Torino, home to my beloved Juventus.
Going to Italy in August is a always a dangerous game. You can be guaranteed good weather (well, mostly) but because of this you can also be guaranteed that a fair few shops, cafes and restaurants will be closed. Italians love to take their holidays in August and do so in droves. The mass closures are rare enough in the tourist centres of Rome and Florence but in a more industrial city like Turin, it can play havoc with your stay. And so it proved.
Turin is a liveable city. It is efficent, layed out on a grid it is easy to find your way. The public transport is exceptional and the people are friendly. All of this (apart from the friendly people) also plays into the fact that Turin doesn’t feel particularly Italian to me. Mass closures aside, it runs a little too smoothly and the grid removes the pleasure from stumbling upon beautiful piazzi or monuments, you can see them from hundreds of metres away! Not that there aren’t any in Turin, Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo are beautiful by any standards but there is something less enticing about knowing where you are going all of the time.
Turin comes into it’s own at the Porta Palazzo Market. Europe’s largest open air market is a hive of activity on weekday mornings as locals, tourists and vendors tease, slag, buy and sell food, clothes and household items at extraordinary rates. There are no rules here. The choice is endless and so the prices often hit rock bottom. I walked by one stall selling 1kg of beef tomatoes for €1 followed by another selling 2kg of plum tomatoes for the same price. The fish building is more of the same with big characters vying for attention while the meat building sells every cut of any animal imaginable. Heaven
As with all of Italy, the food in Turin is delicious while the wine is excellent. I have never had such consistently good house wine. One night I tried the Piedmontese speciality; Agnolotti alla Piemontese. It was an interesting dish, pasta stuffed with roast meat and covered in gravy. I’m not sure. One lunch consisted of a magnificent buffet costing just €15 each including wine. The buffet was magnificent with a selection of local produce. I had liberal amounts of blue cheese, prosciutto crudo, rice and peas, fried anchovies (heads and all), raw sausage meat (cook it yourself), bruschetta and a couple of glasses of Barbera, perfect. Another favourite was the wonderful Polpette (meatballs) with green sauce from Eataly at The Mole Antonelliana. I have never had rare meatballs before (imagine serving that here) but they were spectacular, washed down with a glass of organic Nebbiolo. The bicerin, coffee with chocolate and cream, is a wonderfully rich treat best enjoyed at the cafe of the same name, although we couldn’t as it was closed! Despite all of this wonderful food, my favourite thing was the bread at Eataly, it’s the simple things.
There were a couple of food let downs too. Apart from the Agnoletti, which I am still undecided about, we had a couple of dodgy tiramisu, Ali had pasta with prawns and citrus, which we assumed would be lemon but turned out to be orange, ORANGE PASTA! Another evening I ordered (without realising) pasta stuffed with potato in a tomato sauce, I was hardly able to stand up after it. On our last night we both ordered our favourite dessert, tiramisu. The waiter asked us if we wanted to have a local liquer added (as is the norm) and although I was game Ali was sceptical. He managed to persuade her that it would be the best tirimasu she’s ever eaten and she gave in. We were both eagerly awaiting it’s arrival and tucked in as soon as it arrived. I’m not sure what the liquer was but he may as well have poured a whole bottle of listerine on top, disgusting!
Our second last day was to be Juventus day. I have been an avid Juve fan since I was 9 and was eagerly awaiting the trip to the Juventus Stadium from the time I booked the trip to Turin. We got up early, had a nice breakfast at our apartment and headed for the tram stop. It being August we had to walk along the line a little to find a shop that was open to buy tickets. We got on the tram, then a bus and a short walk and arrived at the magnificent Juventus Stadium. After a walk around we went into the small shopping centre at its entrance and had a coffee before heading for the museum. CLOSED. Apparently, for some unknown reason, the museum closes every Tuesday. I cheered myself up by buying a jersey in the club shop and we agreed to come back the next day, before our trip home. It was worth the second visit, magnificent.
Another place worth a visit is the Mole Antonelliana which looks down over the city. Not only does it house a wonderful Eataly restaurant but also The National Cinema Museum which you could quite easily lose a day in. It is also well worth getting the elevator to the top of the Mole for a beautiful view over Turin, even on a cloudy day it was breathtaking. Speaking of breathtaking views, we also climbed aboard the Turin Eye, a tethered hot air balloon in the Borga Dora area of the city which ascends 150m into the sky giving beautiful views of the city and the Alps in the distance. The Egyptian Museum is also a great place to visit in Turin with thousands of exhibits spread over numerous floors. For food/wine; the best ice-cream is to be found at Grom, make sure to accept the addition of Chantilly cream ontop. Signorvino is a magnificent wine shop with a large selection of wines from every region in Italy. The aforementioned market is a one stop shop for local specialities aswel as food from other regions while Eataly at The Mole has a great selection of ingredients albeit at slightly inflated prices.
I found Turin most interesting while observing everyday life. Our appartment was located in the diverse Borga Dora area of the city, a stones throw from the Porta Palazzo market. Every evening the old folks set along the side of the river chatting and laughing while on Sunday things got a little more heated as the card games started. Also on Sunday, the main street, Via Roma (which joins the two main squares, Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo) becomes pedestrianised with benches placed in the middle of the road for locals to enjoy. On the other side of things it was quite eye opening to see the homeless of Turin scavenging in the leftovers of the market. Every afternoon a massive clean up of the square takes place and as this is going on its heartbreaking to see the amount of people looking for anything edible among the rubbish.
It took so long to write this blog as some perspective was needed. It was a difficult holday. The weather was bad throughout with thunder storms on a daily basis while the August closures meant that most of the cafes and restaurants we had planned on going to were shut. Although these two factors did get me down, Turin is a city I would like to visit again, just not in August! Although efficent, it still retains a character so often found in Italian cities and although the food probably isn’t as good as Florence, Rome or certainly Bologna it is still better than anywhere else I have been outside of Italy. The city is more like you would expect from a European city than those further south but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has just taken me awhile to realise.