Three nights: Tuesday, April 24 to Friday, April 27
The train ride from Nice on the French Mediterranean coast to Alba in northern Italy was quite impressive. We went from bluffs along the sea to a steady climb through mountain valleys, tunnel after tunnel opening up to impressive vista. Eventually, we seemed to reach a high plateau, with snow-capped peaks in the near distance. This gradually changed to more of an agricultural backdrop, with small vineyards clinging to the slopes of the rolling hills. The train finally pulled into the Alba station and we began our first visit of the trip to Italy.
Alba was a nice, small town with an historic center that we could easily walk the perimeter of (much like medieval Avignon). There were not a lot of sights per se, so we decided to take it easy. We continued our pattern of enjoying both restaurants as well as the local markets. One evening we had a great dinner in an informal osteria (a never-ending antipasti course, skipped the primo, cinghiale (wild boar) for secondo and a passable panna cotta for dolce). Also, this area is famous for a few types of wine, so we enjoyed that as well.
To our surprise, we found out that the second day of our visit fell on Liberation Day, basically the Italian Fourth of July. There were Italian flags flying from every balcony and many businesses were closed for the day. That afternoon, there seemed to be more visitors than the day before. It turns out that this holiday is popular among Italians for making day trips and Alba is a convenient destination from Torino.
Since Alba was relatively small and quiet, we spent a good deal of time strolling about. One day, we came across a fairly large outdoor market, selling everything from underwear to squid ink sacs. We continued our stroll around the town, past the sign pointing to the nearby Ferrero factory (source of Ferrero Rocher candies, Kinder brand candies and giant tubs of Nutella). At one point we saw signs for a 4.2 KM bike trail we decided to try and hike. However, once across the river, it quickly became quite sketchy (low-end trailer park, menacing youths) so turned back before we were mugged. Adventure!
Overall, Alba was an enjoyable town with good food and an overall pleasant environment. Now off to Florence for a little more culture before heading down south for Pompeii and additional downtime along the Amalfi coast.