I’m writing the first part of this (yesterday) on a high-speed train (Roomie and I agree that the black and red ones are very pretty) on the way to Torino, which is Turin in English and, according to Wikipedia, in the Piedmontese dialect.
It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere new, mostly because of the pandemic, but also because of having a stroke (my second, in 2021), which makes we rather wary of straying too far from a well-equipped hospital. Oh, and then, a year ago, I took on the nearly full-time role of being Roomie’s keeper, and she doesn’t have a pet passport.
Before the pandemic there was at least a yearly jaunt to an Italian city, often Roma, but Stefi and I also had overnight stays in Cagliari, Venezia, Firenze and Milano, for the annual meeting of ASILS, which our Italian school is a member of.
For several years that meet-up with colleagues from around Italy went online, which wasn’t nearly as much fun, but now we’re meeting face to face again, for two days of discussion and gossip.
Stefi wasn’t keen, so is taking Roomie to Rimini instead, but I’ve never seen Torino/Turin, and after having read so much about it in our medieval history series of free articles with audio last summer, I thought I’d like to take a look.
The travel time from city with well-equipped hospital to city with well-equipped hospital, while just two and a half hours, is rather longer than the golden hour, which is considered the ideal maximum time that should elapse between your brain clogging up or springing a leak and emergency treatment being administered.
With modern medicines and techniques, it’s quite possible to avoid permanent disability, IF you get the unfortunate to a decent hospital, QUICKLY! I was paralysed all down one side, and couldn’t speak, which was alarming, but after a noisy ambulance ride through rush hour traffic, the medics fixed me up, good as new.
Unlike the unfortunate elderly woman in the bed opposite who had spent the night on her bedroom floor, after her daughter failed to answer her phone calls (why she didn’t call 112, I have no idea.)
This is a public service announcement – know the symptoms of a stroke, and if they happen to you, or someone around you, get them to a hospital ASAP!
But today I feel lucky, so am throwing caution to the wind. Also because the company is paying, and writing in the business class carriage of a high-speed train makes a nice change from my kitchen table.
Right now we’re speeding up the right-hand side of the Appennini mountain range, which has some snow covering, in bright sunshine. Lucky me (so far), and two young people have just been past with the complementary coffee and snack trolley: “Lo gradisce un caffè?” Yes, please, a coffee would please me indeed. I’ll pass on the biscuit, though. Gotta stay a healthy weight…
Anyway, Torino, which was initially settled three centuries before Christ, so 2300 years ago. This probably being due to the confluence of rivers (I’m guessing there must have been a ford), and being a handy trading point, given the Alps to the west and north (so wool, milk products, leather, meat etc.) and the rich agricultural land of the plains, which stretch away for hundreds of kilometers to the east. A truly exceptional place to settle and build a villages, then a town, then a city.
Unfortunately, the Romans were expanding across Italy, then further afield into what are now France and Germany. They couldn’t help but notice Turin as a strategic point on the route to what was then called Gaul, so took over. I don’t suppose the original Torinese put up much of a fight.
Being part of the Roman empire had advantages, but those would have been greater or less according to where exactly you found yourself. The Carthaginian general Hannibal, who you will certainly have heard of due to his daring feat of crossing the Alps with an army of elephants (to invade the Italian peninsula), trashed Torino/Turin as he passed, which must have been a bummer for the locals (see our Roman history series of free articles with audio.)
Later the area hosted a battle between contestants to be Roman emperor. Later still, once the Western Roman Empire collapsed in on itself, there was the millennium that Italians prefer to gloss over, when what is now Italy was basically run by Vikings (see our medieval history series of free articles with audio).
Fast-forward a thousand years or so and Torino became the base of the Savoia family, who were initially dukes, then minor kings, and eventually the royal family for the whole of Italy – not that that turned out well, either.
I got most of this from our history series over the last three years, linked to above, but Wikipedia is worth a look, which I did while waiting for the train earlier.
I’ve done my homework, see (we’re just arriving in Milano, by the way), and when I get out of the station I’ve three hours or so before the meeting starts, when I plan to wander around, check out a few of the sights, and generally soak up the atmosphere. As well as figuring out what the Torinese have for lunch.
Tomorrow (Friday), I’ll add to this, then publish it at some point during the morning session.
And Monday, strokes permitting (check the symptoms!) I’ll be back working from my kichen table, in Bologna.
Greetings from sunny Turin!
I’ll keep this brief, as I have to rush off to the second day of meetings that I’ve travelled here for. Just a few impressions…
The railway station is grand, not as much as the the ones in Rome and Milan, but more impressive than Bologna’s, as befits a city several times the size of my adopted home town.
Once outside, I noticed the entrance to Torino’s metro line, but saw no more stations for the rest of the day. There’s just one line, apparently, handy for commuters who live along it, but not yet able to compete with Milan. It’s being extended, though, and there’s talk of another being built.
There are, on the other hand, plenty of trams, which started running noisily past my hotel room window at four forty-five this morning…
Out of the station I headed imperceptibly downhill towards the river, the Po, which I’d expected to be a fairly trivial affair so near it’s source and so far from the sea. But it was a proper river, as in London and Paris, with bridges and all.
Unlike London, the water was clear and the sun was shining, so I walked north along the bank, admiring the graffiti, until I reached the next bridge, then turned back into the city, via an enormous piazza, which was skirted with places to eat and drink, and buzzing with trams.
The streets on this side of the city center are grand avenues, Paris-style, but with porticoes to shelter you from winter rain and summer sun. The effect is of a place with money and self-confidence, a royal city indeed!
Fifteen minutes walk took me from the river to another enormous piazza, the royal palace, its many museums, and the extensive public gardens hidden behind it.
I paused to glance at a stump of surviving city wall, and an odd red brick structure that I’d learnt from Wikipedia was a Roman gateway, so dating back perhaps two thousand years and still standing. Something that old, you have to see it. A few seconds will do, though.
Torino isn’t Rome, where the Roman buildings are everywhere, sometimes ‘sunk’ so far into the ground that you have to walk down a flight of steps to reach them (actually the modern city has grown up around them, being built, then rebuilt on centuries of rubble), but it did remind me of Italy’s capital, in part.
I was also reminded a little of Budapest, if you’ve been there – another former royal city with a river and plenty of grand buildings.
Turning away from the Roman gate, I entered the narrower streets of the old town. While hitherto I’d been walking avenues that had clearly been designed, New York-style, in a sort of grid system (but with piazzas), the older part of the city is more organic in its look and feel, narrower streets, more randomly laid out, and thronged with groups of shop and office workers looking for some place to eat lunch, and gossip.
Not long after, checking out the location of the afternoon’s meeting, I bumped into several Italian-school-owning colleagues, and accepted their invitation to lunch with them, assuming that they’d have more ambitious plans than the Turkish kebap shop I’d spotted. They selected a vegan place…
It was cheap, though. And a good chance to network, swop pandemic experiences. Someone ordered a bottle of wine, another wanted chocolate salami, which was good.
Beyond that, I haven’t much to relate. Still peckish after my grilled vegetables and hummus, during the afternoon break I asked one of the locals what people ate and drank in Torino. Lots of meat, apparently, dried anchovies ‘imported’ from Liguria (remember, Italy wasn’t a country two hundred years ago), and a seemingly endless list of red wines of the type that don’t usually feature in my modest budget, but that you, I’m sure, would enjoy.
What stood out, though, was ‘bagna cauda’, a sauce made with anchovies, oil, and four heads of garlic. HEADS of garlic, not cloves. FOUR of them! No kidding. The sauce is served hot, hence the name, and is for dipping vegetables in, whatever’s in season.
I was advised to only eat it on Friday evenings, so the resulting stink will have cleared by Monday. You’ll find a picture and a recipe here.
Gotta go network!
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