Europe N to S: The True Pilgrimage (1/13/17)

Today’s Miles: 13.4
Total Miles: 3,677

Near Barolo, Italy – January 13, 2017

“But why Alba?” Francesca asks. 

I sit back in my chair and try to think how to explain my answer. Francesca and Enzo look at me across the table. She’s a reporter for Alba’s paper and he came with her to take pictures. The three of us are sitting in a cafe, talking about the trip.

The real reason is that Francesco told me to come. That’s Francesco with an o, not an a. He told me back in Gallarate just after New Years when I was figuring out my route. 

His eyes lit up talking about Alba, about Barbaresco and Barolo, about the beautiful vineyards that are prized by wine lovers across the world. He told me about the nebbiolo grape, the way it takes on the flavor of where it is grown, the way you can taste the soil of Langhe in each glass and how much each hectare of land there is worth because of it.

“You cannot walk across northern Italy and not go,” he said. 

So I went. But I know it is more his dream than mine. I wouldn’t be able to say much about wine beyond the color I can see with my own eyes, so to claim it as the reason for coming to Alba is like fitting into a secondhand shirt. 

“A friend told me I had to come,” I say. “What do you think I should see here?”

Francesca and Enzo consider it for a moment. 

“Well, there’s the Ferrero factory,” they tell me. “It’s where they make Nutella.”

“What?” I stammer. 

I sit up like a bolt of lightning just crashed through the roof, like a 5-year-old in the same room with Princess Elsa, like a Catholic who realizes the Vatican is next door.

Nutella was born in Alba and I almost missed it. How many nights have I sat in a tent, peeling back the golden foil top on a jar to spoon out gobs of Nutella? I used to carry it out town into every difficult stretch of trail, saving it for those tough moments when I needed a bit extra to lift my spirits. A spoonful at the top of the pass, after mile twenty on a day, when I made it across a difficult ford. It got me through the last portage of the Kaministiquia River when I had to pull my kayak over miles of swamp and bogs. It got me through the deserts, forests, and mountains of the Triple Crown. All those jars I finished over the thousands and thousands of miles, each scraped clean for every last spoonful. Is there a sadder sound than the tines of a spork against an empty jar of Nutella?

But not this trip, not with the glass jars of Europe. It’s plastic in the US, lighter and less breakable. Every time I crossed a border Norway to here, I always found glass and it seemed too heavy and dangerous to throw in my pack. Still, an old friend is an old friend.

Enzo and Francesca give me directions and I head out to find the Ferrero factory. They told me there was nothing there to see, no tours, no gift shop, only a big sign, but I don’t care, I want to walk past, to make it part of this line I’m drawing across Europe, this single glimpse of the continent.

I take a picture and walk on to the nearest grocery store where I buy the biggest jar of Nutella I can find, a whole kilo. I wrap the glass in my jacket, stick it in my pack, and walk out of town, through the famous vineyards of Barolo, the question of “why Alba?” answered. 

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5 thoughts on “Europe N to S: The True Pilgrimage (1/13/17)

  1. Laughed out loud! I knew chocolate would be involved in answering the question, Why Alba?!!!! Enjoyed the surprise of Nutella and share your appreciation! Ordering crepes, watching them cook… slathered with Nutella… then sliced bananas…. folded in half, then half again and handed to you… on the corner right across the street from the Eiffel Tower in Paris!!! I can still taste them! Life is good!

  2. Hazel nuts, cocoa and sugar. Loved by millions. What a great testimonial for this delicious treat. Keep smiling.

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