Saturday, May 24, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 23: Saturday: May 24: Casale Monferrato

After breakfast, we make a short expedition around the center of Casale Monferrato and visit the very impressive and distinctive Duomo.  

There have been recent restorations to the building--both inside and outside--so it looks very fresh.   Once entering the front doors (which are glass), you enter a high arched ceiling room called the narthex with many windows letting in the light.   


This architectural feature is unlike any we remember seeing in Italy and makes for an usual entrance into the church.

The interior is very harmonious...the striped columns have little ornamentation and they give the place an austere air even though there is a quite a bit of decoration.  The blue ceiling adds another calming influence

and the impressive crucifix in front of the "mosaic" (actually painted) in the apse is appealing.

Back outside, we are walking in the back streets when we are stopped by a woman who is sweeping the sidewalk and complaining about the people who walk their dogs and don't clean up.  After asking where we are from, she starts a long monologue detailing all the churches in town that are worth seeing.  We can't decide if she is charming or a bit off...but she was interesting.

Here are some of the sights in the center of Casale Monferrato...

the 11th century Torre Civica

a typical flower bedecked building on one of the main streets

an unfaced brick building--which is very common in Piedmont, especially for churches

and an archway leading to another part of the business district.  What a charming city.

We have some time to kill before leaving for lunch so sit on a bench in the pretty main piazza (Piazza Mazzini), enjoy the sun and watch the Casalese enjoy this beautiful spring day.


We get in the car and drive to Moncalvo, a busy hill town about 20 minutes away from Casale M.  We had passed by on our way in but didn't take the time to climb to the "centro".  We are meeting our friend Livio Misgur. We met through an online chat board--the Compuserve Italian Forum--in the 1990s and have kept in touch, getting together often to have a meal when we are close to his hometown, Alessandria.

We pull up in front of the restaurant and find a parking space right in front.  Since we are early, we find a bench across the street--at the entrance to the "centro storico"--to wait for him in the sun.  I take an exploratory walk up the main (pedestrian) street that leads to the central piazza at the top of the hill.  Moncalvo appears to be a pleasant, prosperous town; I pass many nice shops and "palazzi" en route to the top.  And the piazza at the top is spacious and picturesque with great views over the surrounding countryside.

When Livio arrives, we all climb to the top and have a prosecco in a cafe in the piazza, then go back down and go into the Ristorante Centrale.  This restaurant is known for the Piemontese dish--bollito misto (literally mixed boil) but actually various cuts of meat, sausage and offal cooked in a large pot and usually served from a rolling trolley.  Here the various cuts are presented on a large tray and sliced to order and include brisket, tongue, cotechino sausage and other less common (to us) parts of animals.  The dish is served with various sauces and mostardas (fruit syrup with a mustard base) and pickled vegetables.   It is a great favorite with many Italians...less so with most Americans.  Livio and I both have it and he judges it pretty good (an 8 out of 10).  We all start with carne cruda which is served everywhere and is usually delicious, as it is today.  Diana skips the bollito in favor of ravioli.  We drink a delicious Barbera which is one of Livio's favorites.  We have a good time catching up and talking food, Italian politics and the depressing Italian economy.

Back in Casale Monferrato, after a rest to digest the meal, I go out and discover that the Saturday evening passeggiata is in full swing.  The streets are full of people strolling, greeting friends, shopping and having aperitivos at the many bars with outdoor tables. I go back and get Diana who loves to be out during the passeggiata.  We walk a bit with the Casalese and then find a bench and people watch.

While we are not too hungry for another meal, we decide to have a pizza, our usual recourse when we want to eat something but not too much.  The only problem with this strategy is that we are not particularly fond of pizza served in Italy (outside of Naples) so we rarely finish the ones we order.  I text Alessandria and she gives us a recommendation and makes a reservation at a nearby pizzeria, the Capri.   The pizzas are the same as usual...we eat them but don't really enjoy them.  And by the time we are finishing, the pizzeria is mobbed and noisy so we are happy to leave.

The streets are still pretty crowded on this Saturday evening as we make our way back to our "home" where we watch a movie before going to bed.

Tomorrow, our last day in this town that we are enjoying very much, we will explore the countryside and visit the synagogue.

Jim and Diana