We awoke on Saturday morning to a beautiful clear blue sky, perfect for our planned trip to the park. Before that though, there was the little matter of breakfast to be arranged. As we were staying in an apartment this was both exciting and daunting. Exciting, because rather than an overpriced hotel buffet to select from, we had the choice of anything that Turin could offer us. This being a city that is known for its love of food, coupled with the splendour of Italian coffee could only be a good thing. Daunting, because we would have to use our faltering Italian to access those local treats.
We decided to head towards the food market at Piazza Madama Cristina, a few streets away from our apartment. Our journey took us past the Grand Synagogue of Turin, a beautiful building with slightly surreal onion shaped domes rising from it’s four corners. It was though, sad to see that an armed presence was stationed outside the building, presumably to protect the place and its occupants from attack. Delightfully though, the rather sombre look of these young men with guns was undercut by their rather cute headwear, which appeared to be made of felt and was adorned with a charming feather. Maybe they could tickle any potential miscreants away from the area before having to turn to their more serious weaponry.
We soon reached the market and thrust ourselves into the packed crowds who were enthusiastically undertaking their weekend shop. It was clear from this visit and our subsequent time in Turin, how important markets are to the food buying routines of the people. We did see a few small supermarkets as we walked the city, but they were nothing compared to the gorgeous and gargantuan displays of food that were eagerly being purchased by the locals in the markets. Stall after stall was loaded high with magnificent displays of fruit and vegetables. Meat, fish and dairy products were also available around the edge of the market. It was difficult to know where to start.
We decided to grab a quick breakfast in a café, then buy some fruit, some of which we would take to the park, the rest we would drop back at the apartment. I had spotted a small Panificio (Bakery) on Via Claudio Luigi Berthollet, which had some seating outside. We squeezed through the tiny door and found ourselves in a small space full of eager shoppers. These people weren’t just buying a loaf and leaving, everybody appeared to be stocking up on enough, bread, cakes, and pizza bases to last for the duration of a short war. This was good though as it gave us time to feast our eyes on the selection of small sweet products that could accompany our coffee. Eventually choices were made and we separated, so that one could go to the coffee counter whilst I stayed in front of the fresh products area. Well thanks to the lovely disposition of the lady behind the counter everything went very smoothly with the purchasing and soon I was outside enjoying some small but delicious custard filled doughnuts amongst other baked treats and some fine coffee. Buongiornio indeed!
Looking back on it, I do worry about the size of the door that we edged through. Imagine if you spent your life within easy reach of these wondrous treats? Surely a point would come when the additional girth accrued by eating their tempting offerings would result in yours hips failing to make it through the entrance way. A case of natural selection I suppose.
After some pretty stress free fruit buying in the market, we were soon on our way to the park. The Parco Del Valentino is a large park, which borders the River Po on its eastern flank. From the pictures that we had seen it appeared to be an attractive place to spend some time. We entered at the parks northwest corner and to be honest, were initially under whelmed. The park looked a little uncared for, the grass was unkempt and it didn’t quite feel like the grand park we had imagined. We pushed on though, deeper into grounds, heading east as the ground dropped down towards the river. After a few minutes we noticed a couple of buildings selling refreshments, the older, cuter looking one of these had the magic words “GELATI PEPINO” spelled out over the door.
Italians take Ice Cream or Gelato as they call it very seriously indeed and this is certainly true in Turin. There are many local companies dating back to the 19th century who continue to make their own, distinctive Ice Cream using local materials: Fiorio, Grom, Miretti and Pepino amongst them. We had found a perfect place to stop; we each had a two-scoop cone, then settled onto chairs in the small garden of the building. I went for Nocciola (Hazelnut) and Cioccolato (Chocolate) and it was delicious, what a wonderful park this was!
As we walked along the river and further into the park, we realised just how much the people of Turin love to eat. Every five minutes we would come across another outlet selling food and drink, we sat for while and started to eat the fruit that we had purchase in the market, amongst those were some sensational cherries, bursting with flavour, we excitedly ate them whilst sitting in the sunshine. I imagine that this of course marked us firmly as tourists and maybe more particularly British ones. All around, people were sitting carefully in the shade, enjoying the weather but not getting over exposed to it. But hey, maybe we just rush to make the most of glorious weather, as we are not quite so familiar with it.
Our wandering eventually leads us to one of the strangest places in Turin, Borgo Medievale. A complex of buildings built in 1884 along 15th century plans, in effect a recreated medieval museum. It proved so popular that it was retained after the exhibition for which it was created had long ended. Our investigation of this area, pleasant though it was, was to be brief one.
One of the universal of rules of being a tourist is as follows. If on a sunny day, you see a boat whose only purpose is to provide tourists with a chance to spend money going on a pointless journey, then it is your duty to as a guest to avail yourself of the service. In fairness, it wasn’t a pointless journey as it took us up river, back towards central Turin. And hey what is nicer than being on a boat with lovely views drifting past you as the sunshine glistens on the water. Whilst waiting for the boat to come in, we did sample another ice cream although I can’t remember the name of the family behind this offering. It was nice, excellent in fact but just not quite up to the standard of the Pepino we had earlier. The boat then docked and we did our tourist duty by stepping aboard.
After the short boat journey, we walked alongside the riverbank for a while, then up some steps to the base of the stunning Piazza Vittoria Veneto. If you look at the area on a something like Google maps using the satellite view, it looks like a huge wine bottle. The immensely wide rectangular Piazza, forms the bottle, a matching pair of curved Gallerie forming the shoulders of the bottle, which lead into the extend neck of the bottle or Via Po as it is more commonly known. Today we saw the other use of the Gallerie, which had previous being so useful in keeping the rain from us. By mid afternoon it was really starting to feel very, very warm. How lovely then to be able to walk in the shade provided by those elegant sheltered avenues.
During yesterday’s conversation with the owner of our holiday apartment, she gave us a very useful tip regarding an exhibition that we were hoping to attend. Now, I should say that our initial plan for our trip to Turin was to have a very relaxed time. Sitting, eating, reading, drinking, looking at mountains from a distance – that in a nutshell was our plan. However in the months between us booking the trip and arriving in the city we kept discovering more and more interesting things to do. We are really pretty hopeless at having relaxing, recharge the batteries type holidays and despite our best intentions we appeared to be falling into our old ways. Turin was just too interesting.
One of the events that caught our eye was an exhibition of the work of the Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, a star of the Art Deco era and beyond. Her paintings have long held an interest for us, so we were pleased to discover that The Palazzo Chiablese was hosting a show covering her work and life. This went on our unexpectedly large list of “Things to do in Turin” and successfully survived several edits that were then made of that document.
Amongst the eating tips, travel help and other useful information that our host provided to us, as we coughed and spluttered through our conversation that first afternoon, was the news that on the Saturday evening of our stay there was a half price late night opening of the gallery. We had not seen this mentioned anywhere else, so were thrilled to be in on this almost secret piece of information.
So, just before 8pm that evening we approached The Palazzo Chiablese, there were a few people hanging around outside and staff sitting in the ticketing area. I initially tried to buy a ticket but was told to wait, and then as clock struck eight we were ushered forward. The early rooms in the exhibition provided a lot of written text regarding the dramatic life that was lead by Tamara, as I think I can now call her. Now being cultured folk I expect that you have all found yourself in the situation where you find yourself jostling for position as you try to look a picture, some sculpture, some small item in a large frame. It often ends up feeling like a bit of a race.
Well in this particular race we had started in pole position, which was nice but the other contestants were right on our tail. As I mentioned previously, there was a lot of text to read, some it quite small, thankfully though, all of it translated into English. The crowd moved through the room, apparently joined by some unseen thread, weaving this way and that as we unlocked the back-story on this fascinating person. As some of the text was small, some people needed to get quite close to be able to read it, leading to the inevitable blocking of another persons view, sometimes this sort of thing can lead to some huffing and fierce glances. Luckily though this Turin crowd was pretty relaxed.
Then mysteriously most of the other visitors to the gallery seemed to disappear one-by-one, so by the time we reached the later rooms in the sizeable collection, we appeared to be almost alone. It provided an apt metaphor for the life of Tamara De Lempicka, though thankfully we didn’t need to go through all the relationship upheavals that she endured to reach the end of the exhibition.
Time to head home for the night and a chance to put our feet up and relax. The next day was set aside for a trip to the Basilica Di Superga, perched high on a hill looking back over Turin, its one of the great landmarks of the area. Accessed by a longish bus journey then a twenty minute ride on a funicular railway, in the right conditions it can be the perfect place to catch a classic view of the mountain that ring the city on it’s northern edge. Fingers crossed.