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Published: July 24th 2016
"What news from the cafes today?" Apparently when King Victor Emmanuel II of Turin wanted the latest political gossip, that is what he would ask his advisors. Turin is famous for its beautiful cafes and they form part of the cultural and political history of the city. While we didn't have much time, I was keen to experience some of that cafe culture for myself. I particularly loved the magnificent Caffè San Carlo, with its gilded mirrors, wonderful chandelier and fabulous waitstaff. I must say I walked in and wondered if I should be turning right around again, but a coffee here is the same price as it is anywhere else in Turin (and costs much less than it does at home), despite the decor being so opulent and the waiters so crisply attired! Apparently anyone from politicians plotting the Italian unification in the mid 1800's to Victor Hugo writing a novel has sat at these tables. Audrey Hepburn was also a fan, and as far as I'm concerned, that's always a good recommendation!
The most beautiful of the cafes are almost hidden under arched stone porticoes that line the streets. Walking down the wide, marble and stone boulevards of
Turin, it's easy to imagine the royals from the House of Savoy taking their daily passeggiata under the beautiful arches. Apparently the porticoes were built to protect them from the rain as they strolled, and there are 18km of them! Turin is such a beautiful city, and I think it probably flies under the radar of lots of travellers. If our hike hadn't been leaving from here, I wouldn't have thought to visit it. After arriving at Porta Nuova station and dropping our bags at the hotel, we went for a wander along Via Roma in search of the Apple store (Apparently after 4 hours of phone calls, the problems we're having making phone calls, collecting and sending texts and e-mails are because our devices are faulty, not because our Optus travel pack isn't working - according to Optus, anyway!). Cate and Greg arrived from Rome as we were waiting. It was so good to see them and start our next adventure with old friends! As we suspected, Apple ruled out device issues and with that sorted, we set off in search of a table for lunch at Eataly. Aside from being the birthplace of Italy as we know it
now, Turin is also where the slow food movement began, and I was keen to have authentic Vitello Tonnato, one of the local specialties. We sat outside, ate, laughed and caught up on the latest news.
Our day had started with saying goodbye to Massimo and Al Dom, which obviously we were sad to do. We loved our time there. I sneaked out of bed early to go and take some photographs of Orta before the ferries arrived, and it was amazing to wander streets completely devoid of people, especially when it had been so busy in town last night. As we were tiptoeing quietly downstairs, a lady staying in the other room on the top floor popped out to say she wanted to make sure she caught us to say good-bye. She ended up coming down to have a cup of coffee with us while we ate breakfast, and invited us to visit them in Germany. Her husband is a music teacher and choirmaster, so they were very interested in hearing about Isabel's Belcanto tour. Massimo dropped us at the station and after jumping on the train we watched the lake disappear as we headed for Turin. Cate
and Greg had left Rome at about the same time as we left Orta and travelled through field after field of rice. We are definitely in the land of risotto!
Having heard all about Cate and Greg's Rome experiences (In a nutshell: Extremely crowded, hot and dusty while they were there; lots of ancient sites; wonderful mojitos; loved Trastevere; will go back to explore further at the end of their trip), we headed off to organise some bikes so that we could explore the city. Unusually for Turin, it's really hot and steamy, and no-one fancied walking miles. Turin has a great free bike system like many cities in Europe, but you do have to register and pay a small registration fee at the tourist information centre, which happened to be just around the corner from our hotel. Handy! We rode through a section of the lovely Parco del Valentino gardens, along the River Po past castles and villas with the famous Mole Antoniella, Monte dei Cappuccini and the Basilica Superga in the distance. It was a great way to cover lots of distance quickly.
Dinner was at a hidden restaurant recommended by Hedonistic Hiking, C'era una Volta,
which was through an unassuming door and up some stairs on Corso Victor Emanuelle II. We wanted a quick dinner and ordered a la carte, much to our very earnest waiter's distress! Cate and Greg were still feeling fairly jet-lagged and none of us were up for a big night, but we did regret that we couldn't go back for a proper dinner tomorrow night when we watched the food from the set menu going past. The funniest part of the night was ordering drinks. Our young but experienced waiter was extremely proud of the region's wine, and we ended up going for a good bottle of Barolo. You should have seen how he carried it to the table - ever so carefully, like he was holding a sleeping baby. He then opened the bottle, swirled a little around in a large glass........and drank it! You can imagine the looks on Frank and Greg's faces as they watched the waiter drinking 'their wine'! Next, he swirled some wine around Greg's glass, filled it and held it over the arm of his white shirt, gazing adoringly at the colour before declaring that it was 'Perfetto' and OK for us to finally
drink. He 'conditioned' all the glasses this way, so when we finally raised our glasses and toasted the trip ahead it was a bit of a relief really. Cheers! The hard work starts tomorrow when we begin our hike.
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