You better get comfy, this is a long one.
Sarah, Aunt Kathy, and I set off for Italy. We met centrally in Memphis. Our flight was as follows: Memphis – Toronto – Munich – Torino. We were heading to Torino, Italy to visit my boyfriend, Eric. He is studying abroad in an engineering program until July.
I wasn’t quite sure what perceptions I had of Torino prior to visiting. I knew it was the old capital of Italy, prior to Rome, and that it was an important business city because of Fiat. We all quickly fell in love with Torino and it was our favorite out of all of the places we visited that trip. Because it does not serve as a main tourist stop, much of its Italian heritage and culture is still in tact without being touched by the Americanization we see in many international cities. I imagined it to be a small city, but it was HUGE. There was a huge street (called Via Roma) that had dozens and dozens of stores from Gucci and Louis Vuitton to H&M and Prada. Gelato and pizza places could be found on every corner. It was truly the ‘Italian experience.’ Also, we walked FORTY SIX miles that week. Talk about getting your steps in! So all in all, I would move to Torino in a heart beat.
We arrived on Sunday, March 18th around 1:30pm. We made our way to our hotel and met up with Eric! We stayed at the Principi di Piedmonte. Let me stress, I cannot say enough good things about this hotel. The service, rooms, location, breakfast… it was all 10/10.
After settling in, we went to Eric’s favorite local pub called Jumping Jester. They have great food! I recommend the pasta carbonara.
Since we had been awake a total of like 30 hours, we decided to call it a night early, so we could rest up for our full first day! Around 9pm, though, we got a little hunger bug and ordered some pizza from Fratelli Pumero. Oh. My. Gosh. We got their margarita pizza and couldn’t say no to a cannoli. (Side note: I DID drop the cannolis on the floor in the hotel and will never live that down.)
After twelve full hours of sleep, we were ready to find out what a ‘continental’ breakfast in Italy looked like. It blew America’s hotel breakfast out of the water. Principi di Piedmonte has an actual wait staff that waits on you for your breakfast. They hand deliver the most delicious cappuccino and fresh squeeze blood orange juice. The buffet spread did not disappoint. Every kind of fruit you could think of was there sliced and ready to be eaten. Cold cuts, veggies, and bacon were also a staple for breakfast there. And of course, croissants with Nutella.
We wanted to get our bearings of the city, so we met up with Eric at a famous cafe called Cafe Fiorio. This cafe had rich culture and historic value that you can’t find many places. It was built in 1780 and many influential people have grabbed a cappy in these walls. I definitely recommend stopping by and getting a pick me up!
From Cafe Fiorio, we made a big trek across the Po River. The city is quite large. Up on the hill, there is a church that was built in the 1500s. This was so neat to see and visit. The views above the Po were gorgeous, too! Afterwards, we took a train to Eric’s dorm to see where he is living and also get a glimpse of the school’s campus.
For dinner, we ate at II Vicolo ristorante. They specialize in risotto and had the most delish crepes for dessert. The vibe is very modern/eclectic. Locals definitely go here. I swear my risotto tasted like my mom’s roast, rice and gravy, either way it was super yummy! I recommend this restaurant. The portions are fairly large, so you will be able to split your entree with someone and still be full.
GENOA – the port city! Genoa is actually the most important port on the Mediteranean for Italy. It is very old (duh) and has a really cool ferris wheel overlooking the water. Of course, we learned quickly that Italians don’t really operate on set hours… so the ferris wheel was not open, nor was the famous lighthouse. We still had a great time, though. There was a Pablo Picasso exhibit in town, so we took the opportunity to educate ourselves on his work (ha- that sounds so scholarly). But really, it was a great exhibit. Most of the shows/museums we went to offered student discounts. Our tickets were around 14 euros a piece. It was well worth the money!
Genoa has some very interesting parts with tiny and narrow streets that you can tell are as old as the city. It was the coolest thing to just walk around and see little meat markets, veggie stands, and women hanging their clothes on a clothes line. It almost felt as if you were a fly on the wall in someone else’s life.
Afterwards, we grabbed lunch. I couldn’t read the menu in Italian, our phones had no service in the restaurant to translate and the waitress didn’t speak English, so I randomly ordered something. Turns out… I ordered a hamburger. It actually was pretty tasty. Although, I was a little mad I wasted a meal on a BURGER!! They were probably like “ugh, this dumb American won’t branch out.” The restaurant also was famous for their macarons. They were DELISH!!
We took the 1.5 hour train back to Torino and split up for the evening. Sarah and Aunt Kath went to grab a drink at hotel (which has a great bar), while Eric took me to one of his fave hole in the wall restaurants called Pizza Columbus. Here we got to watch the owner hand make our pizza. It was so yummy and under 10 euros altogether.
After this day, we were all exhausted. I think my watch said we walked around 26,000 steps that day. This was uphill, downhill, all around hill. We were pooped out.
Wednesday we went to the Museo Egizio, which is the Egyptian Museum in Torino. They also offered student discounts. This museum is located right near a famous piazza, which is like a little square in a town, so it is very central to everything. It was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. This museum is the best Egyptian museum outside of Cairo, Egypt. They are NOT lying when they say that. There were 15, I repeat FIFTEEN rooms of the exhibit. Almost so much that my brain went into artifact overload. The museum was recently renovated, so we were happy we got to see it all fancy and new!
At the beginning, we texted my dad and said where we were, he jokingly sent back ‘say hey to King Tut for me.’ What do ya know… King Tut’s original statue was there. You will see everything from pottery, mummies, sphinx, and caskets, to old manuscripts. It really was a very neat thing to visit. This is one thing I would not miss if you are going to be around Torino.
So, since that took like forevs, we made it to a little ristorante called Cristal Ristorante (couldn’t find a link). We grabbed a quick slice of pizza and pasta and went off to explore more of Torino.
After more walking and exploring, we met up with Eric for dinner. We got a recommendation for a really nice place from the bar manager at our hotel named Flavio. We always referred to him as ‘Our Boy Flav.’ Well, he doesn’t know that. We ended up at Restaurante Giovanni. It opened up at 7:30pm, so like the prompt Americans we are, we arrived at 7:45pm. As we walked in, I felt like I was walking into someone’s home. It was very decorated, white table cloths, a bit cluttered. It was very eclectic and very local! We loved it. So we ordered. The waiter didn’t speak English. Aunt Kathy ordered an appetizer of octopus. The rest of us stuck with our spring salads. For our entrees, Sarah and I ordered lobster pasta. OMG, it was so yummy. Eric thought he ordered the most normal of all of us, but his cuttlefish pasta was BLACK!! We hadn’t seen this before, but in Italy, they make pasta sauces out of the ink from the fish. Despite the funny appearance, it was so yummy.
This was by far our most interesting dinner of all.
I think my favorite part of this night was that we were at a white table cloth, fancy restaurant, and a golden retriever popped his head out of the table next to us. It was the cutest thing.
We went to the Basilica da Superga which was built in the 1300s on a mountain overlooking Torino. I recommend doing this on a clear day so you have a great view without any fog, clouds, rain, etc.
We took a bus to the little ticket station for the tours, then you have to take a special trolley up the mountain. We climbed up to the top of the basilica and got the best view of the entire city. It was 131 steps up to the top – so you’ll def get your flights in that day. From the view, you can see the Po and the Dora. It’s breathtaking!
Well, we again learned that there is no set schedule in Italy, so we were sorta stranded on that mountain for two hours waiting for the trolley, but we got to take in the fresh air and I saw a kitty that lived on the grounds.
For lunch we ate at a cute place called Pizza Pinsa Per te. This was a very modern place. It almost reminded me of a Chipotle. You go up to the counter and order your pizza and it is so cute and personal sized. I am a total sweet tooth and ordered a Nutella pizza. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
For dinner, we ate at Gramsci’s. I think I will go as far to say this was one of my favorite restaurants all week. It is very centrally located and has such a fun vibe. There is an ambiance and tons of young and old natives enjoying dinner. They had the absolute best cheesecake with gooseberries on top.
Eric had class until 5:30pm, so we decided we would explore more of Torino and see the historical sites there. We started out by walking to the St. John the Baptist Cathedral to see the Shroud of Turin. This is such a special thing that is unique to Torino. It is free and worth a visit. If you don’t know what the Shroud of Turin is, it is the linen cloth, or shroud, that was used to cover Jesus’ body in the tomb after his crucifixion. His blood marks are in tact on the shroud and have been studied by hundreds of scientists and it is believed to be the real thing. It is such a unique thing to see and witness.
Unfortunately, due to its fragility, they only pull out the shroud at certain times each year or when the Pope visits. There is still an altar where you can go and see where it is housed and also read about its history. We felt a real closeness to the Lord there. It was a really really neat experience. Definitely take a visit.
After that, we went to the Palatine Towers. This will put into perspective how old Torino is. So, like I mentioned before, Torino was the capital of Italy before Rome. The Palatine Towers (or gate) were built in 13 BC. They are the ancient Roman gates into the city. How cool is that?!!? They are located in the Archaeological Park that Torino opened a few years back.
For lunch, we ate at La Caravella. They had great personal pizzas and were very local. They could make whatever you wanted!It’s a little bit of a walk, but if you are heading to the Mole, definitely stop in for a pizza!
Afterwards, we walked to the Mole. If you ever see a photo of the Torino skyline, this is the tall, pointy building. Inside the Mole, there is a cinema museum as well. You can also just go to the top like we did to get the panoramic view of the city and the Alps. It cost 9 euros each.
Be prepared to stand in line for a bit. We waited around 45 minutes, but it was sooo worth it. You file into this elevator and go all the way to the top of the building. I also think the best time to do this is on a clear day, so you can see the Alps.
Eric did not go with us to the Mole because it is an old wives tale that if students in Torino go to the top, they won’t graduate. Pretty funny! Hopefully he’ll make it up there by the end of his semester because the views are so pretty.
For dinner we ate at Pastificio Defilippis. This was my other fave of the week! They actually make their own pasta and it serves as a little pasta shop to buy dry pasta for cooking, too! They seat family style and we were seated with the sweetest Italian family. Both the parents were doctors and the son is a junior in high school. We ended up chatting a lot and they even gave Eric their numbers in case of emergencies.
They had yummy creme brûlée and tiramisu. They said if I guessed the secret ingredient in the creme brûlée then I’d get a free drink. I guessed it!!
We met up with some of Eric’s friends at Jumping Jester for drinks later and then got to sleep to rest up for Milan.
Milano!!!!! We took the fast train to Milan and arrived in under 55 minutes. The total roundtrip fare cost about 55 euros a person. We arrived at the main train station, Milano Centrale. It is gorgeous.
We walked around and explored. We noticed how much more diverse Milan is that Torino. It reminded me of a mini New York City. It has tons of tourists and is very americanized, but still has its Italian heritage. The streets were gorgeous, too.
We went to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II mall which is the oldest shopping mall in the world. It houses top brands from LV to Prada and more. Needless to say we just window shopped.
Once you walk through the mall, there is the Duomo. WOW OH WOW.
You will feel like a tiny, little ant. The architecture is stunning!
We kept on walking and found Caffe Sforzesco that had outdoor (heated!!!) seating. It’s named after a famous piazza in the area. They definitely were more americanized than any places we’d visited. They took our drink order first, like we do in America, and so Aunt Kath and I ordered diet cokes. Of course, we figured it’d be a little different there because they use different sweeteners. It tasted like regular coke which is gross to me!! We ordered larges because why not! They came back and we couldn’t help but laugh. They were .75 liters of coke in each glass!!
The picture doesn’t do it justice. We also had a caprese salad and I had pasta carbonara as my entree. SO YUM.
After this, we kept walking and found a neat castle/fortress. We really wanted to see Leonardo di Vinci’s Last Supper, but it tickets were booked up for months. We definitely will have to go back to see it! We caught the train back to Torino and stopped in one of our local faves for gelato and drinks. It is called Gatsby’s and located right near our hotel in the city’s center. We went multiple times throughout the week and tried different things! One thing we learned is that Italians enjoy an apperativi as their pre-dinner drink to cleanse their pallet. Here’s a link to a quick summary of what it is.
Another famous drink in Torino is called bicerin. It is basically a very thick chocolate. For the drink, they mix the bicerin, milk, and espresso. It was super yummy, but rich!
And then if that isn’t enough, here’s a picture of Sarah’s gelato (feat. me) at Gatsby’s.
It was Sarah’s 24th birthday, so for dinner we let her pick. We had trouble finding a place that wasn’t packed because it was a Saturday evening. We ended up walking like two miles and found a cute little restaurant, but forgot to record the name! It’ll forever be the mystery dinner.
Sadly, this was our last full day. Eric and I grabbed a cappuccino and then headed out to shop for the day!
We met up with Sarah and Aunt Kath for lunch at Cafe Torino. This is a very historic cafe that is a little pricy, but very tasty. I can’t remember the name of the dish I ordered, but it had bacon and that’s all that mattered. Outside Cafe Torino, there is a gold bull on the ground. Legend says, if you rub your heel on the bull you’ll have good luck! The bull is a symbol that is widely used for things in Torino.
We grabbed more gelato and did more shopping the rest of the day. For dinner, we ate at La Bia de Sale (sale means salt in Italian, so it means Way of the Salt). We had great food and wine! Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Eric and we were up the next morning at 3am to head to the airport!
We had a great time and will definitely be back!!! Our return flights were as follows: Torino – Frankfurt – Toronto – Memphis.
Hope you enjoyed reading this epistle. I will definitely do a shorter post about the restaurants and sites for those who don’t have 14 years to read this.