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.
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.
Early 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.]
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.
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.