Turin (Oct 17-18)

We caught the train to Turin, changing at Milan. The Italian train service worked very well for us, and we had seats in business class which gave us plenty of room and a free drink (glass of Prosecco!) with which to enjoy the journey. Travelling by train meant that we could relax for a few hours, enjoy the view (and write this blog). As we approached Turin (at an impressive 300kph!) we noticed the mountains appearing; it seems it’s nickname of “the Capital of the Alps” has good cause.

We were staying at the Principi de Piedmont (Piedmont being this region of Italy) and after checking in we headed out to a museum which covered some of the early history of the city. In 1706 the Battle of Turin saw the city beseiged for 117 days, after which the attackers were routed with the help of some allies. This battle was remarkable in that the attacking French arrived at the beginning of Winter and had to wait to Spring to launch their offensive (as their gun-powder wasn’t usable in winter). In that time the defenders built 17km of tunnels under the attackers likely positions, radiating out from the city. They used these tunnels to build caches of gunpowder which they ignited under the attacking forces, killing in total thousands this way. And from this battle the story of a local hero lives on, due to one Pietro Micca giving his life to keep the attackers from breaching the tunnels. The museum tells all this story and we were given a personal guided tour in English by an enthusiastic guide, including a visit into some of the remaining tunnels themselves. For dinner that night we found an intriguing place with different food stations where I pointed at a nice looking piece of steak and was pleased to be presented with it a few minutes later cooked nice and rare.

After a reasonabe breakfast the next day we navigated through the city to catch a “tranvia”, a tram with cog wheels climbing the mountain on spoked rails, to the Superga mountain, only to miss the departure time by 2mins due to bus busyness and heavy traffic. Whist we waited for the next departure we practiced our Italian (well, Greg’s Italian and my pointing) with a nice lady in a local bakery and ended up with cold meats, cheese and home-made foccaccia to eat later. The tranvia itself took about 15 mins to slowly climb up the maintain and once at the top we got out to explore Superga Basilica – “the church on the hill” – an impressive building overlooking Turin and the surrounding mountains. On a clear day the view is said to be outstanding, unfortunately we weren’t there on a clear day so we had to take others word for it. Whilst on the hill we explored the Basilica itself, which was very impressive except for the graffiti on many of the lower walls. We would have also visited the House of Savoy royal tombs, but they were accessible by tour only and we needed to catch the next cable car back down to Turin and so missed out on this. After our descent we navigated a few more buses and made it to the Villa Della Regina. This property was being slowly restored after years of neglect, including having been used as a girls school early in the 20th century. It was built by the house of Savoy as one of their palaces, and was very impressive if somewhat decayed. It was on a hill within Turin and as we sat in the garden outside eating our sandwiches we reflected on what a commanding sight it must have made in it’s day. From here we headed to the Borgo e Rocca Medioevale, a mock medieval village built in 1885 for the Arts and Industry Italian Expo. There is a small village and entire castle all exact reproductions of existing medieval buildings in the region. Whilst waiting for the tour we rested in the village cafe, and had a great expresso for 1 euro, and an amazing hot chocolate which was clearly made with care and pride. After the castle we wandered back through Turin botanical gardens and headed to a well established bar which had been in existence for over 100 years. There, in ornate surroundings, we enjoyed a drink and a selection of small sandwiches; a combination which is apparently traditional in Turin. From here we enjoyed a “slow food” approved hamburger at Eataly along with the unintended entertainment of seeing a young Italian bring his date there and the distinct lack of being impressed that the lady displayed (who was dressed as if expecting a posh restaurant). Still, at least he managed to bring her back after she walked out at the beginning. To complete our evening we unwound in the small but pleasant hotel spa, and strolled upstairs to bed.

We got an early start the next day, and made it to the Palazzo Reale (the Royal Palace)in time for a 9:30am tour of the 2nd floor, which it not open otherwise. There were only 4 of us on this first tour of the day, so the kind guide broke with the rules and held a dual language tour, covering the key points in English so that we could better appreciate the history of the impressive rooms we were seeing. We also had a self guided tour of the first floor afterwards. The House of Savoy had more than 20 palace and castles in and around Turin, many of which can be visited. We headed to the Basilica from here, but we were unable to get in as there appeared to be a funeral service for someone important (from the very grand outfit of the officiating priest, the vast number of nuns, priests, etc and the attendant police including cycle escort. So instead we walked to the Mole Antonelliana, a building originally designed as a synagogue, and I went up the tower to enjoyed a good (but still not very clear) view of Turin. The glass elevator rises, through the middle of the building, suspended in the air allowing the interior of the building to be enjoyed. After this we briefly explored the Cinema museum in the magnificent main building, which was very impressive and we felt conveyed a real love of the medum’s history. If we’d had more time we’d have enjoyed looking round the Metropolis special exhibition, however we had to restrict ourselves to the film “rooms” which covered such classic genres as horror movies, westerns and cartoons. Our visit to Turin ended with a relaxed lunch on Piazza San Carlo at Stratta, where we both chose local specialties – Greg enjoyed Agnolotti (sort of like ravioli) and I had rabbit “tuna”. It turns out that the history of the rabbit “tuna” was due to monks wishing to work around the Lent rules banning the eating of meat. Their solution was to dunk some rabbits in the river, baptise them as fish, and hence be able to eat them during Lent. Following lunch we had dessert in the number 4 rated restaurant in Turin – a gelateria. I thoroughly enjoyed my limone and fruiti de bosco as we wandered around a little, having run out of time to effectively visit the famous Egyptian museum.

After this we returned to our hotel to pick up our bags and walked back to the train station in order to head to our next destination…. Rome!

1 thought on “Turin (Oct 17-18)

  1. Pingback: Venice (Oct 14-16) | The 40 Project

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