Friday, February 29, 2008

How To Get Free Food in Italy

Listen up! Travel tip coming. Italians eat dinner late. 9:00pm. To late for us non Europeans. But after work many Italians go to the bar for a drink and appetizers. Yes it’s a 9 euro drink but it comes with free food! Most bars put appetizers out as an incentive to stop by their bar on your way home from work and if you choose the right place, the food can be good and plenty. Certainly enough to fill you up as a dinner. The yummy looking food in my photos comes from the Before and After Bar in Torino. At the B & A bar they serve appetizers from about 6pm till 8pm and you can go back as many times as you want even if you are still working on your first drink. Appetizers are best taken advantage of in the summer when the patios are open and there are more people and you can make new friends. On any one given day at the bar you can meet: 4 Stefano's, 3 Andrea's, 2 Lorenzo's, and 1 Guido.

(Pier's friends at the B&A; Andrea, Stefano, and Guido)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Shroud of Mystery

Continuing on with the holy relics theme, of which there is an abundance of in Italy, I paid a visit to the most famous, controversial and studied relic, The Shroud of Turin. It resides in the renaissance cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church in Torino. It is a linen cloth that is believed to be the cloth that covered Jesus when he was placed in his tomb and that his image was recorded on. For every scientist that believes it is a mid evil forgery, there are two that believe it is authentic. It has been studied endlessly and each time a new conclusion is made especially when technology advances. The shroud has survived damage from travel, time, two fires, exchanged hands by many, publicly exhibited, and being poked and prodded by examiners over the years. The most interesting thing for me is the impact the shroud made on art history. The image found on the cloth is of a man with a beard and mustache, long hair and a long thin nose (as you can see in the photo). This image had a direct impact on how artists represented Jesus in painting. The image seen on the shroud has always been used and accepted as the model for Christ. This is where we get the universally accepted likeness still used today. In 1452 the shroud passed to the hands of the Royal family of Italy, the Savoy’s. In 1578 it was taken to Torino and has been there ever since.

When I arrived to the church I was skeptical for sure. But when you look into the eyes of the image imprinted in the cloth staring at you...well lets just say I became a little more open minded as I left the church...

(Images are of the church and the room where the shroud resides.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Double Scoop of Lavender???

So far I have tried 16 flavors of gelato. I have tried all the usual flavors, chocolate chip, pistachio, strawberry, etc. I have yet to make it to the strange ones, lavender, red wine, hazelnut, etc. The main difference between gelato and ice cream is in the name. Ice cream is made with cream and gelato is made with milk (latte, the 'lato part). Every Italian of every age loves gelato. It is not hard to become a fan as there is a gelateria on every corner that each make it homemade and fresh everyday. This picture is a three layer gelato experience: raspberry, dark chocolate, coconut. They will do this for you if you can not settle on one flavor. The other photo is of the line of people waiting to get their favorite flavor. It was taken in the middle of the day on a week day in the middle of February. Just think what a hot summer weekend is like...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Walk Like An Egyptian

Torino doesn’t just have an Egyptian museum. Torino has the richest and largest collection of Egyptian antiquities next only to Cairo itself. There is something here for everyone because every aspect of ancient Egyptian life is covered. There are real mummies and whole tombs brought over and reassembled. There are paintings and writings and mummified pets, but my absolute favorite is the exhibit from the tomb of Kha and Merit. A husband and wife buried together where they have both lovingly placed everything the other could have possibly wanted or needed in the afterlife. And they really have thought of everything. The everyday objects are the premium bits including a cosmetic set and a real wig. These slippers were a real beloved object for me. If they were selling them in the gift shop, I would have bought a pair. Upon my request, on my 13th birthday my parents took me to the Ramses exhibit that sensationally came threw town. I distinctly remember staring into the face of Ramses mummy and being memorized. Coming face to face with Egyptian civilization will do that to you and you will be hooked for life. There are 30,000 objects here to take in and therefore I plan on going again...and again...

*Check out the website for great educational info and guides threw the museum that change daily.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Walk In the Park

Because almost everything is closed on Mondays, It’s a perfect day to go walking in the park. Today I chose the Parco Della Rimembranza. This is a section of the larger Parco del Po and was set aside after WWI to commemorate all of the citizens of Torino who died in 1923-25. This park has many hills and if you keep walking up you eventually get to the highest point in Torino and the Winged Victory beacon which is much larger then I expected. On a clear day it also is a super view of the city and a great place to have a picnic. There are so many forks in the path here in this park that getting lost is expected and part of its charm. Making sure I looked down as well as up, I found a wild Dogwood Violet just peeking out of the ground, a little early for spring. There is a map for this park but I leave it at home. Im still going to get lost and its a new and different place everytime I go.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Piece of Pisa To Go!

Pisa is most famous for its leaning tower but I just discovered that the tower has been around since 1173. Talk about old. In those days Pisa was an important and rich trade city. A city where 2 rivers met and many people from all over Europe came to do business. The structure was built as a bell tower and as a show of its wealth and power. Plus, if you ask me, it makes a great lookout as Pisa was always getting attacked and at war. It started to sink before it was even finished for two reasons. 1) It was built on shifty unstable soil and 2) the foundation was only 3 meters. They finished it anyways, leaning and all. I remember when they closed the tower to the public in 1990 in order to stabilize and save it. I watched a documentary on how architects and scientists from all over the world were scratching their heads and coming up with theories. It took them 10 years but they did it and as of 2001 the tower is now open again to the public. I remember that day too. So when we were there, people were happily climbing to the top but in order to do that you have to pay and make a reservation that may have a month waiting list but its guaranteed safe now, so they say, but only for the next 300 years. In this photo we resisted the temptation to do the typical 'holding up the tower' photo and instead went for something more cute. The day was also very grey and the grey marble of the tower and church blended into the dreary sky.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sorpresa Marketini (Surprise Markets)

I wonder who bought this tomato? They will do anything 'al fresco' here in Italy, and that includes the grocery shopping. You can get everything at the mercato from antiques to jeans and from fresh produce to pots and pans. Some markets are everyday, some once a week, and some once a month. To see when the market is on you have to read the 'Sette' section (comes out Fridays and you have to ask for it at the newsstand) of Torino's 'La Stampa' newspaper. The best way to find a market is when you are just walking around the city; you turn a corner and surprise! There is a market today. That is what happened to me on the day I took this picture. On that day I saw handmade marionette puppets, crocheted cloche hats, and homemade paper with pressed flowers next to the usual fruit and veggie stands.
Torino actually boasts the largest al fresco market in Europe at Porta Palazzo which is held mornings Monday though Saturday. You never know what you might find there...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Come on In! Our drawbridge is always open!"

This Borgo Midiovale and although it looks like a perfectly preserved medieval village it actually is a faithful reconstruction of a late medieval town (borgo). Built in 1882 the village contains everything a typical medieval town would have had. There are roads, squares, fountains, homes with tapestries and furnishings, shops, a church, a castle (rocca), and frescos. All constructed by experts and scholars who studied remaining examples around Italy to look and feel exactly like the real thing. What it doesn’t have is war, famine, the rack, and the plague. (Or knights who say "Nee"). Borgo resides within the Parco del Valentino and faces the River Po. The location is ideal and romantic especially when you are strolling along the river side walk ways. Which make me think of one good reason to go back to medieval times, chivalry. I was able to find the chivalrous code at borgo because no faithful reconstruction would be with out it.

The Code of Chivalry: (Even better than the boy scout code)

1.Thou shalt believe all that the church teaches and shall obey all her commandments.
2.Thou shalt defend the church with thine best.
3.Thou shalt respect all weaknesses.
4.Thou shalt love the country in which thou was born.
5.Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
6.Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
7.Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
8.Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
9.Thou shalt be generous.
10.Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right against injustice and evil.

When I was deep inside the walls of the borgo I couldn’t see the outside world. I really did feel like I was immersed in the past......Plus you can rent it out for birthday parties!!!! I am so doing that!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Living La Vida Vespa

It has to be said that travel by Vespa is taking your life in your own hands. There is no special license needed to drive scooters in Italy and its painfully obvious. Scooter drivers are allowed to weave in and out of traffic which, if you are not used to that or paying attention, can really surprise you. On the other hand there is a freedom that comes with the Vespa lifestyle. They are fun and easy to drive, they get their own parking lots, they are gas mileage friendly, and you can take in a fantastic amount of scenery on every drive. And although they come in an array of the prettiest of pastel colors, they are not just for the ladies. I often see the most masculine of men in suits and ties with their briefcases strapped to the back dashing to and from meetings across town.
It is an icon of Italy and has been around since 1946 when there became an urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation for the masses. Calling it 'Vespa' which means 'wasp' in Italian, it is practical and over the years has defiantly fulfilled its intended need. For example, In the summertime the police drive Vespas around to easily navigate the narrow cobblestone streets, much like we have motorcycle cops around the states. Vespa cops. Yes. Now a scooter is no powder blue Fiat Seicento for sure, but they are beautiful and, if you are wearing your helmet, fun.
*Check out this video of a drive around Naples threw a Vespa cam:*

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Everybody knows that Tiramisu means 'pick-me-up' in Italian but did you know that the second most known dessert to come out of Italy (gelato being the first) hasn’t been around for very long? The exact origin is unknown but we do know the first recipe published was only in 1983 in the classic recipe book, 'I Dolci de Veneto' by Giovanni Capnist. But wherever and whenever it was invented I'm just thrilled it’s around now. It’s easy to become a connoisseur here because it's served at practically every restaurant and each one makes it slightly different. My picture here is from a little sidewalk cafe and it was delicious. Check out this web page recipe with step-by-step pictures to make it easy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Holy Grail in Torino?

The Church of the Gran Madre is one of the most important churches in Torino for many reasons. Built in 1814 it over looks the very large Piazza Vittorio. The obvious inspiration for the neo-classical style of the church is the Pantheon. It stands in a very busy intersection but little of the passers by know the enigma and secrets that engross this church. You see the exciting thing about Gran Madre is that many people believe it was built to hold the Holy Grail and that the grail itself is buried deep beneath its foundation locked up in a secret vault for protection. The one and only clue to that fact the grail is here is the statue just outside called "Faith" (see photo) that is holding up a grail to the sky almost toasting the city itself congratulating its success.
Just last week there was more scandal and controversy. The church had a break-in and two items were stolen from the altar. The Italian Carabinieri police believe it was Satanists that struck at one of Turin's most famous churches, stealing a glass vial of holy water and a missal, or prayer book. Nobody accept the buglers know why it was stolen or what use it would be to them. That, I believe, is ample information for me to ponder over my coffee today.....

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Think I Can See France From Up Here!

Aaahhh the Alps! One hour outside of Torino and about 7 kilometers from the border of France is the little ski town of Sestriere. Several of the 2006 Winter Olympic competitions and celebrations were held in this stunning region. Top photo is the view we wake up to from our bitty apartment. Here the best thing to have with your cappuccino is the strudel. There are many surrounding villages to take in when you don’t quite feel like skiing (or snowboarding) but all in all the feeling is the same; rustic ski village with small shops full of cashmere sweaters and patrons in quaint cafes with raccoon faces sipping their bitter sodas.
I discovered that Sestriere wasn’t always the bustling weekend retreat that is now. In 1930 when Sestriere was a small quite village, Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of FIAT, purchased a large section of the mountain to build a ski lift and resort on. And with the Agnelli's came the Torino society and the little village grew. Luckily I drive a Fiat so I fit right in.
I also hear there is a golf course under all this snow that is the highest elevation course in all of Europe. But if you hit your ball into the ruff, you'll have to search threw the Edelweiss to find it....

Come Stay at My "Hunting Lodge"

What the Medici’s were to Florence, the Savoy's were to Torino. A visit to their greatest residence 'La Reggia di Venaria Reale' will quickly let you understand just how powerful they were. The start of its build was in 1658 for Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy as a "hunting lodge" which in 17th century rich people terms is code for "a big and ostentatious palace I'll use on the weekends". One of the most impressive bits about this visit is the 'Gallery of Diana' which is where the comparisons of Versailles came in. What is also brilliant about Reggia is the fact that it's still being restored. It laid in ruin for years and is now carefully and slowly being brought back to its glory and as a visitor I was able to see the process in action! Photos were frowned upon but I did take this one because you just can't help it. I mean look at it.......

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hot Chocolate Please!

This cat is clearly Italian. The cafe lifestyle is not lost on any creature here. And the cafe is the place to be come mid-day when all the shops close until the evening. You can get an American style coffee at the cafe's by ordering a caffe' americano, but take my recommendation and order a hot chocolate. If you like your chocolate dark and thick enough to stand your spoon in the center of the cup, then order it heartily. If they say "con panna?" say "yes please!" because Italian whip cream is scrumptious.
It's as simple as this:

Italian Hot Chocolate
(from 'La Cucina Italiana' Magazine)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 cups water
whipped cream

Melt 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate with the 2 cups of water in a double boiler; transfer to a blender and whip for 30 seconds; reheat in the double boiler, pour into 2 mugs, and top with freshly whipped cream.

So whether you get the hot chocolate or a cappuccino or a traditional espresso, well they're all good, but now you have to decide what to eat with it...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hidden Treasure on my Backdoor

Just in time for Valentine's Day I have discovered a hidden away secret here in northern Italy! On a walk threw Chieri (pronounced 'key-air-ree') a town just outside of Torino, I found La Chiesa di San Filippo. Gorgeous on the outside, gorgeous on the inside. Upon wondering in off the street I found a non advertised plus; buried here is St. Valentine himself! His tomb is on the right side of the church just sitting there with no pomp or circumstance but beautiful and surrounded by candles that worshipers come and light daily. The only clue of the treasure inside is the crowned heart relief carved into the very top of the Baroque-style face-brick church fa├žade.
I admit that the grave of a Saint is not the most romantic place to go for Valentines Day but I must say that knowing the man himself is resting so near where I can pop in and ask for advice, mend a broken heart, or share the love made me light a candle. Now who San Filippo is a whole other story....

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

All Roads Lead to Pecetto

Look out here I come! Not only did I move to Italy, but now I'm going to drive there. (See photo). Everything they say about Italian drivers is true (plus 10 times worse). And they all blame another region for being worse than them; but in the end they all agree that Napels is the worst.

I've got a Fiat Seicento, powder blue with racing stripe. I'm hitting the road and taking as many pictures as I can of everything I eat, drink, and see. As I have the car, I'll be off-the-beaten-tracken-it.
Starting off in Pecetto, Torino because all roads lead to Pecetto!