Thursday, October 27, 2011

Italian visit – part 1 - 'country travel'

Flew BelleAir from Tirana to Milano, in early afternoon, leaving behind a splendid climate. Descended at Malpensa, one and a half hour later, through black clouds and found a cold and wintery scene in northern Italy. It was my first experience with this airline, one of dozen others servicing Albania, but, when at Rinas airport (now named Mother Teresa International),I noticed quite a few changes. All airport’s facilities are being expanded, a couple more hotels are being built in its vicinity, all flights from Tirana now use larger planes, which are always fully booked, and, as the friends that gave me a lift also pointed out, due to increased traffic of passengers and business with Italy, most Italian cities are now connected with Tirana on a daily basis.

Retrieving your luggage in Italy is an exercise of patience, and this time was no exception. It took one hour, but soon afterwards I was whisked away by one of my Italian cousins and traveled northwest toward the city of Biella, where I was able to do the purchases I had planned, in a brand new, huge shopping center.

While buying some sweets, which are typical of that town, we were offered by the shop owners a “marocchino” each at their bar. The name derives from a combination of black and white ingredients in a medium size glass cup: a delightful hot, thick espresso that engulfs a fairly good size portion of whipped cream that is then topped by dark chocolate sprinklers! A sinful, but perfect pickup while trekking around town!!

By early evening we finally reached my cousins’ country home, located further north at about 800 meters above sea level, only to drive back to Biella for a scheduled 8PM dinner with a couple, mutual friends of ours.
My cousin’s wife, unfortunately, due to a late medical appointment for a treatment of a very painful condition to her right shoulder that had occurred 24 hrs earlier, could not dine with us. The dinner took place at a local, old, well known establishment, serving delightful food. After assorted hot appetizers, and a special risotto (this place’s specialty), while imbibing an exceptionally good wine, I could only manage dessert!
Thank goodness there were no special plans the next day, so we all lingered around chatting and eating at home breakfast and lunch, followed by a restful afternoon spent outdoors in relatively warm sunshine and a light breeze.
[white grapes still on the vine]

Toward evening additional family members drove in from Milano so that we could dine together at another old restaurant located at a higher elevation (1100 m above sea level) which is part of a huge religious center, called ‘Santuario di Oropa’, famous for his black Madonna. I have been there in the past several times, and its restaurant has been frequented by many foreign dignitaries and even by more than one Pope.
Good, hardy mountain flood is served here, in several large rooms with fully functioning fireplaces…while the temperature outside was 3 degrees Centigrade.
The most typical dish is “polenta concia”, which is a corn meal soup with a load of melted butter and cheeses floating on top.
As a second course I opted not to eat meat, but to fully enjoy a dish of freshly picked ‘porcini’ mushrooms, cooked in 3 different versions. What a treat!!
Again local red wine washed down the food and the desserts were followed by a small glass of ‘limoncello’, known to help digestion…..
[mango sorbet with chocolate sticks]

This was my last evening in this area, and again we ended up in bed in the early hours of the morning. My next destination would be further down the valley, in another area of Piedmont, in the old village where I spent 12 years of my youth during WWII.

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