My Tucson friend Jill has politely nudged and hinted that maybe I need to write a post about my recent Italian vacation. What, Jill, you're thinking I'm so danged old that it's going to slip right out of my brain? Well, you're right. I'd better get started before it's gone.
How It All Began
Last year, right about the time we returned from our vacation in Ireland, we heard that two couples from our group of friends had signed up for a GoAhead Tour called "A Taste of Northern Italy & the Italian Riviera." Every Saturday night, as some subset of this group of friends went out for dinner, the trip to Italy was at the top of the list of conversation topics. Soon another couple had registered with GoAhead, then another. And about a week before the deadline for registering, the Jazzman and I decided we'd go along. By the time our flight departed on May 6th, there were 15 of us on the trip. (Several of us had been on GoAhead Tours before. GoAhead is the agency that runs the annual tours for WYSU-FM, our local public radio station.)
Ten of us traveled by "party bus" to the Pittsburgh airport, meeting two more couples there. We flew to Atlanta, where we met up for the 15th friend, who now lives in North Carolina. After incurring the displeasure of one of the Atlanta airport bar's managers for our loud laughter and camaraderie, we departed late afternoon for Milan.
The next morning, I was thrilled to look out the window and see the French, then Swiss, then Italian alps passing beneath us. We landed in Milan around 8:00 a.m. and made our way through passport control and customs. After a delay while the Jazzman went back to the plane to retrieve our duty-free alcohol (Oops. Did the same thing in Ireland!), we met our tour director, Sara, boarded the coach with delightful driver Marco, and began the two-hour ride to Torino (Turin). By the time we all gathered for introductions and champagne that evening, there were 37 travelers with whom we would share the next ten days.
Monday and Tuesday, May 6-7
I'm not a big student of world history nor of religious myths/traditions/relics, but I had heard of the Shroud of Turin. And I found much of interest in our tour through Torino. Our introduction to the food of the Piemonte (Piedmont) region told us lots of great eating lay directly ahead.
- After checking in at our hotel, the NH Ambasciatori, we walked to the end of the block and found the Corner Caffè, a delightful small restaurant filled with locals. We deciphered the menu, had a light lunch, and finished with—of course—gelato.
- That evening, we went to the famous restaurant La Smarrita. The building had once belonged to the Count di Cavour, who was the architect of the constitution of modern-day Italy.
- The Chiesa di San Lorenzo, where the Shroud of Turin is housed. Designed by Guarino Guarini and built between 1666 and 1680, there are some architectural features of this chapel that are just mind-boggling for the 17th Century—or any century! A blog post describing the fascinating architecture of this building.
- Lunch at Caffè Torino on Piazza San Carlo. Tradition dictates that one "polish" the, um, private parts of the brass bull in the pavement outside the front door with one's heel. Caffè Torino was our introduction to the concept of "nibbles". At many Italian restaurants during non-meal times of day, complimentary appetizers are served when you order drinks. These nibbles at Caffè Torino were so substantial they served as our lunch. The beautiful restaurant dates from 1903, and the building from much earlier. (The exact date is one of the facts that already slipped from my brain.)
- Dinner at Trattoria dai Saletta for the fifteen of us. Great Piemontese food, great wine and beers, and lots of laughs, as always.