The last week in Torino the rains started and it was hard to find a day when it felt OK to be out. It rains in London, of course, but it’s a manageable rain – with few exceptions. In Turin the rain is incessant and heavy, with only short breaks. We did wander, when we weren’t indoors keeping dry and slowly filling cases.
The streets of central Torino – Centro – can be grand but in between these wide boulevards are the quiet narrow streets. Imagine this in central London – even in the back streets and alleys!
I’m also fascinated by the inner courtyards. Just off via Garibaldi there’s a courtyard that leads into other courtyards, each with its own shops and apartments and little cafes. It was raining this day and things were very quiet. It’s like a hidden oasis from the mad shoppers, who are never stopped by rain.
The Piazza San Carlo is a very grand square. Krish was amused by the statue since his favourite crisps are the San Carlo brand. He said that every time he saw the statue he needed to thank the man (is it even San Carlo?) for this taste treat. The square is used a lot for events. In this case they are getting ready for the Chocolate Festival that was taking place the week after we left. Bad timing!
The annual festival of artists’ lights was starting to take shape. We saw a few as we left. This one had projections of lacy patterns over the paving stones. It looked so pretty. In fact, Piazza Carignano is the prettiest square in Centro. If I return, I want to explore it better.
Yes, Venice does have streets! On some of them you can’t tell that there’s a canal anywhere close. And it has squares. Once you get away from the canals peace settles and there are mostly locals, except for the occasional tour group. There are no cars and the roads may be cobbled or made of bricks. There are many narrow alleyways, some lined with homes and others just passageways to the next street or square. And sometimes there are trees, and parks. With no roads, you don’t see stop signs, traffic lights, or vehicles of any type. What you do see are people pulling or pushing large carts from place to place. It’s a whole other way of life and I wonder how it feels to have been born into such a place.
There are lots of old, old houses. There isn’t really anything new. There are also lots of renovation works, old cavernous and dirty spaces where people are working to bring yet another space up to scratch. As you walk along the canals, if you look up, you’ll see fantastically large rooms with very high ceilings and, if you’re lucky, art and tapestry hanging on the walls, and even magnificent chandeliers. (I tried to photograph one of these but it was dark and the image was blurred. Krish said it looked like there was a Chihuly.
Pictures speak louder than words…
And some street art. I’m not fond of Italian street art but there were a few…
As we left Venice, there was a nice farewell. While wandering around the University area of San Polo, an older man was engrossed with playing his violin-type instrument. Finally, a truly romantic view of Venice.
But first, another culinary note. Yesterday we decided it was time to give our local enoteca (wine shop with cafe) a chance. We pass it all the time but have never gone in. I ordered russian salad (skipping the two pasta choices) and milanese. Krish had penne with ragu and also the milanese. The pranzo (lunch) deal is 12 Euros each.
It’s OK. We may go again. Simple food, friendly service, a no-brainer since it’s across the road. However, again we’re struck with how ordinary and unmemorable the food is, especially when I throw two salads together later in the day for dinner. Would the Italians think my food too complicated, too much going on? It’s also worth mentioning that there were six or seven people sitting on a larger table across from us. They seemed to be ordering everything on the menu and sharing the huge platters. Despite the overflowoing banquet, they swallow it all in record time and leave, empty plates everywhere!
I’m not a huge fan of churches unless they are rustic and unique. I don’t typically enjoy opulence or artistic piety. But then the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista (Cathedral of St John the Baptist, aka Torino Duomo) was supposed to be open for 3 Euros. Last year the Duomo was covered in scaffolding but this year construction is finished. It’s a beautiful and intricate dome atop an otherwise plain looking rectangle of a church. The looming campanile (bell tower) dates from 1470 and the church was built during 1491–98 . It would be unremarkable if it didn’t contain the chapel of the Holy Shroud, which was added in 1668–94.
There’s nothing to make me linger in here – the usual memorial statues and plaques, pews, banks of candles, an organ… but the altar is quite stunning, overlooked by a very large window, where I could see people looking down to where we were, and that’s where I need to head. Walking around, though, I couldn’t find a way in so supposed it was a separate entry – it was.
Before wandering outside, I saw a small crowd of people and hoped I could get in behind the window there but, no, this was the spot for the shroud. It’s displayed only once every 25 years unless the Pope is in town so I wouldn’t get to see it, but there’s an area for it and there was lot of genuflecting and crossing and muttered prayer – and the most candles! – going on in front of that thing. I stayed for a little while to read the prayer, translated in several languages. And then I left.
It seems the entrance to the cathedral museum is around the side so I went in there too. On the way in there are some pretty solid ruins, and I was told there are more inside. In the foyer, a very short and elderly lady with a badly curved spine wanted to talk to me but she couldn’t speak English so I was directed to another behind the counter. There was nothing about a 3 Euro entry but apparently I can come here any time for 3.50 so I decided that I would wait. Today it’s packed.
The last time I was here I wanted to go to the Pietro Micca museum but somehow didn’t so it was on my Must Do list for this time.
Pietro Micca is quite a hero in Torino. There’s even a street named after him and a statue. Yet, to me he seems a romantic figure with some history that’s only guessed at. Snatches of memory and conversation that were put together to make a valiant story for future generations. Yet it’s fascinating.
I went alone. Krish doesn’t like tunnels.
After the museum visit, the literature and even reading the story in both Italian and English I remain somewhat confused about what really went on. Truth.
My garbled version, then. The French and Spanish wanted to annex Northern Italy but there was Italian resistance. The city of Turin was at the centre of it all or so it seems to me. The ‘enemy’ set up camps of tents around the periphery of the city and the attacks began. Pietro Micca was a 29 year old Sabaudian soldier and knew his way around explosives. His supposed nickname was Pass-par-tut (Passepartout) – which also seems intriguing since he did indeed pass through everything, getting into the trenches that day.
Pietro Micca and at least one companion wanted to set off explosions in the tunnels that would thwart the enemy invasion. They set one long fuse that successfully held off one contingent and then more soldiers tried to breach a deeper tunnel. This time a shorter fuse was needed, since the soldiers were close. Pietro told his companion to Go, since that soldier had no bread that day, and then he lit the fuse.
It’s assumed that he then ran down the stairs to escape the blast but the heat was so strong that he was flung forty paces and was later found dead at that spot. However, the attack was thwarted, the Sabaudians were victorious and Pietro Micca became a hero.
Was he really a hero? All the stories say so. It’s also supposed that it was more a misjudgment in how long a fuse was needed to be able to escape.
The museum is near Porta Susa station and is a bit ramshackle. But it’s small, just how I like it. They told me that I could follow the Italian guide at 4:30 and use the English audioguide. At 4:30 the guide arrived to tell me that he was going to do the tour but I should do it on my own and then after the Italians had left, he would take me downstairs to show me the tunnels – ‘very dangerous down there.’
I tend to breeze through museums, audioguide or not. This one was better ordered than some and that speeded me through quite quickly. The numbers and facts swirled around my head, but I sort of got the gist of things. A few facts sunk in – I liked the models of the city in two different spots but taking photos of them was hard, with all the glare and reflection. The rivers Po and Dora are also good markers for where everything was and still is.
I was curious about the citadel. To make it stronger, triangular shapes were built at its edges. I’ve also seen things about Torino’s ‘Star Fort.’ But this was different. I need to do a lot more research, but is this the inspiration for the Torino’s iconic eight-pointed Star?
The muskets on display were enormous, the paintings glorious and not bloody, the artifacts well kept and signed, but all in Italian. There are two small rooms of these things, fifteen in all points along the way before you reach the barrier of the staircase leading down to the tunnels.
Then it was 5:30 and, since the museum closes at 6, i asked the guide if I could go down with the Italians and he nodded yes. I felt excited. Tunnels and caves scare me but I’m also enthusiastic about exploring them. These were dark, with low ceilings and not much width to pass through. There were side tunnels and alcoves, as expected and when I lost sight of the guide, I did feel a little worried – not for long. There’s a lot more down here than I expected but we keep to an uneven path. I hoped I wouldn’t stumble or turn my ankle and I was glad I wasn’t at the back!
The details are a little lost on me. The audioguide wasn’t so audible down here with the guide’s Italian explanations rising over the volume, I think I got enough from it. The first spot where the longer fuse was lit, a memorial to French soldiers (the staircase here was rough and deep – too bad we couldn’t go down but it did look treacherous), the Pietro Micca ‘scala’ (steps) where the short fuse was lit, and finally the spot where Pietro was found, marked with an artificial wreath.
It was odd to come back to the sunlight. One street up is Corso Vinzaglio, a wide street with a median, very grand and quite deserted.
I made my way to the 51 bus, stopped to buy pickles (!) and some wine. And home to make a sausage and gnocchi dinner for when Krish returned from his run.
I’m glad I went. I felt more connected to Torino after this, and then a curious discovery (and the mystical reason Pietro Micca had always resonated with me….joke?). Pietro Micca was born on March 6th.
I’ve been wanting to go to the little cafe I enjoy. It’s called Cianci Piola and is in the prettiest square (in my opinion) in Torino. It feels like you’re in Paris but without the high prices and the attitude!
On the way over, I walked past some remains of the Roman wall.
At Cianci Piola, there’s always a choice of appetiser, first course, second course and dessert. I stayed with an appetiser and a pasta.
On the way back I finally climbed to the top of the NH Santo Stefano. I heard that it has the history of Torino on the walls as you climb. The pleasant surprise is that there aren’t stairs but little ledges along a spiraling ramp.
The gallery was made up of several posters, tracing the history of the city and saying where remnants of the past could still be found. I made note of several. What was interesting was that sometimes that old piece of history would be deliberately incorporated into something new – such as an old granite pillar that formed the cornerstone of a newer building. It’s like a treasure map.
On the fourth floor there’s a lift to take you up to the very top, where there’s a panoramic view.