Turin - Day six. Motors and Mountains

As mentioned at the start of these notes about Turin, one of the few things that we knew of the city was its place in the history of Fiat. Let’s be honest, there has been something of an obsession with Fiat cars in our house. We’ve been through loads of them from the small green126 that we had when we got married, a couple of 1990’s Cinquecento’s, a couple of light blue matching Seicento’s, the wonderful recent revamp of the 500 and even a proper 1971 red 500 with vinyl seats, and sun roof, but no wing mirrors or fuel gauge!

The vinyl seats were actually one of the reasons the car came our way. A friend of a family member decided that they had to sell the car, as every time it went around a corner their dog, a tiny Jack Russell, would slide along the shiny rear bench seat and fall to the floor with a thud and a yelp. Eventually the noise of the fall and the distress of the poor creature got too much and the car had to go. Odd really, since the owner of the dog and therefore car, had a father who was in stadium shaking rock gods Led Zeppelin, who created quite a few yelps and thuds in their time. Not having a dog and being unlikely to ever sit on the back seat, we took the plunge and took the car off their hands.

There was great fun in seeing the joy on the faces of children as they saw what appeared to be a toy car driving along the road. There was the pleasure of seeing the nostalgic look that would come on the faces of any of the older staff when we drove past one of the local Italian restaurants. Then there was the fun in being able to park in any space that was slightly bigger than a matchbox. However, running out of fuel due to an inability to guess correctly how much fuel was left in the tank, coupled with not being able to go over 20 MPH uphill resulted in declining use for the car and its eventual sale.

Being in the city that gave birth to the ideas and maybe the physical entities themselves, we had had to ensure that we had a fix for our Fiat obsession. Sure we had already visited Lingotto, the factory that was so important to the development of Fiat, but sadly there was very little Fiat related material there. Luckily though the Museo Nazionale Dell’Automobile was within walking distance of the old factory site. So on the morning of our final full day Turin we took the underground from Porta Nuova to Lingotto and then enjoyed a stroll in the sunshine to the striking building, which opened in 2011.

The place is enormous and on this particular Wednesday morning, was virtually deserted. Occasionally we would see a group of excited school children but they were easily avoided, the rest of the time it appeared to be just us and hundreds of amazing cars. It’s important to say that we are not car buffs; we hardly know a horn from horsepower or a cylinder from a clutch. What we do like though when it comes to cars is cute, crazy or classy, luckily this place was chock full of such items and we had a fine old time. The layout of the place is quite quirky, often dimly lit and with odd little visual gags as it takes you on a chronological journey through the world’s obsession with four wheels.

Italian cars and Fiat in particular dominate and we may have clocked up record number of oh’s and ah’s as we walked among a huge number of design classics. The place is vast, so on a couple of occasions we nipped back to the deserted café area on the ground floor. I think that the lady behind the counter was pleased to have something to do, as she served us our drinks and snacks in the immaculate and capacious space. The second time that went there to rest our feet for a while, the rain had started to fall and soon a huge storm had reached us with the rain sliding speedily down the large glass panels at the side of the building.

We had been thinking of heading back into town but having chosen to come out with only a T-shirt to cover the upper half of my body, this now appeared to be a foolish plan. We ventured into the shop, for, as you know, it is the law now that every museum must have a shop. In fairness there were some nice things for sale, but our suitcase’s were already so tightly packed for our journey home the next day, that even the paper thin fridge magnet of a Fiat Topolino drew the risk of them exploding like Mr Creosote in the Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life”, spilling their contents over the floor of Turin Airport. By now the rain had turned to hail, yep great day to come out without a jacket.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the precipitation to stop, time to leave the museum after an enjoyable a relaxing few hours. I had noticed that it looked like there was a small park running south of the museum, alongside the river. A memory came into my mind of something that I had read in our guidebooks. This park maybe the area known as Italia 61, following the Expo that was held there in, well yes, you guessed it 1961. Although not warm, the prospect of seeing one of the great buildings of that era managed to raise my body temperature, and yes, there it was, rising gracefully into the sky like the wings of a bird spreading in readiness for flight – Palavela. Another example of Turin kindly offering up its delights without any apparent effort from us.

If you have seen the film, The Italian Job you will no doubt remember the moment in the lengthy car chase sequence, when the Mini’s drive up an extend ramp and then fan out in different directions on the huge roof. They pause a while before speeding back down again, leaving the hapless policeman behind them. The building is still in use as a sports and concert venue, and boy does it look effortlessly graceful, quite an achievement for such a large structure.

We walked back toward the main road with an idea of getting a bus or tram towards the centre of town. Looking west along the length of the unglamorous sunken road of Sottopassaggio Lingotto, we noticed that the clouds had briefly lifted, and there in the distance, at last, we could see sun reflected from snow-capped mountains. We were unreasonably excited. It was time, once again to head to the splendid tower of Mole Antonelliana, if there was a view to be seen we wanted to be high enough to make the most of it.

Unlike our weekend visit to the Mole Antonelliana, there was no queue this time. Once again, we took the glass walled lift through the roof to the viewing area above. It’s fair to say that it was on the cool side, as we stepped out of the lift but the view was worth it. Clouds still moved back and forth with great rapidity, allowing the mountain peaks in the distance to magically appear and disappear. We hung around for quite a while but ultimately the cool wind and T-Shirt combination forced us back to the warmth of the lift and down into the main body of the building. As we had some time on our hands we had a look around the national cinema museum, which fills the lower floors of this magnificent building.

It’s a great place to spend a few hours, lots of exhibits showing the development of cinema and a huge array of clips to watch. Once again we found ourselves as virtually the last people in the building, partially because I was unable to find my way out of the main hall. I briefly had a thought that this was the ultimate museum experience as you are filmed trying to escape from a mock film set.

Eventually we did make it out and decided to have our last evening meal in the place that we had our first. The Ristorante Nuova Salette was busy, parties of locals chatting and enjoying their food whilst the TV screens showed Juventus playing in the Italian Cup final. I guess that most of the people eating were fans of Torino, the other team from Turin, as they showed a marked indifference to the game. We were stupidly pleased with ourselves as we managed to translate a fair chunk of the menu (with the help of a variety of books and plenty of time) and were able to enjoy some lovely local sausages and a classic meatball and pasta dish. Then it was back to our nearby apartment for our last nights sleep. We were heading to the airport reasonably early the next day for our journey home via Amsterdam.