Time for Torino


This one is out of sequence; I had so many blog posts to catch up on that I lost track of the timeline. I went to Torino at the end of August on a weekend that the temperatures descended to normal levels for the first time that summer.

Torino is another one of those places that is accessible by Frecciarossa train in an hour from Milan. One of the key reasons to go was to visit the outstanding Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum). What I didn’t expect was to find, in addition to that, a delightful city with many piazzas, coffeeshops and covered walkways that was very enjoyable to walk around.


From the train station (Porta Nuova) I started by walking towards the centre and soon found myself on the large and beautiful Piazza San Carlo, that is flanked by terraces and arcaded walkways. From there I meandered on until I got to yet another piazza, one smaller in size, facing the Palazzo Carignano. By then I was well and truly wanting a coffee, so I sat down at Farmacia del Cambio cafe and took in the surroundings for a while.

Duly caffeinated I continued my meanderings, towards Piazza Castello, Palazzo Madama and the Palazzo Reale. Yet another lofty square lined by magnificent buildings. It’s as if the city pulls open all registers.


A left turn took me to the Cathedral di San Giovanni Battista where the Shroud of Turin is kept (or what’s left of it) and from there I walked over to the Mole Antonelliana, estimated the queues as too long and instead went to the Egyptian Museum, which was after all one of the prime reasons to come to Turin. My advice is to leave enough hours to take the museum in and even then you will struggle to see most of it. You could spend a week in there and still not see everything in detail. It is a remarkable collection, beautifully presented and a real immersion in Egyptian history. If you can’t make it to Cairo, this museum is your next largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world.


After that my feet were sore and my stomach was rumbling, so I went in search of some food before taking the train back to Milan, which I found on Piazza San Carlo. A sightseeing day in Italy wouldn’t be complete without a gelato and where else to get one in Torino but at Alberto Marchetti?! Best ice cream I have ever had and in amazing flavours (zabaglione and torrone anyone?).

I still haven’t seen all of Torino, so I’ll have to go there another time, perhaps getting off the train at Porta Susa and walking into town from there to see the bits I missed on this first visit. And have another gelato at Alberto Marchetti, of course…

Back to Bologna


Thirty years ago I spent almost a year studying in Bologna under the Erasmus Programme, a student exchange programme that was then entering its second year. I had spent a year taking Italian classes to prepare myself and was going to do research for my subthesis. It was a fascinating time with many challenges, the making of new friends and alliances. I spent most of my time getting books out of the library and studying them in our favourite cafe, where you could count on always seeing one of the gang at any point in time. For most of us it was our first time living overseas and so it was a formative time.

I had held off returning to my old “home” until the summer madness had settled down but by late September it was time to return and see if it still looked like in those heady days of 1988-89. Since I’ve been here I seem to have a particular knack for always picking the weekend that some major event is taking place in the location I’m visiting and Bologna was no exception. In this case it was the Coldiretti that had taken over the entire centre of Bologna with their white tents.

It takes only an hour to get to Bologna from Milan on the Frecciarossa and once I made my way out of the caverns of the station (the high speed station is about three floors down from the ground) I steered towards Via Irnerio to find my old “way” to university. Thirty years may have passed, but the city itself hasn’t changed and the university area is still full of graffiti as it was back then and as is any student area in any city. It felt surreal to be walking the streets, having moments of recognition, moments of feeling lost, trying to remember if it was this corner, or whether it was further on, walking past the library where I spent so many hours and then suddenly, when I had given up on finding it, I walked straight to Bar Piccolo – my cafe! (now called Piccolo & Sublime and still looking the same yet different. Admittedly, nothing special to look at, but for me it holds special meaning). I had to stop there and have a coffee and a spremuta for old times, memories flooding back. I wonder where everyone is now and what they’ve done since those days that we shared these experiences in this particular location.


Fortified by coffee I made my way to the Due Torri, the two towers of Garisenda and Asinelli, where I found large tourist groups milling around them. It was a shock to the system; Bologna had been a quiet place, undiscovered by tourism back when I was studying here. The place where the Due Torri stand was quiet, somewhere you passed on your way to somewhere else. Now it is a sight in itself.


From there it wasn’t far to the Santo Stefano complex, seven churches all connected together. I remember going there once with one of my UK friends who was studying art history and who made me see the paintings there in a different way; an experience I’ll never forget. Now it is a stop on the tourist trail with many people visiting. And I find it difficult to see many visitors snapping photographs non-stop, to hear them talking loudly. I’m not religious, but I can still respect someone’s house of worship and I will generally not take any photographs inside churches or other places of worship. These places should remain sacred to their users.


Dodging the Santo Stefano crowds for other crowds I made my way to Piazza Maggiore and the San Petronio church. Coldiretti had taken over Piazza Maggiore and I sought refuge in San Petronio, still as beautiful as ever. From there I walked around the back streets, in search of a lunch spot. Over lunch I contemplated the best course of action for the afternoon and decided to opt for the walk up to the Basilica di San Luca. Duly fortified by tortellini in brodo I set out for the long walk uphill.


First I made my way to Porta Saragozza and from there followed the covered walkways leading out of the city and finally commencing the climb uphill, steep in part (paying forward for sins to come like gelato). When I did it years ago it was mainly old men, priests and nuns who walked up here. Now the lycra clad fitness crowd had adopted it as their workout of choice. I worked myself into a sweat walking uphill, feeling old and old-fashioned, but when I got to the basilica it was such a joy to arrive, take in the views and enjoy the restorative coolness inside of the basilica. Once I had cooled off I slowly made my way down the steps again, returning to the Piazza Maggiore, Neptune’s fountain and finally Via Indipendenza for an aperol spritz before heading back to the station and that gelato en route.


I still feel I only had a fleeting visit to Bologna and really want to go back another time to explore the areas I did not go this time to avoid the crowds. I’m thinking mid-winter could be a perfect time for that. The tourists will be gone and it might remind me of those winter days in Bologna during my student days. It is lovely to revisit the past, but also a slightly melancholy exercise. I don’t know who said this, but “Some days I wish I could go back in life, not to change things, just to feel a few things twice” sums it up nicely for me.


Dolomites Delights

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The Dolomites have been on my to do list for a while and once the summer crush was over, I managed to convince a friend from Germany to join me for a week of walking. We planned for a flexible itinerary and a good thing we did, as the weather forecast turned increasingly bad for the first day we would be there. So we revised our initial plan and dodged the rain – and as it turned out snow! – by alternating sitting in the steam room of the hotel with testing bars nearby for the best aperol spritz.

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For our first day of walking the day cleared to a beautiful blue sky, but it was cold and the snow line had moved significantly lower on the surrounding mountains, making for some spectacular scenery. The planned walk was the Sassolungo circuit, which involved first making our way up by cable car to the Rifugio Demetz. That cable car was an experience in itself, but it did make for some neat photos (the photo above was taken from inside the cable car). Having arrived up high we stepped out in howling winds that were whipping up the powdery snow that had fallen overnight. We added an additional layer before tentatively exploring the path downhill. Fortunately someone had already broken trail and so each armed with a walking pole we descended carefully, occasionally sliding in the fresh snow which reached up to our mid-calves at times.


The scenery was out of this world: sheer rock faces dusted by snow, luscious green hills beyond and the faint outline of the actual snow-capped Alps. Magical. After an hour we reached Rifugio Vicenza and treated ourselves to a hot chocolate. From there we were snow-free and walked the path towards Rifugio Comici where we had an excellent late lunch, before finishing up at our starting point on Passo Sella. Our aperitivo waited for us in Canazei after the obligatory steam room.


The next day the snow line had retreated a little and we made our way to Campitello to take the cable car to Col Rodella. From there we walked the well-frequented Sentiero Federico Augusto to Rifugio Sassopiatto and then returning through the Val Duron to Campitello. A far more popular route, we found ourselves with many more walkers on the trail and enjoyed seeing the Sassolungo from a different angle. The descent was hard on the knees and when we thought the worst was behind us, there was a very long walk on road surface (and at one point very steep) to get back to Campitello.


For our third day of walking we had chosen the Viel del Pan, described as an easy walk. When the bus we were supposed to take didn’t arrive, we opted to take the car to drive to Alba and take the cable car to Col dei Rossi to start our walk. Another blue bird day meant spectacular views all around (the photo above is a composite panorama of Sassolungo on the left and Sella Group on the right) and the walking was easy (and again quite busy). After an hour and a half we got to the point where we would commence our descent to Passo Fedaia, another descent requiring hard work from our knees.

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Once we got to Fedaia Lake we walked across the dam to the other side to see if the lift to the Pian dei Fiacconi was working. Well, if we thought that Monday’s cable car was interesting, we had something else waiting for us: metal baskets for two people at the time, with the door bolted shut after you and up you went, standing for 20 minutes or so in the open air as we ascended. Great views of course, but not sure about the WHS aspects of this contraption! At the top we met some people who had walked up, which had taken them three hours of tough walking, particular as conditions high up were challenging in the slippery snow on steep terrain.


Although there are many more walks to do in the Val di Fassa area, we decided to move to Cortina d’Ampezzo to explore another area. An early start the next day was well rewarded when we didn’t have to queue for too long to get access to the parking area at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (at a steep 30 euro for the privilege). This is another very popular walk and an early start is really worth it to avoid the crowds.


Even so, we walked in between large groups of people, but once we moved off the main path to continue on our circuit, we were almost by ourselves, enjoying the views, which almost make you feel you’re on a different planet. By the time we finished our circuit the first drops of rain started to fall, further confirming our excellent timing that day. In Cortina the sun was shining and we enjoyed a nice aperitivo on a terrace in the sun.


On our last day we made our way to Ortisei, a beautiful village, specialised in woodcarving and did some sightseeing before checking into our luxury accommodation of the trip in Hotel Jakoberhof, just outside of Ortisei itself. More spa and aperitivo time, and an outstanding dinner to finish up a great week in the Dolomites. The problem now is that I want to go back for more walking, but winter is here…