China 2020 – Cancelled due to Everything

So our trip of a lifetime is not going to take place. After holding out hope that things would get better, it appears that that hope has faded away. COVID-19, flooding and political tensions have changed excitement and anticipation into sadness and disappointment.

The reality of the situation is that we no longer feel comfortable and safe traveling to China. A thirteen hour flight wearing a mask is not in my plans. Of course, we still don’t know what the rules regarding quarantine will be and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

As of now, the Canadian border isn’t open for us to even catch our flight from Toronto to Beijing, but they say it will likely be open sometime in July. However, there is talk of a pre-trip fourteen day quarantine. Then there is the question of what happens when we arrive in China. A fourteen day quarantine period on a twenty-one day trip is unacceptable. Then traveling throughout the Chinese provinces adds another layer of concern, as there have been outbreaks of the virus in different areas.

Then we fly home with the possibility of another fourteen day quarantine when we arrive back in Canada? And what about then returning to the US? It truly is one big cluster.

So during my working days I was an Accountant and the Accountant in me always considers risk aversion. Without even weighing the plusses and minuses – the buzzer says ‘NO!’. The remotest possibility of being quarantined for forty-two days is not even a consideration.

So after hundreds of hours of research and planning, my remaining tasks are to complete the cancellation of the trip.

Since the airline has not cancelled our flight, we will only be eligible for an airline credit. Two business class tickets to China will leave us with quite a large credit to use up. Hopefully, things will settle down and we’ll be able to travel again in the not-to-distant future.

Then there is the question of what happens with the travel agency. We booked with an agency because China presented so many obstacles with the language differences and amount of travel we would be doing. They also provided many different features that would have made our trip more enjoyable. After a brief conversation, we’re on hold for a little while but it looks like we’ll be able to postpone going to China or perhaps receive a credit to be able to go to another location. A cash refund is not going to happen though.

So I’m currently mad at the world. With all the contradictory information currently circulating, I don’t know who to believe and I’m leaning towards believing nobody.

The hopeful side of me thinks that things will get better and we’ll return to some semblance of normality. The less hopeful side of me just thinks and doesn’t say much!

So the remainder of 2020 will include trips to the mailbox and maybe a few car rides to get away from all the hubbub. Such is life…

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Shanghai

Our final area to explore will be the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region.

Last stop – Shanghai

From Guilin, we fly to the east coast and the city of Shanghai. It’s a 794 mi / 1278 km journey and the flight should take between 2 and 3 hours.

We should not feel lonely in Shanghai. With a population of over 24 million people, we should have plenty of company wherever we go. I believe it is the second most populous city in the world, trailing only Dehli, India.

We will be staying four nights at the venerable Fairmont Peace Hotel. It is located in the area known as the Bund, which stretches along the shore of the Huangpu River and lies across from the modern Shanghai skyline. The area is renowned for its art deco styling and tree lined streets.

The city is considered very upscale and international in nature. Lots of financial institutions make their home there and we’re told that every luxury brand is represented in the shopping district. You can also find food choices from all over the world! We’re definitely looking forward to the mix of old and new and Chinese and International throughout the city.

The surrounding region will also provide a chance for some day trips. Two areas in particular are Suzhou and Tongli. Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens and silk production, while Tongli is referred by many as the Venice of China. Both look like beautiful places to visit. Once we have a chance to look at train schedules, we can decide how adventurous we will be.

Shanghai is our last stop, so after what we hope is an amazing experience, we will be flying back to Toronto and then shuffling back to Buffalo.

So that’s a look at our itinerary. Hopefully this little peek will give you an idea of what we’re looking forward to and whet your appetite to also visit or at least follow along with our blog updates. What do you think of the itinerary?

All that’s left is to cross your fingers and hope for sunshine to accompany us on our journey.

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So here we are in mid-March and a pandemic has been declared. While the virus seems to have peaked in China, it is now spreading like crazy worldwide. Italy, South Korea, Iran and the US seem to be the hardest hit areas, with others close behind. But that may just be because so many others haven’t tested their people yet – like the US.

We’re still hopeful, but definitely not stupidly so. There is so much to consider. First and foremost on our minds is if the Chinese even issue a Visa when the US is in the middle of an outbreak. Why would they want to re-introduce the illness from abroad?

Then there is the issue of being quarantined. Will we have to be quarantined when we arrive and what about when we get home? Since we’ll be leaving from Canada, we may have an issue there as well as when we return to the US.

Watching the illness map change daily, I think that our “Plan B” has been changed to staying home. With the whole world a little crazy right now, we might be better off waiting and just enjoying a so-called “stay-cation” and then venture out next year. (Did I really just say that?)

Cross your fingers, say a prayer and most of all — Stay Healthy!!

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Guilin, Yangshou & Longji

Continuing on, we next head southeast to the area around the city of Guilin.

Our itinerary locations are indicated by the stars. Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan are inside the circle.

We will be flying from Chengdu to the city of Guilin. The distance between the two is 855km or 531mi and the flight should take about one and a half hours. The trains between the two take about 7hrs, so that wasn’t a good choice for this leg of the trip.

Over the next four days, we will be moving through a picturesque section of southern China in the Guangxi Province. This region is famed for its beautiful scenery – green fields, caves and interesting rock formations – which border the Li River.

We start off in the city of Guilin where we will be staying at the Shangri-La Hotel for one night. We won’t have much time to really see a lot of Guilin as we leave the next day on a river boat cruise on the Li River to Yangshuo. The cruise is about 4.5 hours and will give us views that promise to be photo-rific! We’ll be staying for two nights at the Li River Resort in Yangshuo. On the fourth day we will drive to the rice terraces of Longji and will stay overnight at the Baike Hotel, before heading back to Guilin.

Guilin has a cultural history of over 2000 years. The city was founded during the Qin Dynasty and was made the provincial capital by the Ming Emperors until 1914.

Guilin and the Li River

Yangshuo rests along the Li River and is described by the Chinese as ‘the most beautiful place in China’. The town is supposed to be very charming with many western-style shops and cafes. While in Yangshuo, we will be partaking in a cooking class at a small, culinary school – which should be interesting and provide a few laughs as I hack my way around the kitchen.

Yangshuo – Photos from Klook

Longji will be our final stop in this region. Longji, the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, refers to the region made up of five local Zhuang villages set amongst steep rice terraces in the mountains to the north of Guangxi province. The views from Ping An village stretch across the mountains, offering stunning views of the rice terraces.

Longji and the rice terraces – (Stock photos)

After a day in Longji, we’ll be heading back to Guilin by way of a drive through the beautiful countryside. From there, we’ll be off to Shanghai.

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So the novel coronavirus is still expanding as of the middle of Feb. 2020. Many more people have been confirmed to have the virus and there are many people waiting to be tested. While the outbreak is centered in China, the virus has spread around the world with cases in many countries.

We are still hopeful that things will get better in time for us to travel to China in the fall, but my hopefulness is dimming. Most of the airlines have suspended flights to China as have most of the cruise lines – although they are talking about re-opening the casinos in Macau. They are hoping that the warmer weather will help to kill off the virus, as it doesn’t appear to handle heat well.

We have until July before we need to make our final payment. If the travel bans are still in place, we have been talking about possible “Plan B” or “Plan C” destinations and we’ll postpone visiting China until next year.

Cross your fingers for us, and say a prayer for the people in China. Let’s hope this doesn’t keep expanding and threatening everyone in the world.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Chengdu

Our third stop will be the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan Province.

3rd stop Chengdu

From Xi’an, we’ll catch the Bullet Train to Chengdu. Chengdu is about 658km or 409 mi southwest of Xi’an and the train ride will take about 4 hours. This will be the most westerly location we’ll be visiting.

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, and like most other Chinese cities, has a history of 2,500 years or more. The current population is about 12.4 million, making it the 6th largest city in China. It is mostly associated with the arts and craft trade and it is said that despite its size, the pace of life is more relaxed – we’ll see!

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe, located in the center of the city right along the Jinjiang River. We will be within walking distance of the Tianfu Square, which is the largest square in southwestern China and a starting point for exploring the city.

Our most anticipated highlight will be visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, also known as the Chengdu Panda Base, to visit with the Giant Pandas and other endangered animals. This is not a petting-zoo type of place; it’s more of a ‘watch from a distance’, so I’ll be sure to bring along a zoom lens.

 Photo: STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

Ok, so besides the big, fluffy adorable pandas, we’ll also have a chance to explore the city, visit nearby Leshan – home to the Giant Sitting Buddha and take a short river cruise, visit the Chengdu Museum – famous for it’s puppetry exhibitions and, of course, take in a Hot Pot dinner. There is so much to see, so we’ll have to decide what we can squeeze in.

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So there’s a 600 lb gorilla in the room that is called “novel coronavirus”. Over the last few weeks, the news of a new SARS-like virus has been spreading. This week, the Chinese government took the extraordinary steps to virtually quarantine multiple cities to help stop the spread. I say extraordinary because it is the weekend of the Chinese New Year and millions of people would be traveling inside and outside of the country. This is not only a health issue, but will also be an economic drain as well.

There are thousands of people who are ill in China and there have been many reports of the virus spreading to other countries via travelers returning home. So far, the number of confirmed cases in the US is not high, but many more people are being monitored as this spreads. Vacation aside, we hope that they can figure this out to prevent it from becoming a worldwide pandemic.

We are watching the news and staying in touch with our travel representative to determine if a postponement will be necessary. For now, we are keeping our plans intact, but will be vigilant in deciding what we will do or not do.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Xian

Our second destination will be Xi’an – capital city of the Shaanxi Province.

To arrive in Xi’an, we will be taking the Bullet Train from Beijing. It’s about 1216 km or 755 miles away and the train trip will take a little over 6 hours. The Bullet trains travel between 250 and 300 km/h, so we’ll be able to relax and watch the scenery zip by.

Xi’an (pronounced Shee-an) has a population of about 8 million, and has always been a significant city. It was originally known as Chang’an, and was China’s ancient capital during 13 different Dynasties. It is also the starting point of the Silk Road – the overland trade route that connected the east and the west for 1,500 years.

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel Xi’an. It’s centrally located and looks fairly close to many of the other sites around the city that we’ll visit.

We are most excited to visit Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site – home to the Terracotta Warriors. I have wanted to visit Xi’an and see them since I first learned about them. They date back to the Qin Dynasty or about 200 BC. It’s thought that they were created to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.

The story behind their discovery is fascinating. Back in 1974, a farmer was digging a new water well and was having problems, so they dug down and found pieces of the warriors. Digging around further they discovered that there were many more of these ‘statues’ underground. So far excavations have unearthed over 7,000 – including warriors and horses; with each one having been created with different facial features, so they weren’t just mass produced. I can’t wait to see them in person.

Besides visiting the Terracotta Warriors, there are other places such as the Shaanxi History Museum, the old city walls, the Muslim Quarter, the Big Goose Pagoda, and the Xi’an Drum Tower that we hope to visit.

The food in the region is made with many different spices, usually a combination of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. Since the Arab traders would come through the city, they contributed to the spices found and used here. With peppercorns, cumin and chili being prominent spices, we will definitely be packing the Tums!

And we will be packing them for sure, as we booked our airfare this weekend: a direct flight from Toronto to Beijing, with a direct flight home from Shanghai to Toronto.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Beijing

Our first destination will be Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.

Our current plan has us flying directly from Toronto to Beijing. The flight will be about thirteen and a half hours and we’re hoping to get business class seats so we’ll be able to stretch out and sleep a bit on the way over.

We will be spending a total of five days in Beijing. Our first two nights will be at the Aman Summer Palace Hotel near the Summer Palace. The hotel provides easy access to the summer palace and is a perfect location for us to start our journey. The Summer Palace dates back to about 1750 when the royal garden was first started. It is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After two nights, we’ll move on to the center of the city of Beijing where we’ll be staying at the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing . While in the city, we’ll be visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Park. In addition, we’ll be traveling to visit the Great Wall at a spot that is not so heavily congested with tourists.

There are so many places to visit. As I’ve always been interested in the history of the various Chinese Dynasties, the museums will definitely be on our agenda.

The Wangfujing district, besides being centrally located, is the shopping district in Beijing. As you all know how much we both enjoy shopping, I’m guessing that during our walks we’ll be dodging people on the streets and scoping out restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, since we enjoy Chinese cuisine, you know we’ll be seeking out a place for a delicious Peking Duck dinner. There are restaurants for just about any kind of food you would like including French, Italian, Indian and American. We’ve also been told that the markets have some great street food that we’ll need to try, though even the Herkeys will probably avoid the scorpions and other insects.

After our five days in Beijing, we’ll board the bullet train and head to Xian.

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China 2020 – Itinerary Planning

Ok, just for the record.. No, we’re not crazy. We are excited though and looking forward to what should be an incredible adventure.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are working with Audley Travel to plan out the details. We are working with their China Specialist, Virginia, and she has been great to work with. In fact, we have already come up with an itinerary that we are super excited about.

Backing up a little, after some discussion about where we would like to go, Sue and I decided that this would be the right time to visit China. We tossed around some ideas about places and things that we were interested in seeing and made a list.

Our list looked like this:

  • Beijing
  • Forbidden City
  • Great Wall
  • Terra Cotta Warriors
  • Giant Pandas
  • Heaven Temple
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Olympic Sites
  • Shanghai
  • Yangtze River

Our next step was to take a look at available options. I love planning out vacations and finding cool hotels and places to go, but there are so many extras with going to China that I thought it would be better if we worked with someone. We knew that we didn’t want to be part of a big structured tour. So, we looked around the web, contacted a couple people who we knew went to China and looked through some tour guides.

I was interested in the offerings from Audley Travel, so I sent an email to request a brochure and call-back. I had included a little info about us, where we wanted to go, the types of things we were interested in and the amount we were thinking of spending. I received a call the next day from Virginia and we talked a little bit about what they could provide. Since we were in the middle of planning for Italy, I asked for a little time to decide what we would do.

We liked Virginia right from the start. Very professional, but also very laid-back. I never felt any pressure to rush our decision. Though I told her we’d decide within the next few weeks, I called back a few days later and said we decided we wanted to work with her and couldn’t wait to start the process.

Armed with a plan to proceed, we started to look more closely at some of the places we wanted to visit and things we’d like to see. We looked at the hotel list that they provided and found most of the hotels that I had looked at were on the list. Documenting our proposed itinerary, we called Virginia back and over the phone in about two hours time, we laid out a preliminary itinerary.

At this point Virginia took over and tossed in some extras to fill in our days based on what we had talked about. A few days later, she sent over a proposed itinerary for us to look at. We were both excited to see things taking shape, but there were a few tweaks that needed to be addressed.

Another telephone conference to discuss the changes was arranged. As some of you know, my back is a problem and I keep looking for bottled water from Lourdes to make it a problem no longer. However, for now we needed to adjust things so hikes became walks or rides. Virginia also suggested a hotel change, since one that we had chosen required a bit of an uphill climb. When we finished, Virginia had an updated itinerary back to us in just a couple of days.

We perused the itinerary and then got back to Virginia with the good news – “Looks great, let’s book it!”

I had been saving my lunch money for a while, so we sent off the deposit and Virginia went to work on her end. Just before we left for Italy, we received an email saying that the hotels were all booked.

With that said, here is the itinerary. Our tour will be for twenty-one days and will take us to Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji and Shanghai. Everything on our list above is included, plus so much more.

We will have some adventure time on our own, but for the major visits, we will have a driver and an english speaking guide. We will travel from place to place by trains (including the bullet train), planes, boats and car. We’ve included a few fancy dinners, a couple of group dinners at restaurants, and some street food tours.

There will be museums, temples, palaces, monuments, a rice plantation, a tea plantation, a wall – a great one at that, and a visit to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Next steps will be to book flights, get our travel visas, check for any needed vaccinations and read, watch and research.

Leading up to the trip, I’ll add some info about each of the locations we will be visiting to peak your interest.

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China – October 2020

Welcome – 欢迎 – Terra Cotta Warriors

One year from today, we will be traveling to China. There are so many wonderful things that we want to see and experience.

Over the next year, I’ll tell you about the process and our itinerary. We are working with Audley Travel to create a personal itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be a self-directed trip with drivers and guides to help us along the way.

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Piedmont – Day 12 – Heading home

Hurry up and wait is the usual pattern on a long travel day and this day would be no different.

Blah, blah, blah……

Arrivederci Italia!

And with that we were off on our way to Toronto.

The flight was a good one, just a little turbulence and the cabin crew were all very nice. The meal was also very good, as were the wines.

While others in the cabin slept, I watched the two Avenger movies – Avengers: Infinity Wars and Avengers: Endgame. Both were good and the ending of Endgame was a big surprise to me.

When we arrived in Toronto, the process of getting through passport control was an easy one. They have kiosks that let you check through quickly and electronically, with just a review by an agent.

We headed off to get our luggage, which was starting to come down the carousel as we arrived. We watched as all the bags finished coming out of the chute except ours. Since we were tagged priority and had a direct flight we were a little annoyed that our luggage didn’t get there.

However, we walked down towards the end of the belt and there, sitting on the floor, were our bags. Some nitwits had taken it off the carousel and never bothered to put it back on when they discovered the bags weren’t theirs. Since foul language is not appropriate, I just wished a plague upon their home and bedbugs in their underwear as we called to get directions to our shuttle.

The shuttle was right where they told us it would be and our driver, Mark, was waiting to whisk us home. We had a nice conversation along the way as he maneuvered us through the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. It was nice having someone else drive and the time actually passed by quickly. Soon enough we were crossing the Lewiston – Queenston Bridge and then before you knew it he was pulling into our driveway.

I can definitely recommend the Buffalo Airport Shuttle service if you need a ride up to Pearson Airport or to bring you back home. The price was fair, the van was roomy enough and the driver and others we dealt with were all pleasant.

And now the coupe de grace, walking up to our front door, we spotted a package hiding behind the post. It was the first case of wine that we had shipped home. I can’t always get a regular package delivered in four days and here was a case of wine from Piedmont, Italy.

It felt good to get home. We were gone just the right amount of time to appreciate Italy and to keep from having to go through detox.

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Prologue: We had a great time in Italy. The Piedmont region is beautiful and for wine lovers, it’s hard to beat. We enjoyed all the wine, ate some fabulous meals, took in the beautiful scenery and met so many wonderful people along the way.

The people we interacted with were kind and reassured us that they appreciated our efforts to speak a little Italian. Sometimes the reassurance came in the form of a smile or a little grammar lesson, but never did we feel we were being laughed at for trying.

We had lots of help in making the trip such a great experience. We worked with Valerie Quintanilla from Girl’s Gotta Drink, who put together the winery visits, cooking class and tours for us. If you’re thinking about going to the Piedmont region, I would highly recommend you contact her.

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Piedmont – Day 11 – Moving on

It’s hard to believe that our time in Alba is over. We had a such a good time and enjoyed sharing that time with Jan and Dave. The mathematical equation is: Good friends + good food + good wine = good times!

While Jan and Dave continue on for a few days in Turin and then Brussels, Sue and I are heading home. Today we traveled to Casorate Sempione, where we will stay overnight before catching our flight home tomorrow.

Our train arriving to the Alba Station

We’re staying at the Osteria della Pista. We have stayed here before; it’s very close to the airport, so it will be easy to get to our flight. The rooms are nice – very clean and comfortable. We’re on the top floor, so we also have nice high ceilings to make the room feel even roomier. There is a balcony, but it’s a little chilly and buggy to sit outside.

Night approaching
Sunset in Casorate Sempione

When we checked into the hotel, we had made reservations for dinner at 7:30 pm at the Osteria and also at 10:00 am for the airport shuttle. When 7:30 arrived, we were both hungry and looking forward to dinner.

We started with a glass of prosecco to go along with their homemade potato chips. We ordered a pizza to share as an appetizer and then Sue ordered sea bass and I ordered veal scallopini and a bottle of Arneis. While we were enjoying our prosecco, people were literally pouring in. By 8:00, the restaurant was packed.

We enjoyed our meal and since neither of us had room left for dessert, we offered to finish our wine in the lobby to free up a table since people were waiting in line. I guess that surprised them, but who would have thought it would be so busy on a Thursday evening. Besides, I would have felt rushed watching people waiting while relaxing with a glass of wine.

Once we did finish our wine, we headed up to the room to rest up for tomorrow’s day of travel.

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Piedmont – Day 10 – Final day in Alba

Both couples needed a chill day. David and I both talked about being tuckered out and Jan and Dave still have another eight days to go.

In the early afternoon we met up with Valerie and Martina to pass on the wine that we had purchased. Valerie is going to help us ship the wine back home.

On the way back to the apartment, we decided to stop in the piazza and grab a quick bite to eat. Most of the places were nearing the close of the kitchen for lunch, so we were lucky to snare a quick dish of tajarin with white truffles, a bottle of Barbera D’Alba and a piece of Hazelnut cake. Not bad for a quickie lunch.

We walked back to the apartment and just relaxed for the afternoon. It felt good to just rest my back, while downloading pictures and working on the blog.

Dinner tonight was going to be at the Ape Wine Bar, however they were closed on Wednesdays. Instead, we went to Caffe Umberto, which is the sister restaurant to Enoclub where we ate on Sunday. Caffe Umberto is more casual than Enoclub, but the kitchen is the same.

Jan and Dave were already there and enjoying a glass of wine when we arrived. We walked back to the table admiring the wall of wine with each step.

Caffe Umberto’s Wall of Wine

Our server took our order and our buddy the sommelier came over to check out our wine order. We started with a nice glass of Arneis and then we moved on to a nice Domenico Clerico Nebbiolo for our final meal.

It was a very enjoyable final meal together. We had a chance to talk about the things was did and the wines we tasted, along with just being friends enjoying each other’s company.

Tomorrow we’ll all move on, but we’ll have the memories.

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Piedmont – Day 9 – A day in Turin

Ok, right off the bat, I promise – no cheap jokes about how our tour was ‘shrouded’ in mystery.

We woke up early to catch the train to Turin, which is known as Torino in Italy. We met Luca at the train station and at 9:07 am we were on our way. Luca lived in Torino for a few years, so he’ll be with us for the day and Valerie will be meeting up with us when we arrive and will be with us through lunch.

The train from Alba to Torino takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s a pleasant journey with nice scenery along the way. The train isn’t as crowded as I expected it to be; people going to work or school must be on an earlier train.

We arrived at the Porta Susa rail station, which is a newer station and easy to maneuver through. The canopied roof is embedded with small solar tiles so they can generate their own electricity – and it looks good too!

Torino Porta Susa train station – the little squares on the roof glass are solar panels.

We caught up with Valerie and then we set off to visit the daily market. Walking through the streets, the architecture looks very French to us. Luca explained that since the ruling family of the region was the Savoy family, they did bring a French influence.

Our first stop today would be at the market. It’s like a giant outdoor supermarket, clothing outlet and household goods store. Though we enjoyed the market in Alba, this one was a little more intimidating as it was large and tightly packed together. That said, the fresh produce, flowers, cheese and meats all looked great. Across the tramway, there were loads of weather-sheltered shops or stalls with just about anything you could want or need.

After walking through the market, we headed over to the Mercato Building. From there we could get a bird’s eye view of the market, plus they also have a bunker from the World War that was used to hold ice. It really is different and interesting to see the way people go through their daily lives compared to what we have at home.

Located in the central court of the building is the old war bunker. It seems strange seeing it, let alone seeing it in the center of a market building.

After exiting the market area, it was time for a little coffee break, except three out of four of us don’t drink coffee – so it was wine time!

We took a little walk through the streets, checking out the architecture that was definitely in the French style. The marriage of French and Italian architecture and Italian piazzas makes for some very welcoming spaces.

It was nearly lunch time and we were ready to eat and to sit for a little bit. It was really interesting to get to sit and chat with Valerie and Luca. Besides both having helped make our vacation so great, they’re both just nice people to talk with.

Valerie had to leave after lunch, so Luca, Sue and I walked around for a little while before meeting up with our guide. We walked through some of the main piazzas and had a chance to see the palace, the duomo, the Mole Antenelli, the university and the shopping streets of via Roma and via Garibaldi. We even had a chance to stop for a gelato before our tour.

Our guide for the city walk was Savanna. She showed us a few additional things that we hadn’t seen with Luca and provided lots of good information. It was fascinating to see the interiors of magnificent galleries and historical shops still popular today. Savanna pointed out details that really made the history of Torino come alive. Luca’s comments about individual locations also were insightful and very interesting.

As the walk continued, my back was telling me it needed to rest. All the walking and standing on the stones the last couple days had taken its toll. We were nearing the end of our time and needed to catch our train. While it wasn’t too long of a walk, we decided that a taxi would be the preferred method to get to the train station.

The train ride back went pretty quick. This would be the last time we would see Luca before leaving. We really enjoyed traveling around with him and getting the benefit of his wine and regional knowledge. Just in case he happens to read this – Go Juventus!!!

We met up with Jan and Dave for dinner at La Libera Ristorante. We had a nice time sharing details about our day. While I was grumbling a bit about my back, they had climbed the 126 steps to the top of the bell tower and walked through the Science Museum. I decided to have a little wine instead of whining.

Our meal was very good. While they didn’t speak much English, we were able to speak enough Italian to order up a nice meal, good wine and dessert. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

It was a nice night, so the walk home was pleasant and it sure felt good to wash up, change and relax for the rest of the evening.

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Piedmont – Day 8 – A Day in Barolo

On Thursday we visited and praised the Queen of Nebbiolo wine – Barbaresco. Today, we will visit the King – Barolo.

Nebbiolo – the grape of Piedmont

Per usual, we met up with Luca at the Piazza Michele Ferrero to start our journey. Our day’s itinerary includes visits to two wineries and lunch up in the hills of Barolo. It’s just a short, but beautiful drive to our “breakfast” tasting at the Aurelio Settimo Winery.

The Settimo Family settled and began farming the land in 1943. In the beginning they grew grapes, hazelnuts and other fruits – selling their grapes to big nearby producers. In 1962, the first Aurelio Settimo wines were labeled and by 1974, they stopped selling their grapes to others. Though Aurelio has passed away, they family continues the tradition of making wonderful wines in the Annunziata area.

Arriving, we met Francesca, who would be leading our tour. Francesca is the grand-daughter of Aurelio Settimo. We started with a nice walk into the vineyards to learn a little bit about their property and vineyards. As we were walking, we could see the ripe nebbiolo grapes hanging from the vines waiting to be harvested and the fragrance of the grapes was in the air.

Next we took a little tour through the winery to learn a little bit about their production methods. They have an annual production of about 40,000 bottles and about 60% of the production is exported.

To wrap up our visit to the winery, we headed into the beautiful tasting room and tasted some of their wines. All of the wines were either nebbiolo or dolcetto based, with the Rosato being a 50/50 blend. You’ll have to take my word on this one – they were all very good. In fact, I even gave them a new advertising slogan – ‘Molto Yum!’

Just to prove how much we enjoyed the wines, a case of them will be winging their way to the USA upon our return.

We had a little time before our lunch, so Luca suggested we stop in La Morra for a little look around. La Morra is located on a hilltop overlooking the many vineyards of Barolo. The ride up the twisting road was full of incredible scenery – vineyards as far as the eye could see.

The town of La Morra is full of charm. We walked UP to the town square to look around and enjoy the views. The square was a combination of classic Italian buildings along with some modern art works sprinkled in.

We took a few more pictures before the sun would become a nuisance, though nobody was complaining about another perfect weather day.

The church bells were chiming and my tummy was rumbling, so it must be lunch time. We headed back to the car and then drove up to the town of Perno. Our lunch would be at a small place called Repubblica di Perno Ristorante. Very quaint, with gorgeous views and delicious food.

After lunch, we drove to the town of Barolo. We would be making our last wine tasting stop at the Brezza Winery. Since we arrived a little early, we took a short walk. These small towns that we have visited are all nice to take a little stroll through. Even though they cater to many tourists, they haven’t lost their identity and culture.

There always seems to be that last uphill climb before arriving at our destination – jeesh! It was time, so we made our way to the Brezza Winery. Brezza is another historical winery in Barola that makes delightful wines. Little did we know this would be like the finale of a fireworks show.

We entered and met our guide, Nioni (sp) and she told us a little bit about the winery while we walked through the production and cellaring areas. We then made our way to the tasting area -where the fun began.

Luca begins the lesson while we drink some water
You are here… And so are seven bottles of wine
Abracadabra…. now there are ten

I know what you’re thinking, ten tastes of wine? Yes, ten tastes and they were all pretty good, especially the Nebbiolo and Barolos. They were big wines with lots of tannins and well structured; these wines packed a punch and can easily age for years to come. Even the folks at the winery like them with about 5 years of age, but say twenty years would be possible.

Did we enjoy ourselves? You tell me…

David looks like he enjoyed himself
Luca, Nioni and Me

Once again, there would be wine winging its way back to the US. These were too good to pass up, especially since they are not easily found in the US. Remember the earlier posts where it was just a couple bottles for back in the apartment?

After a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ and a stop at the rest rooms, we were finished with our tastings and heading back to Alba. The tastings we’ve done over the last week have been incredible. Valerie did a great job of selecting wineries with wonderful wines and very nice people, and Luca brought his Somm experience and knowledge to make our journey educational and interesting.

No dinner reservations were made for this evening – we’re just going to grab some goodies and sample some of our purchases at Jan and Dave’s apartment. They met a couple from the US staying in their building and they’ll be joining us.

Tomorrow, Sue and I will be heading to Turin for a day tour. Since Jan and Dave will be visiting Turin for a few days after we leave, they will be hanging back in Alba and exploring.

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Piedmont – Day 7 – A Peek Below Alba

Another day to rest up a little bit as we’ll be staying around town.

It felt good to sleep in a little bit again. When the alarm went off, it was the snooze button instead of the off button that was pushed. When we did manage to climb out of bed, we were feeling a little lazy. I’m guessing all the walking and standing and drinking might be catching up a little bit.

Today there was a wine festival taking place in Alba. For €14, you get a glass and glass holder that allows you to sample wines from all of the participating wineries – and there were many! We saw many serving red, white, rosé and sparkling wines.

Alba Wine Festival
Crowded streets – tent structures are the wineries
Piazza Duomo festivities

That was the plus side. They were serving those wines to throngs of people. For my personal liking, there were too many people. The narrow streets of Alba were overflowing with people. That was the minus side.

For the four of us, we decided to head underground. We were booked to take a tour of the old Roman ruins that have been unearthed below Alba. It was an interesting historical tour led by members of the archeological society.

Alba Underground

There were three sites that we were taken to see: a section of walls and towers, plus masonry pieces including caps from old columns, a section of sewer system and rooms from a house that were found beneath a private home, including some mosaic tile work and then lastly an archaeological site located beneath a school that included an intact vaulted storeroom.

Old stone walls and column base
Column base and depiction of the forum
Bricks, then stones, then more brick form the base
The 87 day term Emperor.
Our Archaeologist guide
Mosaic floor from a home
Close up tiles – they should have invented linoleum
Ancient Roman sewer system section

The tour then finished up at the Archaeological Museum, where they had fossilized remains of a whale and a mastodon that had been discovered by the river.

Mastodon parts – I was going to borrow a vertebrae
Mastodon
Whale jawbone

It was an interesting tour and the tour leader was very knowledgeable.

After the tour, we all headed back home to relax for a while before dinner. All the walking on the stone walkways and uneven surfaces is causing a little discomfort in my back, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tonight’s dinner is at a restaurant called ‘Enoclub’. It’s located in the Piazza Michele Ferraro where we’ve been meeting our guide, Luca, each morning. More specifically, it is a vaulted wine cellar beneath it’s sister restaurant and is considered one of the most romantic in Alba.

Dining room at Enoclub
Dave and Jan
Sue and Tom
‘Plin’ ravioli
Tiramisu

Besides being romantic, the food and wines were a delight. We all enjoyed our meals, and the wait staff were also a delight- which made for a very nice evening.

Though our evening came to an end, tomorrow we’re off to Barolo.

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Piedmont – Day 6 – Market day & Birthday

Saturday in Alba is the big market day; for us, it is the day we celebrate David’s birthday. Settante? Si! More on that later.

We did sleep in a little bit today – I guess we either needed the rest or our livers were protesting. Once we were cleaned up, we headed outside. It’s another beautiful day with temperatures in the mid 70’s and just a few clouds passing through.

From our apartment, we walked about 30 meters to the Piazza. Turning the corner, we immediately entered the Alba Market. If there is something that you can not find here, then you probably don’t need it. Clothing, purses, belts, underwear, perfumes, cosmetics, linens, fabrics, small electronics, household gadgets, tablecloths, (deep breath) and then we came to the food – fruits, vegetables, cheeses, salami, nuts, breads, pastries, fish, meat, honey, jam and pastas. Quite a spectacle.

People heading to the market
Just a few people at this point
Getting a little more crowded
Everyone is in the Piazza Duomo
Fresh fruit
Sausage and a little wine

Tucked away in certain areas were also some street musicians that were excellent and entertaining. All that was missing was a ventriloquist singing ‘Volare’ while drinking water.

A violin duo
Give a listen
Couldn’t pass up ‘Hallelujah’

Turning a corner, we found a ventriloquist – oh, never mind!

After walking around for a while, we stopped in a little shop and bought two slices of pizza to take back to the apartment for lunch. The shop had about twenty different kinds of pizza in rectangular pans and you just asked them to cut you a piece in the size that you wanted. The best part was that for two fairly ginormous slices, we only paid 8.10 Euros. On the way back to the apartment we ran into Jan and Dave, who were also out marketing.

Dinner tonight was special. This was the night we celebrated David’s 70th birthday and we wanted to make it memorable. Our dinner was at Ristorante Marc Lanteri at Castello di Grinzane Cavour. It’s a one star Michelin restaurant located inside of the historic castle.

We arrived just before sunset and had a beautiful view of the surrounding area as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Let’s make this easy – it was fabulous! Everything about the restaurant was exceptional. We had high expectations and it blew right through them. First off, the staff was outstanding. Everyone was very professional, yet very friendly. They truly made us feel special.

Next was the food. Every bite was heavenly. The flavors made your taste buds dance with pleasure. I know it sounds corny, but think of your favorite flavor then multiply it by ten. The starting pre-appetizers and amuse-bouche left you wanting more, which is what they are intended to do. Our first course choices were split: Jan and Dave both chose the risotto with cuttlefish and broccoli raab, while Sue and I both had the gnocchi with white truffles. For secondi, we had two braised beef cheeks, one Fassone rump steak and I had the roasted quail with white truffles.

And for the desserts this evening, Sue actually passed on dessert as she was too full, Jan had the molten chocolate cake, I had the Zabaglione and David had the poached pears complete with birthday candle.

Poached pears with a candle

Along with the meal, we started with a glass of Spumante, followed by a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2017 and then two bottles of Punset Barbaresco 2010. All of the wines were outstanding and very reasonably priced. They all were perfect matches for our meals.

The restaurant staff was nice enough to help in letting our driver know that we would be a little behind our scheduled pick-up time as none of us wanted to rush through this meal. When we exited, he was actually happy that we had the chance to experience such a fine meal. The ride back only took a few minutes and then we all had the chance to walk off about 10 calories on the way to our apartments.

It was an excellent meal and a memorable way to celebrate a big birthday. Buon Compleano, David!!!

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