Saturday, 2 April 2016

Turin: A Merry Dance With Giacomo The Ripper

Turin, Italy (Torino, Italia)
October 2015
Having been full-time travellers for almost five months at this point, we were masters of the lazy morning. While some days we forced ourselves to wake at an acceptable hour in order to get the most out of our day (as responsible adults are wont to do), we were spoilt and usually slept in until what I will refer to as "brunch time". This is all well and dandy if you're already in the city you'll be exploring, but something else entirely if you're planning on gunning it from Milano to Torino in time for lunch.
Our hopes were further hindered by the blasted Zona Traffico Limitato signs which appeared before we reached our waypointed underground carpark, causing us to feverishly search for an alternative.
What luck! We sandwiched ourselves between two shiny Italian cars right behind a Pantheon-type church, the Gran Madre di Dio. Translating the name into English grants us "Great Mother of God!" which I can only say in the manner of an old-timey film actor exclaiming outrage. The idea for this church was to exalt King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia following Napoleon's defeat.
Strolling across the river, we were pleased to find that it was pretty much a straight shot into the centre of town. Long straight roads are unusual in old European cities because many evolved "organically" over millennia, and fun fact: Turin was captured by Hannibal in 218BC.
The main road was also atypical of Italy, as it actually had room for pedestrians. Along each side of the road ran a covered arcade type walkway which housed many shop entrances and secondhand book stalls for the thrifty student population.
Whenever there needed to be access to the main road, an elegant series of arches allowed cars to pass through. I realise I stated this in my Milan post, but Turin also gave off a more Austrian vibe in terms of design and reducing chaos. This is supported by the bustling tram lines, white sculpture strewn about and elevated dress sense (just ignore the lady with a pink puffer jacket and faded denim in the picture above, as she isn't corroborating my claims).
Here is a statue of a man in uniform to back me up. Though there were definite similarities between the two cities, Turin had that classic grungy feel once you got away from the main streets, whereas Milan felt as though it had been scrubbed clean.
Selecting Gofri Piemontéisa for lunch, we munched on what were essentially lightweight waffle sandwiches with prosciutto and cheese inside. While waiting for our melty creations, we enjoyed watching a line of Italians sat at the counter eating, cracking jokes and swigging beers.
The cloudy weather was urging us to try a hot treat, so headed to Caffe Al Bicerin (in operation since 1763) for a 'bicerin' - an espresso hot chocolate drink with a topping of cream. 
They were served in fancy glasses next to a glowing candle. One of our menus sported a burn mark on the back and I suspect it was from such a candle (or perhaps a cigarette notched nonchalantly between the fingers of a Torinese). Though expensive, the bicerins were a worthy treat and could never be described as not chocolately enough, not coffeey enough or not creamy enough.
Catching our eye from across the square, the Santuario della Consolata (basilica which resides atop an ancient Roman church) seemed worth a quick peek inside. We found that the interior was in the style of Superfancyesque, with many gold objects and detailed paintings. We have no photos however, because as we were staring around in awe we were approached by a man. He spoke to us, in Italian. We understood none of it except the word "campanile" and his gestures for us to follow him. We decided to roll with it and started after the man who we hoped was a staff member and not the infamous Bell Tower Murderer (don't worry dad, this is a fictional serial killer that I just invented for the sake of the story). He stopped and asked everyone else in the church along, which took no time at all as surprisingly there were only a few other tourists about. Clearly October is a good time of year for sightseeing in Turin. About to leave through a large door, we were joined by a kindly lady who seemed to be waiting for this procession and the man led us through a series of locked doors and shady corridors (honestly, I did not fear for my life once during this experience). Soon we were at the foot of the campanile and began the long ascent up, regaled the whole journey by chatterings of the man and woman as though we could understand them. Nodding and grinning seemed to placate them, and they carried on having a great time. 
All the way up we were afforded marvelous views, and even spotted a moored hot air balloon hovering above the rooftops. Reaching the floor with the bells, the ¿curator? told us all about loads of churches across the city, pointing them out and delving into their complicated histories (we think). Also, the city might have been where Mary Poppins was filmed.
He mimed an umbrella, performed some unrecognisable humming, and he and the lady sprung into a brief but energetic dance. Then he indicated that a new hour was drawing near and we should leave, lest we become deafened by the proximity of the bells. We thanked the ¿curator? profusely for the unexpected tower tour, and left with a feeling of incredulity and elation at what had just transpired. This feeling, when derived from an experience with locals in a new destination, is known as being "Maastrichted" from our afternoon in the Take One bar
To move one step closer to our goal of visiting every Grom store in the world, we acquired some sorbet and gelato on our wanderings. 
After Grom, we also wanted to try less franchised gelato, so we selected a gelateria at random. The problem with Turin is that we saw far too many gelaterias with the coveted metal canisters to try them all! (First world problems to the extreme.) The oddly named '+ di un gelato' had some amazing flavours, and we were very content in our choice, though we did find out that there are a few others in the city. We had gone to a franchise after all, though it was exclusively Torino-only.
Driving out of the city proved to be impossibly difficult due to the prevalence of ZTL signs. They were everywhere! How could we escape this madness? Eventually after avoiding driving into ZTLs for some time, we were unexpectedly thrown into one anyway and simply crossed our fingers that we would not be fined. Next stop France! (And no more ZTLs - hallelujah.)

Today's post was almost called: Stairway to Deafen