Football anecdotes and other tales from Turin

Oh, the irony: I initially got the idea to go to Turin from a book called Flight-Free Europe and then I flew there! Unfortunately neither my budget nor time off from work stretched to cover a trip there and back by train, as fun and exciting as that would have been. Instead, I decided to settle for a cheap flight there and further explorations by rail to destinations like Genoa and Milan.

Many of my fellow travellers on the same flight were geared up for a skiing holiday. Located at the feet of the Italian Alps, Turin offers excellent connections to many ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland. As school PE lessons had put me off cross-country skiing for life and I was convinced my going down the slopes would result in broken limbs or worse, I was quite happy to have nothing more active than walking and climbing planned for the trip!

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Turin was once the capital of the Duchy of Savoy and the regal past is still visible. The city is full of culture and history with world-class galleries and museums, stunning architecture from renaissance and baroque to art nouveau, beautiful piazzas and rich palaces, and elegant porticos stretching for 11 miles. You feel like a royal just walking there! However, Turin is also an important business and industrial hub, which makes it a very practical (grand) city and not a traditional tourist destination. I can’t remember seeing street sellers or “hosts” outside the restaurant door guiding visitors in. To look  like a tourist but not be treated like one felt quite refreshing.

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I  rarely visit museums on my travels, especially if the weather is good, but the National Museum of Cinema intrigued me enough to make an exception. It’s located inside the Mole Antonelliana tower and is believed to be the tallest museum in the world (167 metres). From magic lanterns to posters and movie props, it houses a multitude of memorabilia. For a panoramic view of the city and the mountains, you can take an elevator with transparent glass walls up to the tower. It was probably  during that visit when I spotted something that looked like a church up on the hill. What was that? How would you get there?

“That” turned out to be The Basilica of Superga, which houses the crypt of the House of Savoy. The best way to get there was a little mountain tram with wooden benches from Stazione Sassi. Although I didn’t visit the church, the ride up and the fantastic view from the top made the journey worth making.

I was in Turin with my partner, and as he is a football fan and I enjoy most live events, it seemed apt to go and see Torino FC’s home game against AS Cittadella at the Olympic Stadium. Luckily we had our passports on us because in order to purchase tickets and gain access to the stadium, you needed an ID. That explained why each transaction seemed to take so long! I asked (in my basic Italian) for reasonably cheap tickets. When the vendor heard we didn’t mind where we would be seated, he pointed at a specific area on the seating plan and said in English, first pointing at me and then my partner: “You pay 2 euro, you pay 12 euro”. Tickets for women in that particularly section were really that cheap! I’m all for equality but in this case I didn’t mind a bit of positive discrimination. I remember there was a ‘singing stand’ as well as a lot of shouting and arm waving elsewhere at the stadium. However, I have no idea what the final score was.

Before our flight to Italy we had booked tickets to see a Serie A match AC Milan vs AC Cesena. The website showed the kick off at 7.45 pm so we planned to take an afternoon train to Milan from the Porta Nuova station (conveniently located opposite to our hotel), watch the match, and leave in time to catch the last but second train back to Turin. We didn’t want to risk taking the last train in case it was cancelled, especially as our flight back home was the next day. A great plan, what could go wrong?! Before heading towards the San Siro district, we had a quick look around Milan. I don’t remember much of it except for an architecturally stunning shopping mall (The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II), expensive stores and restaurants, the beautiful Piazza del Duomo full of pigeons, and an optimistic pickpocket following us less than discreetly!

We collected our tickets from the stadium and looked for some entertainment before the match.  As it was January in Northern Italy, somewhere indoors felt like the most appealing option. The side gates to the local hippodrome were open so we sneaked in and watched some trotting before going back to the stadium. The football food looked really tasty: beautiful rolls and baguettes and no sign of a greasy burger. The coffee, too, was excellent and reasonably priced. This just confirmed my belief that you simply couldn’t get bad coffee in Italy. In England football fans are not allowed to drink alcohol in their seats so it was quite entertaining to have vendors in Milan come over to sell not only beer but sambucas!

By 7.15pm only a handful of spectators had arrived. Something didn’t seem right. I looked at the ticket and, to my horror, realised the kick-off was actually at 8.45pm! For whatever strange reason, the ticket website had given us the UK time for a match in Italy. If we stuck with our plan, we’d have to leave after watching about a quarter of the game. As we were already comfortably seated and my partner finally had a chance to see Ibrahimovich, one of his favourite players, in action, it was time for a plan B! We would watch the match and rush back to the station, hoping to catch the last train if it was actually running. (If it wasn’t, we would worry about that later.) I’m not really a football fan but I enjoy the atmosphere at large stadiums, whether the occasion is sport or music. AC Milan was leading when we left a few minutes before the final whistle.

We were back at Milan Central in time, just to be informed our train was, in fact, delayed. When it finally arrived, the terminus had changed from Porta Nuova to Porta Susa, a station on the other side of Turin. On top of that, we stopped for some reason for about 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere without any explanation in any language. As we walked through the very quiet and calm centre of Turin early on Monday morning, I was sincerely hoping our hotel would have a 24h reception. Luckily, the night porter was behind his desk and on that desk, with its huge tassel, sat our room key, waiting for us. How good it felt to crawl to bed and actually catch some sleep before a breakfast and a flight home.

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