Saturday, August 13, 2011

Torino, Italy and Sacra di San Michele

Just as the French love their roundabouts, the Italians love their toll roads; our welcome to the country was a 36-euro toll for the use of the 13-km Tunnel du Fréjus that took us under the mountains. This was followed in succession by at least four more tolls, ranging from 5 to 15 euro each. We were prepared for this, as the Michelin trip planner calculated our tolls before the trip, but it still came as a shock to fork over money in such a short time.

Not three hours later we arrived at Sacra di San Michele. To reach it we took an exit before Torino, then a small winding road that took us up to the mountaintop where the Benedictine abbey was built at the end of the tenth century by Hughes de Montboissier from the Auvergne. The views of the Alps were a bit hazy, but still impressive, as the abbey is perched on a rocky spur with views in all directions. A 12th century sculpture by Nicolò framing the "Zodiac Doorway" was beautifully intricate, and the flying buttresses over the ascent to the church were especially impressive. Lauris had an applesauce snack on a terrace overlooking the valley, and a bit later mom had a coffee "snack" at the local café.

Sacra di San Michele

After arriving in Torino, we checked in then headed to Piazza Carlo Alberto, right smack-dab in the center of the city, for dinner. The hotel concierge recommended a restaurant right on the piazza, and we learned our lesson; delicious food, prices reflecting the prime people-watching, but VERY small portions. However the piazza with its view of San Carlo and San Cristina churches was a terrific first impression of a city best known for the automobile factories.

We began our sightseeing in the same piazza the next morning, and headed north past the Museo Egizio, which supposedly houses one of the richest Egyptian collections outside of Cairo, and through the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale before arriving in Piazza Castello, bordered by the Royal Palace and Teatro Regio. We chose not to visit the Shroud of Turin in the Duomo, in which Christ had been rumored to have been wrapped after the Descent from the Cross, but admired the Duomo from the outside, as well as the 2nd century Roman ruins across the street.

I loved the auseklīts accents in the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale
Eventually we found ourselves on Via Po, created between the 17th and 18th centuries to connect the historic centre to the River Po, with its palaces and arcades. The arcades are really a beautiful part of Torino, and they serve a very functional purpose as well; we could have spent the entire day walking and never had to emerge into the hot sun except to cross the occasional street, but even most streets had covered pedestrian walkways. I admired the frescoes on the arcades while walking, it seemed like no two buildings had the same designs. A two hour coffee break while Lauris napped refueled the parents as well, and we emerged on Piazza Vittorio Veneto, according to the hotel receptionist the largest piazza in Europe, ready for more walking. From the piazza there was a good view of the surrounding hills and the church on nearby Monte dei Cappuccini.

Does it still count as the largest piazza in Europe if there is a road running through it?
Back near the hotel we found a playground with a perfect combination of children, shade and playground equipment Lauris's size, and stayed until a thunderstorm threatened. After the storm we zigzagged the streets nearby, searching for a restaurant to satisfy our appetites. Our find, Ristorante Sorriso was perfect; great pasta (even if a little salty), attentive waitstaff, and an owner that chatted with Lauris and personally brought him a book in Italian, although Lauris wouldn't let him read it aloud, he wanted to read it himself. And we all know who is in charge, which is why the following morning we made one more stop before hitting the road: the playground.

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