Dreaming In Italian

Serendipity in Piemonte

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

As any reader of my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Torino these days because my “girlfriend” (seems silly to call a 70 year old woman a girl) lives there. We alternate long weekends between Torino and Bologna. So on a recent weekend we were pondering what to do on a lazy Saturday. Another museum (boring), yet another posh residence of a king (tired of viewing their extravagances), return to a beach in Liguria (to rainy)? So we decided to visit a town near Torino which neither of us knew much about. We discussed Ivrea but settled on Susa.

I knew that there was a porta Susa at Torino and it’s the name of one two major train stations. With a little research I found that Susa is in a little valley at the foot of the alps and has a little river running through it. Plus it has a history that predates the Romans who left their marks there. And it’s only about 50 km from (about 30 miles) from Torino. One interesting thing about the town was a lot of these passageways under buildings like the one shown below. I’m guessing it’s because there’s a lot of snow there in the winter.

It’s really a cute little town of about 6,000 inhabitants with the requisite Roman ruins. After a disappointing lunch we went looking for the Roman amphitheater. They could use some better signage for visitors but we finally found it after asking directions from a couple of locals. It was rather underwhelming but is used for various performances which surely makes it more interesting. From there we could see what looked like a very old fortress. I had read that there was a Roman arch in Susa but had seen nothing about a fortress. While we could see the fortress there were absolutely no signs. Again locals came to our rescue pointing to the road (more like a path) to take. There were actually 2 arches the first was much rougher than the triumphal Arch of Augustus build in 8 BC. I actually liked the big rough one the most.

The Roman amphitheater

This is NOT the path to the arches. It was next to the amphitheater and was the “road not taken”. I’m really curious about where it goes.

My favorite arch. I think that the top of this is the aqueduct so it didn’t need to be particularly pretty.
The Arch of Augustus – pretty nice and beside the wall of the fortress. Not much of the fortress remains except some exterior walls like this one.

As we walked around the town a did a bit of shopping I kept noticing violet and white ribbons bunched together and we seemingly everywhere. When I first saw these in the restaurant I thought that perhaps they were the celebration of a birth of a child but since they were also along the streets I finally asked a guy what they were about. Because of my heavily accented Italian he tried (without much success) to respond in English until I told him that Laura was Italian. So he explained to her (and I understood absolutely everything that he said) that these were the colors of the “borgo” (borough or district). With some research I found that each year there is a contest of medieval skills in, where else, the roman amphitheater. The competition is between the 6 borgi of the city. The violet and white are the colors of the Borgo Storico, which would be the city center – which won this year.

When Laura asked about the “games” he said with a laugh, “it’s not a game it’s WAR”. Anyway it’s held in July and I really want to go next year. I recommend that you follow this link to see some photos and videos of this year’s “war”. Italian language not required.

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Serendipity in Liguria

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Serendipity means an unplanned, fortunate discovery.

The coast of Liguria is not really all that far from Torino – about 85 miles of mostly autostrada and one can arrive here in less than 2 hours. So on August 21st Laura and I headed south to a little known beach that she had been to several times. Of course August is vacation month in Italy and most of the beaches are absolutely packed with people. We had hopes that this wouldn’t be quite as bad a many of them. When we arrived after circling here and there in hopes of finding free parking we finally gave up and paid for a place to park her car. Well, it turns out that this lesser known beach was closed. There had been a little restaurant there with a fairly long stairway down which was now blocked off. It turns out that sometime in the last year there was a big storm with very high surf which totally wiped out the restaurant and so they closed the area. Too bad since the stairway was still there. Some hardy souls had courageously gone around the barrier (was that courage of foolhardiness?) and made their way down to the beach. We decided that it was too risky and found an edge of another beach, less nice but it was a beach. The water was really nice and we both enjoyed swimming. The major problem that rather than sand, most of the beach was made of tiny and sometimes not so tiny pebbles. Still, a little nice sun and tepid water was worth the trouble.

The almost inaccessible beach – except for the risk takers.

You can see the stairs on the left as they descend but the picture doesn’t show how the access is blocked.

The beach we settled for, typical public beach – especially note the view on the right.

Turning for for home I drove since my California license was still valid for a few more days. I wanted to get some coffee to offset the sleep inducing effects of the sun but took a wrong turn and ended up on the autostrada headed for Torino rather than into the city where we would find a bar for coffee. This is where the real serendipity kicked in. The first exit from the autostrada was for the town of Altare which neither of us had ever really heard but there are bars everywhere so we took it. Driving into the town of about 2000 inhabitants we saw a large factory that seemed to have been abandoned quite a while ago. We stopped at a bar for coffee and asked about the factory and they said that it was closed about 20 something years before and it was a factory of glass. Altare is a (or at least was) a “city of glass” where all kinds of glass was manufactured for almost 800 years.

At the cafe’ they directed us to a store where they made and sold art glass where we learned more about the glass industry and I bought a cute little pig. The woman there was the wife of a glass maker, Sandro Bormioli. Several generations of Bormioli made and still make some glass there in Altare, while others moved to other cities and continue to make glass – lots of it – less artistic but of high quality.

The piggie at home in Bologna

We went from there to the Museum of Glass. The glass was fascinating but the real find was the Art Deco mansion that housed it.

The magnificent art deco mansion that now houses the glass museum

Some detail of the interior

Glass panels in some of the doors and an example of some of the glass work

Unfortunately I have no additional pictures – I left my phone in the car. Still, if I hadn’t been driving and I hadn’t wanted a cup of coffee and I hadn’t made a wrong turn….. Sometimes surprising things happen when you just take a random exit from the autostrada.

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Palazzo Reale

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

As you may have guessed even if you know no Italian that this is the Royal Palace. I’ve visited two fantastic residences of the Torino royalty, There is Stupinigi (you can see more here) which was “just” a hunting lodge then the most magnificent of all Reggia di Venaria (more info here) and finally I visited the Palazzo Reale in the very heart of Torino. June 24 is the saint’s day in Torino in this case San Giovanni Battista and the museums were free so Laura suggested a visit to the Palazzo Reale.

Palazzo Reale in Torino

Seems pretty impressive with a grand piazza at the entrance. I was a bit disappointed although I found a lot of things interesting inside. First of all there is a magnificent courtyard paved as a mosaic.

The courtyard of the Palazzo seen from a window

The next spectacular thing was the chapel (Cappella della Sacra Sindone) inside that is actually a part of the palace but also adjoins a church. In 1997 there was a fire in this chapel that did tremendous damage. The restoration was long and difficult and costly ever undertaken.

The reconstructed ceiling of the chapel that was devastated by fire.

Then there were a series of rooms which in general were not as magnificent as in the other royal residences even though they are quite impressive although I found them to be rather dark, dark walls, lots of heavy tapestries but perhaps because I had seen the Veneria, as I said I was a bit disappointed.

One of many large, ornate and relatively dark rooms
The throne room
The ball room
The major dining room

The ceilings as is often the case were quite spectacular

Ah but then came the armory. Maybe it’s just that I’m a guy but armaments always are fascinating. There was lots of armor, swords, daggers, bludgeons and then firearms (which at that point made most of the armor obsolete).

Ah, the armory !!!
Armor for dandies
Lots of ways to kill your enemies – stab them
Whack them with swords or axes
And later as technology developed you can shoot them. They even had a Winchester rifle, old west kind of thing in the later displays.

It is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Torino.

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Sardegna – Part 2

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Alghero was nice enough but we really wanted to explore some other areas so we decided to go South from Alghero to Bosa. It’s not too far away, about 50 km (30 miles) along a scenic coast road reminiscent of Highway 1 in California that runs along the Pacific Ocean. Like that road it is slow going taking about an hour to drive that distance. There are a number of beaches between the two cities but most are inaccessible except by boat because of the bluffs along the coast.

The road south to Bosa – reminds me a lot of the coast road Route 1 in California

It was a nice drive in the Fiat (did I mention that I love the Fiat 500). At a scenic overlook I asked a fellow tourist to take a picture of us with the Fiat. You can note the amount of wind blowing our hair.

With the Fiat 500

In any case during that first trip south we wanted to take a day off from the beach anyway. So we strolled around Bosa a bit, had a nice lunch and headed back. Of course I neglected to take photos since I was just content to be there. Lots of cobblestone streets, nice bars and restaurants and frankly much more attractive and walkable than Alghero. If I were to fly to the Alghero airport in the future I’d stay in Bosa instead. Aside from the Mediterranean Sea, Bosa also has a river as you can see from the photo below that I obviously did not take.

The River Temo that runs through Bosa is the only navigable river of the island.

We liked Bosa enough that we decided to return another day and this time to find a beach. I’m not sure that we selected the best one but certainly an interesting one. It’s about 7 km north of Bosa and there is a parking area on the side of the highway. Then after hiking down a fairly rugged but not too steep trail you arrive at he beach. It’s only about 200 meters but seems longer.

A lot of interesting rock formations at Sa Rocca Lada
Getting into the water is tricky – especially since the waves were fairly strong that day. I had limited success.

On the last day we needed to leave our AirBnB by noon but our flight back wasn’t until 10:30 or so. We decided to take a jaunt into the interior. After doing a bunch of studying of the map we agreed to go to Ozieri. It’s about 50 miles from Alghero which is almost halfway across the island. The road was excellent and we were able to see some interesting terrain. I had expected it to be more mountainous but at least in that part of the island there are sporadic mountains jutting up but lots of flat areas. It is quite dry and apparently rains mostly in the winter months.

Ozieri from the restaurant balcony

At Ozieri we had one of the finest meals of the whole trip at Ristorante Teatro. It is on the first floor (as opposed the ground floor) and sitting on the balcony is like being at a theater looking out at the town. Inside, it really was (and occasionally is) a theater. We were the only customers at lunch. I felt sorry for the restaurant but the waiter was great born in Ozieri and a heavy sardinian accent. We went with his reccomendations, mussles for an antipasto and then lobster accompanied by a half liter of white wine and coffee at the end

Spaghetti with lobster at Ristorante il Teatro in Ozieri

I think that we skipped desert but we were so full that we sat in the shade at a nearby park for an hour before being able to move much. In any case it was a fantastic meal for 2 for about 50 euros.

We still had some time to kill so we went back to Alghero for a not too great gelato and then to the airport to be punished further by Ryanair for not paying more for out tickets before finally getting the flight to Bologna and arriving at the house via taxi after midnight. A great trip!

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