Aosta seems to have become our European Manaus. When we went to Manuas, while we were in Brazil, it was really just to experience the jungle around it. We had no real expectations for the city itself. However, once we were there we discovered that Manaus was a surprising and exuberant place and it ended up being my favorite city that we visited during the Brazilian leg of our trip.
Similarly, we went to Aosta simply because it was close to the Alps. When we arrived, I was even a little disappointed; though there were ancient ruins all around, the city seemed very quiet and industrial in the area around the train station. (Especially while we walked around for an hour looking for a place to stay.) We even tried to find a train that would get us to our next destination, but it was too late and they had already all left.
As we walked further in to Aosta, however, it became more and more charming. We found a hotel down a small alley in the old town, and got a map of all the ruins from the tourist information office. As we walked around visiting the various sites, we were surprised to see spectacular Roman walls, towers, and even the ruins of an ancient theater. We were even more surprised that we were basically the only people visiting most of these things.
In addition to amazing, uncrowded Roman ruins, Aosta also has a lovely old town area. Though it feels “touristy” because it is well preserved, really old, and has some tourist oriented shops, there actually weren’t many tourists there. Also, the tourists that were in the old town were mostly Italian. After Chamonix, it was a pleasant surprise to not hear English around every corner.
As we were exploring the ruined Roman theater, we heard some musicians playing nearby, and went to check it out. We discovered that on one side of the theater the city still hosts performances, and that later that night there would be a free show featuring a piano-violin-cello trio.
Later that night we went back to see the show. The ruins were lit up with slowly changing colored lights and new age music was playing over the PA. I think it was supposed to create a magical atmosphere, but it felt more like something a 13 year old “Lord of the Rings” fanatic would love and I began to be skeptical that the show would be any good.
As the trio began playing (and the new age music turned off), however, the mood completely changed. They began with Hayden, followed by a few emotion numbers from Rachmoninov. As they were playing, surrounded by the ruins, I was reminded that Aosta has been continuously inhabited and used for thousands of years and that the people all around me were simply the latest strata in layers of ancient Rome.