In Torino, you really know that you're in a foreign country

Torino, the capital of the Piedmont Region, is located in the upper northwest of Italy and surrounded by the Alpine arch. It is a flourishing, bustling, industrious, and cosmopolitan European city. With a population of nearly 1 million in the city proper, it ranks as the fourth largest city in Italy, behind Roma, Milano, and Napoli. Known for its buildings modeled on the Baroque and classical style architecture of Versailles—the city boasts a rich culture and history, and is known for its numerous art galleries, restaurants, churches, palaces, opera houses, piazzas, parks, gardens, theatres, libraries, museums, and other venues.

First Impression: If you like to travel alone and interact with the locals but don’t want to have to speak Italian, then Torino is going to present you with a fair share of difficulties. In the six days I was there, I can count the number of English conversations I had on one hand: the hotel front desk, the visitor center desk, and a fortuitous conversation on my last day with a girl behind the counter of a café. Beyond that, man, it was tough! Mostly, I got by with Itanglish, or at least the waiter or salesperson and I came to some agreement on what I wanted. In fact, I often found myself making really bad assumptions like, “My Italian is good enough,” or “Surely the waiter or salesperson speaks English.” Much to my surprise, wrong on both counts, repeatedly.

Having said that, the highlight of my bilingual prowess took place at a bank when I was changing a 100 euro note for smaller denominations.

Bab: Buongiorno!

Teller: Buongiorno!

Bab: Mi puo cambiare questo, per favore?

Teller: Si.

Bab: Bene! Vorrei venti tre (holding up three fingers to indicate that I want three, 20 euro notes), e dieci due (two fingers indicating two, 10 euro notes), e cinque quatro (four fingers for four, 5 euro notes), per favore.

Teller: Venti tre? No venti tre. Vorrebbe tre di venti, si?

Bab: Ah, si! Tre di venti, e due di dieci, e quatro di cinque.

Teller: (she counts it out) Ecco, signore.

Bab: Grazie mille mille! Arrivaderci!

Teller: Arrivaderci!


I was absolutely shocked to see so many tourists and not hear a single word of English, not to mention French or German. Home to the House of Savoy, Italy's royal family, and Italy's first capital city in 1861, Torino used to be a major European political center.

Palazzo Reale, Piazza Castello
Palazzo Reale, Piazza Castello

That might help explain why it’s a major destination for Italian tourists. I suppose you can liken it to Philadelphia in the sense of its historical significance to American history but offering nothing to foreigners (that’s the way I view Philly, anyway).

Also surprisingly, despite being home to the shroud—more of a deterrent than selling point to me—Jesus doesn’t hangout much in Torino. For the most part, you’ll only run into him as you pass by street vendors hocking Shroud of Turin magnets, framed pictures, and T-shirts.

Indeed, the heroes of Torino are sword-wielding, swashbucklers with very bad intentions; their statues protect the city’s piazzas

Something I found curious about Torino is that they don’t sell Torino T-shirts for tourists. In fact, I searched for three days before settling for a Torino F.C. (soccer) T-shirt. Not a bad purchase, just not what I had in mind. It’s worth noting, XXL European is barely XL USA, and XL European—forgettaboutit, insist on XXL.

In Torino, you really know that you’re in a foreign country. Not only will you not encounter an American, but you won’t walk past a Pizza Hut, or Burger King, or Gap, or all the hideous Americana-exports that you’ll see in London and Paris. To be honest, McDonalds did rent signage at bus stops only, and I did indeed walk past two “restaurants”, but I passed by them several times before realizing that all those kids were going into a McDonalds.

Beyond that, as I strolled through the city I was really touched to see girls and women of all ages walking hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm; small girls, teens, 20-somethings, elderly, and mothers with their teenage daughters. Perfectly charming.

Piazza Vittorio Veneto
Piazza Vittorio Veneto

The public transportation, mostly consisting of frequently departing busses and street cars, is terrific. The Metro is under construction, and presently limited to commuters into the city. But I found the entire city easily traversed by foot in four days. The only day I rode the bus was the day I went to the Basilica Superga on the far east side and Stadio Olimpico to the far west, which was hosting a football match between "The Old Lady," Juventus, and Bari.

Like Paris, the streets are narrow, hectic, and crowed with traffic, but I found the drivers very accommodating, always giving the pedestrian the right of way.

Via Po, Torino
Via Po, Torino

And every pedway houses easy accessible shopping. If you like to window shop, Torino hosts some of the best window shopping I’ve ever seen. Walking through the city was like walking down Magnificent Mile after mile. Vias Garibaldi, Po, and Roma house the major shopping “districts,” but the operative word is “major.” Just walk outside and you’ll likely find yourself on a covered pedway staring at storefronts.

Though the weather was brilliant while I was in Torino—75 and sunny every day—the visibility was limited as there was a hazy fog in the distance that covered the Alps. As a result, I was a bit disappointed with the views from the Mole Antoinettana’s ascensore and Basilica Superga. Unlike the view from Firenze's Il Duomo, the city isn't as interesting from the perch on the Mole Antoinettana’s ascensore as it is from ground level.

view of Torino from Mole Antoinettana's ascensore
view of Torino from Mole Antoinettana's ascensore
view of Torino from Basilica Superga
view of Torino from Basilica Superga
view of Torino, Mole Antoinettana, from Monte dei Capuccini
view of Torino, Mole Antoinettana, from Monte dei Capuccini

And every pedway houses easy accessible shopping. If you like to window shop, Torino hosts some of the best window shopping I’ve ever seen. Walking through the city was like walking down Magnificent Mile after mile. Vias Garibaldi, Po, and Roma house the major shopping “districts,” but the operative word is “major.” Just walk outside and you’ll likely find yourself on a covered pedway staring at storefronts.

Though the weather was brilliant while I was in Torino—75 and sunny every day—the visibility was limited as there was a hazy fog in the distance that covered the Alps. As a result, I was a bit disappointed with the views from the Mole Antoinettana’s ascensore and Basilica Superga. Unlike the view from Firenze's Il Duomo, the city isn't as interesting from the perch on the Mole Antoinettana’s ascensore as it is from ground level.

 

Also, I was rather disappointed with the lack of a view from the quaint tram that takes you to Superga. The tram runs through a thicket of nondescript greenery and offers only quick glimpses of the city and its surroundings.

A spectacular view of the city is found just across the River Po at Monte dei Capuccini. It’s a bit of a challenge to get there, however, as Capuccini sits atop a steep incline. Hence, it may be most accessible for some by taxi. But whatever the fare, the view pays for itself many times over.

 

Overall Account: I find it absurd to try to list all that’s truly brilliant about Torino. Magnificent piazzas and palatial edifices abound; window shopping galore; pastries and gelato everywhere.

It certainly rivals Paris as my favorite place in the world. In my final hours there, I decided to take a stroll in a direction I had not yet covered, wondering if I’d stumble across the “other side of the tracks.” Instead, what I found were more photo opportunities. Bellissimo!

To see more of my Torino Photo Gallery, go to www.tripplannerhub.com/photo gallery.

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