For some reason I had in my mind this was a smaller town with nothing to its name but a musty old Shroud. That’s what you get for not reading up. It’s not. It’s a fairly large city with a long history originating from Roman times, and no less than 18km of shopping arcades. It also boasts one of the largest lists of castles, museums and galleries.
The Torino pocket tourism guide (in English) offers a great comprehensive summary of the city as well as self guided walking routes, restaurant recommendations, museums and a guide to transport, and is one of the best free tourist resources we’ve come across so far – although it would be handy if the walking routes gave a bit more into about the landmarks listed (or at least a page reference to another part of the guide). As it stands, they just leave you needing to seek out more information.
In winter, the town centre is also full of light installations, with a seemingly different one around every corner! One of the longest featured a series of birds with a red ribbon in their beak, which threaded from the centre of town down the street all the way to the train station! It also served as a perfect guide for us to get back to our apartment!
On our first wander we passed seemingly endless rows of loggias which created a fantastic visual effect, then stumbled by accident upon a local market with clothing stalls and fresh produce. I grabbed a lightweight 50% wool sweater for 10€ and we got 4 mandarins for 50c. Ok, that doesn’t really qualify as architecture (on which more in Part 2) but is just part of the overall feel we got of walking around the town!
In the little market we stumbled on, we also grabbed a slice of tomato laden foccacia style bread for the very specific price of 1.59€, which was drizzled with a deliciously rich olive oil. It came wrapped in the sort of paper you’d expect from a deli, and was delicious even cold.
Trying to get back on our intended path we then came upon a cafe at which finally we found food at about half the price of the “tourist trap” restaurants we’d seemed unable to escape so far – the set menu of the day (although we didn’t have it) was 12€ for 2 courses with bread and water. Caffe Garibaldi, which was chock full of locals – always a good sign. Although they seemed to be out of most of the items listed on the board by the time we got there at about 2:15, I ended up with a cotto & mascarpone (ham and creamy cheese) penne. Unfortunately while the pasta was average this cafe had the most revolting bathroom we’d come upon yet in Europe.
One curious factor I’ve noticed in every single Italian restaurant so far is they serve you bread with a bottle of olive oil to start, but no plate, so you end up making a total mess. Perhaps there’s a trick we haven’t worked out.
That evening, we wanted to try out the Torino “Apericena” that is apertivo-dinner, at which you order drinks and get free access to an unlimited buffet. We chose Caffe Fiorio, at which the drinks were 9€ – I made the mistake of asking for a classic Torino drink and got something with vermouth that the waiter rattled off too fast for me to catch! It turned out to be Punt e Mes, a cocktail I’ve never heard of made with vermouth and quina, a liqueur I’ve also never heard of. It looked like coke. On first impressions it was sweet and orange flavoured, but followed up with an exceptionally bitter finish. I’m not a fan of bitter flavours but I can see how it might grow on you. It went very well with the baked raddichio and horrible with the sausage frittata. Overall, not a drink I’m likely to order again. Most of the buffet items seemed to focus around anchovies.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The restaurants here also close early, unlike the rest of Europe, due to the towns history as an industrial hub (and workers needing to get up early the next day, etc…). Interestingly there were numerous little vending machine hubs dotted around. About the size of a small city convenience store, they were unmanned, and simply an open store with walls lined with different kind of vending machine. This one even included a pasta vending machine, which you could choose to take as frozen or hot – so essentially serving freezer meals with a microwave option. Not terribly appealing as a tourist, but I could see how it might be useful, and I thought it was an interesting concept (in line with new fresh-bread vending machines and the like which are popping up around the world).