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2017 Trip Report - Venice - Padua - Turin - Le Langhe in Piedmont - Cogne in Val D'Aosta

Way back in 2005, I finished my MBA, and a month later, married my wife. Being without a job at the time, we postponed our honeymoon until 2007, when we took our first trip together to Europe under the (minimal) tutelage of Rick Steves. I had the Italy book, but none of the city guides, and I skimmed the book due to attention issues. We fell in love with Italy hard, but in our quest to see as much that interests us, and as our interests evolved, we had not returned to Italy until 2017, the tenth anniversary of our honeymoon. Older, much wiser in travel, with a taste for more relaxed travel, we decided to return to Italy, at long last, but do different things. Instrumental in picking where to go, rather than Rick, we turned to his now co-author, Fred Plotkin.

Based on Fred's copy, I presented two options to my wife, both starting in Venice. We had hit Venice on our previous trip, after Rome, Florence, 5Terre, and Milan, and were rolly bag checked luggage travelers then, and did not really see anything in three days there, aside from a big square with long lines, a kooky bridge with a ton of tourists, and the very quiet Jewish ghetto, a complete accident. So, Venice was going to be the open.

Option 1 was going south from Venice to Bologna, and then out into the Emilian countryside. Option 2 was hitting the barolo region of Piemonte. Wife saw mountains in Piemonte, and the choice was made. E-R for a later trip. My original planning thread can be found here, though I simplified, avoided backtracking, and spent a lot more time around Alba.

Researching a part of Italy that is off the Rick routes is a bit more difficult than sticking to the Rick recommendations, or extending the Rick Recommendations (I recommend adding a day to everywhere he suggests staying 2 nights or more). I found more useful stuff in German, translated through google, and some things in Food and Wine, or Conde Nast Traveler.

The final Itinerary was:

  1. Aug 26: Depart Chicago, sleep plane and
  2. Aug 27- Arrive Venice, stay until:
  3. Aug 31 - Depart Venice early, hit Padua, same day depart for:
  4. Aug 31 - Turin, sleep two nights, get rental car, and make way to:
  5. Sep 2 - Ada Nada Agriturismo in Treiso (just outside Alba), then drive to:
  6. Sep 7 - Cogne in Val D'Aosta until:
  7. Sep 9 - Turn in rental car in Milan, spend a few hours and catch flight to:
  8. Sep 9 - Dublin, spend night and catch flight to
  9. Sep 10 - Sweet Home, Chicago.

I wrote up our hotels here, and had promised a larger trip report, and then life moved pretty fast, but with the miracle of technology (and my wife's 2000+ pictures, which she then curated down to a mere 1,066 photos, and my own meager efforts which have metadata attached on my phone, I can jog the old noggin, and turn in the assignment, only 5.5 years late. ;-)

So, sit right back and I'll tell the tale, as I don't think many Rickniks go where we went (hell, not too many Americans go there, and as Cameron Hewitt says, and this trip supports, Italy's best destination is anywhere (though some might be better than others).

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Max, I’m interested in reading your trip report…but I don’t see it…

We loved the Piemonte region with a brief intro in Torino…I’d like to read about your adventures as we dream of a future trip.

And I totally understand the delay that can come after a great trip. I have a few scrapbooks waiting to be made with the many photos and memories from recent adventures!😂

Thanks,
Laurie😊

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Thanks Laurie.

I write a deeply detailed trip recap, and tend to write it day by day at work, when I have some loose time. So, stay tuned, as it's probably going to take me a couple weeks to complete it.

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Day One: Departure/Arrival:
We took a cab to get to the train station for CTA's Blue Line, having moved to be a Brown Line commuter. CTA Blue line from the Northside to ORD is easy peasy, and a $5 cab ride to the station was better than paying all the way to the airport.

17:30 flight on BA 294 to London Heathrow. No real complaints about service. I may have upgraded the seat. 7 hours, 50 minutes, get stamped into the EU. I think it's faster into the UK now, but probably complicates things on the connecting end. Haven't done that since Brexit. I liked to live a bit dangerously then, so with the 7:20 arrival at Heathrow, we had an 8:10 National Express bus from Heathrow 5 to Gatwick South. An hour and change of not terribly interesting London, and we got there no later than 9:30 for our 11:30 departure, again on British Airways to Venice. 2 hours, 10 minutes, basic the whole way, no issues.

I thought it would be cool to boat from the airport to our B&B in Dorsoduro, so I had booked the Alilaguna Linea Blu to take us to the Zattere dock, not aware that there's nothing remotely sexy about taking an Alilaguna boat. Literally nothing. A city bus on the water, diesel fuel smells, small windows, blah. An hour twenty later, we arrived at Zattere, and HOLY COW, we're in VENICE! It's late afternoon, close to 5, and we're not beat, because it's Venice.

On our first trip to Venice, we stayed in the San Polo neighborhood, a block or two off the main walkway from the train station to Rialto to San Marco. There was less of that back street magic, and more of the overrun insanity and concern about pickpockets in crowds, and we were exhausted with Venice being the 5th city on our tour, so, never really got why people love Venice. The whole point in coming back was the get the Venice experience for real, and, just walking five minutes from Zattere B to Casa Di Sara gave us the feels. Seriously, you get off the boat, and there you are. You walk a block, turn off the water and up a canal, and you're in it. The poles in the water, the boats, the canals, the hodgepodge yet harmonious architecture. I spotted a bit of graffiti that had a little boy with his father on dockside, looking at an incoming cruise ship, saying "Dad, there's a monster!", and I couldn't agree more.

On our first trip, it was April of 2007. The first Iphone had been revealed just that January, Google Maps wouldn't get on it until 2012, and I wouldn't get one until 2010 or so. Having some accurate directions that kept us updated was a game changer (one that I found on a previous trip to Munich-Prague-Vienna), and for Venice, the killer app.

We got to Casa Di Sara, a four room B&B on a quiet side street/canal. Very nice host, GREAT locale, breakfast underwhelming, but homey and maybe a bit run down. Priced well for Venice, which is always a challenge. But seriously, the locale, AMAZING.

We went out for dinner, to Oniga on our local square. I'm not a big eater of seafood, so Venice was always going to be a bit tricky, but, as a then 45 year old with peculiar sensitivity to certain flavors, I'm something of an old pro at navigating menus of cuisines I'm not liable to enjoy. It's been a few years, and their menu is seasonal, so I don't remember what we had, but I remember it being very good. I almost certainly had shrimp or scallops, likely in a pasta. Sampled some of the local wine, which, like everywhere in Italy, paired well with the local cuisine, and wife had the first tiramisu in her life that made her understand why people like it.

We bopped around, and Venice after the day trippers F off, turns down the volume and puts on the proverbial blue light. Tired from a long day of travel, we hit some firm beds (wife happy, me too tired to care), and dreamt of canals, mosaics, and carnival masks.

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Ahh, at least I'm not the only one who pops in here off and on during the workday 😉

How do you remember all these details? Recent reviews for Oniga are good so it's going on my longlist for Venice next year.

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@roubrat

It's a process. First, for the itinerary, I have TripIt or Google Travel (TripIt for this one), where I aggregate all of my reservations to generate a schedule while on the trip. Used Google Travel for my England trip, which might be a bit more flexible, but TripIt worked for this one.

I also have metadata on my phone pictures. I'm the secondary photographer, I take mostly goofy signs and store displays, false cognate signs, panoramas and time lapses. Wife's photos for this trip don't have metadata, but they are in the order they were shot, and organized by location, ahead of her scrapbooking. That gives me a good idea of where we went when the itinerary doesn't have it.

Last, I have a really great memory for restaurants and meals. To find Oniga, I used Google Maps for restaurants near where we were, looked at people's pictures, and it comes back to me. Stay tuned for Le Langhe, because it is not one of the two regions Italians consider have the best food outside of their nonna's for no reason. Easy to etch things in the old memory palace when they were insanely good. Not as much food from Venice got etched, because I'm kinda seafood averse, but more the experiences we had, some of which were at restaurants or cafes.

Rick says, "Travel is life intensified" or something like that. Fully believed, based on how I remember details of trips, but my day to day life from the same period, almost nothing.

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Day 2: Venice

We got up, had an unmemorable breakfast during the 1 hour window. A ten minute walk brought us past Ca' Macana Original, makers of beautiful Venetian carnival masks. Wife and I always make a joke about buying particular ones for use in the bedroom. We also walked on the back side of Università Ca' Foscari. Very quiet walk, just a city block or so behind the Grand Canal. With some students and some delivery men around, it gave us a feel for a more everyday Venice.

Our first goal was the Basilica San Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, aka The Frari. We're mostly here for the Titians, but the Giovanni Bellini altarpiece enthralls us. The Titians are great, as is all the art, but the monuments are something else. Canova's monument, Titian's very Habsburgian monument, and especially the monument to Doge Giovanni Pesaro, with its mixture of white, black and red marble. The Moors, the skeletons, the monsters, and allegories. Also, the relative plainness of the basilica from the outside stands in stark contrast with the wealth of art, sculpture and architectural interest on the interior. Maybe, my rule should not be "Never skip a cathedral," but instead be never skip a basilica.

Since we were there, and since we love art, we bopped over to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco for Venice's own Caravaggio, Tintoretto. In addition to what's likely the largest collection of Tintoretto, in situ no less, the building just wows in opulence and treasure. Not terribly busy, and neither was the basilica, and this made a good way to spend the first chunk of the day.

We had booked San Marco After Darko, with Walks of Italy, which didn't start until 20:00. We walked away from the Piazza Frari, wife's photographic interest maybe taking the lead, and the photographic evidence gets a little loose here. Around 13:00, there's a picture of a very sad looking pizza on my phone tagged in the Campo de Gheto Novo, so I think we walked up to the top of the Vaporetto system to do the Grand Canal via public transit down to Piazza San Marco. Makes sense, as we got lost on our first trip, up at the same piazza when I bought some cufflinks and maybe a tie, back when I was working in a suit and tie kinda shop.

The Grand Canal takes you from the evocative magic of the back streets to the slightly run down elegance, extravagance, and decadence of wealthy Venice. What can I say about it that hasn't been said by better writers (and worse writers, too), for the past 300+ years. We had not faced much crowding on the whole of the day, save maybe crossing the main trail, but our vaporetto was a bit tight for seating, even with a lot of people standing outside. Bit of a blank space here, in memory and photo record, but eventually, we wind up outside the Correr Museum, our rendezvous for San Marco after Darko.

The evening was overcast, and the day trippers had F'ed off back to wherever, so the piazza was relatively empty, and the pictures my wife took of the Basilica were postcard material.

SMaD is not cheap, costing over $100/person back then (though I had a coupon, so $90/). But it was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY. I've not been in SM when it's open for the mob, but I have seen the line, and I cannot imagine sharing the space and appreciating the magnificence and the mixture of styles of it with 1000 strangers or more. Tour lasted 1:30, we went a bit long, no one complained.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped for a snack, and got prosecco and gelato, which came with potato chips. I would guess we had dinner, first, but I remember our shock at the chips, and then the revelation of the pairing with the 'secco. And the time is never wrong for gelato. Back to our room, and dreams of gilded churches, canals, and thunderheads.

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Rick says, "Travel is life intensified" or something like that. Fully believed, based on how I remember details of trips, but my day to day life from the same period, almost nothing.

Makes sense. My husband thinks it's funny how I can recall in precise detail a moment from travels 10-15 years ago but have no idea what I had for breakfast today. I think for some of us memory is connected to emotion.

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Absolutely. Memory is also tied with the intensity of the emotions, but some of them color the memories. And the thing with travel being intensified life, is that due to the disruption of your day to day life, the breakout of your everyday experience, the memories formed can be way more accessible, especially with the prompts I use.

I’m kind of a supertaster. So, restaurants, meals or even particular dishes can make Proustian memories for me. I think I mentioned the Piemonte portion of this trip. In five nights, we ate at two fairly unassuming Michelin starred joints, a third that is noted, had some amazing breakfasts that inspire me to this day, and the worst pizza in all of Italy. Oh, and the best chain pizza in Italy (more on that tomorrow). But it’s like that for a place in LA that I went to in 1999, a croissant eaten in Paris in 2009, our first visit to Frontera here in Chicago in 2007… fixed in memory intensely, ready to be recalled, and future eats weighed, measured and found wanting against.

But that’s me. Your memory mileage will vary.

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Day 3: Venice

IIRC we either missed breakfast or wanted to get out before breakfast was served. We hit Bar Ai Artisti on Piazza San Barnaba, out of convenience, for pastries and espressos. Decent pastries, great coffee (like just about every bar in Italy), on our way out for the day. We walked to Piazza San Marco, about a mile. It's an interesting mile from sleepy Dorsoduro across the Ponte Dell'Accademia, into progressively more touristic Venice, as we merged into the cruise ship to St. Marks corridor. We were ahead of the cruise ship arrivals, but I'd guess there are tourist hotels over there as well, as folks were starting to stream in. We went up the Bell Tower of the Basilica, which we hadn't done on our first visit (we fed the pigeons, looked at the lines, said no to everything), and had a remarkably clear day. After the dark and foreboding sky of the night before, it was like a divine force was collaborating with my wife on her photography.

From the tower, we hit the Palazzo Ducale, armed with the Rick walk and my short term memory. Decorated as only extreme wealth can manage, with that exotic and decadent Venetian flavor, and ART EVERYWHERE by various Venetian masters. Everywhere else in Italy, either there's a local master or two and some other regulars who never left home or got famous, or there were a series of celebrity artists who were brought in by the local rich person (Or in Caravaggio's case, on the run from a murder rap), who decorated the local palazzos. The bigger the place, the fancier and more fabulous the wanderers were. Not Venice. The local gentry had local talent, who would have toured the peninsula if they had any inclination to explore beyond home. It, plus the trading empire, gives Venice it's art vibe, and I love it.

From the Bridge of Sighs, we could see that the tourist horde were descending. I should note, both wife and I are very crowd averse. More now, but even then, we do not want to be in the madding crowd, at all, if it can be avoided. It was now about lunch time, we were hungry, so I dug out the Rick, and found what he called "an acceptable eat" right off P. San Marco.

Our visit to the San Marco Rossopomodoro was revelatory. We did not have high hopes based on the location, multi language menus and Rick's description but three love affairs were started that day that continue to this day, over 5 years later. First, ever searching for local quirks I can do, I ordered a Lurisia Gazzosa, a lemon soda. It is the greatest lemon drink I've ever had. Maybe the best carbonated beverage. I was addicted in an instant and both of us would opt for it when available for the rest of the trip. The second was my wife's, who fell in love with their basic red pizza sauce. Just bright tomato flavor, lightly herbed. Pure brilliance.

The third was the seasonal special pizza I had. Buckwheat crust, bacon, arugula, figs, buffalo mozzarella, and a cheese frico. I think it had the magic red sauce, but it's not visible in the picture I took of the thing. The combination of textures and flavors has haunted me, and it doesn't look like they offer it anymore. Maybe a one off in Venice, with local produce. Any rate, Rosso started and HQ'd in Naples, but, for a chain, embraced the Slow Food movement, and now sponsors the foundation behind it. Not our last run in with slow food on this trip, and each one was delicious.

Being crowd averse, we headed east from Rossopom, and hit the San Zaccaria Church. Very few people going out this way, and it was a 5 minute walk, if that. Not impressive from the outside, but the Bellini altarpiece is a worthwhile pilgrimage for a renaissance art lover, and the rest of the church is Venetian Extravagance, lightly restrained.

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Day 3 - Second Part
After San Zaccaria, we started hoofing back towards our hood and the sun got low and disappeared. Wife took pictures once we escaped the mob fleeing back to their ships, some after the sun was gone that Google Lens thinks are paintings, and wound up at the Campo Santa Margherita area. Close to the universities, CSM is a hipper, younger part of town. I vaguely remember having a dinner on the Campo. Looking at the map, I think it was Osteria Do Torri, but we definitely ate outside on the plaza, as the night was just lovely. Don't remember much about it.

I do recall hitting Gelateria il Doge, promising artigianale, and delivering. I remember reading that you can judge the freshness of ingredients with Fior Di Latte gelato, which I likely paired with Crema del Doge, their signature. Really good stuff, maybe best in Venice. More traditional counter service than what we hit the night before, which was more memorable for presentation (in glass stemmed serving dishes with those rolled wafer cookies we associate with Italy) and the wonderful plate of chips with the prosecco than the gelato.

A bit more walking around, wife shooting painterly night shots. I highly recommend the Dorsoduro neighborhood to get out of the flow of foreign visitors and into a quieter, cooler, realer area, that's still easy peasy to get into the action.

To bed, dreams of panoramic views, lemon sodas, ruling councils, and art art art.

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Day 4: Venice

I thought we hit the Museo Correr. I mean, we stood outside it for half an hour taking pictures on day 2, we got tickets to Dogeland there (pro Rick tip), on Day 3, and I have some loose time in that Day 3 schedule, but wife does not remember it, other than the entry, and there are no photos or ticket stubs. So, maybe not.

Wife was well over 500 pictures by the end of day 3. Venice is like that, and the light just seems to hit better there. Being on the coast, not having a lot of tall buildings, reflection of light off the lagoon, I dunno.

For day four, we went east from our hotel, going against the tourist hordes. Took in the Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia, a wonderful collection of pre-1600 painting, in a really fab building. The post 1600 to 1880 is no slouch either, but wife is a pre-1600 fan, though the Italian peninsula was maybe 50 years ahead of everyone else, as far as art goes. Highlights for her included the Polyptych of Sant'Elena by Michele di Matteo, Bellini's San Giobbe Altar (earlier than the San Zach Altar, but showing some of the innovation), Conegliano's Pieta, and Bosch's Saint Liberata Triptych.

Leaving the Accademia, we continued west, shopped, photographed, on our way to the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, that double domed, double belled, iconic church towards the point of Dorsoduro. One of the most iconic plague churches in all of Europe. My fascination with plague has waxed and waned over time, reaching a peak of interest in the first year of the novel coronavirus, but not completely dormant in 2017. Plague columns and churches fascinate me, particularly as the first major outbreak of plague in western Europe, in the 1340s-50s, decimated faith in the church as well as decimating the population. The faith in the church aspect is interesting, because a good chunk of the comfortable church figures were either completely absent from society at its hour of greatest need, harbingers and spreaders of the disease as they attempted to flee it, or, at best, impotent to stop the plague, and only able to ring the bells for the dead. Pope Clement VI, for example, spent the plague in Avignon (where the papacy relocated in 1305, when Clement V refused to relocate from France), huddled between two braziers, on advice from what passed for physicians. Might've saved him, as no fleas were getting near him.

I have digressed massively. SMdS was built after the last wave of black death hit Venice in 1630-1. Venetians were early implementers of quarantine and isolation, but 1630 hit them very hard, particularly as it coincided with an outbreak of smallpox. They lost roughly a third of the population, with the lagoon population absolutely devastated. Venetians had prayed, done processions, and displayed the sacraments at San Rocco and San Lorenzo, to no avail, so the Venetian Senate decided on the only obvious course... build a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary herself, instead of those lesser saints.

The thing that I enjoy about plague inspired stuff is that it's always massive, it's always big black, big white, or both, maybe with some gold chasing, and it's always ornate, with a macabre beauty. And SMdS does not disappoint. It delivers that plague dedication in the way that only decadent lux Venice could do.

The questions I have: Do people get married in a plague church? Do people go for services? Doesn't seem like people get buried in one. Is it essentially a consecrated monument, like a plague column, only bigger?

At any rate, I'm not saying the idea worked, but 1630 was the last time the plague hit Venice. The third wave in the 19th century missed Venice hard. So, maybe it works. Or maybe Venice's unique set up and early quarantine and isolation measured paid off. shrug

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Day 4 - Continued

We decided to get a gondola ride, something I had been hemming and hawing and going back and forth with for weeks, if not months. Expensive for the two of us, not willing to share to reduce the romance, I'm kind of introverted, so trying to find a gondolier we'd vibe with was vaguely terrifying. But if you tell people you're going to Venice, they're gonna want to know about your gondola ride. Any rate, my inner nature was against, but my executive function said "Go for it."

We started by SMdS, but he poled us through the neighborhood and then out across the Grand Canal, through some neighborhood, then back to Dorsoduro. Venice's magic had started to wear a bit thin for me, but seeing it from canal level reignited the magic. We probably should have done it later in the day, as the golden hour for photography was maybe an hour later. But I think we got as much value as we were liable to get, given who we were then, and how I understand us now.

I know we walked down the walkway by the Giudecca Canal, but that's about the end of my memories of this day. Dinner, meals, snacks? No idea. There was likely gelato, it was likely delicious.

Venice is magic. It is sight dense, it can be a lot of walking, it can be overrun with tourists. It can flood with minimal warning, and apparently, its canals can run dry. Its every nook and cranny has been explored by someone. It can be elegant and posh with its own particular mix of styles, it can be rundown and shabby, also with its own particular flavor. I have been twice. I'm not ruling out a third time, but I feel sated. Give me another 15 years, and maybe I will crave that flavor again. Venice has that Proustian potential, to be a thing that you will remember, fixed in time and sweetened in memory, beloved and cherished, beyond its actual charms. As I said earlier, the Venetian masters largely stayed in Venice, their brilliance recognized and appreciated. Yet Venice's wealth was made in trading by Venetians who plied the seas, trading with the Byzantine empire, the rivers of the Italian peninsula, and trading overland with China and India. Venetians who would go abroad for years at a go, to return with premium goods to this place of magic and intrigue. So even the natives had to see other places, do things they couldn't in Venice.

Again, I don't know that I will return to Venice, but I won't rule it out, as it is a place unlike any other.

To bed with dreams of crumbling societies, smooth rides on placid waters, and hygiene.

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Day 5: Padua

Up and at ‘em on day five, as we have places to go, things to see, and many miles to go on this day. Easy check out from Casa di Sara, and while it might look like a bit of hike, less then a mile, and the only big tourist corridor hit is the cruise port to train station, which we merged with for the last quarter.

We had 8:30 train reservations to hit Padua, at 16:30 appointment at the Scrovegni Chapel, and a 17:48 departure to Turin. We got some snacks for the trains at Venice Santa Lucia. I got a Fanta Chinotto soda which I will never do again. A harshly bitter soda, I would guess you have to grow up with that kind of thing.

We did a rolling stop like this in 2009, Paris to Brussels to Bruges, which worked out splendidly. Thalys to Brussels with EU government officials and business folks, have a lunch on the big square, walk around the old town, see the Magrittes, and get the train to Bruges. Easy.

Got to Padua around 9:00, train travel in Italy on the major lines remained a joy. We found a laundromat, which I always find to be a worthy excursion in Europe, offering cultural exchange, exploring our destination in depth, and navigating foreign machinery without English directions, with low risk. We did our laundry from the previous four days, and in retrospect, not sure why I felt the need to do it then. We managed to navigate it with the help of some locals. We hit a restaurant that, in the US, would have fit into the Midwest, as something established in 1950 or so. I don't recall if we had pizza or pasta there, nothing to write home about.

Can't remember if we stashed our bags directly after doing the laundry, or after lunch, but we did. The sequence of events on this day are a bit hazy from 5 years later, but pretty sure it was laundry, lunch, basilica, Scrovegni. Lunch and Basilica might've been flipped, but I'm gonna go with the business before the pleasure.

My rule is never skip the cathedral. Really should be never skip the basilica. If it's notable, there's gotta be a reason. The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua doesn't really need much in the way of extra adornment to merit note. It's the final resting place of the St. Anthony of Padua, only the second most important saint in Italy (even though he's from Portugal). One of the few saints from the entire world that most non-Catholic Americans know of, and beyond that, has a big deal set of patronages, with travelers, lost people/items, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the oppressed, and the indigenous people of the Americas. Oh, and MIRACLES. Also, Brazil, Portugal, and places on all the inhabited continents.

The Basilica is a gigantic mass of bricks with multiple domes. And unlike most Italian churches, completed in under 100 years. By the entrance to the church, there were letters and photos of people offering thanks for Anthony's intervention. The interior of the church is massive, and, like everywhere in the location, a riot of ornate Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque art and sculptural features. But the big draw is the St. Anthony Chapel, where the man himself lies in state. There was a procession of people circling his tomb, and the letters and pictures nearly obscured the entire tomb. Pictures of mangled cars, of hospital beds, of small children, and ambulances from around the world cover the tomb. Everyone in the line wanted to touch the marble of the tomb, to get whatever benediction was left in Anthony's nearly 800 year old corpse. I touched it, too, maybe a low moment in my atheism, but definitely caught up in the belief. I'm reasonably sure that no one who prays to St.A, and dies writes a thank you letter, so we do have a sampling issue, but millions of people across the world clearly believe in the magic of praying to St. Anthony, so it couldn't hurt to touch the marble.

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Day 5 - Continued
We finished touring the church, and we started walking back towards the train station, about a mile. Despite it being maybe a three mile round trip from the train station to the Basilica and back, I think there was easily an extra mile of standing around and detours for business, but the walking was getting a bit harder, IIRC. At any rate, we got to the Scrovegni Chapel early for our appointment, so we checked out the Musei Civici Eremitani, checking out their collection of Roman and pre-Roman artifacts, and art from the 14th to 18th century. Nice small museum, with works by Giotto, Veronese, and Tintoretto among others.

The big draw for the Civil Museums on the grounds of the Giardini dell'Arena is the aforementioned Scrovegni Chapel, notable for a fresco cycle by Giotto. Completed in 1305, it was a stunning accomplishment in mural painting and fresco technique, style and content. Seen in the 21st century, it dazzles and inspires awe. And that's even before you factor that when we saw it, it was over 700 years old. You have a Last Judgement with an amazing devil. You have a story of Noah and a story of Jesus. You have a remarkably bright blue, with gold stars on the ceiling. You really have an important masterwork, that doesn't reduce the meaning of that term. Well worth the visit, one of those pre-Renaissance works that presages the revolution to come.

We probably should have stayed the night in Padua, but the true aim of our trip was still ahead of us, and when setting it up, I didn't want to linger in Veneto, when Piemonte called. On the 17:48 Frecce Rosso, we would get into Torrino Porta Nuova at 20:55. If I had been thinking in 24H time, instead of AM/PM, the 20:55 would have sounded about as late as it was, while 8:55 PM sounded like barely after dark.

Fortunately, we had a 9:30 PM check in at La Maison B&B, which doesn't seem to be a going concern anymore. A real shame. I had coordinated our arrival with Antonio, who had given me instructions to give the taxi driver to get us there. La Maison was a two room hotel in an apartment building. Beautifully appointed, but the whole entry for check in was a bit weird, especially given the day we'd already had. Once we found it, we were charmed by the owner. He was very excited to have us, very excited for our trip into Piemonte, with restaurant recommendations, winery recs, everything two bon vivants would want in Alba and surrounds.

Got to our room, got the lay of the land, and went to sleep, dreaming of trains, chapels, miracles, bitter sodas, and being off Rick's map, into the lesser known.

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Day 6: Turin

A thing about our marriage is that I am a morning person and my wife is not. I've come to understand this over our nearly 18 years of marriage but it has irked me in the past.

I woke up in Turin, ready to go. Wife slept until 10:00 or so. At the end of the day, this should not have gotten me bent, but at the time, I was thinking of the opportunity cost of seeing things in Turin versus spending time in the hotel. I'm more chill now.

A later start to our only day in Turin, but nothing that wrecked us. We were there in the shoulder season and it's not that big with American tourists anyway. Turin has some absolutely brilliant stuff in a compact area and a broader city beyond. We started at the recommended cafe down the street, had coffees and pastries, and on our way. First stop was the Palazzo Reale Di Torino, the royal palace of the Savoy Dukes who ruled this slice of Italy before eventually leading the Risorgimento that led to modern Italy.

The palace does not rival Schonbrunn in Vienna, which I'm told equals Versailles in France (to which I've never been). But if Schonbrunn/Versailles are the top dogs of palatial estates of former royalty, the Palazzo Reale is the top beta dog. The Savoys, particularly during the 17th century, had their own master, Filippo Juvarra, who they employed as royal architect. The Savoys were beholden to Bourbon France, and so Turin, under their management has a very French feel, despite everyone speaking Italian. At any rate, the royal complex houses a diverse set of museums (not all of which we could visit), including the Royal Armory (skipped), the Sabauda Gallery (YES), the Museum of Antiquity (skipped), the Chapel of the Holy Shroud (skipped), and the palace itself, the royal museum (hit first). The palace itself is baroque/rococo gilt extravagance to rival the Hapsburgs. Room on room of that lux life, with museums scattered through.

We were there for the Sabauda Gallery, featuring Fra Lippi, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Memling, van der Weyden, Mantegna, Veronese, O. Getileschi, Rubens (is there a museum covering the 1600s that doesn't have a Rubens?). It's displayed in the new wing of the royal palace, and is a custom installation of the Savoy art collection. As very rich European nobles, they amassed a world class set of art, largely commissioning the works themselves from the artists. It's very well presented, and has a great assortment of Renaissance paintings. Well worth the effort.

The Royal Museums are on manicured parkland and ornately paved piazzas, so the walks between the museums are exceedingly pleasant. And, as mentioned, completely loaded with the stuff that interested the Savoy families, which was a lot of different stuff.

We hit up the Royal Church of San Lorenzo, known for it's cleverly engineered dome (Including the Face of the Devil), but also a visual spectacular due to the genius of its architect, Guarino Guarini, who managed to complete the entire structure in a very un-Italian 19 years. It's a square plot of land, with an octagonal floor plan, that changes into a Greek cross as you go up. The dome's base is circular, but ascends with eight intersecting arches that form the octagonal structure one sees from outside. Like many of the churches we've seen on the trip, big pile of bricks outside, riot of decoration inside, but the dome and the geometry of it all steals your attention.

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Day 6: Turin Continued

We stopped for a snack at Cafe Savoia, and I think I either had some focaccia or the local pizza equivalent, which is basically a focaccia topped creatively, though the tradition is anchovies and olives (aka not my bag). Savoia is at 1 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, who is a big deal all over Italy because of the Risorgimento, but a bigger deal here in Turin, because it was the Savoys who were the leaders of the unification push. Via GG is a pedestrian only walk way, with a lot of shopping, which was the late afternoon activity. We walked around, had a gelato (I think GROM), took a picture of some teens (one wearing a Yankees cap) to text over to them, vaguely afraid that I was opening myself to some scam, but it was just young folks having fun. I kinda love the picture, on a canon friendly straight walkway, from left to right, one girl with a giant purse, a big laughing smile, hanging on a stone faced boy, camo Yankees cap, black t-shirt, and sweat pants shorts, next to his bud, also putting on the no reaction face, Yankees hat on backwards, with his girl giving some grade A side eye to the camera, all in black, bare mid riff, Michael Kors bag met tag clearly facing the camera. Suspicious of them then, but as I said, I love this picture now. Odds of running into two Italian kids who wear Yankees gear, by a New York born, third generation Yankees fan... should have played the lottery.

Turin has a very walkable and charming old center. Pictures on Google show it more crowded than it was when we were there at the end of August, so either something had changed or we hit it seasonally just right. Walked around, don't recall dinner, maybe the day before was catching up to me. At any rate, salvaged a pleasant day, but barely scratched the surface of a major destination that is almost entirely off the Rick Steves Map.


I had a lot of trouble writing up this day, and the reason is worth reporting. I thought we went into a particular church in Turin that had a particular set of features. I think the baroque nature of the churches made me sure it was there. I spent a lot of time looking at the various churches around Turin on google, looking in all my notes in email, pouring through our pictures. I brought it up to my wife last night, the particular set of features, and she said, "Are you sure that was in Turin?" I said, "Pretty sure it wasn't in Alba or Asti." She said, "I think it was in Munich," which made me rethink it a bit. I said, "Maybe Vienna," and went off to look at all the churches in Vienna, to no avail. "I'm pretty sure it was in Munich," said my wife, and I went and looked there, and voila, I was looking for St. Johann Nepomuk, aka the Asamkirche. And so, nearly a full day of writing was wasted.

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Day 7: Depart Turin - Arrive Langhe Region

I will admit that I did not give Turin enough time. We had a 12:00 pickup of a rental car from Hertz, a Fiat Panda or similar. The Hertz pickup was at Torino Porta Susa train station, which I figured would work a lot like a rental car place at an airport. I was wrong. We arrived a bit early, so we'd have time to find the office in the parking garage, but there was no one there. Their posted hours for Saturday were 8AM to 6PM. Reviews on google are mixed on the staff, and note that the hours are often changing, and they will have trouble finding your reservation if it was booked through Hertz from the US or something. We stood around for a bit, figuring they'd be back by 12:15 or so, and then another person showed up, looking to book a car. I think I called in, and got in touch with someone who trudged out from wherever they were hiding, got us our car, helped the other person in a fairly animated discussion in Italian, and got us on our way.

We had about a 70 KM drive from Torino south and east to our destination, Ada Nada Agriturismo in Treiso, just outside of Alba. Once we got off the A6 autostrada, we were alternating between farms that could have been in the Midwest and cute small old world towns. We were then in the land of roundabouts, which is basically all of the area around Alba. And yes, the Yes song was a frequent topic of amused conversation, because we were the roundabouts, and the mountains kinda came out of the sky and the stood there. We wound up a hill on a couple of switchbacks, and we had arrived.

If my goal was to capture some of the charm of Sonoma in Italy, the vista from Ada Nada over their vineyards exceeded the goal, and then some. Not the dramatic mountains of Val D'Aosta or the Dolomites, but the rolling hills and green topped ridgelines of an agricultural region. Greeted by the hosts, who were also busy with the end of the harvest, and a nice dog. We got settled in our rooms, as we were staying for five nights, and then hit the patio for a glass of wine and an unwind.

Drove into town that night for dinner at a place recommended by either Martin at La Maison or Anna Lisa at Ada Nada. On the way, got a bit lost while looking for parking, and I was sure I crossed the ZTL. No indication at the time, but five months later, got some mail from Italy telling me I had a week from receipt of the notice to pay. I think it may have sat on my coffee table for a week, but when I went to pay it, it asked what date I received it. I might have shaded the truth a bit, so as not to pay a penalty. They waited five months to send it, so why should I have to respond in 5 days?

They managed to squeeze us in at Osteria dell'Arco, very happy to see us, despite a full restaurant on a Saturday night. Michelin
noted, listed as a 50 Best Discovery, and yet, unstuffy, relaxed, and homey. But it's a serious restaurant, with a serious wine list, and a commitment to the Slow Food movement that was started over a McDonalds in Rome, but whose father was born nearby in Bra (more on this later). I remember a rich meal, accompanied by really brilliant local wines, eaten in an unrushed manner over an hour or an hour and a half. More on the local cuisine later, but it's one of the two that Italians rate as the best in Italy, after wherever they are from, of course.

We retired to our room across from the garage, and dreamt of green hills, circles, red wines with soul, and bright yellow pastas, content in all things.

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Day 8 - Le Langhe

The region of Piemonte that I wanted to explore is the wine growing region of Piemonte, the Langhe - Roero - Monferrato, with an emphasis on the Langhe. The Langhe is a hilly region in the Piemontese provinces of Cuneo and Asti. The vineyard landscape was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 due to the cultural heritage and ecological evolution. I guess being a UNESCO site in Italy is less of a big deal than elsewhere, since they have the most and it’s not close. Not begrudging them that, because everywhere you look in Italy, there’s something fabulous and culturally important.

Breakfast at Ada Nada is a buffet of wonderful things. Eggs, fruits, cheeses, local salumi, pastries, savory “tarts,” coffee, juice, and more. Everything locally sourced and full of regional specialities. Oh, and we ate it on their patio area under a blue sky with 200+ degree view of UNESCO heritage. There have been several amazing breakfasts at places we’ve stayed, but this one shines brightly in my memory for my total enjoyment.

Cruelly, the official tourism site of the viticultural area was only in Italian, but with some internet translation, I read the linked page. It turns out there are more regional enotechi (Piedmontese pluralization, don’t come for me), run by various wine making collectives. Supposedly unique to Piemonte, I thought them to be a brilliant idea, and so we started our first day at the Grinzane Cavour castle and museum.

The Castle is at the top of a hill. Nearly everything in the region is either on the top of a hill, on the side of a hill, or in the valley between two hills. It’s the anti-Midwest. The view from the plaza around the castle is 360* of wow. The museum is about the Count of Cavour and wine making history in the region. It’s not the best museum, but you go there for the view, the restaurant, and representatives of all the major wines of the region: Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, Dogliani, Gavi, Arneis, Asti, and more. I don’t recall us doing a lot of tasting, as it was early, and I was driving.

We drove around, without much of a plan, just soaking it all in. We stopped the car a lot to take pictures and bask in it all. Maybe I had a destination in mind, but very loose itinerary. An hour or so later, we wound up at Vicoforte, where we stopped because of a “holy hell what is that” moment.

“That” was the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, a monumental church, the backside of which you see driving down from one of the hills. It’s massive, and notable for having the possibly largest elliptical cupola. Yeah, it’s the world’s biggest non-circular dome. This giant sanctuary was built around a “miraculous” medieval sanctuary with a fresco of the Virgin, who supposedly bled when a hunter accidentally shot it around 1590. Enter some Savoy money, and they started construction of the current structure in 1596. The interested Savoy and his architect both died before completion, and construction stopped for a century or so. Italy!

No one thought the dome would hold its weight, so the Gallo who built it had to take down the scaffolding himself. By 1752, the painting of that big dome (nearly 65,000 sq ft) was done. It’s a riot to be under, as the artists put a geometric “texture” on it, which is broken in places with mythological figures in a proto-Rococo style. There are tours, seasonally, on Sundays that will take you up. Three months after we were there, the remains of Vittorrio Emmanuel III and Queen Elena were moved to this site, so it’s got a bit more there. You can take a virtual tour here:

https://www.santuariodivicoforte.it/il-complesso-monumentale/visita-virtuale/

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Day 8 continued

After Vicoforte, we continued on the road that we entered town on, and worked our way to Dogliani, a cute town of maybe 5000 people, known for it's wine, now called Dogliani DOCG, but then called Dolcetto di Dogliani, a red made from Dolcetto grapes. I had read that it's distinct from the Dolcetto di Asti and Dolcetto di Alba wines, for it's boldness. As a result, I think calling it Dogliani DOCG is more indicative, as there's nothing sweet about the local distillation. It's a big red wine, with dark berry flavor and bitterness evocative of coffee and dark chocolate.

We hit the regional enoteca, and they had finished a big tasting by the time we got there, so not much to be had. I did snag a glass, and, honestly, not my jam, but better for having tried it.

We visited the Parish Church of Saints Quirico e Paolo, a massive church with a huge dome (no Vicoforte, but, nothing is a Vicoforte)... They started construction in 1859, and completed it in an unItalian 11 years, but they've continued to renovate and rebuilding and decorate. It's like a Roman temple decorated by 19th century aristocrats. Nice art, nice statuary, over all, worth the visit, even if the wine isn't your jam.

From there, we returned to Ada Nada, as we were promised a sunset tasting of their wines. A favorite of mine tasting was their Roero Arneis, but we also brought home a bottle of their Barbaresco. It's said that you drink the Barbera and the Barbaresco while waiting for the Barolo to mature. It's seems like a good way to live, though in recent years, some winemakers have been tinkering with the Barolo to get the tannins softer in a shorter term. Traditionally, you hold them for maybe 20 years. As such, I think a case of really nice Barolo makes a good wedding gift, as they'll be ready for the couple's twentieth anniversary.

We were fed snacks with the wine and the view, and it was getting dark by the end of the tasting, so we retired to dream of castles and domes, rolling hills with grapes on the vine.

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the official tourism site of the viticultural area is only in Italian

Both The old and new official desktop sites have been translated in English.

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Thanks, Dario. Found after I posted.

The availability of English language material in the region has increased massively in the five years since we were there. We navigated acceptably, and, while not as English friendly as the more major tourist destinations in Europe, we did not struggle much to find someone to talk to, until the next day I'm going to report on, which was comical in hindsight.

A lot better for Americans now, but perhaps infuriating for conservative nativists in Italy.

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I am not sure I get what a "conservative nativist" is and I suspect the Italian version exists only in US media. Even if, I doubt they'd get angry because people use a language they have been taught in school for decades or because sites financed with public money have been finally translated also in English and not only in French.

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The Fratelli d’Italia’s bill to fine people using English would be an example of conservative nativism. Call it right wing nationalism, if you will. Not all conservatives are nationalists, and I couldn’t speak to the politics in Italy at the moment, but the shoe seems to fit FdI. I should note that US news coverage of Italian politics is nigh nonexistent. NPR has a correspondent in Rome, as do the major news organizations, but has to be something like a papal edict or the first wave of COVID to get them regular airtime.

I promise, return to writing up the trip soon. It’s been hectic at work and silly at home.

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Sorry, things have gotten quite insane at work since I last posted. I will finish the story.