'll be back on the train....so we keep moving. It's already 4:30 and we WANT to see a bit-o-Venice! We soon approach Venice with new sights on the way: We unload, and are on our way....our way to getting lost in the city that is. And we see nice things: After strolling a long while, we come to a couple glass studios and see some VERY expensive Murano glass: We would have brought this home .... but our entire trip cost less than two of these bowls: I LOVED the fact that laundry care is almost always in the lovely warm air. I like it, would do it at home if it weren't so humid where we live: We saw beautiful art even in the Gondolas: BUT. You can't hand pick your boat...there are long lines awaiting ...you take whoever is up next: Whew! canals everywhere And stepping off the canal may put you in an alley/lane this wide: SO. It's NOT a mistake to wander. For hours. How hard can it be to wind down/through those little alleys and with a few peeks down a canal, you're back out in the middle of things. This is NOT a big city. *In awe, we walk for 3-4 hours……astounding sights. Crowds, bridges over canals, gondoliers everywhere it seems, some very handsome, with full realization that some of the buildings we pass may be 500-800 years old.....built over water! *We walk till we’re exhausted, overdoing it, and finally find our way to the Vapo. We return to Lido on the quick water bus, the “51”. We explore Lido’s fabulous main street, but ALL restaurants are now crowded, packed, so we simply give up and decide to eat at the Hotel. We arrive at the hotel restaurant at 10:00 pm, to find they have closed the restaraunt......that closing time we failed to note at check in. *Now a little tired and frustrated, we are soon back ON the bus, returning to town. By 11:00 we find an available seat at the LA SFERA restaurant. Mark sees they offer "the" dish Venice is most famous for: Fegato alla Veneziana (read: Liver and Onions), and of course orders it. Now I bet THAT is NOT a fact generally known, eh? This was GREAT food, and amazingly, by the time we are heading to the hotel at 12:30, the buses are packed MORE than they were earlier. LIDO is QUITE the tourist place.....on the side of the Island OPPOSITE Venice, beautiful sand beaches run forever it seems, and are packed in the summer. What a place! Sunset views of Venice on one side, and swimming in the Adriatic on the other. Fabulous. We're in bed by 0130. Thursday, June 12, 2009 *We sleep soundly, arise for an ok hotel breakfast, check out, and get out on hotel shuttle for a beautiful ride via the island beach side to the Vapor. *Finally, we're BACK in Venice....THIS time we disembark near Piazza San Marco: The city's most famous cathedral of course, and so packed it was not on our time schedule. But it is beautiful: and close.... You don't really see the SIZE of this piazza until you round the corner from the water side: Gives you the idea of the size the crowds will be here later in the summer. There was a NICE sun dial near here: And one of the most ornate buildings I've seen: Not far from the famous San Marco Shrines, we noticed a TINY little church and peeked in. Only one other person seemed to even notice it, but we found it extremely beautiful inside, a simple chapel with lovely ceiling/wall paintings: Then more on the ceiling: But then, the most hypnotic one was rather obscene, but since the photo doesn't clearly show that, I'll simply leave things to your imagination.......it IS a photo of the Christ apparently coming back from the dead, and I assume prior to his ascension, but beneath him a most sculptured muscular follower awaits with arms open ...... it was pretty haunting, we thought: We get lost in the city once again. We walk everywhere. Elena had said it’s a small city, but when we first saw it, we couldn’t imagine it. Wrong we were: we covered the city and alleys (in a general way, every AREA) We actually returned to a glass artisan to pick up a couple of lovely items to take home. She's an artisan from Murano, and she was terrific. She sent us to her friend’s Restaurant just 100 meters away, where we had some wonderful pizza. We made way back toward train station, and had enough time for a beer, coffee, and some people watching, and a few touristy people pics to end our visit here with. Nice end to this quick trip, relax before the trip home. In this 24 hours we have seen 3 pairs of birds mate: pidgeon, sparrow, and lovebirds. I guess this really IS a romantic place, eh? These were the LOUD lovebirds just above our pub spot: So, now, it was time to relax after THAT scene..... even Gus attempted to drink, but seemed a little short for the stein: As we sat, we observed Mark had a bank here, so Gus attempted a withdrawal: Gus was unaware that I was NOT San Marco. After security noticed the bear's attempt to get money, he luckily hid out a few feet away: I'm not sure any of this had anything to do with Gus' beer sips earlier. *BACK on the train, and kind of tired ….. looking forward to a quiet ride back to Turin.....nope that didn't happen. (story below). Finally, we arrive in Pinerolo, and Emilio picks us up. Son we're at their home for dinner. Once AGAIN, we sit on the patio area to dine with these friends, stare at the Alps as the sun sets, and this time we sit and chat until well after midnight. ========= **NOTE about the train trip, each direction......a personal story: Going both directions, we had remarkable human experiences. I wanted to note both.....I was very moved by the simplicity of both. *Going westbound, we sat by an Arabic family, Mom, Dad and their small child. There are assigned seats for these express trains, and the seats they had purchased meant one of them had to sit next to us. Rodger and I had secured both the window seats in that section.... I offered to trade seats with some hand gestures so that he or she could sit next to their son. That was declined. But as time rolls by on a train, and strangers come to sense that their fellow travelers are nothing really different, they warm up to us. We play the hide & seek with the eyes/hands with the boy, and silly things. He giggles..... then the Dad laughs. By the time they departed at their home in Verona (close to Venice), it is powerful to me that it seems we are almost breaking into new friendships as we exchange our humanity together when, without language, we have played with their son, we sipped coffee with cheers together… They both say a warm goodbye….a GREAT soulful experience. Something that had begun as a distant stare at the two men sitting by his child, and foreigners to boot, then at the end, warm handshakes and smiles all-round was a very positive thing to me. **On our return trip, it seemed we would sit alone…NO, not to be. Two older Venesian ladies sit across from us in very fashionable dress, including designer sunglasses. They begin their conversations. A “Nonna” joins with her two grandchildren, one boy and one girl who sit next to us. No words are exchanged at first, but as children are prone to boredom when confined long enough, by the time we reach Turin, ONCE AGAIN, we have almost become friends with these people who can’t understand our language. We learn that the boy is learning English in school...a REQUIREMENT in Europe it seems, a child must learn a 2nd language. He clearly knows, “I do not speak Spanish.”, obviously something he is asked a lot. And, he knows some other words that we practice on. By the time we're halfway home, “Nonna” has gotten out her fresh cherries for snacks and shares them with everyone, including telling the boy to offer me some. Soon the entire group in our section is laughing, we're playing pencil games with the kids, and we learn a couple new Italian words…poco poco, and bella bella, and others. **MY gadar was tuned in a litte, and kind of think this young boy may discover when he's older that he may have had more in common with us than he could have known then. We all depart, once again, handshakes all round, the boy has made me some origami birds and made sure I take them: . My spirit was truly warmed by this experience.... both directions on this train, we have met people we cannot talk to, but knock that gap down, and truly enjoy our shared humanity.
With visions of knights, castles, harpsichords, alps, pippo, nero, in our dreams, it was a lovely night's sleep. As we awoke to our hosts continued kindness.....after all, after putting up with us, they are out in the kitchen brewing the classic Italian coffee in those tiny cups (but VERY delicious. I'm a convert) ......we were wondering: How could the previous day be topped? It couldn't be! Oh no? Castles were so yesterday! Today, let's storm the Palace! Yes, Elena and Emilio tell us they have something to show us. At the edge of Turin, which means Olympics to us, but means the city of FIAT to them.....Turin is THEIR version of a very rich Detroit, well, anyway.... There is one of many palaces of one old (now banned) royal Italian family, The Savoye Family, called: Stupinigi Castle. SO. We begin with a trip toward Turin. After all the passes through villages, we end up at one edge of the city. We are at the end of a LONG straight road where the old royal family brought guests, etc., for hunting trips. You might guess that looking at the massive elk on the roof: Other roof details are pretty fabulous.....this SHOWS the intention here is to hunt the wildlife: .... There were hundreds of those statues around the castle: Mind you, this castle was simply for entertaining guests, for hunting weekends, parties, celebrations. This Castle was built for the royal family, and is only one of 3-4 royal palaces in just the city of Turin itself. They used this massive castle for nothing but hunting. MASSIVE I tell you….the castle itself, ornate as can be, is now a furniture museum for royals possessions…..the side castles were for guests So massive servant staffs would have to live and work here to provide the throngs of royal visitors with ALL the service required.....Yet, the royal families we always protected from the commoners by lovely large gates: And how did he get in here: The extended walls expanded into quarters for servant living, and then the end walls for livestock, carriages, and the guarding military. Here's the commoners village center looking from the front of the castle: The village buildings wrapped continuously, homes above, animals, storage below: On the far reaches of this village, the laboring artisan and farmer masses begin…for blocks and blocks this property ran. These are 400 year old buildings where farmers lived to keep the staff and royals happy. A STUNNING experience this visit. Somehow, I wasn't prepared to see the huge scale royals lived on in just a "minor" castle. It's lunch time....by that we mean afternoon in America time. Pinerolo's on the way home, and Emilio's friend Mauro owns a small restaurant at the Tennis Club. Mauro taught Emilio to cook, they are close friends. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch! Despite the history here: Pinerolo was a military fortress for the Savoy's as long ago as 1200's, and a military school is STILL housed here. We discover Pinerolo to be a BEAUTIFUL medium sized village. IF I worked in Turin, I might just WANT to have a home in Pinerolo. Here's train station at the end of this small street. A fine picture: We work our way up: Thinking we'll start at the old cathedral and mozy back to our car.... We reach the Church, and I see this poor woman in Catholic mode: suffering ON her knees for hours (the priest came out while we were there holding her hands, offering a drink. Perhaps she's lost a loved one recently): The views from near that spot are quite gorgeous: It is SUCH a beautiful village.... THIS guy is now getting on my nerves: These are just a few shots as we walk back to the car.....is there anything more beautiful than being here? aahhhh. An amazing castle in ruins there too: NEAR this square, we enjoyed some of the most intense fantastic Gelato I've ever eaten (EMILIO knew the place **see note below): I felt finally, after these many days of non-stop thrills, I should nap.......maybe next day we could just be quiet? Well, somethings been whispering about among all present: "You KNOW, when you're in Italy, there is ONE place that really is a MUST see......................." That discussion kept popping up through the day, and before we left Pinerolo, it had been decided: We MUST see Venice. We found a tiny travel agency after our fabulous gelato who book us with window seats on the 5 hour train trips both ways, and a new hotel on the island of Lido for the night for what seems to be bargain rates. It’s also decided NO luggage taken except what we can easily carry. This is just an overnight trip. ***HOW to find GOOD Gelato? Emilio hint: Look for Bright intense colors in the product….then it’s probably full flavored, if the products looks dull and soft, it’s just ice cream and probably has dull flavor. We make it home for another night of conversation on the patio staring at the alps as darkness sets.
We had BARELY arrived for our first evening in the Italian countryside. We were Prepared to relax, catch up on some rest, no? NO. Emilio arrives back at home telling us to get ready to visit the castle noble family! **WHAT? Our first night in Northern Italy will be spent learning things in the heart of a 600 year old castle? Yes! Before we had time to think about that fabulous offer Emilio brought back from town, we were off in the car. I swore the corn had grown a couple inches between the time we arrived and the time we were on our way to the Castle. We got closer....... will these people REALLY have keys to the castle? The exterior of a 400-600 year old building: And even a bit haunting as you get close? The towers! Imagining guards were posted here 400 years ago! This is the imposing tower seen in any distant photo of Macello: And the one in the rear is just as interesting: This fabulous archway sits in the back courtyards. Nowadays, many weddings are enacted near that spot: Well, Giiani (Johnny) and Gabriella meet us at the door! Let's see can you call a 10 ft high huge iron entrance a door? But soon we were in the courtyard: This was an exotic scene to me imagining the life inside a castle full of staff in 1600! How does your mind not get an active imagination And a last one as we approached the rooms they were going to show us: I MUST say this was quite the astounding evening for US! Not so much so for Elena who was the official translator for hours! I think she, poor friend, was exhausted by the end of THIS evening. They couldn't speak English unfortunately, so this is another of those experience I felt we were blessed with BECAUSE of these wonderful friends, Elena & Emilio.......it could not have happened without them. EVERY portion of that castle that Johnny's hand has touched has been restored to midieval beauty: We see many rooms, and I only pick out a few pics that show some little eye-grabbing detail like this fabulous fireplace. You think the FIREPLACE was the star? This is the original tile restored above it: The other end of that room held most of the family Coats of Arms for families that had lived within this castle family's area who had enough money/influence to even HAVE a coat of arms: Many windows were this beautiful: And IMAGINE that the beams in YOUR ceiling looked this fine after 400 years: Now how did THIS guy get in here: As the evening wore on, we worked our way into the main dining room...... EARLIER, a little upright piano was passed where Marco sat and surprised Johnny & Gabriella who had recently been married (after 30 years) but that wasn't public knowledge....he played the Wedding March, and it was a hit! They started dancing, and once AGAIN, we got past our language barrier, all of us together celebrating their happy honeymoon! Anyway, in the dining room was a genuine fabulous antique piano....built in 1821: Well, attention hog Marco had to know if THIS piano would sound like the one downstairs that was built 150 years later. He sat down to play: **IT was a bit weird....I tried Moon River, a contemporary piece, and it was OFF. THIS piano played like a harpsichord. I immediately had to switch gears....NOT having memorized any Bach for the last 30 years, I had to invent some kind of Bach Period Polyphony, and it WORKED! The piano sounded magnificent with that music. WOW! WHAT an experience, and we all enjoyed that little test. The room was fabulous......... fabulous fireplace on one end, but the "visitor" eyes DID keep glancing up at the moustached mysterious face in the painting at the other end for the next 40 minutes without comment: **we were to find out soon..........just WHO this was. There we were having a fabulous time together: BUT........the jawdropper for THAT picture is the book Garbriela's holding. Gabriella had casually opened a door to reveal ancient books written in fabulous calligraphy. When THOSE books were written, it's likely only ONE person in that area would have writing skills. THAT calligrapher would be responsible and hired to record all those living in this area that could/would be taxed.....he would spend months traveling the area recording. THESE were those census/tax books! I was stunned, I tell you. In America, we wouldn't be allowed any closer than a 10" wall of steel from them protected in their humidified environments. Gabriella placed them on the table for us to look through. **You would have been stunned to read THIS on the cover: "1378" . . . YES! The oldest book was recorded 700 years ago! The newest? 1750. These poor farmers were being taxed then! When Johnny acquired the castle, he also acquired all the old "census" tax books that had been kept since the original wealthy family took over control of the immediate area. It was fascinating to review these pages. If you were poor, you probably had one-two lines of entry. The contents told WHAT land you were farming, what you were farming in each field, how big that crop was, what livestock you owned, etc. The rich folks were obvious: their property lines went on for 2-4 pages. Obviously, THEY had some say in what was decreed from the castle. Well, the evening was winding down. We thought. Gabriela said, "Let me show you the cheese!" WHAT? It turns out nine years ago, a prime cheese-maker had approached her about storing "castle-cheese" under the castle in the OLD days, the basement of a castle was what would be considered the "fridge"........ She thought, why not, they began, and in the time since, she's become a master cheese connoisseur. But we didn't just hear about it, she walked us to the cheese cellar, and THIS pace TRULY was under lock and key: AGAIN I was stunned. I wasn't prepared to see what was hidden here: **note: THIS is the young cheese...........within 1-2 months of arriving. These rows went on and on.....if full, this cellar stores about 3000 rounds of cheese.... Gabriella turns all of them at least once per week. **NOTE: This is the cheese almost ready to leave weeks (or longer) later. THIS CHEESE, where it's sold in America will range around $50. per pound! What is it? CASTLEMAGNA CHEESE, a cheese specific to this Piedmont Region of Italy....aged in the basements of old castles due to the specific bacterias you'd find in a basement 400 years old. Whew! (ACTUALLY, I like THIS like from a Piedmont publication telling much MORE romantic history of this cheese: the PIEDMONT CHRONICLE ) It was fascinating.....Gabriella approached MANY of these wheels as the master: thumping, spinning, listening, etc. She's so knowledgeable now, she's asked to come teach others about cheese-making. Other little misc notes: INSIDE one larger downstairs room, looking up, you could see some open small-paned windows with bars in them. THIS was a tiny jail. WHO would be put in there? Example: a farmer caught with fish he'd caught in the moat... an overnight stay in the jail would be the penalty. In one place, the original brick flooring was exposed. Unbelievable, a 400 year old floor is still here. Almost exhausted from this huge experience, we finally left, but NOT before Gabriella insists she join us Friday for a trip to her home-town, a village we were going to visit anyway because the ancient church THERE has been everything: Cathedral, monastery, convent, schools, etc. She will bring her intimate knowledge of that place and be our guide. These were fabulous people, these friends of our friends, Elena & Emilio. What lucky boys were we!!! **We end the evening under the shelter back at home with our fabulous hosts, in simple beautiful fashion: Some wine, a caprese salad, choice meats, & cheeses…..talking about our experience. After Reus, Santa Coloma, Terragona, Saleu, and then Barcelona had been so spectacular for us, I HAD thought the high part of the trip was probably over. I pictured us sitting quietly in Italy for 9 days more catching up on our sleep and relaxing. How WRONG had THAT been! HOW COULD YOU DREAM up a more Spectacular FIRST day to this new country, ITALY? Yep, another life changing experience just happened to us. ***GHOST NOTE: By the way, Gabriella/Johnny both spoke of some things being moved near where that painting hangs....some nights having "felt" things there when they enter or leave the room. The "rumor" is that this character led a very unfulfilled life, and her spirit, of course, then, is still here....... yup, a ghost too!
Monday June 9 As our plane was en-route over the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Milan's gigantic Malpensa airport, Emelio and Elena were driving the 2 hours to pick us up. It was wonderful to see them again as we arrived, and we wasted no time getting on the freeway for the return trip back toward Turin. They live just 20k this side of Turin, so we turned south at that point. Each time we turn off one of the traffic circles it seemed the road got a little smaller, farms bigger, older, more scenic. Here are farms with history. We pass buildings hundreds of years old built encircling the farm center both for security and winter practicality. Both families and animals were kept inside the stone wall fences / arches…. **We pass mini-tiny family monuments called Pilone's some only 5x10 with places for flowers, etc. Private places made sacred by something that happened to an individual. By the dozens. The richer the family, the larger the monument. **We pass through or by “villages” EVERY mile or so……and although stunning, it's not surprising, that EVERY village has a LARGE ancient Catholic Church. I think I’m going to remember every name by the time we get to Macello, our destination, but quickly realize…an impossibility. The closer we get to Macello, the road seems to have narrowed almost to a one-lane highway. How do they do that here? Well, smarter than we, almost every car here is a mini, not the extravagant SUV business in America, so it works. **This luxuriant farming area is RICH and lush. At the moment, the RICE fields are coming along, the semolina Wheat is nearing harvest (and corn starts are up). There’s LOTS of Corn being grown for polenta or a variety for animal feed. **The extent of HOME vegetable gardening is stunning…….no space is wasted. Tiny corners by highways even have any mixture of veggies growing, tied up with poles, strings. This goes on mile after mile. When we learn to grow our own food in America to THIS extent, our health will improve? ** We arrive in Macello….. turn through this tiny village to pass a castle that is 400 years old we’re told…completely walled in, with remains of an old moat. You can even see the main tower from Elena's house: They tell us their friends Giiani (Johnny) and girlfriend Gabriella have owned the castle for 30 years, a purchase he came to finance by winning a one time huge gambling bet. Can you imagine? Johnny has had one purpose for 30 years: to begin restoring the castle to its original condition. In the win, he only earned HALF the castle. The other owner, a billionaire, is simply holding, thinking he’s made an investment somehow…without repairing anything. WOW! I wish I could win at gambling and buy a castle in Italy. We pass the towns 500 year old church to see the village gathering for a funeral. Seems the entire population is there. We pass onto a road with no dividing line. We pass one more tiny family memorial by the roadside, and soon turn onto a single lane paved road moving through fields of corn toward a grove of trees in the middle of corn fields. We turn into a grassed drive of their home built in 1826. AH! We were greeted by the two Knights of THIS castle, Pippo and Nero: pippo and 13 year old boss, Nero! Emilio & Elena have been working on this fabulous country home since they aquired it from the family of the original builders. Wow! When they bought the house, Those people were true farmers, had been all their life, in the old ways. Elena saw it the first time as the “grandma” was slaughtering a chicken on the well cover…. She was s bit shocked. They saw THIS 1826 house: 1. Each room had an outside door, not a connecting door because some rooms were not meant to steal heat from another. 2. Walls were: about 24-30 inches thick. 3. The only real bedroom was OVER the kitchen, but the couple’s only access would be walk outside (even in dead winter), around to the stairway up to the 2nd floor bedroom because it would be warmer over the kitchen. 4. ALL of the farm homes and walled in buildings in larger farms were built facing south….NO windows would be placed in the north side because of the winds. ALL windows were built into the south side. 5. The cattle/livestock all lived in the east half of the house, and the 2nd floor there was to store the hay, feed. EVEN chickens were kept in there. It's hard to imagine it having that look in this beautiful Italian country home picture: As we sat, walked around, and chatted, we were amazed to see ALL the work they’d done to open up the house not wanting to lose one ounce of the old feeling. Emilio has tiled the entire house including much of the walls. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, modern kitchen, etc., inside this beautiful structure. Each time you're in the yard, somehow, your gaze is easily drawn past the beautiful semolina wheat fields, past the sound of the river going by down near the trees at field's edge, to these not so distant mountains: How would it be? You could get up each morning, look OUT your window at the ALPS!!!! Little did we know, in a few days, we'd spend a day up there in the middle of those mountains. Soon, Emilio realized he needed something from the tiny store…… he went, came back to report something so unexpected I got goosebumps: HE SAW GIIANNI (“Johnny”) , their old friend and was invited over to the “castle”. Emilio said, no, he had American guests, and Johnny said, “Bring ‘em over” in Italian of course. **WHAT? Our first night in Northern Italy will be spent learning things in the heart of a 600 year old castle? Yes! Before we had time to think about that fabulous offer, we were off in the car. I swore the corn had grown a couple inches between the time we arrived and the time we were on our way to the Castle.