The Journey to the Castle

I went to get the car this morning after not paying for parking again. Are the small town Italian police lazy about issuing parking tickets (I would be) or are rental cars somehow immune to parking fees? I half-worry that somehow it’s all automated and since I can’t really read most of the signs, I’ll get a huge bill to pay as I’m leaving the country.

Nancy makes a comment regarding how nice the autostrade are on our 2 hours journey to Sinio. I’m thinking the same things as I glance down at the toll ticket on the console that we picked up about an hour ago. When we approach the pay booth for the toll ticket, I think, “Now we find out how the really nice highways are paid for.” €5.90. Not too bad, considering tolls have been €1-2 so far for much shorter jaunts.

Along the way, we stop at a gas station and get a slice of pizza to go. Sadly, this is the best pizza that we’ve had so far, and probably the cheapest. Topped with arugula, it has a nice sauce and a decently crisp crust. Maybe the pizza gets better as we go south.

We arrive at the castle on the wettest day of the trip so far. The sun is threatening to break free of the clouds tyranny, but so far their hold is strong. The castle is as picturesque as the brochures & website indicate. It’s owned by a couple from San Francisco and it’s been renovated over the course of seven years. We’re greeted by one of the owners, James. He familiarizes us with a few things and after about 15 minutes we get our key and head upstairs to our chamber.

We drop everything off and head out to explore the town… which, it turns out, is not so big. That out of the way, we decide to head off and explore the Barolo region…

Our first day in Italy

The shower. It’s small but great. Six square feet of space, maybe less, but after over a day and a half without a shower, I’d be happy with a solo cup full of soapy water and a hand towel.

We head to the parking lot to pay to keep our car there for the day. While there, we see two food trucks at the top of the lot: one with fresh fruit, and one with cheeses and a few cured meats. We pickup some strawberries and other items from the fruit ladies. Picking out a cheese is a little more daunting. This thing is essentially a “roach coach” dedicated exclusively to cheese. The guy inside speaks no English, and we speak very little Italian (I knew I should have skipped to the food section of Rosetta Stone).

We explain as best we can that we’d like cheese to go with our fruit. Parmesan. Er… ok. No we don’t want that big wedge. No, we don’t want your smallest wedge. We’d like half of your smallest wedge. (He looks non-plussed at this point). He explains that the grapefruit-sized piece of Parmesan is the right amount for two people. His speech and gesturing, along with our growing hunger, manage to convince us to by the piece of cheese. That was probably the hardest 2 bucks he’ll make all day. :)

On the way back into town, we find a place to get a drink and Nancy sees a salumi sandwich leave the shop. She promptly orders one to go with our new treasures. We find a spot to eat on the piazza looking out onto the lake and tuck in.

Around 9 or 10am, we take a ferry over to the Island of San Giulio. It feels empty and deserted, but there is life on the island. It’s very tranquil. We walk long the path of meditation, filled with little inspirational signs along the way. It’s not a very big island, and after around 60 minutes and twice as many pictures later, we board the boat to return to the main land.

On the way back, a group of 25 Germans board the boat with us. Out of the 10 that come to sit in the back with us, 9 of them hit their head on the ceiling when stepping up to our level (providing some comic relief).

We get back and explore what Orta San Giulio has to offer (which is surprisingly deal): many shops, eateries, a collection of chapels an churches on top of a really steep hill, (if you take the shortcut… which we did). We pick up a bottle of Dolcetto d’Alba for 10 euros and get some local salumi, cheese and bread to go with the rest of our Parmesan from earlier. We sit on our balcony  – eating, drinking and enjoying the view. Nancy begs me to let her take a nap since she’s so tired (I’m refusing since I want her to get over her jet lag quickly). I eventually relent, and she retires. Determined to continue relaxing, I finish the wine (and food).

After sunset, we head our for dinner (pizza) and end up splitting two pies from competing places in town. Verdict: Pizzeria di Campagna is better than Napoletana. Pizzeria di Campagna has better crust and mozzerella, but Napoletana has better sauce or tomatoes. We had a (warm) beer at Pizzeria di Campagna and the house wine at Napoletana (a tremonte made by the owner, which is for some reason not in a bottle, but on tap. That should have been our first clue). The wine smells like petroleum and is absolutely purple, if not passing into the UV spectrum of color wavelengths.

After dinner, we hit up a gelateria that we had skipped earlier. That would be two gelato servings in one day.

Lesson learned today: Tremonte may be a decent grape, but not in the hands of the owner of Napoletana Pizzeria in Orta San Giulo.