Friday, May 3, 2013

Italia Encora

Just a few more descriptions of life in this wonderful, unpredictable country:

Food (cooked and RAW!)


Grating Pecorino cheese over some "plin"
The food in the Piedmont is almost as famous as the wine.  This is the home of the Slow Food movement, a reaction to fast food that emphasizes fresh ingredients based on what is in season. 
The pasta is phenomenal!  Especially these puffy little raviolis called “plin” that are usually stuffed with rabbit meat and served with either a ragu (tomato meat sauce made with veal) or sage and butter.  And a specialty called “tajarin,” a handmade, hand-cut pasta made from eggs.  When tajarin is cooked perfectly al dente, it is the best pasta we have ever tasted!
Super fresh salad with the best oil and vinegar
Salads are always super fresh and served with only the best olive oils and vinegars.  The balsamic vinegars are out of this world.  For dessert, our favorite splurges were a lemon cake that was incredibly moist and tart (topped with lemon rind) and hazelnut cake, a very nutty cake that was just a tad dry until you added some powdered chocolate and a special sauce made from eggs, sugar, and sweet Marsala wine.  O Dio mio!

Amazingly moist and tart Lemon Cake
 Breakfast deserves a paragraph of its own: coffee/tea, juice, yogurt, fresh fruit, fresh bread, and so many sweet goodies like homemade jams and always amazing homemade cakes and apricot tarts all freshly made.  Interestingly, at our both B & Bs, the men of the house did all the baking – and the results were incredible!

The totally RAW salsiccia!
One very quirky aspect of the Piemontese diet is an obsession with raw meat.  Yes, RAW.  At first, we thought it was a language translation problem, and that they must mean rare meat, but we were wrong.  We first encountered this phenomenon in a restaurant when we were served an appetizer called carne cruda. Honest to God, this was a raw hamburger patty on a dish.  (We wish we had a picture, but we were so flummoxed, Frank didn’t even reach for his camera.)  We figured “when in Rome” and managed to eat it.  Not bad, as long as you didn’t think about what you were eating.

Later, at our Asti B & B, Frank asked about the difference between salume and salsiccia since both appeared to be sausages.  The answer was that while salume is aged, salsiccia is “bloody.”  Once again, we thought this was a translation problem and were thrilled when our hosts said they would get some salsiccia for us.  So imagine our reaction when they proudly presented us with a plate of uncooked sausage (this time we took a picture!).  Again, it didn’t taste bad – just an issue of mind over matter.  But I don’t think we would go out of way to eat any raw meats ever again!

Politics and Economic Decline

Home of the first Italian Parliament (in Turin)
We don’t usually get into political discussions in foreign places, but we became friends with Maria Luiza, the marvelous postmistress of Pettanasco, a village near Lake Orta.  She told us the situation in Italy is terrible (tear EE blah, as Maria Luiza pronounced it).  She said that Italy, the land of art and music, is turning into Tunisia.  It truly is terrible to see the sad state of the economies of so much of Western Europe.

Why Italian Road Signs Almost Drove Anne Mad

The Italians are masters at the art of fine living.  When it comes to food, wine, fashion & design etc., their talents are legendary.  But they are a bit weak when it comes to practical things.  For example, their road signs are the worst we have seen anywhere.  It’s not that signage is lacking. There are signs everywhere, sometimes a dozen signs stacked on one pole!  The problem is with logic and consistency.

In Europe, route numbers are seldom (or poorly) displayed, so you need to navigate according to the cities and towns along your route.  The only difficulty is that you need to know what larger city is in the direction that you want to go.  And the whole navigational issue becomes worse when you have traffic circles because every circle requires a decision.  With traffic circles every few miles and crazy, inconsistent road signs, Italy takes this European concept of navigation to a whole new bizarro level. 
Which way do we go???
Here is one small example:
If the road you are driving will eventually intersect with a highway going to Asti and Arona, your road may be identified in a traffic circle with a sign that says “Asti/Arona.”  Now these two cities lie in opposite directions and are hundreds of miles apart, but you want to head toward this highway that provides the option of going to either city.  So even if you have no intention of going to either Asti or Arona, this is the road sign you need to follow to continue on your road. 
As if all this isn’t bad enough, at the next traffic circle, your road sign may say only “Asti.”  Now even though you don’t want to go anywhere near Asti, you have to remember that the direction you want to go is toward the highway that will give you the option of going to Asti, so this is the sign you want to follow.  Can you see how the signage can make you lose your mind?  And there are lots more horrifying examples. The only good thing about an Italian traffic circle is that you can continue around it more than once until you sort out which direction you need to take!  Maybe next time we’ll opt for GPS.
This brings us to the end of our blog for this trip.  Despite a few issues with the roads, we had a fantastic time -- France and Italy are without question two of the most enjoyable countries on the planet!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Romance on the Italian Lakes

One of the many moods of Lago d'Orta
We stayed in a lakeside room on the absolutely gorgeous Lago d’Orta (Lake Orta), one of the smallest Italian Lakes. Since we loved Bellagio on Lake Como when we stayed there back in 2005, we were anxious to try another one of Italy’s exquisite lakes.  We were not disappointed.  This place is heavenly – the air is fresh and cool, and the only sounds are the ducks swimming by, and an occasional ferry boat shuttling passengers across the lake. 

Enjoying the lake from our hotel balcony
Our balcony gives us a view of tiny Isola d’Orta (Island of Orta) in one direction and snow-covered Alps in the other!  This combination of lovely lake, sweet little island, and impressive mountains is impossibly beautiful.




Orta San Guilio

Main square in charming Orta San Guilio
Orta San Guilio, just south of our hotel in the town of Pettenasco, is a tiny village right on the shores of Lago d’Orta.  When we parked our car in one of the visitor pay-parking lots, we weren’t even sure where the town was!  Then, we spotted a long flight of cement steps that took us down into this amazing medieval town hidden from view. 

Our first visit was at night and the town felt coldly deserted.  We found our way to the main square, and it was pure magic.  The square sits right on the waterfront with a fabulous view of the lights on Isola d’Orta which is a small island on the lake, beautifully illuminated at night.  We ate dinner at an outside cafĂ© facing the waterfront where the ambiance might have given the restaurant an excuse for overcharging, but dinner was very reasonable and the food was superb.  A real night to remember!
We returned to Orta San Guilio during the day to check out the weekly market and the vendors who  sell their wares in hand-assembled tent-stalls set up on the main square.  The market was small but offered some of the best inexpensive shopping of the trip. 
Approaching Isola San Guilio
We hopped on a boat to get a good look at Isola San Guilio, that tiny island in the middle of the lake that we had been admiring from a distance.  Known as the island of silence, this tiny island (less than 2 football fields wide and maybe 3 long) consists mainly of a basilica and a monastery. 
Walking along the Path of Silence
The short walk around the tranquil island, called the Path of Silence, felt like a meditation, and thoughtful messages like “Walls are only in the mind” were posted along the way to promote a sense of mindfulness.

Death of St. Francis depicted in a chapel at Sacro Monte
Next we drove up the hill above Orta San Guilio to the Sacro Monte, a complex of chapels dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi in a pretty wooded area with gorgeous views of the lake far below.  The real wonder of Sacro Monte is displayed inside the 21 individual chapels here; painted statues from the 17th and 18th c. depict the story of the life of Saint Francis. The painted, earthenware statues merge with the mural paintings on the surrounding walls to create an amazingly lifelike tableaux.

Lake Maggiore and Stresa

Impressive hotel on the waterfront near Stresa
on Lake Maggiore
Although we stayed on Lake Orta, the touristy lakeside town of Stresa and Lake Maggiore were less than an hour’s drive away.  Stresa has some impressive old hotels lining the lakefront, but the best sights were out on the water.  We bought an all-day ferry ticket and had a fun time island-hopping to Isola Superiore and Isola Bella.
Riding the ferry on Lake Maggiore
First stop was Isola Superiore (aka Pescatori because of the number of fishermen who live here).  This is the only inhabited island and a perfect place for lunch.  We ate fish fresh from the lake of course, and drank a nice white wine on a terrace overlooking the water.
Amphitheater on Isola Bella 
Then we hopped on another ferry for the 5-minute ride to Isola Bella, a 17th c. island designed as a Baroque summer palace.  The palace contained sumptuous rooms and an interesting basement consisting of 6 grottos made from shells and stone pebbles.   Outside, an elabo-rate garden sits on 10 terraces and has an open-air amphitheater decorated with statue-filled niches.  Pure white peacocks strut the grounds adding to the glamorous atmosphere.
Lago d’Orta has definitely made our (long) list of favorite getaways.  We are so glad we made the last-minute decision to stay here instead of on larger Lake Maggiore in the busier town of Stresa.  We only wish we had more time because there are a lot of things to do in the vicinity.  It was hard to leave our magical Lago d’Orta, but Milan’s Malpensa Airport was less than an hour away, so we had an easy (relatively) departure.  More on the challenges of driving in Italy coming up!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Piemonte of Italy – Land of Wine and Kindness

Overlooking the Piemonte countryside from
the hilltop town of La Morra
We spent the next part of our trip driving around with our own wheels.  We rented a Fiat (certo! -- of course!), a model called a Punto – one of the most common, run-of-the-mill, every day, cheap-to-operate, small vehicles in Italia.  We love this little black gem with lots of get up and go, and it “only” cost us $75 for half a tank’s worth of gas!?!?!?  Yea really, remember that folks, it costs about $9 per gallon of gas when you do all the calculations and conversions.  Makes us long for those $3.50 prices we were paying in America before we left.

Priceless old
Barbaresco and Barolo wines
We came to the Piemonte region of Italy to learn more about the famous wines produced there: Barolo, the king of wines; and Barbaresco, the queen.  But we got so much more than just fabulous wine.  The real treasure of the Piemonte is not the wine, but the wonderful people who live here.
Wandering the ancient streets around the castle
 in the town of Barolo

We have adopted a new style of travel now that we are out in the country; we have slowed down and are taking our time soaking up the special atmosphere, picking up some of the language, and enjoying the local people.  On a typical day, we begin with breakfast at our B&B, and then we jump into our Punto for some village-hopping: meeting people, drinking wine, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery.  We brought CDs from home, so we roam the hills and dales with Italian opera playing away at full volume (Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti), providing the perfect backdrop for this lovely land.  We usually eat a special lunch in one of the many medieval hilltop villages and end the day with a light homebrew dinner of cheese, sausage, bread, and of course, vino back at the B&B.

Our B&Bs in Alba and Asti

Rolling vine-covered hillsides of "Barolo Land."
We began at a lovely B&B just outside the city walls of the old town of Alba, which is perfectly situated near a slew of sweet little wine villages.  Our hosts Raffaelle and Lorenzo could not do more for us.  Every day, we were the recipients of some new kindness.  For example, one day when we returned to the room, we found a bottle of red wine waiting for us along with two large sparkling wine glasses (so much better than the plastic wine glasses we carry with us)!
Frank eating breakfast (and getting high on Nutella fumes)
in our Alba B & B
Our room, the “purple room,” is perfectly charming with so many decorative touches (all in purple, of course).  And the room is as well-equipped as any we have ever stayed in, from the waterfall shower with black exfoliating soap from Morocco (Anne looks younger already LOL) to the magnificent terrace with potted plants and a protective awning.  As an added bonus, from our terrace, we can see the Nutella factory across the street, and every so often, we get a blast of Nutella sweetness in the air. By the way, for any of you who do not know Nutella, it is a sugary chocolate spread made with hazelnuts, and it tastes damn good, even tho it is probably no good for you at all!!

Raffaelle and Lorenzo are so much fun to be around and more than helpful.  Our Italian is pathetic, but luckily Lorenzo speaks English, and Raffaelle speaks French, so we end up communicating in something we call “Franglishiano” – the amazing thing is that we actually understand each other completely!

Renate, Julia, and Anne at our B & B near Asti
For the second part of our countryside sojourn, we stayed at a rural B&B just north of Asti.  This was a small, family-run operation on a farm-like setting, and we thoroughly enjoyed Renate, Bruno, and their 34-year-old daughter Julia.  We felt as if we had been adopted by this friendly family.  Italian language lessons from our new friends came twice daily, but class became especially wild at night when Bruno brought out the Grappa to aid the learning experience.

Bruno and Frank toasting the goodness of Grappa!
We helped Renate and Julia with their English (and they helped us with our pathetic Italian).  Frank also taught Julia some Russian since she wants to learn the basics of that language.  She was a very eager student. And since Bruno speaks French, we switched to that when we spoke with him.  It must have sounded like a European Union convention when we all got together.  Plus Renate and Julia spoke at typical Italian warp speed, talking over each other and correcting each other like some comedy routine.  It was hilarious!  

 Villages of the Piemonte

Having a ball in the Piemonte wine villages
We spent our days roaming the friendly villages of this very rural area where everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome.  The Piemonte is still a fairly undiscovered wine destination, so the locals are not jaded by swarming tourists.  English is not spoken by many.  

In the beautifully preserved village of Neive, we asked a young woman in a shop about wine tasting, and she got on the phone, called her friend Michela, and then left her store unattended to walk us up the hill and over to Michela’s great wine shop.  Michela, by the way, gave us generous, free wine tastings and invaluable wine advice.  Of course, we always end up buying from these people, but we never feel pressured.  In fact, it doesn’t seem like a business transaction at all, more like an exchange among friends.

Impromtu wine tasting at Sylvia's place. What a spread!
One day, we wandered into a wine shop and unintentionally interrupted a family dinner.  No problem; the owner and her daughter-in-law Sylvia, took us down into their 15th c. wine cellars for a quick peek and then offered us wine tastings that came with breadsticks and slices of tasty salami.  Pretty soon, we felt like we were part of their family too. The wine we bought was fabulous, but the story and the memories that go with it are priceless!

Katarina serves up some
"best of the best" Grappa!
Every day brings a new memorable interaction like funny Katarina who loved laughing with Frank while she poured us free tastings of many Barolos.  As we were buying a few bottles, she insisted that Frank try her “best of the best” Grappa which turned out to be the smoothest Grappa he has ever tasted. Man, was that good!

At the Boffa Cantina, we paid to taste two of winemaker Carlo Boffa’s vinos:  top notch Barbaresco wines served with breadsticks and some incredible aged parmesan cheese (people here never let you taste without some accompanying food).  Then, Carlo took us out back to see the gorgeous view of his vineyard from his terrace.  All at once, he got super-generous, and started pouring us freebies: Barbera, Dolchetto, and a delicious shot of Grappa.  Once these people start giving, it’s as if they can’t stop!  They love to give presents to newcomers. How could we not buy from them?  But then, I’m sure they count on that as part of their generous homespun PR.

The charming hilltop village of Montiglio
Here is one of our best stories of all.  One beautiful sunny day, we arrived in the hilltop village of Montiglio and barely made it out of the car before a man named Giorgio Macchia came over to chat, telling us all about the castle above us and the pride of the village, the Church of San Giovanni.  Giorgio, who spoke some English, is a town historian, and he was anxious to share his knowledge.  He STRONGLY suggested that we see the church and explained that we would need a key to get in.

We ate a great lunch at what may have been the only restaurant in town, and soon Giorgio strolled into the restaurant carrying (you guessed it!) the rather-large skeleton key to the ancient town church.  Reluctantly, we walked about 3/4 of a mile to the church (what choice did we have?), and when we arrived, there was Giorgio with the Mayor of the village, Francesco Ciravegna!

Opening the door of the
ancient church of  San Giovanni
Anne got to do an official opening of the ancient door lock on the church door (using the aforementioned key) with cameras flashing.  Not only Frank’s camera, but also the camera of an old guy on a bicycle who had appeared out of nowhere (Frank thought this dude might be the mayor’s personal cameraman and that this whole thing was a publicity stunt to beef up the mayor’s image.)  Anne felt like the star of Montiglio LOL!

Anne and the Mayor of Montiglio,
Francesco Ciravegna

The Mayor and Giorgio proceeded to give us a personal tour of this church that dates back to the  12th c. and has some marvelous Romanesque
sculptures.  After the tour, we said our farewells, and the mayor asked Frank, “May I kiss your wife?”  Frank replied, “Okay, as long as it isn’t an American kiss!”  This has happened before, and all Anne wants to know why these Italian men think they have to ask Frank’s permission to kiss her???

We wandered back into the village square, but our story was not over yet.  The mayor was already there, shaking hands and talking with townspeople.  He called us over to the village Gelateria that was just opening up for the first time this season.  And in honor of the occasion, the gelato was free. Hey, count us in! 

Free gelato (and maybe a little free PR) at
Montiglio's Gelateria
We got our free, scrumptious double-dip gelato cones, and then the mayor insisted on taking a picture of us standing behind the ice cream counter with the owners of the shop.  By this point, even Anne was thinking that we were going to end up in the local newspaper -- guess we’ll never know for sure.  What a crazy, fun, and funny day!  Hope Montiglio re-elects this guy when the time comes around!!  Anybody who goes out of his way to entertain visitors like this is worthy of holding office.

Other Sights of the Piemonte

Frank shares a good Barolo wine
with Jesus and friends at "The Divine Bar"
in the Barolo Wine Museum
Of course. we didn’t spend all our time wine tasting.  We also visited two wine museums (do you sense a theme here?).  The Barolo Wine Museum, known as WiMu, was one of the weirder museums we have ever seen.  It was designed by the same guy who did the Automobile and Cinema museums in Turin, and he really outdid himself here!

The museum is not so much about the nature of winemaking as it is about trying to capture the essence of wine.  Just to give you a flavor of the place: the first room was about the beginning of time with fake birds flapping their wings and ticking sounds like a room full of clocks in the background.  A later room had something called “The Divine Bar” with religious figures from history gathered around a wine bar.  All we can say is that despite being pretty much “out there,” the museum did make us thirsty!

One shocking bit of trivia: in ancient Rome, women were not allowed to drink wine.  The Romans were deadly serious about this crime; the punishment for a drunken woman was death! 

Truffles for sale at the
Piemonte's annual Truffle Auction
A second wine museum in the town of Grinzane Cavour was a more traditional type of wine museum.  We especially enjoyed the display on truffles, a pungent type of fungus that grows in these parts.  These funghi nuggets usually grow underground, and need to be ferreted out by a dog with a trained nose.  How they ever train these mutts is a complete unknown. A truffle auction is held in the Piemonte every year, and people pay as much as $100,000 for a truffle about the size of a man’s fist.


The abbey of Santa Maria di Vezzolano
In a real departure from wine, we visited the abbey in Vezzolano, one of the most important Romanesque monuments in the Piemonte.  Santa Maria di Vezzolano was built during the 12th-13th c.; when we visited, it was devoid of any people, yet the doors were wide open so anyone could walk in.  It is perched on a wooded hill out in the countryside in a somewhat desolate location, and it felt as if some monks from the Middle Ages might show up at any moment! 
 More pictures of the marvelous Piemonte:  
Frank inspects the vines in Barolo
Notice the snow-covered Alps in the distance

Gorgeous rooftops and bell towers
in the villages of the Piemonte

So many wines, so little time

Even the cows are extra friendly here
in the Piemonte!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Magic of Turin

On Piazza San Carlo
Turin is an elegant city of arcaded streets and monumental squares, but the magic doesn’t end there.  The world is supposedly composed of lines of energy and Turin is part of a triangle of white magic connecting with Lyon, France and Krakow, Poland.  BUT, Turin is also part of the black magic triangle that includes London and San Francisco, making it the one city with a foot in both camps.  Filled with both religious images and symbols of the occult, this truly is a city of good and evil.

View of the Alps from a street in downtown Turin
Situated at the foot of the Alps, the city is known as “Turin” to Americans, but Torino in Italy, meaning “little bull.”  Fiat built its first factory here, and for years, throughout the 20th century, Turin was known only for cars.  In fact, Turin has been the origin city of 70 car manufacturers, including Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and many we’ve never heard of, or that have gone defunct over the years.  The 2006 Winter Olympics changed everything when the world got a closer look at Turin, and residents started to realize the city had lots more to offer visitors than just a tour of the Automobile Museum.

We are staying in a wonderful apartment hotel called "Residence Sacchi" where we have an amazingly spacious multi-room apartment with a full kitchen.  And yet we still get daily maid service that includes fresh towels, detergent for the dishwasher, and even a vase of fresh flowers every few days.  We are going to hate to leave this apartment and this city!

The Egyptian Museum

Statue of Pharoah Ramses II
Believe it or not, Turin has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo, some of which date back to 2000 years BC.  The Museo Egizio offers a remarkable array of sarcophagi (some still holding dried up mummies), canopic jars that held the mummy’s internal organs, actual papyrus, and a whole army of shawabti (doll-like figures that were put into the person’s tomb and were intended to do agricultural work in the afterlife so the deceased could take it easy). 

Mummy of Kha
One room contained the treasures from an unplundered tomb, a rarity in itself since tomb robbers seem to find their way into all the Egyptian tombs.  Kha and Merit, were a wealthy, but non-royal couple whose tomb was filled with all kinds of stuff: a board game similar to checkers, dried up bread that held up pretty well over the millennia, and even an early western-style toilet!

Frank is impressed by Egyptian toilet design

Egypt in Turin: the Statuary Hall
at the Egyptian Museum
One of the best rooms of all was the Statuary Hall, a dark room lined with well-lit statues of famous/non-famous pharaohs, Egyptian gods, and sphinxes.  We almost felt as if we were in Egypt!







Walking Turin: Arcades and Piazzas

Ornate arcade outside our apartment
Turin is a great city for walking with about 12 miles of arcaded streets providing ornate, pillared porticos to protect pedestrians from the elements while shopping or just strolling the streets. Since we seem to have arrived during the rainy season, these arcades were much appreciated!  The city is also filled with beautiful palaces and all kinds of elegant architectural features.  Masonic and satanic symbols are said to be hidden in the architecture, proof that Turin really is a city of both white and black magic.

Carnival atmosphere on Piazza Castello in front of
Palazzo Madonna (Madonna Palace)
When Napoleon conquered Turin, he envisioned a city of gardens and public spaces, and as usual, he got what he wanted.  Turin has numerous piazzas, huge open spaces surrounded by impressive architecture like Piazza San Carlo with its historic cafes and Piazza Castello with its amazing baroque palaces.  Turin also has miles of pedonale (pedestrian-only) streets lined with top fashion shops and a never-ending supply of fine chocolatiers. Yummy!

Images of suffering miners on the monument in their honor
on Piazza Statuto
 One of the most interesting piazzas is Piazza Statuto said to lie at the apex of the black magic triangle.  The piazza looked pretty tame when we visited: beautiful buildings and a park where locals were pushing baby carriages and walking their dogs.  However, the square was once a Roman necropolis, and a guillotine was hard at work here during the days of the French Revolution.  The statue at the front of the square is also quite disturbing -- a craggy pyramid draped with male figures in poses of great agony.  The monument was dedicated to the miners who suffered and died while building the Frejus Rail Tunnel connecting Italy with France.  This was the very tunnel we rode through when we arrived here!

Ghoulish figures decorate the bulidings
of Turin

 The Shroud

Copy of the Shroud of Turin
The greatest symbol of white magic in the city is, of course, the revered Shroud of Turin.  The actual shroud is kept hidden in a vault in the duomo, and can only be shown in public on orders from the Vatican.  On the day before Easter, the Vatican allowed a film crew to video the Shroud.  We walked past the cathedral that day, and the whole area was swarming with security types and visiting dignitaries.  No, the Supsics were not invited for a private viewing of the shroud; it must have been an oversight.  No doubt heads will roll when they discover that omission!   

Image of how the Shroud originally covered the body
However, many copies of the Shroud are on display around town. The best one is the enlarged version of the face on the Shroud that is prominently displayed near the altar of the duomo (Turin Cathedral).  A silent video plays constantly on large flat screens positioned nearby, providing a tutorial (in Italian subtitles) that describes how the Shroud was placed over the body and explains flaws in the Shroud, such as holes and burn marks from the fire of 1532, and stains from water damage over the years.

Close-up of the face on the Shroud
To really get the skinny on the Shroud, we visited the Museo Sindone (“sindone” means "shroud" in Italian).  The sweetest, little old Italian ladies run this all-volunteer operation with great efficiency and dedication.  Although only one of them spoke any English, they were so kind and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
The museum is careful to make no claims about the origin of the Shroud, but it is clear from all the evidence that the Man in the Shroud (as the museum refers to him) was crucified by the Romans. And the Shroud has been around for centuries, showing up repeatedly in paintings and other artifacts throughout the ages.  (A wonderful example of art supporting historical and scientific investigation.)  What is not clear is how the man’s image was imprinted on the Shroud.  Scientists are still studying this phenomenon; their best guess is that it was a result of some kind of geologic radiation.


Canaletto painting of Venice's Grand Canal on display
at the Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli
Lingotto is an area south of the city center that was once the headquarters for car manufacturer Fiat.  Today, the sprawling Fiat factory has been turned into a giant shopping mall full of Italian fashions.  This former factory complex also includes an art museum called Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli.  The small but significant collection included lots of Antonio Canaletto paintings (that always make us feel as if we are in Venice), several colorful Matisse paintings, and a lovely Renoir.

Pasta galore at Eataly!
Just beyond the mall, we spotted “Eataly,” a multi-story food store offering the best of Italy.  We never saw so much designer pasta, sauce, and breadsticks in one place!  The Eataly vendors also serve lunch, so we enjoyed wonderful thin-crusted margherita pizza with Dolcetto wine (a deliciously fruity red commonly found in this region).

Steam-powerd bicycle at the Turin Automobile Museum
After lunch, we walked over to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile (Turin’s Automoblie Museum).  The museum covered the history of the automobile including the steam-powered bicycle and other early motorized attempts making us appreciate how far we’ve come. 

Gorgeous red Ferrari at the Turin Automobile Musuem
The museum seemed a bit disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed seeing all the Ferraris and Alpha Romeos (Anne thinks a red Ferrari could brighten up her life).  A video with a collection of car commercials was also fun, including an old Oldsmobile commercial with a sing-a-long (just follow-the-bouncing-ball) called “Me and my Merry Oldsmobile.” The bad news is that Frank remembers those early commercials on TV!  Was it really that long ago?



 Mole Antonelliana

The Mole, symbol of Turin
The graceful 167-meter tower (547 feet) called Mole Antonelliana is the symbol of Turin, much like the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris.  It was the highest brick building in the world when it was completed in 1889.  We took an elevator to the top for stunning views of the red rooftops of Turin, the many historical buildings, and the Po River nearby. 

Rooftops of Turin with the Alps in the background
as seen from the top of the Mole Tower
The Mole is also home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Cinema Museum).  Again the museum felt disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed the displays on the history cinema from shadow puppets and simple optical tricks to Edison’s first attempts at making moving pictures.  Other displays included clips from all kinds of movies, a copy of the original screenplay for “The Godfather,” and Marilyn Monroe’s bustier! 

Our unintentional video broadcast at
Turin;s Cinema Museum
The funniest part of the museum was an interactive display that superimposed images of us into some footage from the movie “The Matrix.”  Of course, we had a great time messing around and taking photos of ourselves inside the movie.  Little did we know that our shenanigans were being broadcast on a big screen out in the main hall for all to see!





Tempting Turin

Super colorful display inside the famous
Pfatisch Sweets Shop
One thing that France and Italy have in common is that the gastronomic temptations are buono non basta (goodness non-stop)!  Turin has the most beautiful old chocolate shops loaded with goodies, and the shops seem to magically appear around every corner. 

Temptations of Turin!
Turin’s specialty is something called giandujotto, a luscious combination of chocolate and hazelnut paste.  Needless to say, we are stocking up on choco bars to bring home!

Fillin' our bellies at Zelli's Wine Bar
Another special treat in Turin are aperitivos.  Much like tapas in Spain, aperitivos are served in bars during the pre-dinner Happy Hour; however, rather than paying by the individual plates as you do in Spain, here in Turin you pay a single charge (i.e. about 8€), and you get a generous drink plus all the aperitivos you can eat. It's like tapas smorgasboard!!  Quite a good deal; for about $10 American, you can have a filling buffet dinner!  Our favorite aperitivo place is a wine bar called “Zelli” ; a great place to relax, drink wine, and eat till you can't antmore – or as we like to say "Zelli will fill your belly" (LOL)!





 Eccentric Italy

The Italian people have been nothing but kind and charming; however, the Italian culture can be a bit eccentric.  Here are some examples:

How do you think the Post Office came up with
these bizarre hours?
A man and his cow -- an advertisement for milk.

Hard to know which via Nizza we should take!