Edinburgh Festival Preview 2023: Needs A Bit After The Colon
Italia '23 part due: Genoa

Italia '23 part uno: Turin

View from the Megaro Hotel. Those Marshall stacks don't work, sadly.Wednesday June 14

Reader, I civil partnershipped her.

Which leads to an awkward question: if two people who’ve entered into a civil partnership go on holiday immediately afterwards, are they still allowed to call it a honeymoon? I’m saying yes: The Belated Birthday Girl isn’t quite so sure, but shows signs of warming to the idea. Whatever it is, we’re doing it old school, and heading off straight from the ceremony and into a two-week run around five Italian cities, four of which we haven’t visited before.

Of course, it’d be too simple to just fly out there: we’re using a combination of trains, buses and boats to get us around. So our first night as an officially registered couple is spent at The Megaro Hotel in King's Cross, to get us nicely positioned for the first Eurostar out of the country the next morning. It’s a solidly fancy hotel decked out with quirky design choices – graffiti art on the outside, mini bar fridges disguised as Marshall amps on the inside – but the excellent cocktail bar in the basement streamrollers over any of your objections. And the rooms are soundproofed enough to allow you to sleep through the ambient noise of the surrounding area, which is handy when your alarm’s set for 5.30am the next morning.

Emanuele 2, the only public square in Turin named after a porno sequelThursday June 15

5.30am alarm, 6.15 checkout, and off to the station to check ourselves in on the train to Paris. The journey itself isn’t that exciting: in fact, I’m so distracted by lack of sleep and the ongoing buzz from yesterday’s events that I barely notice the precise moment when we enter the tunnel, which is unusual for me.

We hit Paris bang on time, with a couple of hours allocated to cross the city and grab lunch. The former is a bit of a thrill, because we successfully travel on the RER using a pair of Carnet tickets we found lurking in our stash of Euros, which must have been purchased when we were last here in 2019. (Apparently there's a risk of the magnetic stripe on a Carnet getting corrupted if it's stored next to loose change for too long, but we appear to have got away with it.)

Once we’re at Gare de Lyon, we head to the fashionable viaduct district for a decent pavement lunch at arty venue Popup! (Exclamation mark included.) After that, the five-and-a-bit hour train journey from Paris to Turin is largely uneventful apart from our carriage being occupied by an entire family of twats: pulling down their window blinds whenever we try to look at the Alpine scenery outside, and letting their kids watch an entire badly-dubbed Harry Potter film at full volume in the middle of the quiet coach.

It’s a longish walk from Porta Susa station to our digs at Terres d’Aventure Suites, which I’ve been calling Terry’s Adventure Suites all week. It’s certainly an adventure getting checked in, or at the very least the arse-backwards equivalent of an escape room. Like most of our accommodation this holiday, reception here is largely unmanned, so we’ve been given complex instructions on how to get through the main gate, retrieve our key from a strongbox, and find the unmarked room where we’re staying. But somehow, it all works, and we find we’ve got a decent sized apartment to ourselves for the next three nights.

By the time that’s all done, it’s gone 9pm. Luckily, we’re in a country that eats dinner late. As we walk around the streets, I try to get a first impression of Turin and keep failing: it feels like a greatest hits compilation of every other Italian city I’ve visited, with nothing distinctive to mark it out. Mind you, just being in an Italian city is an achievement in itself, one which we celebrate with dinner al fresco at Taberna Libraria (where I discover the local delights of Bra sausage and Dolcetto wine) and a cheeky gelato at Mara dei Boschi on the way home. (The BBG will be talking in more detail about the food in the final part of this series.)

Friday June 16

Our host at the hotel is called Gianfranco. Inevitably, I will always think of him as Terry. He’s got a splendidly huge breakfast ready for us, and replaces the ham on The BBG's plate with cheese without batting an eyelid. We assume that we can plan out our day while eating, but it turns out we’re not quite as prepared as we thought we were, and need a bit of time in the room with guidebook and smartphone before we feel ready to head out.

One of the things we didn’t quite prepare for was how to pay for public transport. It turns out, it’s not that tricky if you get the timing right – Turin’s transport system has a 48 hour pass (and properly 48 hours, not just the rest of today and the whole of tomorrow) which lets you use all the buses, trams and metro for a measly €7.50. Our nearest metro station is a 15 minute walk away, so we go there to buy our passes, and break the seal on them by taking the Metro to Porta Nova station to check if they’ve got a left luggage office. They have, which will be handy when Terry boots us out on Sunday morning. We follow this up with a short walk down to the Guido Gobino shop to buy a small amount of what is apparently considered some of the finest chocolate in Italy. It turns out that it is... for now.

Back on the Metro, we take the train down to the Lingotto centre for our afternoon entertainment. This massive building used to be Fiat’s factory: nowadays, there’s no manufacturing to be seen there. Instead, the whole thing has been redeveloped into a leisure complex, and I can’t help but draw parallels with an equivalent London landmark – Battersea Power Station – which has been converted into a similarly cheesy collection of chain stores and restaurants. (Mind you, the giant toasties in Capatoast work well for a lunch.) The most interesting stuff is on the roof, which used to be a huge test track for cars: the track is still there, but now it’s La Pista 500, an open rooftop garden with various pieces of art scattered around it (including Cally Spooner's audio art piece, as seen in the video above) and terrific views of the city to boot, all for a ridiculous €2 entry fee.

We stay over this side of town for a bit, taking a walk over the Olympic Bridge and through the ruins of the former Olympic Village (both leftovers from the 2006 Winter Olympics) and then a tram to the Lavazza Museum. Italy’s premier supplier of coffee started out in a small grocery store in Turin, and the museum – attached to what is now the company’s head office – gives you the history of Lavazza, a crash course in a century or more of promotional stunts (my favourite being ISSpresso, a coffee machine specially built for use on the International Space Station), and an overview of the whole coffee-making process. The BBG is a little disappointed that we’ve paid money to have Lavazza propaganda thrown into our faces for an hour: I’m a bit happier because to me it just feels like one of those brewery tours we regularly do, even down to getting a free sample to drink at the end.

And while we’re on the subject of beer, this evening is when we get around to trying out some of the local brews in two very different bars. Birrificio Torino is very much an old-fashioned brewpub, with some good examples of traditional styles: Edit is more of a Craft Beer Wanker place with a younger crowd, louder music and more experimental beers (along with some excellent food, too). Both of them are buzzy and fun in their own way.

I haven't put a red triangle in the top right corner of this picture! How edgy of me.Saturday June 17

Yeah, we know we’re tourists, so today we’ve got a couple of Turin’s big museums on our list. The first one is Museo Egizio, the Egyptian museum, an enormous building celebrating Italy's two centuries or so of middle Eastern grave robbing. (I’m discreetly drawing a veil over what the British have got up to on that score.) The exhibits are excellent and well presented, although we’re a little disappointed to find quite early on that there are trigger warnings alerting people to the risk that they might see some dead bodies here. Surely that’s the only reason you’d go to an Egyptian museum in the first place? Amusingly, the cabinets containing human remains are marked with a big red triangle in the top right corner, which is generally too high up for the kids to notice – we find that the best way to find out where the mummies are is to follow the hordes of children pressing their noses up against the glass.

After a nice lunch in the Ristorante Consorzio just down the road from Terry’s, we’re off to the Cinema Museum for our afternoon entertainment. As it’s a Saturday afternoon, it’s very busy – we can get in, but the viewing lift that’s there as a bonus feature is all booked out for the rest of the day. It’s billed as a national cinema museum, but to be honest national cinema is generally overlooked in favour of Hollywood. It’s oddly structured: there’s a huge preamble demonstrating various bits of pre-cinema technology, and then suddenly you’re in a huge main hall with side displays subdivided by genre. There’s lots of installation-style fun and plenty of clips in these sections, although it’s fascinating to see how inappropriate the clips in the horror section are given that this is a family museum. Then at the upper level there’s a whole other section going into great detail about the process of filmmaking, topped off with a splendid gallery of old posters. There’s also supposed to be a temporary exhibit whose opening turns out to have been delayed until one week after we leave Turin, but we’ve already got our money’s worth so it’s not a problem.

The rest of the day is a collection of minor disappointments. We make the ascent up to the Capuchin Monastery church, only to find that we’re there just in time for Saturday night mass and so can’t take any pictures inside: but the scenic view over the city is good enough compensation. Heading back into town, we stumble across the Turin Pride parade, and then look for a restaurant that’ll serve us an early evening dinner, which for Italy means around half seven. We end up in Mille, which is friendly enough with reasonable food, but the staff’s friendliness rubs The BBG up the wrong way. (We’d just had a piece of irritating news earlier that day and were still grumpy from that. More about that in part two.)

We’re dining early because we’re off to Jazz Club Torino to see a blues band. You know how the genre tends to attract the sort of bands who give themselves a punning name based around the word ‘blue’? Well, a possible contender for the world's worst example of this is BluesCreen, a covers band featuring a decent keys player and a singer who’s obviously singing English lyrics phonetically and has no idea what she's on about. They’re playing like they’re a real band, but really they’re just background noise for a restaurant full of people barely paying attention (apart from in the drinks-only balcony area where we are). The lowlight comes when the gig is held up for a couple of minutes so someone can be brought out a birthday cake with a firework on the top. We cheer ourselves up afterwards with a couple of nice beers at nearby Open Baladin before heading home. It should be noted that when we were out walking late on Thursday and Friday nights, the streets were utterly deserted: thankfully, there's a bit more life out there on a Saturday night.

This was in the courtyard at GAM: I'm assuming it's art, but you never know.Sunday June 18

We’ve got one more breakfast with Terry before we go, and as it’s a nice sunny day we have it on the balcony. We get the bus to the station to drop off our bags at left luggage, followed by a short subway hop out to GAM, Turin's gallery of modern art. It’s interestingly laid out, with two major exhibitions for your entry price. The first is a fine collection of 20th century modern art, which is what you’d expect. But next to that is a collection of 19th century works, specifically the ones that were considered to be modern art at the time the gallery first opened. (It’s a similar trick to one that we saw at Museo Egizio yesterday, where one of the rooms was a recreation of what a display at the museum looked like in its early years.) Perfect Sunday morning viewing, anyway.

By the time we come out of GAM we’ve just gone over our 48 hour limit for our transport ticket, so we have to walk back to the station, but it’s not that big a deal. We grab some pizzas at Deicicento, then reclaim our bags in preparation for the next stage of the journey. As we wait in the station for our train to arrive, I reflect a little on how Turin still feels like a very generic Italian city, even after three days in the place. The main bits of local colour I’m seeing in the station are adverts for new records by Nayt, Daniele Silvestri and Ligabue. Will it be different in our next location? (Spoiler: yes. We will never see those adverts again for the rest of the fortnight.)

[to be continued]


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