A glass of wine…. at Valtellina

I am making a pause in the series of posts about our trip from Bergamo to Istanbul to tell you about our Sunday at “Mobergno in Cantina” (http://morbegnoincantina.it/), promising that soon we will publish the third, and final, part of the post about Albania (part 1, part 2).

Probably many of you already know the event, but I think it is important to share some aspects. For about 3 weekends in September and October you can visit a number of wineries (true cellars, underground) between Morbegno and towns across the valley , called “costiera dei Cech”, and make a series of tastings of wines from Valtellina and typical products of the area.

Morbegno5

More or less two weeks in advance me and Principessa made a detailed plan, we saw it was impossible to book a hotel, all sold out of course, and so in order to avoid driving after drinking we chose to use the train Milan-Tirano with stop at the station of Morbegno; we called Hedi and Luana and planned to leave with the train of 10:20 AM (arriving at destination in less than two hours) and come back with the train of 9:20 PM. Obviously nothing went according the plan, but for people who have read our other post, this will not be a news.

So our friend Hedi slept in our apartment in Milan and Luana reached us by train from Bergamo in the morning, having to wait for the bed that the legendary Giampiero presented us for the guest room (for the happiness of Hedi who the night before suffered on the uncomfortable sofa bed in the living room) we decided to go with the train of 12:20, good choice because we reached Mobergno just right for the opening of the cellars.

The train ride is great, for those who have never traveled this railroad, recommend it, also just to take a relaxing trip, the part before Lecco retraces part of the towns mentioned by Manzoni (one of fathers of the Italian language, author of “I promessi sposi”). After Lecco you will be amazed, the train hurtling close to the lake, in a series of tunnels and breathtaking views, climbing up to Colico, and then in wide Valtellina.

Tickets can be bought in front of the train station, but we were wise to buy online the Red Trail, avoiding a long cue, we went to dedicated desk for online reservation and in a few minutes we got the glass with a special holder to put around the neck.

Morbegno1

Morbegno is a very nice town, especially during this season, where the colors of autumn, the smell of wood and the smoke from the chimneys give it a charm all its own. The history of Morbegno is virtually unknown until the early Middle Ages, and then characterized by a series of wars, massacres, occupations, between Milan, Swiss, French, Spanish, the Church and then the plague (the same Narrated by Manzoni in the same book), the Austrian rule, and in 1845 the annexation to Italy.

After a short walk to the center began our tour with the cellar number one, Nico Barbee, the one with the white and sparkling wines. I tell the truth, not as an expert, but as a man who appreciates the wine, nothing special, but great food, in all the wineries we enjoyed the excellent Bisciola, a sweet bread with dried fruit, fantastic Bitto cheese typical of the area and bresaola, salami popular in the valley. We also bought a Slinzega, kind of sausage, which is still in our refrigerator. If you are over there you have to eat: Pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta with cheese, herbs, potatoes and other vegetables), Taragna (polenta with cheese typical), Sciatt (balls of wheat and local cheese fries) and Taroz.

Morbegno4

I really enjoyed this tour, after the Whites we started with the Reds: Valtellina Superiore, Sassella, Grumello, Valgella, Inferno, to finish with reserves and Sforzato. I personally love Valtellina and its wines, I believe that the mountain gives to the Nebbiolo grapes a distinctive taste and, even for those who are beginners with wine, the route will be interesting, the sommeliers from AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) are friendly and will explain you in easy way the characteristics of these wines and answer your questions, even the most naive, both in Italian and in English. If you’ve never tasted it is the right time to take a trip to the cellars, or if you prefer, go to the supermarket or wine shop or on the Internet and order a few bottles. If you will accompany the meat or a risotto with a full-bodied wine from Valtellina success is assured.

The day finished rapidly, due to a logistic problem me and Princess anticipated our return to Milan, without being able to visit all the wineries. Not bad anyway, at home we prepared a nice sauce for pasta with onion, tomato and parsley, later Luana and Hedi joined us, and we had a fantastic evening.

I will not bore you with tons of information, Valtellina is a fantastic place, the food is great, unspoiled nature, easy to reach, you can make a lot of activities, including hiking and skiing … What are you still doing at the computer, prepare the suitcase!

Reading Tips:

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Grumello

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Sassella

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Inferno

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina

A (long) day in Albania – Part 2

As I told in the previous post in the morning we left Shkodra to head towards Lake Koman. Initially we drove across a beautiful highway, surrondend by towns, bars and retailers of used Mercedes. The idea was to reach Koman by car, take the ferry to get to Fierze, look for a place to sleep in that area between lakes and mountains and the next day reach Tirana, or if we had arrived late for the ferry, sleeping in Koman and catch the ferry the following day.

Left the highway we continued on SH25, a sign indicated that there were only 32Km to our destination. Our legendary Fiat 500 was climbing the mountains in this place out of reality. If you decide that you want to spend some time with no contact with civilization, this is the place for you, we have crossed kilometers of mountain road near a great river, blue with mirror effect, and trees, trees and more trees. Sometimes an isolated house or a village of a few houses, fenced, tidy and where everyone has fruit trees, vegetables, and animals.
Now you may wonder why such a place near the highway is so isolated, simple, the road is horrible, sometimes there is the asphalt, sometimes no, no shoulder, the asphalt slippery goes straight down the mountains, holes so big that you can take a bath inside them, and the closer you get to Koman is worse, it takes about 2 hours driving reckless, plus some (pleasant) unexpected meetings like this:

Albania4

Once I established a relationship with herd of goats (is correct to say herd of goats, or the herd is for cows is only? Perhaps a flock of goats, or this is only for sheeps?) and politely asked them to move away from the roadway, everything went smoothly until the “country” of Koman, along the way we met a large fenced area with barbed wire, which we later found out to be a mine and a series of large circles formed by rubber pipes in the water, which still we do not know the purpose; of course we stopped several times to admire the view and take some pictures:

Albania3

The last stretch of road start from Koman and climbs uphill on a narrow road remnant of a quarry, made from large stones (this is the only dangerous part of the road, where you have to go extremely slow), is near a high dam monitored by security agents dressed in a funny uniform and armed with a vintage firearm with the wooden handle. Near the dam, a tunnel carved into the mountain takes you to a parking lot where ferries depart.

Just parked the car a kind girl asked us in perfect Italian if we needed information, I asked in English about ferry, to allow even Principessa to understand, and in a good English it was explained us that because of the level too low the of lake, the ferry could not leave, it that day, and following 2 or 3 for sure, but that if we wanted we could do a private tour by boat, without car, and without going up to Fierze, at a price much higher than the ferry.

During a first comparison we smelled a rat, we thought that the ferry had already left, and that for this girl was better to sell us a private boat tour rather than make us wait the next day and take the ferry .. Ferry being used from local to carry everything, that for sure is cheap ..

We went back to the town and we asked other people about the ferry departure time, and all advised us to ask to pier because there was low level of water in the lake, so we were untrusting this girl, but she was honest … Here came the despair, we had come all this way with the horrible road certainty of not having to go back again, plus we were really curious about this trip on this ferry passing through lands untouched by any road, where the time stopped long time ago, where people do not have “heard” the Italian occupation or the German one, or Communism, or the modernization of these days; they live in the same way, in nature, thanks to the hard work regardless of Saturday and Sunday with the days marked only by sun and by night and the moon to indicate the seasons and the day to sow and reap.

I realize now that I have written a papyrus, am I long-winded? If yes, tell me, it’s the first time I am writing a blog, I’m not an expert ..

Always with a smile we went back, towards Tirana! But this I’ll tell you in the next post

A (long) day in Albania – Part 1

**Just a reminder, I am writing in English for fun)

On September 18th at 04:00a AM we left Montenegro, because of an unwanted meeting (we will tell about this in another post), and at five in the morning we started our unique, long and wonderful day in Albania accompanied by the call of the Muezzin, starting from the minarets, spread amplified in the beautiful valleys surrounding us, making the sunrise magic.

Our first stop was Shkodra, we arrived in the town too early, we had a walk in the desert center, and then we parked along the road to the castle, where Principessa had  a good sleep, and I’ve read “Siberian Trilogy” from Nicolai Lilin (which apparently is a “liar” https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolai_Lilin, I was sad when I discovered it, and I am suffering, I do not know whether or not to buy the last two books; sorry I can’t find any article in English about him).

Shkodra or Shkodër for the Albanians, Scutari for us Italians, is an ancient city, the cradle of Albanian culture, on the shores of homonymous lake and often known as the “Florence of the Balkans” because here the press arrived early and was taken The first photograph of the entire Balkan area (1858): http://shkoder.net/en/ . Looks like we made the tour of the “Florence of something”, in this post I wrote about the Florence of Bulgaria, I swear it was not wanted!

At about 9 am we ventured into the center, we immediately noticed that most of the cars were Mercedes from ’90s, that’s Albania! The main street is super romantic, a series of restaurants, small shops and cafes surrounding the street, and tables crowded with people concentrated on smoking and drinking coffee give color to the pedestrian area. The thing that certainly impressed me was the extreme kindness of the people, as the waiter who has worked hard to make us an omelette because the chef had not yet arrived, then asking if it was good (and it was), or the guy who offered us to take a picture, and got scared seeing photo getting out of the camera, confessing that he had never seen a snapshot:

Albania1

Also in the center was being the beer festival, sponsored by the national beer “Stela”, which we did not get to try for a number of reasons: start drinking at 9 am is not recommended, we were going to drive , we were uninsured because the green card does not cover this nation and insurance office near the borderwas close and mainly all the stands were closed. For the curious, this is the link of the brewery: http://www.stefani-co.al/.

The city is very accurate, even the fences of the yards are decorated and parks are full of strange sights, such as giants Chupa Chups:

Albania2

In the morning as well we left towards Koman, with the idea of taking a ferry and sail up the valley above a breathtaking water views, we thought we had the day well planned, but something unexpected was around the corner. I’ve already written too much, I will tell this adventure in the next post. For now one anticipation:

KomanLake

Drvengrad and Life is a Miracle

If I knew that such a place exists, I could not sleep without visiting it

The choice of a road from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina was obvious when on side note of Lonely Planet suddenly we found the village of Emir Kusturica, which he built for the filming of his Life Is a Miracle. What can I say? We are going there!
Drvengrad1

The village is allocated on the slope of Mokra Gora, in one hour drive from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the road is not in the least main, mountains, lakes, 2-3 hours from Sarajevo, 4-5 hours from Belgrade, only pleasure to go.

The description of the guide was short, so it was not quite clear what we could find there. Evaluated our expectations: Commercial outrage, organized by the locals on the remains of luxury, or completely abandoned wasteland.

It was nice to see that a group of very friendly people takes care about the the village, that the village works not only for the curious travelers like me and Leone, but also as a school of cinema and each year hosts International Film Festival Kustendorf, the special features of which – the intentionally missed red carpet.

Kustendorf

20-25 wooden houses, there in addition to the guest rooms is a cinema also (above all!), showing Kusturica movies, couple of kitsch restaurants with a very good local food, super friendly waiters and old American music, where we dined, library, church, pool.

On the streets named in honour of personal heroes of Kusturica (Tesla, Maradona, Che, Fellini…) are cars from the film, local vendors sell souvenirs in small kiosks. Best souvenir for us – wool socks, of course. On the wall of one of houses there are portraits of Gagarin, Maradona and Che.

Drvengrad2

Incredible place with an amazing atmosphere. Such an atmosphere I felt only later in Sarajevo, as the replacement of which Kusturica built for himself this village.

Principessa

Plovdiv, the capital of Thrace that we were not expecting.

**Disclaimer: I am writing for fun, my English is not perfect, I am not a perfectionist! Have fun!

During our last trip me and Princess traveled through 12 nations by car, and just in Bulgaria we found a place that we immediately loved: Plovdiv. A pair of cute Germans also took what has become our favorite photo with our instant camera, despite the orientation:

plovdiv3

I knew nothing about Plovdiv before I got there, except that it was halfway between Kazanlak, famous for the production of rose extract, and Skopje, capital of Macedonia. Only now, thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that we were in Plovdiv, the capital of the ancient Thracian land famous in Greek mythology, I do not remember why exactly. By the way, in Plovdiv we realized to not have the famous “Vignette” to use highways and now we are waiting fines)).

So we stayed in Bulgaria for a couple of days, we visited the region of roses, the capital Sofia, and finally we got here, on September 24, more or less at lunch time. It is a big city that does not say much getting there by car, but as soon as you walk inside the old town you will understand why it is called the “Florence of Bulgaria”. Ancient streets that go up and down a hill, great nineteenth century buildings well kept and maintained, markets selling local products and antiques and for sure restaurants (we were hungry!).

We chose to the restaurant Hebros, considering that we were traveling without telephone, nor internet, nor other technologies we were super lucky, and after a couple of hours we were full, and quite drunk. Very tasty baked eggplant stuffed with vegetables, and chicken fed only with corn hominy, all bathed in a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon obviously local. If you want to know what the corn hominy is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hominy, if you visit the restaurant: http://www.tripadvisor.it/Restaurant_Review-g295391-d1101020-Reviews-Hebros_Hotel_Restaurant-Plovdiv_Plovdiv_Province.html .

During our wandering dazed by alcohol we found a great photo lab, an initiative of Lyuben and Desi, who welcomed us with perfect English and made a series of photos with historic costumes (http://retrophotoplovdiv.com/) The result here:

plovdiv1

Afternoon spent back in time, walking around the city, in the company of a number of cats, which are everywhere, monuments, amphitheatres … Towards evening we left the city in the direction of Skopje, but we will be back.

Leone