An April 2011 trip
to Biella by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: The second leg of my 2011 European adventure took me to my friend Monica's home in the Piedmonte region of northern Italy. Here, I toured several hilly old villages and experienced Easter Sunday and Monday only the way the Italians do--lots of food and fun!
The train trip from Biella to Novara was crowded even though it was 6 in the morning but it was uneventful. I could see a church cupola as we pulled into the train station and I learned that was the main sight of Novara, The Basilica of San Gaudenzio, a church whose cupola reaches 121 meters and is a younger constructed church compared to other churches in Italy being that it was only completed in 1888.
The city of Novara (Nuara in local Piedmontese dialect) itself dates from ancient Roman times when the Romans conquered the Piedmonte region and settled down calling the town Novaria after the area it is located. The Romans put down many insurrections by locals in the area until the 5th century and in 452, Attila the Hun conquered Novaria. For hundreds of years, Novara was the site of many historical events and battles and was occupied by the House of Savoy from 1706 and became part of the Savoy Empire in 1734. The Hapsburg Empire also had their hands in ruling Novara and from 1821-1849 Novara was the sight of several battles between the Piedmontese and Sardinians with the Sardinians winning many of the battles until 23 March 1849 when the Austrians defeated the Sardinians in the Battle of Novara. Today The Battle of Novara is comemorated by the residents of Novara and many believe this battle was the beginning of Italian unification that occurred in 1861.
The population of Novara in 1861 was only about 25,000 but Novara became a center of Italian industrialization and the population increased to 105,000 where it stands today.
After taking a picture of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio, I started to look for the bus station. I went inside the train station and asked the guy at the desk and he kindly sent me in the right direction. When I arrived there, I asked to make sure I was there two African gentlemen. They said I was there and showed me where to get my bus ticket. After I got my ticket, the African gentlemen and I started to chat in a mix of French, Italian and English before one of them and I got on the bus to Milano Malpensa.
After I got on the bus, the African gentleman sat a little bit away from me, so we couldn't talk for the time being. I thought I wouldn't see him again after I got to the airport but when I stopped at a restaurant after going through security, low and behold, my friend from the Novara bus station came to my table with a bottle of beer and asked if he could sit with me. Turns out his name was Moufassa and he was from Senegal along with his friend who, unfortunately, I cannot remember his name but I remember his kindness. Moufassa was on his way to Paris to see friends there, and he told me that Senegal was a beautiful place and asked me what I knew of it. I told him I knew Senegal was a French colony until the 1960's and he was curious to know about my life in Florida. He knew about Florida but not the northwestern area or Panhandle.
We exchanged names to find each other on Facebook after we parted ways. I put the slip of paper in my book to get later thinking it would be safe. Unfortunately, when I got home, the piece of paper with Moufassa's name was lost, and there were so many Moufassas from Senegal in Facebook, I couldn't find my kind friend there. So if Moufassa from Novara, Italy with friend in France sees this entry, please get in touch with me on Facebook.
I didn't spend a lot of time in Novara, but I have fond memories of meeting a couple of nice gentlemen there and won't forget them.
Attraction | "Lago d'Orta and The Town of Orta San Giulio"
After dropping off Alberto at Grandma's house and making sure Papa Tolomei was doing OK at the tabaccheria, Monica and I were off to Orta San Guilio. We had a very pleasant drive talking and laughing and checking out the scenery of the Piedomontese countryside. After a chilly ride up to Valle d'Aosta the day before, the warm weather we had going to Lago d'Orta was a welcome break for Monica and me. We arrived in Orta San Giulio and parked in the parking lot and paid a fee rather than risk getting towed by parking in town since it looks like cars are not allowed in there at all except if you live there or have a business in the town. Once we parked and paid our fee, I saw that Orta is another beautiful old Italian town with narrow cobblestone roads and old houses and churches that makes one want to sell their homes in the USA and move here. OK, that's the way I felt!
Orta San Giulio's main claim to fame is the Isola San Guilio and its Sacro Monte d'Orta or Church of St. Giulio. It is an expensive boat ride to the Sacro Monte, which earned a spot on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2003, across Lago d'Orta, so Monica and I resigned ourselves to admiring the church on the island from the shore of the village of Orta San Giulio. It wasn't the end of the world, and we enjoyed seeing the church and breathing in the fresh lake air. It is said that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche came here with a Russian woman in 1882 and fell in love with her after seeing the Sacro Monte, but after the trip, she said she didn't remember Nietzsche kissing her and wasn't in love with him. OUCH!
Monica and I spent the afternoon walking the narrow cobblestone roads of Orta San Giulio chatting, laughing and enjoying the views. We had gelato at one of the gelaterias in town, and I am still remembering my cone with Chocolata Azteca gelato with that faint kick of hot pepper at the back of my mouth. I was having a major Johnny Depp in Chocolat fantasy there, or was it Alfred Molina gorging himself on chocolate in Juliet Binoche's character's shop window at the end of the movie? It was that good!
Monica and I browzed in shops and I got my Italian flag for my collection in one of the shops in Orta San Guilio. Monica and I also went into the tiny church located on a hilltop in town to check it out and light candles for our families and the Red Sox. Then we went down one of the narrow roads where we could hear classical music coming out of one of the resident's homes adding to the ambiance of the village. Then we came upon a villa further down that was for sale. It was beautiful with a pale yellow exterior and lion statues on the steps. I started taking pictures and laughing about my last trip to Europe and how Dad had me looking at Slovakian real estate for future purposes. Dad wasn't in the market for any more land deals this time around, but I was about to call him and try to convince him to sell all of his properties and buy this one for all of us to move into. It was big enough for all of us to not drive each other nuts and the dogs and cats would have enough room to run around too. Worth a shot. While I was taking pictures, a German tourist came up to us and saw Monica and I laughing and must have understood my jokes and said something in German. I looked at the guy and said "ja" and then almost keeled over seeing the dude in lederhosen. After the guy left, I said to Monica, who was also giggling at the dude in lederhosen, "I thought lederhosen was for special occasions!?" It was one of the most memorable things about my trip to Italy to see someone in lederhosen outside of Germany or Austria.
There are other villages along Lago d'Orta but Orta San Giulio is the most popular and well-known destination for Italians and German, Austrian and French tourists. As an American I highly recommend you take a day trip to Orta San Giulio to enjoy a day by the lake or if you can swing it, a boat trip in Lago d'Orta. Someday, I will convince "His Lordship" Dad to sell his property and move to Europe. HA HA!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 14, 2011
Town of Orta San Giulio
Orta San Giulio, Italy
After hiking around Forte di Bard and the village of Bard, I was a little hungry and dug into Monica's homemade fried chicken (Italian fried chicken has a lighter batter and less oil is used), salad, and cookies for dessert. It was a good meal for a day of fun in the park and old forts. Alberto wouldn't eat and Monica decided that he was going to the doctor's the next day for a check-up because of his lack of appetite and lethargy. But Alberto played with his ball within sight of our picnic table while Luca, Monica and I ate.
After eating, we needed to use the restroom which led to the funniest moment of the trip. There were public bathrooms in both parks but they were locked. It's a bloody holiday and the parks are crowded with people and you lock the public restrooms. We looked across the road at the inn and made our way over there. The rule is at the inn if you use the restroom, you need to buy a drink, but Monica and I didn't have to get a drink this time, and we made our way to the restroom in the back of the inn's restaurant. There was a line to both men's and women's rooms, but the men's room was not as crowded (go figure, men in Italy pee fast too), and a nice man let us go in there instead of waiting for the women's room to free up. I got into the stall and UGH! It was the bathroom from hell. It was clean but the toilet was all the way to the ground, and it would take a Chinese acrobat to squat down and do one's business. But I managed to do my business without any problems and took a picture of the toilet for s@#%!s and giggles, pardon the pun before leaving the stall vowing I would not drink a lot of water to merit another trip to this bathroom for the rest of the trip!
After the bathroom debacle, Monica and I met up with Luca and Alberto and made the short run across the street to Parc Diane Chardonney to meet up with her sister Sonia and her boyfriend Marco, who were also enjoying an Easter Monday at the park. Marco passed out for a nap with his feet on the park's fence, and I got the blackmail shot of him snoozing away. "Blackmail shot!", I exclaimed, and Monica wanted to know what I meant. So I told her when we take pictures of someone in a compromising position, good or bad, we say "There's the blackmail shot!" She laughed about it and registered it as a new term to her vocabulary to show to her English teacher the next time she saw her.
Monica, Alberto, Luca, Sonia and I spent a few minutes kicking Alberto's soccer ball around, and I realized my legs were still strong and I was kicking the ball like Adam Vinateiri during the Super Bowl. Marco eventually woke up and we all took a walk further down the road where there was a group of young men and women having a circus for the young kids visiting the park that afternoon. There were games and circus things for the kids to try out. Alberto passed on balancing on the big ball and asked to have a wrist watch painted on his hand by the girl at the face painting booth. While that was happening, I noticed three dogs roughhousing across the way at another inn and got pangs of homesickness missing my three dogs Amanda, Marty and Eagi and her babies Petey, Dustin, Jake, Remy, Youki, and Dewey.
Sonia and Marco left before we did, and eventually we made our way back down the mountain where my ears started popping making the trip back to Mongrando a joy for me! Homesickness and ears popping are not a good combination. But the day ended nicely for us when we went to Luca's mother's house for a nice Easter Monday dinner. I had another piece of Columbi, the Easter cake, and Monica thought I really enjoyed it because the day before I left for The Netherlands, she and Luca gave me a Columbi in a box to take home with me! It was a chuckle going through the airport in Milano and checking in. The girl at the check-in desk said to her friend, "look she has a Columbi!"
Attraction | "Magic Mushrooms Are Needed To Get Through That Door!"
Monica, Luca, their son Alberto and I got an early start for the Valle d'Aosta. The weather was chilly at first but then started to warm up as we got going. Three years after leaving the mountains of Idaho for the sea-level state of Florida made me realize that we were heading into the mountains and when I go into higher elevations, my ears start clogging up, and sure enough, that's what happened to me as we started climbing up the hilly roads leading into Valle d'Aosta. UGH!
The Valle d'Aosta is a valley in the Alps that shares borders with Italy and France. Bard and Champorchet are about 100 km from the French border, and as we got closer to the border (but didn't cross into France), I noticed that the street and town signs were in both Italian and French. Both languages are used in this area but like me, who took French in high school, understanding Italian was easy for me during my five days in Italy.
Within an hour after leaving Monica's house in Mongrando, we saw the fort come into the picture and arrived in Bard shortly afterwards. The scenery leading to the fort and the clifftop fort itself towering over Valle d'Aosta and Dora Baltea River and Bard is magnificent. Luca pulled the car into the parking garage located on the bottom of the cliff for visitors to Forte di Bard. Forte di Bard is only accessible by a funicular that takes you from the parking lot to the fortress above, and once we got out of the car and paid for the parking, we got into the funicular and headed up the cliff to Forte di Bard. If you are afraid of heights, touring this fortress is not advisable and the ride up the cliff in the mostly glass funicular would make an acrophobic freak out! After our short ride up, Monica, Alberto, Luca and I were greeted by the 19th Century concrete monstrosity known as Forte di Bard.
Forte di Bard was built from 1830-1839 on the the clifftop land that a 10th century castle once stood. Before the 10th Century, another castle built by Theodoric I in the 5th Century stood there, but the Piedmontese and the House of Savoy were looking for a bigger and better fort that would protect them from foreign invasion. The castle was designed by Italian architect Francesco Antonio Olivero in stone and concrete that would withstand enemy bombardment. The highest point of Forte di Bard is about 200 feet and it is surrounded by stone walls that were protected by cannons and soldiers.
After many wars and destruction, peace came and Forte di Bard started to crumble due to neglect. Reconstruction on Forte di Bard was done in 2006 and today, the fort used to keep people out is now welcoming visitors from around the world and is home to the Museum of the Alps.
Monica, Luca, Alberto and I visited the museum inside Forte di Bard and it is pretty interesting. There is a room with TV screens that you can hear and see about the history of Forte di Bard and the village of Bard itself. It is available in German, English, French and Italian. I tried to watch some of the documentaries, but everytime I got into the program, Alberto, who was acting like a brat that day, would come over and turn the program to another language. After a while, I gave up and just toured the museum looking at the artifacts before exploring the fort itself.
Deep stairs lead to the bowels of Forte di Bard and possibly the dungeon. The doors leading up the stairs are very short and Luca and I were joking about our being tall and needing to really duck to get through the doors. I thought to myself, "Gee, one needs some magic mushrooms to get through that door, Alice!"
After touring the fort itself, Monica, Alberto, Luca and I walked down the path from the fort into Bard itself, and it is a beautiful little village that has several narrow cobblestone roads and quaint little stone houses including one called "Casa di Meridiano" or the Sundial House. Purple wisteria bloomed all over the place emitting a subtle and nice fragrance that had me wishing it could be bottled.
Forte di Bard is open daily except major holidays and you just have to pay for parking in the garage at the bottom of the cliff. Admission to the fort is free and there is a souvenir shop and a coffee shop that we stopped in after touring the fort for a quick cappucino before heading into Bard. If you are interested in archeology, there are several archeological sites near Bard and throughout the Valle d'Aosta. I highly recommend a day trip to Bard and Forte di Bard if you are in the Piedmonte area of Italy!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 13, 2011
Fort Bard (Forte di Bard)
Attraction | "How Do You Say "Stairway to Heaven" in Italian?!"
Monica, Luca, Alberto and I had just finished the feast of all Easter feasts at Ristorante Ioris on that Easter Sunday, and Monica had promised me in letters before I arrived in Italy that we would visit Santaura di Oropa (or Sacro Monte di Oropa--Sacred Mount of Oropa) while I was there. The postcards and pictures I have seen before going there did not do it justice. This place is a gorgeous feat in Italian architecture that took many years to complete.
Even with other people who had pigged out on Easter had the same idea as Monica, Luca, Alberto and I wanting to visit the Santauro di Oropa
Construction of Santauro d'Oropa occurred on two separate occasions. Construction on the first sanctuary started in the 12th Century while the second sanctuary's construction began near the first and original sanctuary in 1617. Santauro di Oropa is best known for its Black Madonna or Virgin, and it is the most known statue in the Alps and Piedmonte region. Actually there are two Black Madonnas at Santauro di Oropa. The first one was installed in the first sanctuary in the 12th Century, and it was going to be moved to the new sanctuary in the 17th century but legend has it when they went to move the Black Madonna, she refused to be moved, and the priests had to leave her in the old sanctuary and paint another Black Madonna (a mural) in the new sanctuary's altar. There are cornerstones with the dates of the sanctuary's important dates of construction completions engraved on the stairs leading up to the Santauro d'Oropa. Once inside the sanctuaries, Monica and I walked around looking at the architechture and murals depicting the life of the Virgin Mary in awe. There are places where you can light candles in rememberance of loved once or pray for a good trip, and I did that for a small donation to the Santauro di Oropa and prayed for a good trip for me, the family, and the Red Sox, who were finally starting to come out of their horrible slump at the beginning of the season.
In 1989, Pope John Paul II visited Santauro di Oropa for the first and only time during his reign as Pope, and a plaque was put in the piazza that joins the sanctuaries after his visit. At the time of my visit, Pope John Paul II was about to beatified as the final step to sainthood, and it was big news in Italy with one of the Italian TV stations showing one of the three films made about John Paul II's life. In 2003, Santauro di Oropa was put on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
It is free to enter and tour Santauro di Oropa and it is open from dawn to dusk daily for touring and for masses. You can drive up there from Biella or other points in Piedmonte or do what the locals do sometimes, hike up the mountains near the sancutaries during the summer and walk down to Santauro di Oropa in the summer, or if it is winter, take a chairlift up the mountain and ski down right to the sanctuary's door. There is a souvenir shop there where you can buy a rememberance of your trip, but I skipped that and have a lot of photos and memories of my adventure up the mountain to Santauro di Oropa!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 5, 2011
Santuario di Oropa
Strada Per Oropa
Biella, Italy 13051
On Easter Sunday morning, Monica, Alberto and I went to Biella to let me check it out. Biella is a province or commune in the northern Italian province of Piedmonte. The county seat is also named Biella and that is where Monica, Alberto and I spent the morning before going to dinner with Luca at Ristorante Ioris that afternoon. Usually when I travel, I have no problems getting used to the area and can get around by seeing familiar sights along the way but five days in Piedmonte and I was just as lost as when I got there on 23 April. But Monica and Luca were great hosts and guides during my visit and I was able to tour around several towns near Biella and Biella itself without any trouble.
Monica parked her car in the main square of Biella that was decked out in the red, white and green Italian flags in honor of the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification as one nation in 1860 instead of being several city states or separate comunes. Biella is a hidden gem of small town beauty with cobblestone roads, old houses and apartment buildings, churches and a castle on the hilltop of the city along with a hilltop district at Piazza di Cisterna that will have you walking aimlessly for a long time soaking in its ambiance and culture.
Monica, Alberto on his scooter, and I went into downtown Biella which was crowded with residents going to church or enjoying an Easter Sunday stroll along its cobblestone streets. After a few minutes we arrived in Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square) and enjoyed viewing Biella's small Duomo or Cathedral that was crowded with people at Easter Sunday Mass. After more walking and seeing St. Phillp's Church, Monica, Alberto and I got into the car for the ride to Piazza di Cisterna on the hilltop and hoping for a funicular ride up to the castle further up the hill. When we got to Piazza di Cisterna, we were disappointed to find out that the funicular to the castle was closed because it was Easter Sunday, but we made the best of our time walking around Piazza di Cisterna looking at the old buildings and enjoying the views of the Italian Alps whose foothills Biella is located at. Monica pointed out a building that used to be a prison but now is a technical school run by nuns. Interesting! A lot of battles were fought in the Piedmonte region during World War I and II and there were a few war memorials including a statue to a young man named Cucco who was only 28 when he died in battle in 1915 in Northern Italy.
Over an hour later, we were ready to head back to Mongrando where Alberto was waiting for us in their apartment so we could go to dinner at Ristorante Ioris. The day before I left Italy for The Netherlands, Monica gave me some bus passes from her Tabbacheria for me to take a trip to Biella once again. I went there on the bus (after entertaining the folks on the bus by stumbling and falling down the steps in a most graceful manner), and I stayed near the bus station since the weather was not good and I didn't want to miss my bus and was happy checking out the old buildings near the bus station that now host several law offices. I enjoyed that and then in the park near the bus station, I was stopped by two nice men who turned out they were Jehovah's Witnesses (that was one phrase I could understand in Italian clearly). After giving me their spiel, I kindly told them I was an American (they switched to broken English after that) and that I was a Catholic and they left me alone. As I was walking away to get a gelato at the gelateria near the bus station, I asked myself, "How do you say 'I'm cleaning my gun in Italian!?'" My second trip to Biella was cut short due to pouring rain and I took the bus back to Camburzano and Monica's shop happy to have enjoyed my final day in Italy and Piedmonte.
Restaurant | "I Can't Believe I Ate The Whole Thing!"
Now holiday and special occasion dinners in America usually consist of appetizers to be consumed while watching baseball or football or socializing with your guests, but I was in for a big surprise when I sat down with Monica, Luca and their son Alberto at Ristorante Ioris. We were in for a feast consisting of many courses and your choice of wine or water to drink with your meal.
Our first and second courses were antipasti courses. The proscuitto with pears that was the first antipasti dish was divine with salty ham and sweet pears. After the antipasti courses, we got several small portions of what we would call main courses or sometimes side dishes in the States, but the Italians serve them separately to make the meal stretch out. We had some great seafood in several variations including lightly breaded and baked, marinaded in olive oil and vinegar and eaten like a little salad (that was really good) and a lasagna with a ricotta cheese filling with oodles of fresh basil mixed into it. That one was one I committed to the memory banks for a possible lasagna dinner at home. Instead of a tomato sauce, the lasagna had a yummy white sauce on it that was slap your mama good! Near the end of the meal, they brought out lamb, which I passed on since I don't eat red meat, but Luca and Monica ate some, and I wasn't turned on by the greasy appearance of the meat on their plates. I was starting to feel really stuffed and was about to pull out the white flag of surrender when the dessert came out in the form of a Columbi, a yellow sponge cake with confectioners sugar and a lemon sauce on top. I really enjoyed that dessert and thought I would never get up from the table after that, but I had to enjoy a glass of sec and a glass of champagne with Luca and Monica and then the coffee (tea for me) course. At home we usually have to lie on the couch for several hours and watch football after a big Thanksgiving meal, but there was no couch for me to crawl onto, but I was about to burn off the whole 3 1/2-hour meal with a stiff walk up the hill at Santauro d'Oropa, the hilltop church and sanctuary north of Monica and Luca's home in Mongrando, Italy.
Holidays are a very busy time in Italy especially for the restaurant business so make sure you make reservations if you decide to eat out on Easter or any other major holiday. This monster meal we partook in cost us 35 Euro a piece and it was well worth every bite. After overindulging in this delicious meal, I was quoting to myself the famous saying in the Alka Seltzer commercials from about 10 years ago with the late Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 1, 2011