Travel Italia: Torino

Viareggio

Our Italian adventure continued with another hair-raising drive. This time, it had nothing to do with the weather, and everything to do with the crazy Italian roads and the crazier Italian drivers. We decided to drive the coastal road, as opposed to driving back up the way we came through the mountains of Emilia-Romagna. I find it very difficult to avoid the Mediterranean Sea when it’s nearby.

Not that we had much time to enjoy it. We were too busy white-knuckling the steering wheel/door handle as we zoomed along too fast roads, in and out of tunnels over and over again as tiny cars whipped by us. Yikes, it was not the easy-going, relaxed tour of the coast we were expecting.

It was a pleasure to get off of the highways to find some lunch in Via Reggio, a coastal resort town. It was quite empty at this time of year, but still beautiful. And still enough restaurants open we didn’t have a problem finding some pizza. The town is just south of Cinque Terra, a popular tourist destination along the coast (I’m actually not sure what the coast is called along there – we ended up calling it the Italian Riviera. It reminded me of the Cote d’Azur on the the French side.) The sea looked cold, and the air was a little bit chilly, but still. It was the end of January and we were surrounded by palm trees and sunshine, so no one was complaining.

We tried to stay on the little roads that edged the sea for a little bit, but that was extremely frustrating, especially when we got stuck behind a little Alfa Romeo going, I swear to you, 20 km/h. At that rate, we would get to Turin in several weeks, so we made the jaunt back onto the highway.

Oddly, the roads were only terrifying along the coast. As soon as we turned inland, they became pretty much the nicest highways I’ve ever seen. After all that, we were pretty much alone on a three-lane (or six-lane?) highway, the sun shining, gorgeous day, a little confused as to what had just happened. But finally we got to enjoy a little bit of the road. My conjecture is that the highways leading to Turin were really fixed up for the 2006 Olympics, because it seemed like they were planned out by someone not drunk on cheap Italian wine.

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We arrived in Turin later than we thought, and found our rather sketchy hotel. The hotel was totally my fault – I had no idea where to stay, not knowing a thing about Turin besides the Olympics were held there, so I went by price and reviews. And we stayed near the train station, in a cheap hotel that got good reviews. Like, quite cheap. That’s what sold me on the place – for two nights with two rooms, it cost roughly what Z and I normally pay for one room for one night. Great deal, right?

Well, you get what you pay for. We like nice hotels, and this was not one. The hallways smelled like cheap disinfectant, we had to leave the stroller in the lobby because it wouldn’t fit upstairs (and there weren’t elevators anyway), and they decided to turn off the heat in our rooms. Like, it was freezing outside, and no better inside. After a day of the temperature getting steadily colder, piling more and more blankets over the baby, we finally called to the front desk to complain. Their reply: “Oh, yes, we turned off your heat. *Pause* We’ll turn it back on again.” There was no point in asking why. It defies explanation. Or rather, there is an explanation: we didn’t want to pay for your heat. Whatever. It came back on, I was no longer worried my child would freeze to death overnight.

But the area we were in was also super sketchy. It’s not surprising, as we were next to the train station, but I’m always surprised how just one block in one direction versus the other can really change the feel of a town. We headed out to find dinner on a chilly night. As we made our way to the centre of town, we came to a street lit up with red bodies. It was weird. Our first thought was: red light district? We avoided this street. Instead we found a wholesome Christmas tree. X immediately jumped into another family’s photo here, as if he belonged there. He’s started to ham it up for the camera, and it doesn’t matter whose camera, apparently. It was hilarious/embarrassing.

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But as we wandered the streets of downtown Turin, we made some discoveries. Well, my first discovery is that Turin is going to be my new shopping destination town. It has all the great stores you can find in Florence and Milan, without the thousands upon thousands of tourists. I wouldn’t say that it was a ghost town, but it was a totally manageable amount of people. And the arcades are soooo beautiful, epitomizing northern Italian/French architecture. Every building had an arched passageway to wander through in front of the shops, keeping us out of the rain and wind. It was perfect. And the creepy red light district? Actually where you’ll find Chanel and Hermes, so not so much a sketchy place.

So, it’s only three hours from Geneva and I know this totally cheap hotel to stay at – who wants to come and do some shopping with me? This was basically our stay in Turin – wandering the streets, some of them entirely pedestrian, enjoying the shops.

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Even X found a friend to hang out with. I don’t think I can describe to you his joy upon finding Mickey Mouse at this square. He really believed that Mickey was there for him and him alone. We eventually had to pull the little guy away from his best friend, which he did with minimal tears and lots of “ciao-ciao-ing,” because Mickey is Italian in Italy, obvs.

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And just to go and show you that Turin, despite being not as well known as some other Italian cities, is really really old, this ruin is located – in the basement of a ghetto mall. It was just so random to see this old thing, just in a dirty mall. It’s called Le Antiche Ghiacciale. My very clever historical-minded sister tells me it is essentially a really old fridge. Or an icebox, to be more precise.

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We spent some of our time ignoring important architecture. Or rather, we tried to get to this amazing structure, the Mole Antonelliana, but detoured to a park because we have a two year old and that’s what you do when you travel with a two year old. Luckily our super-awesome camera could take some clean far-away shots. This is as close as we got before nap time.

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And at night, we stumbled onto a brass band that really blew us away. It sounded a lot like a band you might find in New Orleans. Minus all the public drunkenness, more’s the pity. But X really got down to these guys and put on a performance himself with his wild dancing, which is a mix of spinning and jumping. Next time I’m going to put a hat in front of him to see if we can start collecting for his college fund.

The next day we drove back to Geneva, heading through a different tunnel this time to come out in France around Albertville (another Olympic town! Reminded me of Jasper). The roads were nicer and quiet again, although in France there were still telltale signs of the blizzard that passed through and stranded all those people. The temperatures have since gone way up, so we enjoyed an easy breezy drive home (finally!) We loved our trip to Italy. Would I do it again? Driving to Florence, probably not. Taking the train or flying there or anywhere further south, probably. But dashing over for a weekend in Turin is probably going to become a thing. Seriously, let me know if you want to.

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