22 February 2015

A lot of masked people...and two tourists

This morning we went to Asti for the main purpose of watching the city's Carnevale parade which was to be held in the afternoon.

An antique market was in progress so we spent a lovely hour wandering past the stalls, laughing at some of the items and mulling over others. I managed to buy a 1908 Wedgewood plate for a good price before I was dragged away by Stu and our friends to find a good place for lunch.

But instead of finding a lunch location, we came across a chocolate festival! There were 19 stalls of the beautiful produce of artisan chocolatiers from all over Italy. We looked, we smelled, we tasted. Chocolates, fudges, drinks and gianduias. Weirdly, we also found a cherry liqueur, which was given to us to taste in small chocolate cups. After drinking the liqueur, we had the added pleasure of eating the cup!

Our wallets suffered here. We purchased hazelnut chocolate, white chocolate and coconut truffles and...of course...the cherry liqueur.

We eventually pulled ourselves away and found a lunch spot where we sat down to a meal of pasta with sugo sauce, veal milanese, torte limone and Barbera d'Asti. During dessert we looked up to see bees and trees walking past the window. No, it wasn't a case of too much Barbera d'Asti. It was a case of Carnevale parade!

We skipped coffee and set off to follow the bees and trees in order to find the parade.

Instead we found the antique market. Again. There followed another perusal before we noticed that hoards of people were heading in one direction. We followed but ended up back at the chocolate festival where the streets were freshly strewn with confetti and streamers. We saw a row of people lining the historical Roman road that runs through the centre of Asti and rushed over, only to see the last of the parade disappearing in the distance!

The fear of having to tell our friends that we had gone to Asti and missed the Carnevale parade gave us the drive to run after the parade. We must have been the only people in Asti racing the parade. We learned quickly that it was easier to run with the parade than through the crowd so at one point we found ourselves IN the parade.

We had been avoiding one type of embarrassment only to achieve another...but at least we arrived at the front in time to watch it pass....again...sort of...









18 February 2015

A community says farewell

On 14 February 2015, Michele Ferrero died.

We wanted to show our respect for this man who did so much for Alba, The Langhe, Piemonte and Italy.

So today we attended his funeral.

Michele Ferrero was born on 26 April 1925 in Dogliani, a small town near Alba. His parents, Pietro Ferrero and Piera Rocher, had a small cafe/pasticceria in Alba and founded the Ferrero company. After the war (1946), chocolate was hard to come by so Pietro invented a creamy version of gianduia by combining a little chocolate with a lot of hazelnuts. In 1963 this product was further developed by Michele to become the famous Nutella.

There followed many successful years which finally ended for Michele this week.

At the time of his death, Michele Ferrero was the patriarch of the family that owns the Ferrero Group, a global organisation that makes Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Kinder confectionary and Nutella spread. Michele, a fervent Catholic who visited Lourdes annually and insisted that a Madonna be placed in all of his factories and offices, had a personal wealth of EUR 23 billion.

So it was fitting that today's funeral was in the cathedral of Alba and lead by the Bishop of Alba. It was also fitting that shops in Alba closed for the morning and that thousands of people stood outside the cathedral for almost 3 hours in his honour.

Before the hearse arrived, a full solemn rosary was recited by the crowd. When the hearse arrived, Michele's family got out of the car, turned to the crowd and started to applaud. The crowd responded, applauding long and loud for this man who was making his final visit to the church. During his eulogy, Michele's son became emotional and lost track of his notes. The crowd responded again, this time with a long gentle applause, as if this might give him the strength to carry on.

Anyone who knows Ferrero will know the company's exquisitely gold-wrapped Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates. These chocolates are favoured by lovers on Valentines Day so it is poignant that Michele chose Valentines Day on which to leave us.

In the future, every time I place one of these morsels in my mouth, I will take a moment to remember the man who created them and the day we farewelled him...




13 February 2015


We had an interesting night last night...

At something like 3am, my better half burst forth with: "All systems go. Ready to dock Starship Enterprise"

How is one to respond?

12 February 2015

Another perfect day

Another perfect day beckoned us out again, this time on a day trip to Prato Nevoso, a ski resort only an hour away from Canelli.

Last time I went skiing I was hopeful and confident. I was also naive and stupid. In the mid 90's, my younger sister and I had been backpacking around Europe. We arrived in Zermatt, promptly hired skis and set off "uphill" on a cable car. We soon realised that "uphill" was seriously uphill. When we disembarked from the cable car, we might have been at something between 2000 and 3000 metres. At this height, slopes get serious. Very serious. We took one look and sat down in the snow, where we stayed until we were too cold and wet to stay any longer. When we lined up for the cable car again, we were the only people carrying their skis down!

Go forward 20 years to this week and I'm at Prato Nevoso, a small ski resort where I instantly felt comfortable. It helped that I was accompanied by 4 friends including 2 expert skiiers from Sweden.

Between encouraging friends and an inspired other half, I found myself walking out of a ski rental shop in a very awkward manner. I felt like an early version of a robot, legs bent and jerking under me as I struggled to propel myself in boots that forbade any flexing of ankles or feet.

A few minutes later I was being given a crash course in "how to stop" and "how to turn". These skills seemed of paramount importance but I wondered at what point I would be taught how to get moving in the first place.

In no time at all I was sliding through a turnstile and onto an elevator belt in a tunnel, grabbing at anything remotely stable and managing to thrust at least one of my skis between the legs of various strangers.

The tunnel provided a period of stability during which I had time to consider my predicament and panic accordingly. They say positive visualisation helps so I closed my eyes and imagined a gracefully smooth exit. But closing my eyes may not have been overly sensible because I almost fell backwards! How was this even possible when my knees were bent forward!?

With the end of the belt looming and a white icey slope coming into view, I checked my grip on my poles and adjusted my skis in a manner that might have made me look confident.

When I launched out of the tunnel it was far from gracefully smooth. It was more like a dead stop. I didn't go anywhere, and with other skiiers continuously being spat out of the tunnel, I knew I needed to go somewhere. And fast. So I did what I do best and walked. I think I may have been the only walking skiier on that slope.

In my comfort zone now, I kept walking.

But all good things must come to an end and it wasn't long before my walking brought me to a slight downward slope and I began to slide.

As I picked up pace I remember wondering how I would stay vertical. At one point I went down deliberately simply because I was going faster than walking pace.

By the end of the day, I was skiing, turning and stopping when I wanted to. But by far my biggest achievement was not having to carry my skis back down the hill...

Above: Prato Nevoso

Above: Our slope

Above: Snow drifts on buildings

Above: The view over the valley towards Mon Viso
Above: Managing to stay upright (Photo courtesy of Chris and Suzanne Salvo)


09 February 2015

Seeing the world anew

This morning we crackled over the ice and out of the valley to do an 8km ridge walk from Rochetta Palafea to Montabone and back.

Thankfully the clear air and spectacular views distracted us from the minus 2 degree temperature up there.

One the way home we stopped for a warm meal at a local trattoria then spent the afternoon basking in the sun at home.

Above: Snow plough detritus at Rochetta Palafea

Above: The view from the ridge

Above: Back at home for an afternoon in the sun


We've escaped!

Yesterday we waited until after lunch to attempt the car on the snow. We wanted to give the sun a good chance to soften if after the night's frost.

I controlled my panic quite well on the way out of the valley, even though we slid a bit. Unfortunately I completely lost it while I was making a video of the return trip. My video was going well until we started to slide off the road on the final rise to the house. A sound escaped my mouth which didn't sound human and the video immediately focused on my knees while my hands made a desperate grab for the dashboard.

Stu stopped the car. He had to. Not only because of the snow but also because his other half had experienced a meltdown in the front passenger seat.

We walked up to the house to get the pick and snow shovel then cleared two channels for the car tyres to travel through.

When Stu suggested we try the car again, I quickly offered to hold the tools while he drove. I was grateful for the excuse. It was much easier watching from outside the car as it slid its way up the rise to the house.

Above: Driving out of the valley

Above: The very welcome view of the world outside our valley

Above: The tyre marks where we skidded


08 February 2015

To shovel or not to shovel?

Yesterday we had a quiet morning inside because we suspected we had an afternoon of snow shovelling ahead of us.

Immediately after it had fallen, the snow had been powdery, fresh, thick, pure. It had settled in undulating drifts on our sloping paddocks and fallen from branches to the ground around us in soft thuds. When we walked out of the valley this week ours had been the first human footprints that had touched it. We had discovered the delicate deep footprints of deer and other finer prints that may have been foxes or squirrels.

Yesterday the snow had been contaminated by light rain overnight and was wet underneath.

So after lunch we went out rugged up, armed with shovels and ready to attack it.

We lasted 20 minutes, having come to a rather quick decision that we had no reason to leave the valley and quite enjoyed being "imprisoned".

Today we've been snowed in for 5 days. It's been wonderful.

Although temperatures sunk to -3 degrees overnight, turning our snow to ice, day temperatures will rise to a warm sunny 7-10 degrees for the next few days.

Escape is imminent.



06 February 2015

Fallen tree in the front paddock

After clearing the fallen tree off the road we tackled the fallen tree in the paddock.

Another hour later and only the main trunk remains, which will be cut for firewood once the snow melts.

Above: The fallen tree complete
Above: The fallen tree less its upper branches
Above: The tree feller in action


Fallen tree across the road

After doing the rubbish run on foot, we trudged back home for a quick lunch of leftovers before heading out again armed with a branch cutter and a chainsaw.

An hour later we had cleared the fallen tree off the road.

Tomorrow afternoon on the snow shovel should put us in a good position to be mobile again.

Above: Roadblock
Above: Going...
Above: Going...
Above: Gone!


The rubbish must get through!

After spending two days indoors while the snow fell, we were keen to venture out this morning.

There was no hope of getting the car out unless we took to the snow shovel. And since we had read somewhere that snow shovelling in the morning creates a heightened risk of heart attack we now only do it in the afternoon.

So, with the added incentive of getting our rubbish out to the street where it could be collected by the comune this morning, we rugged up and set off on foot, dragging our rubbish behind us.

Alas! Our little stroll was fraught with difficulty!

Enter snow. Deep snow.

Enter tree. Fallen tree. Across road.

The snow was over our ankles which made every step of the one kilometre stretch a weightlifting exercise. A fallen tree across the road threatened to halt our progress unless we were able to penetrate it.

But the rubbish must get through...and it did...and the rubbish man was rewarded with a cappucino and brioche at our local cafe before we headed off to tackle the post-snow challenges again...

Above: Rubbish man ready to face the elements
Above: Rubbish man is brought to a halt by the sight of two fallen trees (one in the paddock and the other across the road)
Above: Rubbish man forces his way through fallen tree
Above: Rubbish man forges ahead


05 February 2015

It has arrived!

After waiting for what seems like an interminable time for the snow gods to prove that we're in the dark depths of winter, we were finally rewarded with a decent snow fall today!

There was a huge amount of snow forecast for this week but the weather report has been changing on an almost hourly basis for days until finally the white stuff arrived.

As an Australian who is completely unused to this white stuff, I can sit for hours watching it fall.

It is true that there is nothing quite like the peace that comes with snowfall...but it is also true that very loud opera ricocheting off the snow is also good!