I’ve been to Turin many, many times before yesterday, but I can safely say that yesterday was the first time I’ve ever visited.
On Friday afternoon, I got a text from Angelina asking me if I wanted to make the trip to our nearest neighboring city at the weekend. We decided to meet up at Briançon’s famed McDonald’s for a quick bite and some ramshackle planning. We agreed to meet the following morning at 7:15am and head up to Oulx to catch the train. We had a tentative list of destinations to hit in Torino, weather and distance depending.
The forecast predicted this entire weekend to be a cold, wet blast of thunderstorms, so when I woke up yesterday morning to the rumble of the oncoming gale in the distance, I decided on a black wool dress with long sleeves, tights, and my rubber ballet flats, which are great in the rain since they’re waterproof. I tossed a hat, a scarf, and an umbrella into my bag for good measure, as the morning sky was already shining an ominous black-gray, and quickly threw together two nutella-filled crepes, grabbed two green apples, and two tiny bottles of water.
I set out to meet Angelina in the parking lot of the same McDonald’s, which is a short walk from her host family’s house, attempting to consume as much of my half of the breakfast fare as possible while overcoming my early-morning grog.
The drive up to Oulx was chatty and surprisingly dry (thank all that’s holy), as we wound through the roads I’ll have covered three days in a row by this time tomorrow, since I have to pick up Lucie from her weekend in Milan at 8:30 tonight. The train journey was similarly lovely as we wound through the Italian borderlands into Torino, a sprawling view of fog and rain clouds clinging the mountain scape outside of our little window. We chatted amiably throughout the journey about our host families, politics, and our plans upon returning home at the end of the summer.
We rolled into Porta Nuova at just before ten o’clock, and were shocked to see that instead of threatening rain clouds, a pale blue sky was shining through the streaks of clouds. As we hurried through the marble and stone station out into the morning air, I suggested that we detour to the right before hitting any of our planned venues to see the Savoys’ Valentino Park on the River Po that we’d both thought would be a pointless endeavor in the rain.
On the way, we stopped at a small café to buy some morning java, since I’d been complaining pretty non-stop about how tired I still felt. Clearly inequipped for to-go orders, the man behind the counter poured our creamy cappuccinos into doubled up plastic cups, then covered the top in aluminum foil. Rather industrious of him, if I do say so, and all for only 1€ each.
We held tight to the cappuccinos as we navigated our way into the sprawling green park, and searched for the perfect place to savor them. We almost immediately found a lovely stone terrace that stretched out over the Po, and deigned it worthy of our morning coffee and the first photos of the day.
The park, as we wandered through, seemed to be strategically revealing its charms to us in progressively more impressive discoveries, perhaps appropriate for the gardens surrounding a 13th century palace owned by one of the most formidable families in history.
After encountering the moldering stone seats on the cusp of the river, the fruit trees, the Asian-styled bridges and rock gardens, the perfectly manicured flowerbeds, and after spotting two men in period costume who were apparently attending a wedding on the grounds – we saw the castle. Or rather, what we thought was the castle.
A quick inspection of the grounds surrounding it showed us that we had not stumbled onto a crumbling building, but what seemed to be a preserved medieval village at the foot of the castle’s hill. We wandered through the cobbled steps, the quickly escalating temperature causing us to roll up our sleeves as we went and taking in the elaborately painted walls and ceilings, the restored fountains and doorframes, cellars, and artifacts.
Angelina took particularly to a bronze pomegranite tree in the center of a fountain with gentle flows of water spouting from its lower branches. It was all rather fairy tale.
We attempted to head up to the castle at the top of the hill, next, but were stopped by an accordion playing gypsy man who was telling us, in broken French, that the building is closed. He then went on an equally incomprehensible rant in bad French that we took to be a list of all the other great buildings in great cities in the world that would be open to the public. I’m still not sure if he was telling the truth, but we both decided not to bother trying to climb the hill again, since it clearly seemed to upset him.
I pretty much spent the entire time he was attempting to communicate with us staring at an aged photo glued to the inside of his accordion of a young woman in a hijab, smirking at the camera.
As we made our way back to the park entrance, I insisted on ducking behind a glade in the river overhang so I could take off my tights. The sun had gotten unbelievably strong over the past hour, and I told Angelina that maybe before we stopped off to eat the lunch she’d packed for us, I should buy a cheap skirt or dress to avoid melting in the remainder of the day.
She seemed relieved by the suggestion and said she’d also like to buy a short-sleeved shirt and maybe some flip flops, since we were so ill-equipped for the turn the weather was taking. We walked back to the train station and then north, through the expanse of Torino’s impressive plaza outlay toward Via Roma where Angelina said the cheap shops would be.
Unfortunately, pickings were slim, and we ended up in this awful little shop. I ended up buying a blue dress that isn’t bad, all in all, but was falling apart even before I got it out of the shop (and I mean that quite literally, the strap broke when I changed into it after purchasing and Angelina had to tie it in a knot). I’m still wondering if I should’ve bought the orange dress instead, which was the same design, but way shorter and with sturdier straps. I guess I wanted to be able to sit down for the rest of the day without being horrifically self conscious. I might try to repair it today if I get a chance.
My shoes suddenly were less than perfect, since the rubber tends to rub against bare heels, but I couldn’t afford the expense of buying flip flops too after having just shelled out 15€ on a dress that was already coming to pieces. At least they matched, and I can’t even describe the immense amount of relief it was to change into a light, summery dress in that heat from the black wool.
We set up our picnic on the side of the Palazzo Madama, which was one of our top choices of things to see in town anyway, and luckily happened to be right across the street from where we’d bought our new clothes. Angelina had prepared a giant salad of rice, corn, tomatoes, and tuna which was absolutely perfect considering how famished we were feeling (and how long ago that nutella crepe seemed). She also brought along fresh apricots and plums.
We leaned against the cold stone of the Palazzo while we ate and watched children run through the water spouts coming out of the stones in the plaza, people walking their dogs through a lovely afternoon, and couples collapsing onto the wooden benches in the sun to take a break from weekend shopping. I decided that it was necessary to tell someone how I was feeling, and took a moment to text James, letting him know that the forecast had lied … it was a beautiful day in Torino.
Upon packing up the remains of our lunch, we paid the 6€ fare to get into the Palazzo and began to wander through the rooms of the house, checking out artifacts along the way. To be completely frank, the displays in the museum weren’t that great. In fact, as Angelina pointed out later, it was almost like someone just wanted to confirm that kitsch has existed throughout all time.
But the rooms … the rooms were magnificent. Madama is interesting from the oustide, as it was once an antiquity of a castle, but now hosts a flashy 17th century facade … that only covers the front. So it literally has a glorious white marble palace in front and a brick fortress in the back. But, the centuries of history behind it have produced rooms to stop the heart, even if the art and … numerous ceramic grandma figurines inside aren’t doing much for you.
We decided that the National Cinema Museum would be our next stop. I honestly didn’t have high hopes for this one, but it’s located inside the Mole Antoniella, which is the highest point in Torino, and offers a spectacular panorama of the city.
It was a bit of a trek to get there, since we got turned around multiple times (trying to hit the Cathedral of San Lorenzo on the way, but it was closed when we got there). We even stopped at one point and Angelina bought a coconut yogurt drink thing to refresh herself before continuing on. I took the more economic (cheap) route and refilled my tiny water bottle about four times in a constant-stream drinking fountain on one of the side streets. (This might sound unhygienic to my American friends, but it’s incredibly common out here, and there are dozens of those fountains in and around my own village that I’ve used many times without danger of illness or death.)
Without enacting a play-by-play, I have to say that I was grossly incorrect about the cinema museum, and that it was easily the coolest part of the day. From the “archeology of cinema” exhibit at the front (including a huge, interactive camera obscura), to every hands-on, comedically administered feature throughout, I was incredibly impressed, and enjoyed every minute of it.
But, by the time we’d finished our tour and were in line waiting for the lift to the top of the Mole, we’d decided maybe it was time to wrap up the day. Our feet were aching, and though the Egyptian museum seemed amazing and definitely worth a visit, we were both on the brink of collapse after around seven hours exploring the city on foot.
The elevator is made of a thick crystal that allows the riders to get a view of the dome as they slide up it. Honestly, I found this entirely terrifying and it made the journey feel less stable, somehow, but it was a sight to behold.
The panorama of Torino was nice. Kind of underwhelming as I do think that it’s much more beautiful at ground level, and because nothing lives up to the view I got of Oxford last December when James and I stumbled onto an ancient bell tower that allowed us access right up to the top.
We took a few photos and then shuffled back down, both ready to just book it back to the station and find out what time the next train to Oulx was, and then get dinner as quickly as possible.
The walk probably took us half an hour, but it felt like a four day trek. We were both whimpering with the pain in our feet and the total bodily exhaustion we felt as we tripped over Italian streets and parks and shopping centers, attempting to get back to Porta Nuova in one piece.
Though we’d been intending to find train times, then have a relaxing dinner while we waited, we decided upon (finally!) reaching the station, to take the train that was arriving in 15 minutes and just buy a quick combo meal from a restaurant on the platform called Mr. Panino.
I think this was the right choice. We collapsed into the seats on the familiar double-decker Trenitalia service and dug into our food with such gusto that I think we were unaware of anything else until it was completely gone. From that point it was just silent collapse waiting for Oulx to appear outside of the train window.
It was raining on the drive back down the mountain. Not heavily, but enough to completely fog up the windows on my car. This was made extra inconvenient by some famous marathon race going on down the mountain and in the middle of the already narrow road right into Briançon. I didn’t hit anyone, but there were some near misses.
As I bumped and putted over the pot holes, following dropping Angelina back off at her door, I could feel the resolve of staying conscious slowly leaving my body. I got to the house, intending to eat a big bowl of spinach or tomatoes or something to replenish, but after a few minutes conversation with the family, I knew I couldn’t stay awake any longer, and decided to call it quits.
I’m still sore this morning, and I’m eyeing the blue dress from Torino wondering if I should begin the repair process. There are kids singing Hannah Montana loudly above me and I kinda want everyone to just vanish so I can laze around today and eat a bunch of their food … but that probably won’t happen.
It’s not raining today. It’s beautiful outside. But, as much as I appreciate it, I think I just need a nap before making that trip up to Oulx one more time this weekend.