Sunday, May 18, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 17: Sunday: May 18: Noli-Barge

Sunny, but a bit cooler as we pack up and say our goodbyes to the Palazzo Vescovile and Noli....we have really enjoyed our stay here; Noli has been a great discovery.

The drive to Barge in western Piemonte starts out on the autostrada going north from Savona...the road climbs through green hills and mountains through a seemingly unpopulated area.  The autostrada is so divided that sometimes the lanes running in the opposite direction are out of sight or distantly seen across a valley.  And the roadways are elevated high above the valley floor....


When we exit in Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) we are at the start of Po River valley....the terrain is flat for as far as the eye can see to the east but to the west, the snow covered peaks of the Western Alps rise sharply from the plain.

We pull into Barge as the weather becomes more uncertain--overcast with the threat of rain.  The Hotel Alter--located at the edge of town--is a former textile factory converted into an ultramodern hotel.  We are staying here at the suggestion of my colleague, Maddie Bacarelli, who met the hotel staff at a meeting.  We are supposed to check out the hotel and decide how the town works as a base for sightseeing in the area. 

Our room is large with a balcony overlooking the garden...and is ultra-modern in design.

After getting settled, we ask the desk clerk for a place to get a light lunch but the first place she suggests (across from the hotel) in closed for lunch on Sunday.  The second place is too far to walk to and is a full scale restaurant so we decide to drive into the center and see what we can find.  The town is pretty dead on this Sunday afternoon...not a store seems to be open.  The most striking thing that we notice is the presence of many playing in the park and men and women walking on the street.  

We find a bar that is open--a table of men is playing a spirited game of cards--and order sandwiches.  While waiting for the sandwiches, I google "chinese barge italy"  and find a long article and photo essay about the the large Chinese population in this area who have come, beginning in the 1990s, to work in the local stone cutting trade.  

Another article suggests that 10% of the local population is Chinese and they make up 25% of the public school enrollment.  I expect we will learn more about this in the next few days.

After lunch, I suggest a ride up into the mountains before the rain starts in earnest and we start to drive west. The road climbs quickly in a series of tight hairpin turns and we are surprised that there are so many cars speeding down the mountain in the opposite direction...until we remember it is Sunday afternoon and Italians like to head to the country for mid-day Sunday dinner.  Minutes later, our suspicions are confirmed as we pass a restaurant with the parking lot jammed with cars.

(You will have to imagine the cars.)

As we climb higher, the rain gets steadier and when we reach the village of Crissolo (altitude 6300 feet),

(You will have to imagine the rain and gray cloud cover.)

we decide that we will turn around and return to Barge. (Diana wonders if she's getting too old for these drives on narrow, hairpin curving roads, with the fearless Italian drivers racing around the curves in the other direction.)

Back at the hotel in Barge we stroll across the park to the ristorante/pizzeria (which is now open) and have a nice but unremarkable dinner....

Tomorrow we will begin to explore the area...driving to Saluzzo and Cuneo and also trying to locate a self-service laundromat.

Jim and Diana