In case you can’t tell, I had such a great time in Italy that blogging sort of slipped my mind! It’s been a while since I’ve returned and I’ve been busy with winter class and work. I actually considered not writing about this trip because there’s just so much to cover but I think that would be doing a disservice to the entire reason why I started blogging! Also, sorry for the grainy photos I need to get a better photo editor for my laptop. If you have any recommendations please let me know.
Basically, I was based in Florence for one month while I studied and I bookended this time neatly with some travel in the North and South of Italy. To make sense of my time in Italy I’m going to be doing a city by city run down of the places I went to in a roughly chronological order. Obviously, because I stayed in Florence for so long I’ll be dedicating multiple posts to Florence, some of which are just going to be simple café or gelato reviews.
Day 1: Torino
So, let’s get right into things and start at the beginning at Turin, or in Italian Torino.
It was the perfect place to start to get my first taste of Italy. It also definitely helped that I had a friend in Turin who helped my find my footing when I first arrived! She helped me find the place I was staying at, which was super conveniently located: just a few minutes away from Porta Susa station.
We just wandered around the streets, looked at the stores and caught up again after not having seen each other in so long! This being my first time in Europe I was completely smitten with absolutely everything, from the cobbled walked ways to the piazzas and traditional architecture.
Day 2 Torino
I was meeting my friend again for dinner this night but I had the rest of the day to check out the city sites. My air bnb hosts had left a few pamphlets in my room that helped introduce the area. Palazzo Reale immediately caught my eye because, well, simply put, it was a palace!
The walk from Porta Susa station to the city centre is a pleasant 20 minute stroll. There wasn’t all that much to see on the way there, but I have feeling that’s because I took a direct route over instead of the main pedestrian walk way which is filled with shops.
One you’re actually right in the thick of things, most of the attractions are fairly close. However, being a Saturday a lot of them also had long lines out the front. The entrance to Palazzo Reale was considerably less crowded and within 10 minutes I had a ticket in hand and was ready to explore.
The Palace used to be home to the royal family of Savoy who united Italy, making it the kingdom of Italy. Connected to the palace is also an armoury, chapel, museum and garden. Entrance to the garden is free and there were plenty of people relaxing on the grass or taking a leisurely stroll.
As soon as I stepped foot into the actual Palace I was completely blown away. Even though the Palazzo Reale in Turin isn’t really touted as one of the great palaces of Italy I will always remember it as one of my first encounters with the grandeur of the old world. In Australia there’s nothing that quite compares to the palaces and castles in Europe.
The furnished apartments felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the piazza outside. I was immediately smitten with each and every room, with all the beautifully painted frescos and ornate furniture. The armoury was a real highlight. This massive hallway housed an incredible array of weapons, suits of armour (for men and for horses!) and artillery. Even after visiting a few more palaces, the armoury still stands out due to the sheer scale and variety of what was on display.
The museum and art gallery are also worth a quick pit stop. If only to sit down for a while and to get the most out of the price of the admission.
As for the rest of the day, I just wandered about aimlessly. I walked passed piazza castello, turin tower (which houses the national museum of theatre) and numerous other piazzas before finding myself facing the river Po. Just across from the river is the Chiesa della gran madre di dio. The church itself bears a strong resemblance to the pantheon in Rome, and I was intrigued enough to go across the bridge and check it out. In what will soon become a theme on my Italy adventures, once I reached the church I took my time, resting my legs and snapping pictures from the steps onto piazza Vittorio Veneto.
Before too long my friend showed up, and off we went for appertivo at Blanco Torino which was conveniently located right in the piazza. The rest of the night was spent checking out the Torino jazz festival which just happened to be on while I was visiting and also another night of aimless wandering.
Day 3 Torino
I was lucky enough to be invited over to my friend’s place for an Italian Sunday lunch. She lives a little bit out from the city centre, but getting to her house was pretty easy and fast thanks to the subway.
What greeted me when I arrived was a veritable feast. I was almost full after the appetisers but somehow I still manged to fit in a generous slice of lasagne, quiche. The lasagne was amazingly cheesy and delicious. By the time that we got the dessert I was started to feel thoroughly defeated by the largest slice of tiramisu I had ever encountered. I probably would have given up if it weren’t for the fact that it was the best tiramisu that I had ever had in my life!
All cheesed out I was content to watch movies and trashy tv shows with my friend until we went out again at night for some drinking games and to meet more people.
Day 4 Torino
The Monday was actually Liberation day, which is an Italian public holiday. Interestingly, Italians are just like Australians in that they love to have BBQs on public holidays! So in keeping with tradition, we went to parco della pellerina for a day of BBQ and playing games. As an international guest I got to arrive to the BBQ late and grace people with my presence rather than with actual food and drinks.
We made sure to leave some room for gelato from the nearby Gelato Corso Telesio which my friend had really hyped up. This really exceeded the hype, as 2 euros landed me two seriously giant scoops of panna cotta and blue berry gelato. I happily polished this off as the sun started to go down and we lounged around in the sun. The day was capped off with a good long gossip session and of course some more food.
Day 5 Torino
Before I left for Milan I manged to squeeze in a quick visit to the Egyptian museum. The museum is actually a big drawcard for a lot of people, as it is the second largest Egyptian museum in the world, second only to the museum in Cairo. During the weekend, the lines for the museum were incredibly long, winding all through the entrance and down the street but I manged to walk right in on Tuesday morning.
Although the tickets are on the pricier side, the pricing automatically includes an audio guide. As I was in a bit of a rush to get through everything I didn’t have enough time to stand around listening to detailed explanations. It would have really been preferable to buy a cheaper ticket without it.
As for the museum itself, there is definitely a lot to see. To be honest, I had come into the museum expecting to see all the glitz and gold of the Tutenkaman exhibition that had come to Melbourne many years ago, but this was almost the complete opposite! There was actually a lot of focus on early Ancient Egyptian artefacts with a slow build up to the new kingdom and the eventual conquering of Egypt by the Romans. I really enjoyed being able to track the evolution of the mummification process from simple ground burials with the bodies turned to the side, to the much more elaborate procedures that we now associate with the Ancient Egyptians.
Interestingly, a lot of the museum actually told the story of the archaeologist who had excavated the digs. It certainly added an extra sense of wonder to the exhibits as you imagined being with these people, discovering the first time, these ancient treasures. As I explored more of Italy I would some come to realise that Italians, and perhaps all Europeans had a real fascination with ancient Egypt. Almost every large museum I went to invariably had something from Ancient Egypt or something influenced from it. In this way, it was interesting to start at this museum which helped provide such rich background into it all.
My first impression of Italy? In one word: overwhelming. Almost everything was breath taking because of just how incredibly different it was to Australia and all the other places I’ve visited. Seeing so many castles, piazzas and churches felt totally new and refreshing. Even though I didn’t actually do all that much in the way of touristy things, thanks to me friend everything felt really relaxed and I had a small glimpse into what everyday life in Italy might be like.
To get to Italy I flew with Qatar airlines. Even though I usually have an aversion to flying to long haul flight was relatively comfortable. I managed to get some sleep and keep down what I ate with the help of some meds. The immigration line at Doha airport was a complete nightmare on my way over, but on the way back things could not have been more different and I had plenty of time to spare.
I actually flew into Milan airport and then took the bus to Turin as I found these flights to be a lot cheaper than flying to Turin directly. The tickets were booked online with Sadem (http://www.sadem.it/en/prodotti/collegamento-aeroporti/milano-malpensa-airport.aspx) although you can also buy tickets in person at the airport. I had plenty of time once I got to the airport as the customs officials were pretty relaxed and my luggage arrived really quickly.
The only phone company that provides 3g in Milan airport is Vodafone. Their plan is 30 euros for 30 days with 2gb. It’s not the cheapest deal around, but the connection is pretty good and most importantly it is super convenient as you can get it as soon as you collect your luggage.
In Turin, as well as the rest of Italy really, if you’re going to take the tram or the subway buy your return tickets at the same time as your departure ones if you can. This is because sometimes there won’t be a ticket station where you’re headed or the line will be so long that you might miss your train!