When one goes to northern Italy for vacation, they go to the tourist traps or big cities like Milano or Torino, which was the sight of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Not me, I took the train from Munich, Germany to Verona to Milano to Santhia where my friend Monica picked me up with her young son Alberto and had no desire to see any of Milano or Torino. After years of living in the woods of Idaho and the Florida countryside, I admit I am a bit bushwhacked and get nervous in big cities fearing getting lost and not being able to find my way back home. I also feel that if you stay in the small towns and cities, you experience the culture of the region a lot better and more inimately than you do in a big city and it also doesn't have the tourist traps and cheesy souvenir shops that come with the big cities. So I spent my five days in Northwestern Italy touring several small towns and sights with Monica and sometimes with her son or husband.
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.