Torino

Our stay in the mountains is largely influenced by Francoise telling me that Turin hosts the largest market in Europe. If you’d not noticed already, I love markets, so I’m strongly campaigning for a visit. Having decided to miss it the day before due to the weather and due to being pretty knackered so not fancying a busy, hectic market in a city in the rain, we’ve renegotiated our onward route and found an extra day, so have extended our stay in our lovely, homely B&B. The B&B is more like a homestay and a real reminder of some of the creature comforts of home- there’s even a duvet on the bed, which I’m ridiculously excited about, blankets just aren’t the same and have been the cover of choice throughout Italy. There’s also an electric kettle in the kitchen, which is apparently so rare in Italy that our hosts show us how it works! Marie is also right at home as the walls being completely covered from top to bottom in photos, pictures and artwork is right up her street.

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Our day begins with a nice breakfast, including hot croissants straight out of the oven, and a plan to dine with our hosts that evening. Marie doesn’t fancy city driving, so has sought recommendations of the best train station nearby to use and we set off with just a 3km trip to the one with the fastest trains in. Our arrival is a little complicated, with a tour around the narrow lanes of the small village before finally finding the station car park hidden away at the back of everything. With only a few minutes to spare we rush through to the platform, picking up tickets from a machine on the way. The train winds up being a little delayed so we’re anxiously waiting with a strong hope there’ll be a toilet on board.

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It arrives and we jump on board, finding a set of four seats to spread out on- great! I set off on a hunt for a toilet, while Marie plays with Eliza. Two carriages down and I’ve so far had no luck….. ‘ding dong’ on the tannoy… what follows is an announcement I don’t understand, but I do gather there is an hour delay…. better find that toilet then! Some more searching, including a look at the fire escape plan on the train and there’s no toilet to be found. Marie also has a look around and comes to the same conclusion. As we’re discussing whether to get off and look in the (tiny and apparently locked up) station, the train driver enters our carriage and explains something at length to a family nearby. I don’t follow it at all and Marie is struggling to. He then turns to us and in a mixture of simple Italian and broken English, explains that a body has been found on the train lines, it hasn’t been hit by a train but has been dumped there so the line ahead is closed while police investigate. Who’d have thought it, a murder mystery! This means the delay of an hour is a conservative estimate and it may in fact be much, much longer. It also means all other local train stations with routes to Turin are blocked as they use the same line. Marie seems destined to drive in all the cities, however hard she tries to avoid it!

Before we depart however, we have what is now a quite desperate bladder need. I’m sent into the station to try to find a toilet. Fortunately the door is open so I enter, but it all seems pretty deserted. Up two flights of stairs and I try a door, which leads into the changing room for the train drivers- oops! I hastily shut it, but a man appears and I explain I need the toilet. The public ones are shut but he comes out with a key and takes the padlock off the staff loo….which looks like a flat shower base with a hole in the middle and two indents where feet should go…I know how to use it but I’m not well practiced and it doesn’t go as well as it could have. Back outside I explain the situation to Marie, unsure how happy the guy is going to be to open it up for a second time and she wanders off to find a nearby bush. The exit from the village is also full of three point turns and no entry roads, but before long we’re back on the main road, passing the turn off to our B&B hamlet on the way toward the motorway for Turin. As for city driving in Turin, we’re in luck. It’s a straight line from the motorway to a car park I’ve found near to the market, people are driving in a calm and normal manner, unlike the South of Italy and we even manage to find ourselves ‘free’ street parking within walking distance of the market. I say ‘free’ because we don’t see any signs to the contrary, but most of the surrounding cars have resident permits and we intermittently wonder throughout the day whether we’re going to arrive back to a parking ticket.

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We’re parked on a side bit of a large main road with apartment buildings on either side and the odd multicultural small supermarket/ grocers or café/bar dotted about. It’s not particularly pretty or ugly as we walk along, our trusty Google Maps helping us find our way to the market. Part way through our journey we spot some teenagers painting a mural on the side of the road, which has some quite beautiful features. Further along we start to see people walking toward us with bread, flowers or fruit and veg- we feel hopeful this is a sign the market is approaching.

Soon we find ourselves on a small piazza full of cafés with people having lunch, it’s sunny and lively yet calm and relaxed. Ahead of us we spot the corner of a market stall and press on excitedly. I’d read that the market is in a number of sections and am keen to see the covered meat and fish markets as well as the outdoor fruit and veg stands (hoping to avoid the fake handbags and phone cover sections as much as possible). Our first sight of the market is exactly the part we’re hoping to avoid- several rows of clothes, handbags, phone covers and other bits and bobs. Beyond it I see a woman coming out of a small doorway and march us through to it- Bingo! I’ve found the fish market, and it’s great. The floor is soaked, the fish are piled high and the stands are so tall that men have long forks to reach the fish, wrap it and then throw it up to a woman at the top to weigh it. The money is taken in the same way: guy at the bottom takes it from the customer, and thrown to the till wrapped up in a bag.

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Back outside we’re in the clothing zone again, but ahead of us I can see the fruit and veg stalls. We head toward them and I’m amazed at what I see before me- rows and rows as far as I can see, densely packed with piles of fruit and veg and barely enough width between them to squeeze down the aisles. It’s cool but overwhelming at the same time and I no longer envy the people coming here each week to do their food shopping. Marie is also quite cramped and getting hungry, so keen for us to get on with choosing some picnic ingredients. I’m hoping for street food stands so am holding out, but to no avail, so settle on some bread rolls, sliced cured meat, cheese and a lot of fruit.

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We decide to break away from the market to find somewhere to feed Eliza and have our lunch and stumble upon a nearby park with roman ruins in it. It’s pretty and a nice calm retreat from the market, with only a few other people sat on the benches enjoying a picnic or a bit of a rest.

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In addition to the market, Turin is also the birthplace of Nutella, the concept of aperitif, gianduja chocolate and home to an enormous Italian food marketplace called Eataly, as well as to the largest Ancient Egyptian museum outside of Cairo.  These are all on my hit list for the day, alongside a trip on a floating elevator (no idea what that is, but I’m curious) to see a great view of the city.  I break half of this list to Marie gently over an aperitif on a pretty piazza covered in bar and restaurant terraces. We have stopped for a drink and toilet stop after lunch and thoroughly confused the waitress, trying to ask for a sweet wine, perhaps prosecco or asti, if they have it. Her boss comes over and is surprised to understand our request immediately and we have a lovely stop, albeit feeling a little smug that the asti isn’t as good as the one we have in the car from our wine tour the day before.

Marie’s in good spirits but suggests that ‘perhaps we go to the Egyptian Museum and then see how we’re doing for time’ in response to my somewhat ambitious plans. She’s not wrong and my failure at navigation doesn’t help matters, taking us on a pretty detour through some lovely shopping arcades and piazzas. Turin is beautiful, full of these things but in a comfy way. Marie makes a good assessment of it- it’s pretty with fancy flourishes like in parts of Paris, but not up itself like Paris can be.

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The Egyptian museum has been high on my priority list, having seen very little from Ancient Egypt in the flesh before and having really enjoyed a project on it in primary school. Marie is not so keen, preferring to see museums focused on the history of the local area (I do agree in many respects, but…Egypt…).

It’s therefore more than a little unfortunate that half of Italy have also decided to take an educational day trip to Torino to visit the Egyptian Museum and the foyer is rammed with people. The first room we enter isn’t much better and is made worse by the free audioguides, meaning everyone is wandering around listening to their individual guide, paying very little attention to anyone around them and therefore having no courtesy or consideration for someone with a baby in a sling. It’s a real shame and totally takes away from what’s on view, but we persist and the situation improves in later rooms.

The museum takes us through the Egyptian period in chronological order, beginning with artifacts from the civilisation living in Egypt before the ‘ancient Egypt’ society was formed in the way we think of it today. In Ancient Egypt many artifacts were highly codified, largely due to religious links – so, for example, eyes, cats, body shapes typically follow the same form over centuries. In the early years there’s a lot more variety and none of it fits the images I have in my head. There’s also a mummy from this early period, again prior to the full mummification techniques being developed, so looking different to expected.

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Some of the highlights for me in the first room were seeing hair pieces similar to ones you can buy in shops today and a stone bowl almost identical to the one Marie’s parents recently bought us as a gift. I find it crazy that in thousands of years many artifacts and the materials with which things are made, have barely changed. There are also models of people at work, giving a glimpse of typical day to day life in Ancient Egypt, which is cool to see and for me, an unexpected surprise.

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Later rooms, from later time periods, have many full size sarcophagi and even have parts of tomb walls and many versions of the ‘book of the dead’ a detailed, highly decorated manuscript in hieroglyphics outlining various spells to help a person pass through from the living to the world of the dead. The preservation of everything is amazing, I’m gobsmacked that these texts, on papyrus paper, are perfectly preserved, along with clothing and even food offerings.

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The detail on everything is beautiful and by this point we start to wonder what the time is, having been forced to leave all our belongings in a locker on the way in. Marie glimpses someone’s watch and we have a small panic- somehow 4 hours have passed since we entered the museum, we still have an entire floor to look around and we have to be back for dinner at 8pm- it’s already gone 6 and we still have to walk back to the car and drive for an hour!

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We have a hastier look around the next area, which has an interesting mix of artifacts from the Egyptian and Greek periods merging, including sculptures of the same king, sculpted in a typical Egyptian way in one sculpture, whilst looking thoroughly Greek in another, bizarre and hard to believe it’s the same person.

From here we descend to the ground floor, thinking it’s all over and we’ve made it out reasonably quickly….only to find the museum has saved the best until last and it’s an entire floor filled with gigantic pharaohs and statues of gods, beautifully lit and with mirrors carefully placed to allow you to see behind some of the sculptures. In one area, the mirrors are set up to help recreate the monument of 365 statues of the same god. It’s incredible and such a shame to not have longer to take it all in, or a camera with any remaining battery to capture it. The museum is wonderful though and well worth our afternoon.

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Once out, we discover we’re a 30 minutes walk from the car… bear in mind at this point that Eliza has been in the sling all day and she’s much heavier now than when our trip started. It’s also pretty hot and the sunshine hasn’t let up much, despite it being around 6:30pm. Cue quick march through the town, bypassing my longed for gianduja gelato (I even declined it when we passed my chosen ice cream stand on the way in, thinking how I’d appreciate it more after going round the museum…). We arrive at the car hot, sweaty and with not a drop of water in sight. But, the roads are kind to us and we make it back to our B&B only about 10 minutes late.

We are warmly welcomed and forgiven for our tardiness. We pass the window of Maurizio, the neighbour and friend of our hosts, on the way in, who calls out a greeting to us while cooking in an apron and underpants! We later meet again as he arrives with his contribution of black risotto to join us for dinner. Our hosts have meanwhile had an eventful day and Marie is treated to a blow by blow account of the argument Michela has had with her cousin. When this is translated to me, she delights in the translation of ‘fuck off’ and proceeds to repeat this intermittently through the evening, as if practicing it for the next time the situation occurs (“fook off!” she repeats delightedly at random points in the evening)! Dinner meanwhile is delicious and most dishes contain some amount of anchovy, which I’d read about as a typical ingredient in the area, so good to know that’s true. To start, we have bread with caramelised onions, olives, raisins and anchovies baked inside it. The black risotto follows, which also contains lardons, red pepper and a flavour of anchovy. I’d been curious to try the black rice while we’d been here, so I’m pleased to have the opportunity. Sausages and potatoes follow and a frozen almond dessert finishes it all off. We also had an education in jewellery making from Maurizio the goldsmith, who talked to us about the different methods- one likened to sculpture, like Michelangelo, taking the metal block and sculpting the piece out of it, the other likened to building a house, adding the metal bit by bit around the jewel. All in all, it is a delightful evening and the perfect end to our stay in Italy.

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