This retirement game is pretty OK, particularly with such a fantastic summer of sport going on all around.
First there was the splendour and power of Le Tour de France, then the cricket test matches between England and Australia have enthralled and are now being followed by the first warm up games for the rapidly approaching Rugby Union World Cup. If only the weather in the UK was quite as predictable!
Time to slip back to Italy for a top up of coffee, fine wine and sunshine!
It’s true to say that I have fallen hopelessly in love with everything I have seen so far in Italy. The country is a place where passion is worn on one’s sleeve and wow, do the Italians get passionate about things! On top of which, everyone I have met have been friendly, happy and super welcoming. Note to self; learn to speak the language better this winter!
Drifting back to the hills of Piedmont, in the North West of Italy, on a Harley Davidson is no hardship at all! The name Piedmont apparently comes from latin, meaning “at the foot of the mountains,” though if you speak French it is also easy to see the link and as the area is bounded on three sides by the Alps it’s also pretty obvious too!
Piedmont is an important industrial region, it is home to FIAT the automobile manufacturer, but for me more importantly is one of the greatest wine-producing regions in Italy. Here they do not make “old rot gut” stuff, oh no, this is the home of top end prestigious wines such as Barbaresco, Moscato d’Asti and most revered of all, Barolo.
Situated about 30 miles southeast of Turin, yet light years away in time, lies the small town of Barolo, population 750, which gives it’s name to this most majestic of wines. On my last trip I slightly slipped up, I didn’t buy enough, so hence my return!
We rolled into the compact town square just after midday. The town was quiet, actually it was more than that, it was dead. The hot air was still and the scorching sun reflected back off the terracotta roof tiles making the sky above shimmer. It’s an unassuming little place, really only attractive from a distance when the red tiles stand out against the verdant vineyards that run right up to the edge of town. From a small bar came muffled voices and the alluring scent of strong Italian coffee.
Baby Harley’s engine ticked as she cooled gently in the heat of the narrow streets. A large truck with French registration plates rumbled past, stirring dusty clouds up off the parched road.
I walked through the open door into the shady interior of the bar and ordered a double espresso and lunch. The sunlight penetrated in shards of light that captured a million dust particles hanging like shimmering diamonds in the still air. I settled in a corner chair, rubbed my eyes and realised how much the ride had taken out of me. The lady working behind the bar smiled and delivered my coffee accompanied with a carafe of water and a glass; the Italians know much about coffee and the obligatory water was certainly welcome.
My ears were singing a high-pitched wail as a dumped my riding jacket on the tiled floor. Riding motorbikes plays hell with my tinnitus, even with ear protection and a quiet helmet; it’s the legacy of years working with noisy railway locomotives!
I sipped the strong, excellent coffee and pondered the sanity of riding to Barolo just for some wine. Yep, definitely a good idea!
La Signora reappeared and placed a plate of heaven on the table in front of me. Filetto Baciato, made from pork fillet marinated in white wine then coated with a paste made from salami and packed into a sausage casing to age for six months, wood roasted artichoke hearts and fresh asparagus spears, a small jug of olive oil, some crisp bitter salad leaves and of course Grissini, the Turin breadstick now common all over Italy. Piedmont is rightly famous for it’s simple cuisine, at its gamey best in the autumn, but hey this is summer so go with what’s available, I’m not complaining! I contemplated a cold beer, but no, I’m riding, so stick to water.
The other patrons of the bar are seemingly locals, it’s not the sort of establishment that really attracts tourists and that suits me fine. There are probably about a dozen other people as well as me, cutlery chinks against plain solid crockery as we all eat, enjoy our lunches and for those with companions, talk. My Italian language skill is not great, but I catch snatches of conversation and smile at the animated way that views are exchanged, deals made and the food discussed, yes this food deserves to be discussed it’s simple and very good.
You know, just about everywhere I go it’s always about the food and sadly mine is now finished.
I catch La Signora’s eye and order another coffee. Well, why not, I don’t intend to sleep for hours yet! She returns with a fresh cup and offers a bottle of grappa. It’s another Italian tradition that I love, whereby the spirit is supposed to take the edge off the caffeine or the caffeine off the alcohol, I get the logic, but either way I politely decline!
Coffee gone, I settle up and step outside back into the furnace of this scorching summer. It’s nearly two in the afternoon and the glass is reading 34 degrees Celsius. Time to hunt down this small town’s most famous product and ride on!
Guess that’s mission accomplished!
“I love wine, women an’ song.”
Catch you soon.