Friday, March 31, 2017

In search of the Holy Shroud of Torino, Part II, The River Po.

God must have a special predilection for the people of Turin. God gave them the Holy Shroud for safekeeping. But more than anything, God gave them the River Po.
Like all jewels, the River Po beautifies everything that comes within its vicinity. Even us human beings.

"The Po by day is like a shining bracelet..." 
"... and by night becomes a
necklace shimmering  in the
"The Po brings down the fresh
clear waters of the Alpine

"...yet frolics in the muddy banks
of every town and city she
"The Po moves slowly, not
feebly, on her majestic parade
"...never stopping, and rarely
causing a commotion."

"The Po brings life to the
fields in her valleys..."
"...a good catch for happy fishermn..."
" for the passing bird..."

"...a perfect place for a young couple´s
first kiss..."

"...the ideal setting for a picture
for love ones far away..."
"...and like every loving mother,
asks nothing in return."
Thank you for sharing this magical moment with us. Now it is your turn to come to Torino, to visit the Holy Shroud, and to fall in love with the River Po.

In Search of The Holy Shroud of Torino , Part I, Lunch at San Giorgio

After our two days and nights on the Via Francigena in Val d'Aosta, Estela and I took our van and drove south on the Autostrada A5, leaving the mountainous terrain of Aosta, that opened up onto a expansive plain as we entered Piedmont. As we left Val d'Aosta, instead of heading east, following the Via Francigena as we went past Ivrea, and going in the direction of Santhiá on the E25, we continued on A5 going straight southwards, towards Torino in order to experience La Santa Sindone, or Holy Shroud as it is called here.
Estela ordered a plate of
After our final castle tour at Verrés in Val d'Aosta, we were running late to catch lunch, so when it was past 1:30 and we were still a good 20 minutes drive away from Torino, I saw an exit sign to get off the Toll Road, at a town by the name of San Giorgio. As we came off the exit ramp, I asked the man at the toll booth, "Can you suggest a place to eat?" He answered, "300 feet behind me, on the other side of the road." Two minutes later we were sitting down for an unforgettable lunch.
Rigatoni with tuna fish.
You might question, rightly so, what relevance does this little adventure have in a blog dedicated to such solemn themes as those of "Faith" and "Art". My best retort would be that our pilgrimages are at best a quest to follow in the footsteps of a Galilean Prophet of 2000 years ago, who after preaching, worried that His listeners would be hungry, so He multiplied bread and fish to feed their bodies And before he left his beloved Apostles, He organized for them a Last Supper. So we do things His Way or hit the Highway.
A deliciously  stewed  pork shaft
"arrosto di maliale"
We do not come to Italy just for the food. Food is just more than another component of a total cultural experience. As a country, Italy has problems: economical, social and political. Yet as a culture, they take eating serious. For the Italian people, Food is Art, something not to be taken lightly, something men do. as well as women. If for no other reason, we should consider the Italians today are the most advanced civilization on earth.

This was a chocolate filled cake,
warm and fresh out of the oven
just in time for our desert.
As I sipped on my espresso, thanking God for such a sumptuous meal and for having the opportunity to share such a nice experience with my wife,  I thought about the upcoming visit to Torino, and on to the Holy Shroud, and I felt that somehow pilgrims from centuries before were all suddenly our companions, and shared in our joy of making this journey with them. In  our Catholic Faith, we have a belief in the Mystical Body of Christ, to which we all are a part of, believers past, present and future. My mother was born on November 1st, All Saints Day, so in our family, the concept of the Communion of Saints was something we always believed in and cherished.
When you make your next pilgrimage, don't forget to bring along the Communion of Saints. Saints make good travel companions!

Food and cheese for hungry Pilgrims on the Via Fancigena in Val d'Aosta

By the time we finished our tour of the prison cells of Forte di Bard, Estela and I were famished, so we tried the "Polveriera" (translatable as the Gunpowder Room of this old fort) Restaurant.
An antipasto we had at the
Museum restaurant at Forte
di Bard, featuring "tagliere
di Salumi e Formaggi
Valdostani" (Valdostano is
the adjective for
Val D'Aosta, and this was
a board with cold cuts of
lunchmeats and cheeses).
Price 12 Euro, delicious
and worthwhile.

Pollo speziato accompagnato
da Riso Basmati con verdure
The most important meal of the day for these mountain people,the Valdostani, is their "la colazione" or breakfast. First of all a good espresso ocappuccino, with a brioche or some pastry.
We were treated every morning at our
chalet-styled boutique hotel in downtown Aosta
with a variety of  home-made pastries.

 Strudel pastry with blueberries.

Lemon cake.
From left to right, "Jambon de Bosses",
"Cotto alla Brace di Saint Oyen" and
"Coppa Aromatizzato di Ginepro"
 In the above picture, the typical lunchmeats of the Val d'Aosta are very aromatic and hearty. The Coppa aromatized by juniper wood was a delicacy.

This cheeseboard features
at the top
"Toma di Gressoney".
At this point you might have noticed that many names used in Val d'Aosta are not Italian, but French. The entire Val d'Aosta, as well as most of the Piedmont, was part of the Kingdom of Savoy, which also included a part of southeast France, east of the Rhone. Young people in Val d'Aosta are all Franch-Italian bilinguals.

To the right of the "Toma"
is the "Fontina Valdostana"
On the bottom left is the
"Caciotta Fresca"

On the right is the aromatic and seasoned
"Toma alle Erbe di Montagna Val d'Ayas"

A mid-morning Espresso at the Piazza Chanoux

Reading and resting at Piazza Chanous, Aosta.
This display window of a store in downtown
Aosta specializes in sweets and chocolates,
and on the trays on the top, the emblematic
"Bugie" cookies.

As Estela shows us, the
"Bugie" is a delicious light
cookie for a mid-morning

Many stores in Aosta offer freshly baked bread of
all types and sizes
For an appetizer at dinner, I had a "Pizza alla
Valdostana", with Fetti di Lardo
Estela ordered a Pizza typical of
another part of Northern Italy,
namely from Cortina d'Ampezzo
"Pizza con Patate".
A simple plate of Risotto with red wine is always
 a heartwarming dish for dinner in Aosta.
Vitello con Polenta.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Castello di Verres, in Val d'Aosta, on the Via Francigena, a Renaissance Cube.

Il Castello di Verres is a castle that everyone should visit on their road down the Via Francigena on their way through the Val d'Aosta.
Castello di Verrés, perched on an eagles nest
point of the mountains overlooking the village of
Verrés and the Val d'Aosta.
When Estela and I first arrived this year to Val d'Aosta, we asked someone at the Forte di Bard which Castelli were the must attractive.
Here we had to leave our van,
and take a walk up the hill to
reach Castello di Verres.
 The most interesting Medieval Castle is Castello di Fenis, which we described two posts ago. After Fenis, they recommended we visit il Castello di Verrés. 

As you can see, it is a steep climb up the
mountain path to the Castello di Verrés.
While Aymone di Challant and his son Bonifacio I were building their fortress at Fenís, Aymone's cousin, Ilbeto Challant (1351-1409) started a project some 20 kms west of Fenís at Verrés, that would would represent a milestone in architecture, building on an eagles nest point in the Valley of Aosta, a cubic structure of 30 meters on each side, totally breaking the patterns set for castles in the region, and bringing in a totally Renaissance model, more a well defended palace than a
uncomfortable Medieval Castle.

Estela is climbing up the last
curve of the ascent to the
Castello di Verrés, with the
Valley of Aosta and the Village
of Verrés in the background

The last few steps to il Castello
takes Estela over a small wooden
cross bridge

At last we arrived at the entrance
of Il Castello di Verrés.

The castle has an entrance room
which acts as a security check
similar to that of banks and other
buildings in our world today.

An embrasure allows visual control of the ground
floor halls from the security hall.
View through the embrasure.

View from the bottom of the
central courtyard upwards.

Well in the middle of the central
courtyard is fed by a underground

Arched doorways lead to each
hall on each level of Il Castello
di Verrés.

Two symmetrical but totally independent halls
occupy the east and the west sides of the ground
floor of Il Castillo di Verrés.

Il Castello di Verrés was built on solid rock, and
instead of trimming it or hiding it, Ibleto Challant
 made gala of the granite, letting it pierce through
the wood flooring, halfway through this hall

A discreet but well designed kitchen window,
connecting the flow of food, wine and dishes
during a banquet, from the kitchen to the hall. 

The west hall has a mantelpiece that possible
 possibly brought in the warm air from the kitchen
through air ducks and shoots, as part of a very
sophisticated (for the late 14th Century) central
heating system of a Castle as big as Verrés.

Both halls have windows at one
 end, and a solid rock wall at
 the opposite end.

A station between the east hall
and the kitchen for bringing in
warm air.

The view through the embrasure from the kitchen
to the security hall.

This was a exit door to the outside
to bring in firewood. The other
door leads to the servants stairway.

The entrance to one of the Lord's
living rooms.

Wood-beamed ceiling added warm and beauty to
the bedrooms of the Challant family.

Each bedroom had its own fire-
place and received warm air
from the central air shoot.

All bedrooms had windows like
this one, looking out, and
offering light for warmth and
reading,with the stone side

All bedrooms had windows looking out into the
central courtyard. Likewise it was a source of
light, and a place to sit down and read.

The same inside window as in the
above picture, but seen from the
internal staircase coming up from
the central courtyard.

This is the grand central hearth
of Castillo Verres, with one of
the largest chimney shoots in
Europe of any constructions of
this period or before.

This is an inside view of the
chimney shoot of the downstairs
hearth, with a height of over 30
meters. On the way up, the warm
air heated all the rooms of
Castillo Verrés.

The different ovens of the kitchen

Another look into the ovens
where food was not only cooked
but also kept warm, during a
multi-dish menu banquette.

The ceiling of the kitchen

Here we see the kitchen window that we saw in
the hall, but now from the perspective of the

Ibleto Challant brought the finest stonemasons to
work on Il Castello di Verrés, as you can witness
in this corner piece of the fireplace column all
carved from one piece of stone.

A complete view of the
aforementioned stone column.

A close-up view shows that there is no fissures
nor mending between the capital of the column
and the stone frame.

In this corner of the room there
was some sort of hot water
radiator system that was later
removed, but again shows the
advanced ideas for creating a
comfortable environment.

Another window set with benches
in this bedroom.

The window looking out onto the
central light shoot in this bedroom
has a different design than the
previous bedroom.

Chimney opens up to central
chimney exhaust duck.

The roofs of the houses in Verrés use sheetrock.

Estela and I learned a lot about not only about Castles in Val d'Aosta, but this pilgrimage down this section of the Via Francigena gave a unique insight into life in the middle ages, and how that life changed from the 13th to the 15th Centuries.

Estela bids farewell to Castello
di Verrés.
Estela and I strongly recommend coming to Val d'Aosta and to visit the castles. We considered it a deeply mind-opening experience, which dispelled many of our preconceived notions of the Medieval period, and how the Region of Savoy tried to coexist with the hostile expansionism of the Dauphine of France and its neighbors in the Piedmont and in Lombardy.
This is our final visit on this trip
to a Castle in Val d?Aosta.
When we think of Italy, our minds are full of a thousand clichés: the Canals of Venice, the Roman Coliseum, spaghetti and pizzas. If you have the interest and desire to overcome the crowds, and to get to know a much more authentic Italy, follow us on our adventures down the Via Francigena, and on to the Piedmont.