I chose Turin as the first leg of my Europe adventure because it seems not so touristy AND close to the French border. Simple as that. But I’m completely sure any city I blindly pick on the European map would have something interesting to offer, whether it’s food, history, culture, lifestyle, landscape, or all of them combined. Coming from a Southeast Asian country that’s over 5,000 miles away, everything is fresh to me anyway.
Turin is best known as the former capital of united Italy and also the birthplace of its first King Vittorio Emanuel II. But one can learn that by staying at home and reading guidebooks. We all travel to learn something new. For this reason I decided to go slow to get the essence of each place I visit, and try to stay, or at least meet up and talk with locals as much as I can. Couch-surfing is one of the best ways of doing so. One day after my public request, a 19-year-old Italian student of intercultural communication in Turin agreed to host me for two nights. Sweet…
Arriving in Turin
The Italo high speed train brought me to Turin’s P.Nuova metro station at 10:45 am Monday, an hour after leaving Milan central station. I walked out to look for an ATM automatic vending machine near the turnstiles. Just like any other big Italian cities, it’s so easy and convenient getting around here in Turin: €1.5 for a single ticket in the urban area and €5 for unlimited trips during the day. The fares are even cheaper if you go slow: €7.5 for 2-day tickets and €10 for 3 days. One more plus for slow travel.
The tourist information office is situated right outside the station. I’m not a fan of city maps but still dropped by for a free one since Google maps drained out my phone battery all the time. It’s also useful to know where they are located just in case, especially when you’re all alone in a non-English speaking city and carrying all your belongings along.
From P. Nuova I went straight along Via Roma to reach the city’s major squares and attractions. The plan was that I would spend a few hours exploring the city and meet my hosts at around 2pm. I’ve hardly had any problem walking for long hours, but this backpack did really slow me down. Earlier this morning I was miserable squeezing my one and a half self in the stuffed metro and now I am carrying this bag of rocks all the way through the city’s downtown area. Getting lost is no longer fun. So travelers, hear my humble two cents: pack as light as you can, or you’ll end up suffering.
The first (half) day in Turin, I was not so serious about sight-seeing. The city map was a real puzzle to me, so I’d rather get lost. After a while I found myself standing in a huge square that held the equestrian statue of Emmanuel Philibert (Duke of Savoy) and two beautiful look-alike Catholic churches. Curious about the one with more decorative statues outside, I decided to walk in La Chiesa San Cristina. This is what I love about churches, always open and welcoming no matter who you’re, where you’re from or which religion you practice. Being stranger in a city, somehow I really need the feeling of peace and security in a sacred shelter.
Anyway, I took off my heavy backpack and rested on the church’s bench while looking around. For some reasons the frescoes on the sidewalls always captured my attention. One of my favorites was the fresco of Prince Vittorio Amedeo II, the Duke of Savoy, on his knee vowing to the Virgin Mary. Usually the frescoes would illustrate different scenes in the Bible, but these ones were more special in a way that they were also matched by the 1706 historical event. At that time, Turin was putted under siege by the French-Spanish army. On Sep 2nd 1706, the Duke, a leader of local army, climbed to the top of the Superga’s hill (to the east of Turin) in order to observe the battlefield, and in a small church he made a vow to build a bigger monument in honor of the Virgin in case of victory. He did keep his words –after a hard battle, the town regained freedom and the Duke ordered the construction of what is known to be the Basilica of Superga today. If you want to drop the church a visit, check it out here.
My temporary home
After three hours strolling around the downtown area, I met my hosts at Carduci metro station and walked together to their place. It was a cozy two-bedroom flat shared by four first-year students who all love singing, having at least two meals a day together and joking about each other’s habits.
They were so kind to let me sleep on a warm sofa bed and share with me their food in exchange for an opportunity to learn about a new culture that is so different from them. They have metro, we don’t. My country is ruled by one single Communist party while they live under a multiple-party system. We eat with chopsticks, they use fork and knife. We often have noodles for breakfast, whereas cookies and a cup of tea are enough for them to start a day. They get free medical care, while we pay so much for insurance and never get our life insured. But we’re young and bubbly, dreamy and fun-loving, cracking so hard when Lu makes her celebrity face (she very much looks like the Sex and City star Sara Parker), hating to eat alone and sharing the interests for countless matters. And we all cherish this one thing almost everyone takes for granted — living in peace, having food everyday and being able to do what we love. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.