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"