Turin isn’t included in Rick Steves’ travel guides so I wasn’t planning to go there until a friend said it was worth the detour, I changed my plans a little and headed to Turin. I am glad I did, I fell in love with Turin before I even arrived. I had an English-speaking travel companion, Salvatore, on the train ride from Milan to Turin who told me about the terrain we were passing through and suggested places I might want to visit. The terrain between Milan and Turin is filled with rice bogs; this time of year, they were full of water so it looked like a complicated system of reservoirs but the rice will begin to appear during the summer. Since there were so many rice fields, I expected the menus in Turin to be filled with rice dishes, but they were still the standard panini, pizza, bread, bread and more bread menus. I am traveling ‘through the back door’ as Rick Steves would say so I usually eat at bars (small sidewalk eateries) and cafeterias (slightly larger sidewalk eateries), the menus have been limited and mostly the same. Here’s an example of a lunch I had in Turin:
I believe it was called Italiano misto sul tagilieri — mixed Italian on a cutting board, but I’d be happy to be corrected. I believe the chunky white meat behind the salmon sandwich is rabbit. The black gooey item between the cheeses is berry jam, the brown paper bag at the top of the picture is filled with soft Italian bread. After they serve you, waiters come back and toss a paper bag full of bread onto your table. The food is very good, but I do crave a regular meal with salad, meat and a side dish.
As Salvatore & I traveled, we saw the Alps peek in and out of view, along with green rolling hills and ancient buildings, some falling apart, some still being used. It was all farm country, but the hills and the tall mountains broke up the monotony, the train ride alone was memorable. Salvatore works in a government office doing work he doesn’t enjoy, but his true love is writing, he writes short stories and plays; he gets stage companies to produce them, so we talked about theater for a while. He likes comedy, so I suggested he see “Guardians of the Galaxy”; he looked very skeptical. He grew up in Turin, but lives in Milan; he was going back home to see family when I met him. It would have been fun to see one of his plays, but nothing was showing at the moment. I was enjoying the conversation so much, I was surprised at how quickly we arrived in the lovely small city of Turin. Where Milan is all business, with traffic and packed sidewalks and everyone in a hurry, Turin is serene, with people on foot, there are green hills surrounding the town and we get a glimpse of the Alps every now and then.
In addition to the beautiful landscape, Turin is filled with history, art and religious devotion, there is a university, a royal palace, a duomo (cathedral) and piazzas filled with people dancing, singing and just socializing. Turin is a gem, since most tour guides omit it, it’s relatively unchanged by tourism. Few people speak English but most people will go far out of their way to help any way they can. It’s located on the lovely PO River and the main piazza opens out onto the river with a large church, The Grand Madam, dominating the view towards the hillside on the other side of the river.
The lovely Po River
The Alps can be seen in the background. My hotel room had a little balcony, I was able to sit outside and watch the sun set behind the Alps, it was a little emotional to realize I have such an amazing opportunity to see some of nature’s and man’s greatest treasures.
The Grand Madam (Holy Mother) church holding court over the river, the piazza and the rolling hills. It was originally a Roman temple to one of their gods.
The building below, the Palazzo Madama, was an occupied gate in the ancient Roman walls from which Augusta Taurinorum (the ancient name of Turin) departed. Later, the building became a possession of the Savoia-Acaja, a branch of the Savoy and in the early 14th C, the Savoys enlarged the gate into the castle you see here. In 1637, the regent for Duke Charles Emmanuell II, Christine Marie of France, chose it as her personal residence, she added an entire new complex to the other side of this castle. Sixty years later another regent, Marie Jeanne Savoy, who was known as Madame Reale lived in the palace and conferred upon it the nickname of Palazzo Madama.
The modern side of the palace, it’s hard to realize they are the same palace, here we see Palazza Madama in her full glory.
Neighboring the palace is another royal property, the Museo Reale. This is a treasure trove of ancient and renaissance art and historic items, it’s very well worth the visit.
Next to the museum is the Church of San Lorenzo (Chiesa di San Lorenzo)
Around the corner from this church is the Duomo, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
This is where the Shroud of Turin is guarded.
Turin is a large community, piazzas are social meeting places, impromptu dances, sing-alongs, jugglers and neighbors catching up on the local gossip. Piazzas are everywhere and many street corners become piazzas when people gather in the middle of the street to have a chat. Crosswalks are decorative suggestions, streets are just part of the landscape. We’ve heard about crazy Italian drivers, but they have nothing on crazy Italian pedestrians, people step into the street and trust that any cars will stop for them. The whole city of Turin has a don’t worry, be happy attitude, no one’s in a hurry, if you need help finding something, someone will walk along with you to show you the way. People live and eat outdoors so café tables dominate the piazzas and children run and squeal and jump and climb weaving in and out among the café tables squealing loud enough to drown out conversation, doting parents sit nearby gossiping with a neighbor while diners smile. The sound of the children’s delighted squeals is so joyful that it’s hard not to smile in Turin.
A neighborhood church brought out a band and everyone started to dance.
These gatherings happen all day every day, someone will start to play, someone else will start to sing, a juggler will start to perform & people gather around. Turin is like a giant living room where everyone lives outside and enjoys each other’s company.
All over Italy, there are perpetual garage sales going on, the difference is, one could find a treasure that’s older than the United States. They’re another reason for Italians to go outside and mingle.
One last great thing about Turin – I had the best gelato ever, here in this friendly little city.
Turin is, simply, a delight, it has history, art, gorgeous churches, sunshine, joyful residents, all day parties and a slow pace of life that I think I adapted to within the hour.