Zurers in Italy 2022: Wednesday: May 4
Day 9: Asti
Nobody told us there was a market today but right across the street, we see a line of market stalls selling food, housewares, umbrellas, and who knows what else.
The sun has returned after the rain last night and, after breakfast, we walk down the street with Maureen, occasionally stopping to check out some merchandise. Then we walk into the big park--the Parco della Resistenza--and sit on a bench for a while. The park features a big memorial, a number of smaller statues of Astigian historical figures, and a pond with turtles and fish.
It is now time to pick up our Swedish friends at the train station and we find the streets pretty crowded, noticing that some roads are blocked off for the market. We have to drive slowly down the street in front of the hotel, sharing the road with shoppers and strollers but we are able to accomplish our mission without hitting anyone.
We have a lovely reunion with Ulf and Elinor--we haven't seen them since the beginning of the pandemic--and try to return to the hotel to sit in the lobby to talk. However, the market is much more extensive than I had thought and the streets leading back to the hotel are completely blocked off because of market activities. We change course and decide to find a bar in the center to sit at and catch up.
The center is also packed with more market stalls and people. I now remember seeing on a poster announcing the week's activities in connection with the celebration of Asti's patron saint that there would be a "Fiera Carolingia" held all day--from sunrise to sunset--all over the "centro storico." I drive as close as I can get to the Piazza Statuto, drop off the passengers, and try to find a parking space. Which turns out to be easier than I feared...there is one legal spot available in a small lot nearby. I make my way back and find the others just sitting down at a table at a bar in the center.
We catch up for a while--exchanging news about families and how we made it through Covid--before reversing direction, getting the car, picking up the passengers, and heading out of town.
We are having lunch at a Slow Food recommended restaurant in a nearby town--Rochetta Tonaro--and the Swedes enjoy driving through the very green countryside. Arriving in Rochetta Tonaro, I put the restaurant's address in the GPS but the directions are confusing. We drive around the center of the small village, ask for directions (which we obviously didn't understand), and I finally call the restaurant. The man who answers the phone at the restaurant gives me directions--some in broken English and some in rapid Italian. After a few more minutes of driving in town, a white van driven by a man dressed in chef's clothes overtakes us, shouts out the window "ristorante", and leads us to the parking lot across from the restaurant. We had driven past the place a couple of times already but hadn't noticed it since we were still outside of town.
We thank him profusely and apologize for our stupidity. The meal at I Bologna is well worth the effort...the restaurant is very pleasant with widely spaced, large tables, attractively decorated, and very quiet (though there are quite a few other diners in the place.) The meal is excellent--shared plates of carne cruda and vitello tonnato, then tagiolini with meat sauce for three of us and agnolotti for Diana, and panna cotta and a semi-freddo for dessert. We also enjoy the bottle of a local Barbera d'Asti that we share. On the way back to Asti, we take smaller roads through the gentle hills, passing through a number of small villages, many vineyards, and lots of groves of hazelnut trees.
Our plan to return to the hotel to talk some more before their train back to Torino is foiled again...because we find that the market is everywhere...every possible route back to the hotel that we try is closed to traffic. So we give up, go back to the station, drop Ulf and Elinor, and say our goodbyes. We are very happy to have seen them again.
Getting back to the hotel continues to be challenging....the blocked roads lead to heavier traffic so it is slow going as we try to find a chink in the market's defenses. There isn't even a policeman in sight to ask for help. Finally, we are able to reach the small road at the back of the hotel and we leave the car there and walk the rest of the way. The desk clerk has two possible solutions--wait out the market somewhere else or go the wrong way down a one-way street to the road in the front of the hotel and inch our way through the crowds to a parking space in front of the hotel. We try the second option and it works...
While Diana rests in the room, I take advantage of the beautiful day and set out to explore other parts of town and find the restaurant where we are going for dinner. The walk is wonderful--I stop at the very impressive, large cathedral which is located at the far end of Asti. The entire building is quite remarkable...very high ceilings, frescoes everywhere, and massive decorated columns.
I walk past the Domus Romana and take a picture of a floor mosaic through the window.
I encounter another of the old family towers that remain from Asti's past, a church spire, and an impressive wooden door.
My walk back to the hotel takes me back through the center of town where I am again surprised that the market is still going on. They really meant from "sunrise to sunset". I don't think I have ever seen a market that was so extensive for such a long time, especially in a smaller city like Asti.
As we drive to dinner, the remains of the market are still impeding our route to the restaurant. Street after street is blocked off and we have to make a wide circle of the center but we finally arrive. I drive into the piazza to drop off the ladies and intend to head off to find parking on a side street but Franco informs me that since I have already breached the ZTL in the piazza, had my car's picture taken, and will probably be fined, I might as well park there since the damage is already done.
The Osteria del Diavolo features a mixture of Ligurian and Piemontese dishes...Liguria--on the seacoast--is the neighboring region...so the menu features a lot of fish and seafood. Most of us opt for a break from the Piemontese--fish soup, fritto misto, Ligurian special dishes like branacajun (a baccala and potato spread), cappon magro (a salad of fish and vegetables artfully arranged in a pyramid). There is a unique dish of a cheese spread topped with artfully arranged cooked and raw vegetables. We drink the same Arneis that we enjoyed a couple of days earlier. All the dishes are beautifully plated and most of the food is very good. The service was a bit flaky and, since it was our second big meal of the day, things went on a bit too long.
We have one more car challenge before we can call it a day. Because of street cleaning, we are limited to parking on the side of the street in front of the hotel. All spaces appear to be filled but there is one space where the access is limited by a tree. Franco measures the space with his arms extended and judges that I can make it. I am dubious but, with directions from Franco and Diana and the help of the sensors in the car, I get the car in with inches to spare. Whew!!!
Tomorrow we are having lunch with another Italian friend of ours.
Jim and Diana