Jonathan and I arose early Saturday and made our way without breakfast or coffee to the train station next door, where we walked about a mile inside the terminal to find the right track. Trains don’t go through. They end there, bumped up against mammoth rubber bumpers attached to steel I-beams. We bypassed the serve-yourself kiosk trackside and went inside the soon-to-be-heated train car. Nice place, all-electric, and with seats facing front, back, or across, depending on your need and sightseeing choices. First thing we watched was a continuing procession of people trying to get coffee or food out of the auto-mat kiosk. Universal fail. So after several cranky people boarded, off we went at a slow glide on the all-electric train to Alba.
Once we cleared the urban area, we finally saw the fabled Alps, a formidable sight. Soon after, we were racing across the very flat plains between the tiny towns south of Torino. You’ll see more from the photos than I could tell you, as crops were in and snow etched the landscape into a chiaroscuro of light and shadow. But note in the photos how prevalent were “hoop house” greenhouses, or season extenders. So it was no surprise that when we finally made our way to the outdoor produce market, local farmers were there with an abundance of leeks, cabbages, potatoes and greens of all description. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to change trains. And there was a small cafe in the station where we finally got cappuccino and an Italian bread roll with a slice of ham for breakfast. It was also the place where I encountered what passed for bathroom facilities outside the city — an elegant porcelain fixture with treads to the side to put your feet, a biscuit-size hole to test your aim, and a sloping floor between to catch the mistakes. Providing some item of clothing didn’t catch them first. I’ll leave it at that, since further discussion would be depressing.
But then we headed east, and after traveling through splendid acres (or is it hectares, or something else?) of vineyards where is grown the cherished Barbera and Barolo wine grapes, we arrived in the ancient city of Alba.
Exiting the train station, we hoofed it toward the center of town and found the very long street market that runs for blocks and where you can buy anything from hazelnuts and oranges to handbags and clothing. Past all that, we finally found the outdoor produce market and then the truffle market, actually a small shop where truffles were purchased from the gatherers, and truffle products were sold. We passed on the truffle slicers once we found that the hugely expensive fungus only lasts a week out of the ground, but bought several small bottles of truffle oil for our foodie friends at home. Then it was off to find a meal with truffles in it. Unfortunately, the taste did not equal the price. But we persevered, soldiered on, and made the train back to town in time for the awards. It was more than we could have asked. We won best picture, best actress, best screenplay and readers’ choice. Bellissimo.
Next: Our last day in Italy, we go to the mall.
Thanks so much, Marideth. One of my favorite words is “chiaroscuro,” and first heard it when I studied art history long ago. I fell in love with Caravaggio’s use of the light and dark…also De La Tour. I sure know about the bathroom “fixtures,” and ran into that when I was in a Paris hotel (not ritzy for sure). I was horrified but my friends were on another floor that had something more reasonable. The toilet paper in Europe was something else back in the mid fifties. I brought samples home…crepe paper, butcher’s paper, Sears Roebuck catalogs, and glassine types. I had better stop as I may make some up…such as cellophane and will get too carried away. I sure look forward to the next installment. Hope you have a healthy and happy New Year. Margaret