This past weekend saw my first trip to Italy.
It’s a country I’ve wanted to visit for absolutely years, so this weekend i grabbed the iniative and went to the train station to book a return ticket!
I set off at the crack of dawn before sunrise here in Switzerland, I had decided to go for a full day and return on the last train in the evening so a 7.30 train from Bern it was. I was pretty tired being up so early on a saturday of all days, but didn’t want to fall asleep on what is actually a relatively short journey, one and a half hours to my destination.
And my destination? Domodossola, a small mountain village in northern Italy.
I arrived at The Stazione Internazionale, The International Train Station, which is a beautiful old marble train station that has a very mid 1940’s feel to it. It was designed and built back in the late 1800’s which is evident non more so than from the front of the building. There was lots of Italians returning home for the weekend and a few Swiss who seemed to have the same idea as me and wanted to make the short hop across the border to this magnificent country.
I got a map with help from the station guard of the city, and set off on my adventure. Breakfast in a lovely small cafe followed, a pretty phenomenal cappuccino and croissant ticked all the right boxes for me. I had heard from one of my friends in the company that Domodossola has a great market on saturdays so I made my way through the small streets to find the market.
The market is quite a big one and covers quite a few piazza’s and main streets through the centre of the town, it is made up of stalls selling all sorts of things like jackets, shoes, kitchen appliances and even sadly fake designer bags and belts! That wasn’t quite was i was looking for, i hadn’t came to Italy to do some shopping, I came to get hold of some of the wonderful food they are so famous for. So i scouted about for a bit and confident i had found the best delicatessen in town I went on in and filled up the empty bag i had brought with me with plenty of wine, pasta, parmigiano, salami, pesto & Italian biscuits.
The weather wasn’t exactly the best, it looked like it might rain or snow and it had been forecast to do so later in the day so i thought i better make the most of the morning and do some exploring. I had caught the sight of some monasteries and old farm houses on a nearby mountain and thought that looked the best place to do some morning walking and build up an appetite for lunch which i was so looking forward to!
I followed the road out of town that led towards the mountain which wasn’t too far away, perhaps a 15 minute walk from the centre of town, and found a path that led upwards. On my path i passed vineyards, lots of religious monuments, and plenty of old farmhouses that had an incredible texture to the walls and pretty unique rooftops. It wasn’t too challenging a walk but my calves where certainly paying for it the next day, quite steep in parts. However the special views i came across and had of the town where more than worth the pain.
Satisfied with my morning walk and with the rain coming in on the city I made my way back to the centre, I couldn’t help but hum The Godfather theme song as i walked through ‘bandit’ country!
I took a good look about town and made sure i picked the right place to dine in for lunch, i wanted to get as authentic an experience as possible. I found the place, a wonderful family run restaurant named La Locando Del Pozzo. A small deep sunflower yellow coloured passage took me to stairs that led down to the restaurant. I was so excited walking down the passageway, I had waited almost 21 years to get my hands on the real deal in this fabulous country of sensational food, so i had a pretty big smile on my face just walking into the place. I was seated at a table by a friendly old man who seemed to be the guy running the place, I didn’t catch his name but he was very welcoming and helped make it a great experience eating there. I settled for a Diavolina Pizza, some Merlot and mixed salad which was accompanied by a basket of bread and breadsticks which is traditionally given to diners for their meal free of charge.
The pizza was sensational. The difference i noticed between pizza’s i have had in other italian restaurants across the world is firstly, the sauce. It’s more of a tomato sauce you would use for pasta than a thick paste, and it had a kick of spice in there. Secondly all the ingredients are hidden from view underneath the cheese on top which gives it a different taste than being cooked on top. It was cooked in a wood fired oven and i noticed the chef would hold the pizza towards the top of the oven where the wood fire smoke rose for a few seconds to give it an extra bit of authentic taste.
They gave me an awful lot of wine and it was quite a filling meal so that lasted a good two hours, by the end i was a very satisfied man and extremely happy to of had my first real authentic pizza in Italy. The bill was really cheap, certainly compared to how much i pay for meals here in Switzerland, so i felt it right i left a good tip for the staff which they where really appreciative of.
By now it was raining a bit so i was glad i had brought my waterproof coat with me. I had dressed up nice for the day, with a suit jacket and shirt combo, there was no way i was going to the land of fashion and not looking good!
I wrote a few postcards to family, grandparents and my godmother and sent them off then consulted my town map and made a vague plan of what i wanted to see. I had a look inside the Madonna Dele Neve Sanctuary, a small church with quite a few old ladies coming and going saying their prayers for the day. I passed the Pallazo Di Citta with it’s impressive facades and statue’s, walked through the old town and discovered the Piazzo Mercato e Via Briona with it’s stunning arches, had a look inside the impressive Collegiate Church of Gervasius and Protasius, and had a good look at the Teatro Municipale Galleti where the residents of the town come to enjoy ballet and opera.
I found the old town particularly striking. It was exactly as I had imagined the real Italy. Beautiful Piazza’s and many small streets with intensely coloured homes on either side and beautiful old brick walls, exposed to the wild nature the north gets, cracking yet still staying well preserved after being there for hundreds of years.
I was welcomed into a cosmetics and body therapy shop by a lovely lady who i somehow managed to have a conversation with in my broken Italian and her broken English. She poured some nice tea which was very welome as it was pretty cold outside and i had been walking for quite a bit. Once she discovered I am a dancer in a ballet company she was ecstatic and heaped lots of free gifts upon me from L’Occitane which i have been enjoying this week! Now there’s a country that appreciated the arts with a passion!
I spent the rest of what was now the late afternoon in a small cafe reading and enjoying a few drinks. I was amazed how cheap the bill was again, sometimes i do wonder why i do it to myself living in Switzerland. Every time i go off on an adventure to a nearby country it’s always a million times cheaper and i realise how bad we really have it here financially.
I set off into the evening snow in search of a place to eat dinner before catching the last train back to Switzerland. I found a nice looking restaurant, called Restaurant Pizzeria Terminus and settled down for dinner.
There was a great buzz about the place and it seemed to be a particularly popular place with the locals, group after group of men and women came in to get take-away pizza’s and calzone’s for their friends and family.
I decided upon the classic Spaghetti Bolognese, keen to see how the Bolognese sauce would be made as it’s one of my favourite dishes to make. The meal came over and the pasta was al-dente as the italians like it, and the sauce contained only tomato sauce, garlic and meat. I usually throw in all sorts of vegetables to my sauce that i adapt to use with a lasagne or even chilli con carne, so it was nice to see how the professionals make it. The food was served in no time at all and i enjoyed the merlot i had with my meal very much.
Satisfied i made my way back to the station through the snow and boarded the last train of the day to Bern, a tilting train the speeds from Milan to Basel daily. The quality of the swiss trains is unreal, second class travel beats the living hell out of the trash you get on British Trains, sorry Scotrail, Virgin Trains and National Express Trains, you have a lesson or two to learn from the swiss and not just about time keeping and punctuality!
All in all i was very happy with my first experience of Italy and already looking forward to the next journey to the country, perhaps with better weather in the summer. I was so impressed with how helpful and kind all the locals where, I really didn’t get the impression I was getting the ‘he’s a tourist let’s rip him off’ treatment and everyone i met was glad to help me and give me directions or tips of where’s best to eat/shop.
I arrived home late to a snowy Switzerland, tired and happy with the days activities. It certainly was quite an experience.