Il dolce (and not so sweet) vita…

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The picture’s not crooked- it’s just my head…


It’s approximately 10:05 AM, and I’m doing 150 kilometers/hour on SS 456. Smoothly changing lanes and passing “slower” moving cars, I’m doing my best impersonation of a true Italian– no signals and hardly a glance at anybody else on the road. I’ve got an eleven o’clock appointment at Coppo cellars, in the town of Canelli, and I’m coming from my headquarters in Asti. My host where I’m staying assures me this is only a 20 minute drive, but after the past couple of days I’ve had… I’m going for broke.

Benvenuto in Italia, friends. The last we spoke, and sipped, I was in Scotland blabbering on about single-malt Scotch. I’ve become a HUGE fan of these, but with all due respect to the Scotch producers, I’m ready for vino. Good vino. Molto buon vino.

I’ve decided to tramp around in an area of the world I’ve always wanted to see, and where some of my very favorite red wine is produced: Italy’s Piedmont region. On my to-do list is Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Asti, and any other smaller, exceptional towns I run into. If you’ve been a bit deprived of great wine for a while, this should do the trick. Not to mention the food. And the scenery.


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Look closely at the skyline- those aren’t just clouds…


If this all seems so fairy-tale to you and you find yourself stabbing little Jared dolls with bamboo skewers (ouch), bear in mind that my first couple of days here were… non facile. In fact they were pretty miserable. My planning for this trip was loose at best, and is probably summed up better as being completely dim-witted and irresponsible. Train schedules? “Aaahh… I’ll figure it out there.” Ditto for the buses. Accommodations? Sort of, kind of. I scored a good deal on easyjet.com from Edinburgh to Milan, so I figured I had a good start.

Marone…

Milan, and more specifically, Milan’s central train station, was not kind to me. After getting dumped off in this gigantic place of Italian early evening craziness, I was on my own to find the little, cheap hostel booked for the night. No problem.

No.

Big problem.

I had forgotten how maze-like and completely insane the streets are in Italy’s cities. For those who live here, or those who’ve been here for a while, it all makes perfect sense. The two dozen or so people I stopped with “Scusimi. Potete dirmi dove via Carlo Tenca Ã?” They’d laugh and throw up their hands in disbelief that such a stunod would need directions there.

“It’s right there, you silly turista!”, they would imply. One female caribineri just stared at me for a couple of seconds, scanning my sweaty and frightened face, the heavy pack on my shoulders, and stupid little rolly bag in hand. Gently, and with some obvious amusement, she asked in English, “what are you looking for?”

“………Mom- ma.”

After an hour and a half of wandering, I just wanted home, whatever that might be tonight. Maybe a glass of milk and cookies, perhaps a re-play of the last Giants super bowl victory to make it all go away. Finally, mercifully, I found my hostel. Most “hostels” you find on-line any more are really cheap hotels that decided to add that extra “s” in the name for some reason.

This one, Hotel Verona, was neither hostel nor hotel. Third world hovel maybe. The rate for the night– in the center of Milan– was 32 Euros/night. Let me repeat that. In Milan, Italy. Thirty two Euros.  That’s either the best deal in the world, or the dumbest move I’ve ever made. You can guess which one it was.

Suffice to say, it warmed my heart like the temperature of the next day when I checked out of there. Even said good bye to my new roach friends. And the paper thingy that hung on the broken, rusted pole above the cement platform wherein water fell out of a hole in the wall.

It occurred to me, without a doubt, that I was going to need a car here. I romanced the idea of riding the trains through the lovely vineyards of Italy’s majestic Northwest. No way. I was going to need my own wheels.

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Oh yeah! Fiat and I are BFF!! I was on my way to Asti, where I would be staying at a nice (God, please…) B&B in the center of town. Armed with… wait a minute. I don’t have the directions there. What’d I do with them?! You forgot to print them. Dope. O.K., just call them. You don’t have their number. You only know the name of the place. Double dope.

The roads. In Italy. Do not. Like… me. It’s a good thing my little black speed-racer gets a zillion miles to the gallon, ’cause I swear I drove around that little town for over two hours before finally stopping and asking where the turista informazione was.

…More hand gestures.

After leaving the rental agency in Milan at 11:40 AM, I wound up checking into Villa Ferrari at about a quarter to five. And Lord have mercy, this place is amazing. Amazing. My host, Geraldine, went ahead and planned out all sorts of detailed and exciting wine-tours and trips for me.

The town here is beautiful. The barbera here is the best example of real, authentic barbera (sorry Alba), brimming with bright red cherry notes, and that fantastic acidity that compliments the cuisine here so well.

And so, I’m here. A bit scattered and tired, but happy. Grateful. And perplexed at how a moron like myself can actually pull off getting to this mecca of wine. I had lunch today in the town of Barbaresco… That might not mean a lot to some of you guys, but let me assure you, that’s huge for us wine geeks. As I sat there having some of the local pasta with butter and sage, sipping my Barbaresco, the clock tower behind me rang once. Twice. Three times. It must have been Italian magic; in a spilt-second, all the stress, frustration, sweat, and fatigue of getting here… poof. Gone.

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Stay tuned for more and more adventures from Piedmont over the next couple of weeks. I’ll report on some of the wines and the areas I’ve been going to in the next post. Travel, even in these places, can be tough. But it usually pays off at some point, and I’ll gladly hang out with a few more cockroaches if this is my reward.

Salute,

Jared

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~ by Jared on June 12, 2009.

9 Responses to “Il dolce (and not so sweet) vita…”

  1. glad to read you made it safe into Italy. The wine will make up for the effort will it not?
    Wish I could be your driver. Any info about getting hold of the wines your tasting here in the US?

    gman

    • Ciao, gman…

      Yes, the wine will most definitely make up for anything. Have you driven in Italy before? You must have- these are your kind of roads. Fast.

      I have some really nice wines I’ll be recommending to you soon. I think some of them will be available there too.

      V. Corleone

  2. Sounds like a “fun” start to an amazing couple of weeks! ENJOY! I’m envious, my friend! MARONE!!

    • …MA-RONE.

      Buddy, I had lunch across the street from Produttori yesterday. Thought about you. They were closed for pranzo, but I’m going back to bang on their door!

  3. I stood in the bathroom (the one with the hole in the floor for the “toilet”) at a train station in Piedmont crying within the first 30 minutes of my stay in Italy. It got much better very quickly. You are going to have a great time in Italy!

    • For sure… I haven’t cried yet. Actually I sort of did. Driving through a town called Nieve. Just because it was so… beautiful. (cue sappy Italian music)

      Ciao!

  4. Man, I read this post and let out the most longing…sigh… like when women see newborn babies. Have fun in paradise Jared.

    (sigh)

  5. Your first few days in Italy sound so familiar. Driving gets more fun as you go south Jared! Wish I were on the same roads as you. Enjoy.

  6. I’ll bet it does, Dan. I remember the first time I drove in Italy a few years back- I got back in the states and couldn’t believe how SLOW everybody was driving! MOVE IT!!! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Jared

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