The Beauty of Torino (Turin)

Even with a month and a half, Italy has so many amazing places that it is almost impossible to choose which cities and towns will make the short list. Before meeting Lorenzo, I’m sad to say that Turin might not have made my itinerary but I am so glad it did. The city itself has so much history, museums, and beautiful streets that even without the best homestay and tour guides, I would have had an amazing time. Luckily I got both.

P1030100Top Things to Know About and Do in Turin:

Turin is probably best known for the headquarters of Fiat (the car company), the 2006 Winter Olympics, and the famous Italian soccer team Juventus (which Italians love or love to hate). However, the number of beautiful outdoor markets, museums, and well preserved open squares makes it a beautiful city for anyone coming to Italy. There are so many blogs and articles with top places to go and with the limited time I had in the city, I can only give you my highlights from the trip. 

Museo Egizio- This Egyptian museum is a major source of local pride, boasting the second largest collection of Egyptian Art and Culture in the world just behind the Cairo Museum in Egypt. As you may have guessed, I visited on a Monday when the museum is…chiuso (closed). This whole Monday thing is really a problem. Click here for other museums that are worth checking out.

The Holy Shroud- The Holy Shroud of Turin is located in Turin’s main cathedral on Piazza San Giovanni near the palace. This important linen dates back to the mid 1300’s and has retained the imprint of a man’s image. Many scholars believe this is the sheet that wrapped and held Jesus’ body after the Deposition. The shroud itself is now housed within a box behind a large screen but is still definitely worth a visit.

Mole Antonelliana- This landmark building rises high above the red tiled rooftops of the city and is a defining feature of the Turin skyline. It was originally built in 1889 and now houses the National Museum of Cinema as well as a glass elevator that takes visitors all the way up the spire for a 360 degree view of the city. The museum itself has a detailed history of moving pictures and cinema moving through history up to present day with hands on exhibits and an incredible main floor filled with plush recliners to view the many large screens displayed above your head. I spent hours walking through the exhibits and up the open winding staircase with pictures and descriptions of every actress who won an Academy Award for Best Actress since the beginning of the Oscars.

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Porta Palazzo market– This food market stretches the full length of the piazza and into the large industrial looking building behind. There are so many stalls filled with fruits, vegetables, and spices, you could spend all day wandering the narrow aisles. It is also apparently the largest open-air market in Europe. As the bus past through the piazza in the late afternoon, there were only small trucks left in the otherwise empty square selling fresh San Marzano tomatoes that overflowed from large wooden crates.

In Turin,  I had fresh buffalo mozzarella topped with penne pasta in a simple tomato sauce and a generous sprig of basil. I spent two amazing nights with Lorenzo’s parents (and dog Nora!) who treated me like family. I drank espressos every morning and spent the days wandering the city, making my way down to the River Po and up along Turin’s main shopping street Via Roma. On my last night, Serena and her boyfriend took me out for aperitivo where we made plans for future visits in the United States and promises (on my part) to really learn Italian. By the time it came for me to jump on a train bound for Venice, I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

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Bardonecchia and Italian Friends

What if I got a job as a receptionist at a hostel? I think while riding the train from Levanto to Turin, watching the changing Italian landscape outside my window. All the employees I’ve met seem so cheerful and young. One Canadian now living in Belgium used to work Saturday and Sunday evenings in a hostel in Naples. He said the job consisted of letting people in who forgot their keys and watching Gilmore Girls’ reruns. I could totally do that. I imagine myself greeting weary travelers with a smile and a map. I would recommend the best restaurants with the cheapest prices and circle key areas “not to be missed” on their stay. Young people helping young people sharing a mutual zest for life and adventure. Wonder if it would pay the bills… 

This next section of my trip (Bardonecchia, Turin) would not be possible without the kindness and generosity of one person who I met while working and living in Massachusetts. Lorenzo, originally from Turin, became an amazing travel advisor while I was planning my trip and set me up with the best train travel websites, maps, and tips for his home country. He went so far as to introduce me to some of his friends still living in Italy who offered their time and couches for me to stay.  So by the time I arrive in Turin, I already have a lunch date planned with a cheerful young woman who will quickly become a dear friend. May I introduce…Miss Serena.P1030131

I meet Serena outside the train station and she recognizes me instantly with my array of maps, backpacks and confused expression. She welcomes me with well-spoken English and highlights important parts of Turin as I try to keep up with her surefooted steps. We go to a local restaurant near her work and I scarf down focaccia-style pizza surrounded by other Italians grabbing a quick pranzo (lunch). After introductions, Serena invites me to stay with her and her family in Bardonecchia, a beautiful mountain village in the Alps with slopes that hosted the snowboard events for the 2006 Olympics and views that would take anyone’s breath away. Naturally, I say yes.

P1030117Early the next morning, I set out to buy a gift for Serena’s parents before making my way to the train station. With a little help from my Lonely Planet guide book the night before, I have decided on some sweets from Baratti & Milano, a famous chocolate shop originating in Turin back in 1858. The shop looks far but not too far so I finish my morning blog and make my way to the designated piazza…which is much father than expected. I make a hurried selection, drop my map in a frenzy and speed walk to the train station sweaty and out of breath. 

[I wish I could say that as I spend more time traveling in Europe, I learn to avoid frantically running along narrow streets through crowded cities in order not to miss a bus or train. Sadly, this will not be the case. See: Levanto, Venice, all of Croatia, really any time I have to go somewhere.] IMG_0913

Bardonecchia is located on the border of Italy and France in the northern Piedmonte region. It is both a summer and winter destination for extreme skiers and sunny August afternoons in the Alps. The air here is sweet and the water is refreshingly pure. After I arrive at the station, Serena and I take a walk through the wooded countryside and through the main downtown, past a small church and yellow shops with wooden shutters and tiled roofs. Then begins the eating. Serena brings me on a continuous Italian food tour to make sure my mouth has tasted as much of the culture as my eyes have already seen. P1030132

We wait in line at the bakery Ugetti for one of the famous krapfen pastries (German for donut) that’s served hot from the oven and oozing with apricot jam. Feeling slightly thirsty, we hop across the street to the market for a four pack of EstaTEA, the juice box of Italy and the American version of a CapriSun/Nestle Tea. For dinner, the whole family goes out for pizza and I get my first taste of deliciously melted buffalo mozzarella with a simple tomato sauce on a crispy crust. By the time evening comes, I get the best night sleep I’ve had in weeks and wake to a full breakfast of Italian pastries, yogurt and steaming hot espresso. Before getting back on the train, Serena encourages me to get a coffee granita, a combination of espresso, shaved ice, and whipped creme. It has the consistency of clouds and tastes like heaven. I decide I never want to leave this mountain oasis but Serena already has many more things for me to see (and taste) back in Torino. 

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Krapfen = The BEST pastry
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Thirst quenching

"Coffee Ice"

One Lovely Blog Award

All my blogging time has been spent trying to catch up on all the places I’ve visited. This is a welcome surprise! Thank you so much, The Nomadic Panda, for my nomination. September 8th was my 4 year anniversary with WordPress so your nomination couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve loved reading your posts and traveling in your footsteps. Enjoy Nice!

(I’m stealing the following paragraph from our favorite aforementioned Panda.)

The One Lovely Blog Award nominations are chosen by fellow bloggers for those newer or up-and-coming bloggers. The goal is to help give recognition and to also help the new blogger reach more viewers. It also recognizes blogs that are considered to be “lovely” by the fellow-blogger who chose them, acknowledging bloggers who share their stories or thoughts in a beautiful manner to connect with their viewers and followers. In order to “accept” the award the nominated blogger must follow several guidelines, which are listed below.

The guidelines for the One Lovely Blog Award are:
•Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
•Add the One Lovely Blog Award logo to your post and/or blog.
•Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
•Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

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So here are my 7 facts:

  1. I’m moving to Manhattan when I return from my European excursion to live with a girl I’ve had a friend crush on for 6 years.
  2. I continue to be amazed by the kindness of others.
  3. I like beer–especially IPAs and deliciously dark stouts.
  4. My parents have given me the world.
  5. Spring is my favorite season.
  6. I’m secretly proud that I was born with 12 toes.
  7. I believe travel is and should always be a way of life.

Now I need to mention and nominate 15 other incredible bloggers from the tons that I follow. Can I space it out? I think yes. The theme of these nominations is unsurprisingly TRAVEL.

  • Musings from under a Mango Tree– Follow Beth in Western Africa as a Peace Corp Volunteer. Incredible photos and thoughtful posts.

  • Travel Junkie Photography– Amazing pictures and descriptions from all over the world. Places I’ve mostly never been…and really want to go!
  • Arizona Highways – How many of us have spent as much time in Arizona as we would like? I remember my first family vacation there and can’t wait to visit again. This is a great blog with multiple editors.
  • Ordinary Girl Extraordinary Dreamer– I know, I know. The Nomadic Panda was nominated by her so I should pick someone else. But her blog is great!
  • Golden Days In Italy What Golden Day are you on? Spend some time with Susan exploring her many posts on Italy.

Thanks again!

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Cinque star review: Cinque Terre

Happy Anniversary WordPress! Today the darling blogging website & I are celebrating our 4 year anniversary. Together we have traveled the world, gone through periods of neglect and apologizes, and decided to tie the knot when I purchased my very own web domain name. Thank you, dear WordPress, for always standing by my side and giving me the confidence to send my words out into the big wide Interwebs.

Cinque Terre

I’ve wanted to go to Cinque Terre (Five Lands) for years. I remember putting it at the top of my list four years ago when I decided not to go to Italy during my two week travel break while studying abroad. I will save that country and that trip for another day. And when that day finally came, I couldn’t have been more ready. P1020989

Cinque Terre has gained popularity with American tourists in the past couple of years. My friend’s Italian boyfriend asked me at dinner why people are so obsessed with these coastal towns and I didn’t have a good answer. Maybe because the hiking is amazing. Maybe because pictures of these villages are all over the Internet. Or maybe it’s because when someone goes there, he or she cannot stop talking about the visit for months. Either way, it was a must see destination for me and it should be for you too. P1030072

The coast is comprised of five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. I stayed in Levanto, the next town over from Monterosso and found it extremely easy to take the train there and back. A variety of trails crisscross the mountainous coast connecting all five villages as well as the train system for those who don’t want to trek on foot. Landslides in the last year or two destroyed some of the popular coastal trails and the main route connecting Corniglia and Riomaggiore through Manarola is still closed to the public. Still there is no bad trail since every path and series of steps lead to amazing views overlooking the Ligurian Sea. P1030026

IMG_0877If you are going during high season, be prepared for many MANY people. The morning trains are the best because they are pretty empty and run on time. By the afternoon, the trains are 20-40 minutes delayed and each car is jam packed with people. But it’s worth it. Since many people opt to use the trains, the trails are pretty clear and there are so many options beside the coastal route that weave up into the hills. The beaches are very popular too and something I would have loved to enjoy if I had stayed more days.

With just 3 nights and 2 days, these were my top six favorite things:

  • Watching the sunset from the water in Riomaggiore
  • Eating fried fish at Il Pescato Cucinato (more than once)
  • The difficult yet short (1 hour) mountain hike from Manarolo to Riomaggiore
  • Grabbing ice cream at Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia
  • Taking millions of pictures in Manarolo
  • Getting wildly lost walking from Monterosso to Levanto

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P1030018My favorite part of blogging used to be writing about one thought or one event. My words were focused on trying to pull out one idea that was bouncing around in my head and make it bounce around on the page. Now I have a zillion bouncing thoughts all at once. I spend 48 hours with just one or two people before jumping on a train not knowing if or when I’ll ever see them again. I download hundreds of pictures to my computer every day before planning my next destination and booking my next hostel. It’s amazing and crazy and a 24/7 adventure. 

But maybe I can slow down life just a little bit. Give descriptions of just one day or just one person. Because I’ve found the people and the individual fleeting moments have made this trip unforgettable. 

 

Genoa: Monday Blues

[Stop talking about Nice already, will ya?]

I spent a short yet lovely day and a half in Genoa (Genova) en route to Cinque Terre. I got very lost before finding my hostel mostly because I printed out directions to another hostel in another city but also because it was located at the top of a hill. I blame the hill. I wish I could provide you, dear reader, with valuable information about the museums to see and churches to investigate but instead I will impart one very important piece of information that should NOT be overlooked.

ALL* museums are closed on Mondays.

*Well almost all. There is a small list of five or so museums that remain open. The tourist offices have small pieces of paper with a list to the unlucky Monday travelers. The aquarium is also open. 
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That being said, I had a wonderful time walking along the port and seeing some of the churches throughout the city. There is a rich history here of merchant families as well as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. A replicate of his house stands downtown which Genoa seems to be quite proud of although the tourist descriptions of the house are underwhelming at best.  P1020920

Walking tours as well as tourist buses and mini trains traverse the city, spouting off some of the many facts and dates about Genoa. I took a short 1-hour walking tour on my first full day although I got talking to another Italian man and the tour left without us so we missed the first 15 minutes of precious information. Chatty Kathy over here…

P1020899Aquarium of Genova-is the largest aquarium in Italy and one of the biggest in Europe. This massive fish tank museum is situated along the port jutting out into the water and was designed for the Expo ’92 Genova where the city celebrated the 500th year anniversary of Columbus’ voyage and “discovery” of America. The admission price is steep (€ 24,00 for adults) and I didn’t have enough time but I heard amazing things. 

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Lorenzo was built between 1100 and the end of 14th century in a Gothic style. The Cathedral is a perfect example of the Genoa’s black and white marble layered in alternating stripes. Our tour guide informed us that only four prominently named Genovese families had the prestige to build with this design from the ground to the roofline. All other constructions had to stop midway up the wall and the distinction is evident throughout the city. I loved the whimsical look of the checkerboard buildings, a sharp contrast from the red shingles and brick walls. I saw this style replicated again throughout Italy including in the town of Montorosso while hiking through Cinque Terre.P1020903

Pesto alla Genovese-is the famous and delicious pesto traditionally eaten over homemade trofie pasta. I tasted the dish in Eataly, a famous chain of high scale grocery stores with small eating stations specializing in meat, fish, pizza and pasta. A favorite in Italy, the store has branched out with at least one location in New York City near Union Square where I ate shortly before leaving for my trip. I would highly recommend visiting one to wander past the shelves of homemade pasta, freshly baked bread and wide selection of Italian wines.IMG_0848

On my last day, Genoa’s sky turned dark and started to rain which it kept up until I left. I got to try out the Mom-approved poncho, as ugly as it was effective. I was a dry walking marshmallow as I finished my tour in a hurry.IMG_0858

Despite my short stay, I liked the feeling of Genoa. It feel like a hard working port city redefining itself as a key destination for tourists and locals alike. The location is also perfect for day trips to Portofino and other coastal towns. The historic buildings, piazzas and navel museum makes it a perfect destination for anyone traveling along the coast go to or coming from France. 

Yes, there is a helicopter on top of that yacht.
Yes, there is a helicopter on top of that yacht.

Just don’t go on a Monday.

Highlights of Nice, France

Nice, France Highlights:

Due to the large Catholic holiday on August 15th, I decided to hunker down and spend a whole week in the coastal city of Nice. I would only recommend that much time if you are in the mood to relax and enjoy the weather, casino and local bars. Considering it was the beginning of my trip, I didn’t want to spend most of my days lying on the beach but still found fun things to do while I was there.P1020718

Vieux Ville- The “old city” in English, this was my favorite part of Nice. I walked through narrow streets filled with small cafés, souvenir stands and specialty shops selling Provence lavender, soaps and artisanal cookies. The gelato and pizza stands were outnumbered only by the tourists that shuffled along the cobblestones with cameras in hand. At the center, the streets opened up to reveal a large open market. In the morning, the stalls are filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. In the evening, the food is replaced by watercolor paintings, purses and jewelry for sale. The perimeter of the square is lined with restaurants and outdoor tables under awnings boasting the freshest fish and cheapest wine. 

Beach- Crowded and pebbly. I would recommend waiting until evening, picking up a cheap bottle of wine and finding a spot on the shore to watch the sunset.P1020807

Matisse and Archaeological Museum- Not only are both museums free, they are necessary stops in this French city. The Matisse museum is well situated in the middle of a large garden, perfect for picnics and dog walkers. I spent about an hour in the museum looking at the Matisse collection before heading over to the Archaeological Museum to see stone ruins of ancient Roman baths as well as the smallest Greco-Roman amphitheater, well persevered next to the museum’s entrance. Near these two museums is another church with beautiful botanic gardens and an expansive view of the city. P1020794

Main Square and Fountains- The main center is perfect for families with children. The wide network of water jets are built into the ground and erupt without warning, shooting plumes of water high into the sky, disappearing as quickly as they come. Kids can also plan in the massive jungle gyms shaped like water creatures located to the east on the way toward the contemporary art museum (also free). I spent over an hour writing on a park bench, listening to the sounds of splashing feet and high pitched giggling. P1020708

Park- I found a large patch of green in the northwest corner of my Nice map. Feeling adventurous, I somewhat skillfully navigated the network of local buses and made my way to the center of supposed patch of wilderness. My excitement in finally finding the location was replaced with disappointment finding the gates closed with a sign indicating the park was closed for the entire month of August. No one in Italy works in August including the wilderness.

[Finally, my French blogs are done. Next stop: Italy!]