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Torino, Verbania, Milano - and Schengen days are gone

I have wanted to go to Torino for years but never made it there. It is one of the cities that came as a wonderful surprise, every day there was like unwrapping a big present.

I stayed at a small hotel in the university district. The receptionist had given me excellent directions over the phone, and the bus let me off a block from the hotel. I liked the street right away - bookstores, restaurants of all kinds, jewelry and artisan booths lining the streets. Torino is famous for coffee and chocolate. The hazelnut flavor, giandujia, was invented here, when there was a shortage of cocoa so someone had the brilliant idea to make a hazelnut paste and mix it with the chocolate they had. Lots of happy hour opportunities, and restaurants and takeaway shops with meal discounts for students with i.d. One place specialized in potatoes in every manifestation imagineable, another was a polenta shop (unfortunately closed while I was there). But my favorite was a little takeaway shop around the corner from my hotel specializing in - wait for it - polpette (meatballs). About a dozen kinds, everything from meats to veggie and cheese, vegan, you name it, and some sweet versions as well. There is a sign on the wall advising people to follow their dream. I thought about the modesty of the dream of a shop selling meatballs, and concluding that she succeeded brilliantly.

The Cinema Museum was a few blocks from my hotel as well, and the famous Egyptian Museum was nearby. A short walk in the other direction and I stumbled upon a huge piazza which was also a transportation hub for taxis, buses, and trams. This street, and several others, is lined with porticoes and colonnades similar to Bologna, punctuated by arches allowing access into side streets. It was a little disorienting to see a tram wind around a corner and disappear into an archway at first.

I paid a visit to the Castello, right in the middle of the city, and to the Roman ruins (not many in Torino) that are visible, including parts of the wall. The cathedral is across the street from the ruins, near the Castello and the Royal Museum. So it is a rather compact city for sightseeing.

My favorite excursion was to La Superga, the royal residence, church and tombs for the royal family. Relying on public transportation, I got to ride the old train up the hill to La Superga, which was the best part of the trip for me. Views from the garden over the city of Torino are stunning. There is a nature preserve on the other side of the residential complex. Some hardy souls hiked up the path instead of taking the train, it took them about an hour. The train itself is refurbished, but the tracks are from the 1800s and the carriage style is of the same period. The grade is rather steep in some places, and the track itself winds along the contour of the mountain.

After a few days in Torino, I went to Verbania, which really only exists in legal documents and on maps. Verbania is on Lago Maggiore, and it is the merging of several communities in the 1930s, the largest are Intra and Pallanza. The train station is between the two towns; I stayed in Intra at the Hotel Intra. Its entrance is through an arcade, so it is set back from the street a bit, and quiet. The bus stop is very close to the hotel, and the ferry port is a short walk away. I decided to visit Verbania because I liked the sound of it, and I wanted a couple of days on Lago Maggiore, before the last two legs of my summer travel.

(continued below)

Posted by
11613 posts

As my usual luck with lakes would have it, the day I took the ferry to Canobbio the skies were clear but by the time we arrived, there were darkening clouds. I took a quick look around the market, which was closing, and was a bit dismayed by the restaurant prices on the main street. Not outrageous, but it was the end of 90 days of travel, so budget was a concern by now. I found a great little restaurant, specializing in homemade pasta dishes from Puglia, halfway up a flight of steps from the main street. I ordered a pasta dish and asked for a small mixed salad (not on the menu). The family's son appeared with a platter of lettuce, tomatoes, celery, green olives, and buffalo mozzarella. He was so proud of that salad, and it was delicious. Meanwhile I was calculating (and regretting) ordering off-menu. The bill eventually came and it was 12 euro for the salad, water, and pasta. Feeling well fed and successfully frugal, I went down to the ferry dock to wait for the boat back to Intra. The clouds had taken over the sky, obscuring the mountains in the distance. Everything was a deep, smokey blue. Little drops of rain started to fall as we boarded.

An hour later, we disembarked like rats leaving a sinking ship, trying to not get soaked as about 50 of us crossed the street.

On Monday I left for Milano. I decided to go to the Castello Sforzesco, since I hadn't been there for a couple of years. Michelangelo's last work, the unfinished Pieta, has been moved to its own gallery. I liked the previous placement better, but this new home gives more people a chance to walk completely around it. I can't help remembering the other Pietas that Michelangelo sculpted, and seeing how his work evolved over the length of his long, productive life. Apparently he worked on this piece the night before he died.

On the train to MXP, an American girl sat across the aisle from me, and within a few minutes she was fined for not having validated her ticket. The fine was 17 euro. A minute earlier, a young man came walking up the aisle, said something to the conductor a few rows ahead of us, the conductor signed the man's ticket and he went back to his seat. The American asked the conductor why she had to pay a fine and the man did not. The conductor rattled off something that she did not understand, and I said that the other passenger had found the conductor before the conductor found him. "It's not fair!" she said, and I had to smile, remembering the dozens of posts on this forum about fines and train tickets.

Posted by
9447 posts

"Not fair!" Ah, we Americans are so caught up in fairness. I had to smile.

Lovely summary about a successful day on Lago Maggiore despite the rain. Remember how hot it was at Lago di Garda a couple of years ago when we were both there in June? Ugh!

We have visited Torino twice on short stays. Need to go back and settle in for 5 days or so.

Posted by
407 posts

I validated every single train ticket in Italy. Even the ones that didn't need validation--the print at home tickets on 8x11 sheets of paper with the date, time, and seat assignment. I just folded them up and shoved them into the validation machine. I wasn't taking any chances.

Interestingly, one conductor thought that I had not validated a ticket that needed validating. I had put the ticket in the machine facing down so it printed on the wrong side. So he valadated it for us. When he was handing the tickets back to me he saw the validation on the backside so he scratched everything off. I think he was going to give us a break because we were traveling with our two kids and he just didn't want to do that to a family. I think we got a lot of special treatment in Europe because of our kids, or maybe because we were just really polite and friendly.

Posted by
4522 posts

Thanks again Zoe!
I've added Torino to my growing bucket list!

I walked to Verbania one day while visiting Lago Maggiore, and one of the young ladies at the hotel where you stayed recommended a great restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Posted by
5537 posts

I'm just back from a long weekend in Turin and the city is sitting right now in a huge smog bowl due to the fires in the mountains in the Val de Susa in the north. A heavy gray haze, and cinders on the car every time you went out to it. The fires haven't been as bad as what California or Portugal have experienced lately, but one firefighter has been killed. They desperately need rain. Which to me is ironic because for the first 5 or 6 years I was going there, it never DIDN'T rain.

Posted by
1607 posts

Zoe,
I have a story about validating train tickets in Italy. I had boarded my train in Milan (on the way to Varenna) and was looking in my Rick Steves guidebook and found the entry about validating your ticket. I had not done that and with 10 minutes before the train was to leave, I looked over at the young woman in the seat opposite and said, "I have to validate my ticket, I didn't see where to do that?" Then she said, oh no, I forgot, too! And she is Italian! So we both got up, leaving our bags in our seats, and rushed out to the validation machine. Good thing, she knew what to look for. Wouldn't you know it but a conductor came down the aisle to look at our tickets. We were told it was a 50 Euro fine. The Italian girl was on her way to take a new teaching position in a small town, I don't recall the name of it. She spoke excellent English and we had a nice chat.

Posted by
12117 posts

If the shoe had been on the other foot, would the American woman still have said, "it's not fair?"

Posted by
440 posts

Turin is often overlooked. A good off the beaten track destination