Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Easter Weekend 21 - 25 April, 2011

18 May 2011

(WOW! I just discovered that if you want to better see the pictures in my blog, just click on them and they magically grow into something even middle aged + eyes can see! The wonders of technology!)

As you may have guessed, Greg and I love living in Switzerland.  And, not wanting to give a good thing up, we've been toying with the idea of retiring in Europe: Switzerland, France or Italy.  That idea has been compromised by our imminent grandparenthood: do we really want to be that far from the kids?

However, we continue to talk and flip flop and check out possible expat heavens. Our first foray into retirement locales was the region of Piemonte (Piedmont) Italy.

It figures that Greg would choose Piedmont as our first region.  The Slow Food movement (as opposed to fast food) began here and the region is noted for its wine, truffles (the fungus kind, not the chocolate kind, although the area is also known for its chocolate) and hazelnuts. 

We rented a car and headed south. The high passes with their hairpin turns and sheer plunges into eternity don't open until June which meant we had to go through the Gotthard Tunnel. We expected long delays but it wasn't bad getting through the tunnel - the real traffic was around Milan leading to stop and go traffic and a few obscenities. (Okay, maybe more than a few.)

We stayed in Cortilletto d'Alba, a small hotel in Alba that was just outside the historic old town. We remembered Alba as a sleepy medieval town, based on a visit 20 years ago. While that is true of the center, the old town is surrounded by a small modern town.  However, the people are very friendly and the pace is more village than town.  Marissa, the owner of the hotel, advised us on where to go and where to eat and even made reservations for Easter Brunch for us. (The cooking was so good in her own hotel that we ate dinner there twice.) Here is brunch - a multi course prix fixed meal with each offering beautifully prepared and delicious. FOOD is definitely a huge factor in our wanting to live in Europe.

Greg was fascinated by the action in the kitchen behind me.

A woman at the cheese store gave us a map of the surrounding area and food establishments that she had put together herself and helped us prioritize our destinations. Even the foreigners were friendly! A couple of guys from the Netherlands, who we met at the lunch pictured below, turned out to be wine buyers and steered us to a small local winery: Cavalier Bartolomeo.

Here we are with the owners.

We were very happy to discover that Alba was hosting a two day wine festival while we were there. Naturally, Greg and I thought it would be rude not to sample some of the offerings!

Charming picture of my husband.

Like its neighbors Tuscany and Umbria, Piedmont is peppered with charming Medieval villages, most of them on hilltops. Guess they didn't get along with their neighbors any more than we do today.

Of course, the area has more than its fair share of churches

including this one in the middle of a traffic circle. 

What with all that brotherly love floating around, there were also a lot of castles.

Pedestrian only streets and large lazy squares sprinkled liberally through the old towns encourage everyone - adults, kids, even pets - to take time to enjoy life.

I highly recommend a book by Annie Hawes entitled Extra Virgin.
She and her sister went on a lark to Liguria to graft roses for a few weeks one summer and ended up buying a rustico (rural ruin). Unlike a lot of expats who write condescendingly about their neighbors, Annie immerses herself in her new culture and her writing reflects her love of the people and countryside.  Since Liguria is right next door to Piedmont, I convinced Greg to drive down to the coast to Diano Marino, a seaside town that Annie talks a lot about in her books.  It was one of those bad idea trips.  It rained the whole way and between traffic and winding back roads, took us two hours to get there. When we did, we found that the seaside towns were full of tourists and parking was nonexistent. By the time we found a restaurant with parking, we were two snarling tigers squaring off inside a too-small cage. It didn't help matters that the food was lousy. But what the hell. The owner was friendly and proudly insisted we try some of his own homemade orange liqueur, even dragging us over to the rain washed window to see the tree that had made it all possible. Our mood much improved, we programmed the GPS and headed back to Alba on the much disparaged - but fast - autoroute.

Annie talks about Aspes - a three wheeled small truck used by the locals to drive from town up into the hills to their olive groves. This is one seen through our rain drenched windshield.

Coming back to Zurich, we followed the shore of beautiful Lake Maggiore in Ticino, the Mediterranean region of Switzerland. (No kidding - palm trees to prove it!)

Piedmont is a great place to visit if you're a foodie and love wine.  Greg says that he'd be happy to live there but not me. If we're going to live in Italy,I want to live further south where the weather is warmer and we are closer to the sea. So, my next ex pat foray into Italy is going to be La Marche, due east of Rome.

And that's no bull.