We Still Didn’t Drink All The Vino: Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Return To Italy
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – TO EVERYTHING TURIN, TURIN, TURIN
DAY FOURTEEN: Open This Palace!, Driving My Passengers Crazy, Not Your Average Hunting Lodge, Going Stag, Are You Sure I Can Fit In Here, Terrific Turin, Lots Of Spokes People, Playing The Palace, Were You In Law & Order? and The Classy Maître D
Our wonderful stay at Rocche Costamagna was coming to a close, but not before a delicious last breakfast of fresh pastries, croissants, fruit, hardboiled eggs and a lot more. It’s hard to believe we could eat as much as we did. We bid arrivederci to Greg and Gloria as they were headed to Milan and then home.
As we drove down the hill from La Morra, we stopped at Bovio to drop off the umbrellas the waiter had given us the previous night. I looked to see if they had any leftover tagliolini ai 40 tuorli con tartufo bianco, but alas they were not open yet.
Our journey this day would take us to Turin, however we had a couple of stops planned along the way. We arrived at our first stop, the town of Racconigi, around 9:30 and attempted to find parking for the Royal Palace of Racconigi, one of the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy. It is included by UNESCO on its World Heritage Sites list. Finding parking was a slight challenge, but not nearly as much of a challenge to actually visit the palace, which “opened” at 9 a.m.
We found one entrance and walked inside. The woman said that the only way to visit was with a guided tour. “Ok, when’s the tour?” She replied it would be at noon, and we could get tickets at the bookstore at the other end of the palace. That seemed odd … the palace opens at 9 a.m, but the tours don’t start until a few hours later. We walked to the bookstore, and sure enough we couldn’t enter until noon.
No offense to the town of Racconigi, but we didn’t feel like spending 2 1/2 hours waiting for the palace tour, plus this wasn’t the only Savoy palace on our list, so we did what this group was really good at … walking through town and visiting another church, Chiesa Parrocchiale di San Giovanni Battista.
You gotta do what you gotta do, and I wasn’t about to leave Racconigi without seeing something. The 13th-century church with a Baroque interior was reconstructed in the 18th century and serves as Racconigi’s cathedral.
The dome and frescoes are courtesy (well, I’m sure he was paid) of Antonio Pozzo.
Having seen so many churches and with a lot still on our day’s agenda, we quickly toured the church and scurried back to the car.
It was an easy 40-minute drive to our next destination, Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi.
Once again, the Fearsome Foursome would be parking impaired. We figured there had to be nearby parking since this was such a tourist attraction, so we drove to the right of this gigantic Savoy palace that was designed as a Royal Hunting Lodge by the order of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, who served as the Duke of Savoy from 1675 – 1730.
Not knowing there would be motorized cars nearly four centuries later, the Duke apparently forgot to construct a parking lot. Soon we were heading away from Stupinigi into a forested area. Having years of experience driving the wrong way in many European countries, I have become quite adept at making illegal U-Turns. I deftly made a quick one as my passengers were tossed about like the crew of the Minnow on their three hour tour to Gilligan’s Island. I swear I heard Tracy say, “Tom that was a Stupinigi move.” I looked in the back seat and the Professor and Mary were none too pleased either. It’s tough being the Skipper.
Soon we were back where we started this parking fiasco and I sadly navigated our car in front of a little restaurant less than two blocks from the palace. We walked to the ticket office located next to the huge building with a giant stag on top.
Thanks to someone on Fodors, I had read the “Torino+Piemonte Card” would be a good investment. That person was correct. The 3-day (72 hours) card costs €42 and covered many of the palaces and museums we visited. I forgot exactly how much it saved us, but it was fairly substantial.
Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi’s construction began in 1729 and was witness not only to the Savoys, but also other Italia monarchs (kings not butterflies). It even became a country home for Napoleon at one time. The House of Savoy, a royal family that goes way back to the 11th century and who also ruled Sicily for a short time in the early 18th century, utilized this lodge/palace not only for hunting parties, but also baptismal feasts, weddings and other gala occasions.
We entered, and after my pathetic driving display, Tracy said I should go stag here. I replied, “Thanks deer.” This one was actually the original that used to adorn the roof. (I thought the only deer allowed on a roof were reindeer.)
Here are some of the highlights (not necessarily in exact order, but close, I believe).
Two rooms made up the Pre Library and Library. The carved wood is mostly in blue and gold meaning the artist was most likely a UCLA fan.
We walked into an elliptical (and stunning … well the whole place is stunning) room called the Central Hall.
The room includes a chandelier that dates back to 1773. The ceiling also displays beautiful frescoes including “The Triumph of Diana.”
St. Ubertus Chapel and Antechapel have lots of beautiful frescoes and the painting of The Miracle of St. Ubertus. They were thoroughly restored in 2013 and 2014.
The Queen’s apartment has two famous frescoes; the Sacrifice of St. Iphigenia (left) and Diana hanging out with some nymphs on the riverbank. Both were created in 1733.
Where there’s a Queen, there’s a King. The King’s Apartment features Stories of Diana frescoes and, as they said, “splendid furnishings.”
We followed the Ceremonial Path, into the Anteroom, where I was surprised not to find anyone playing poker. We upped the ante and moved on.
The Living Room …
… and the Bedroom (which was originally conceived as a dining room) … showed their colors.
I wanted to take this piece of furniture with me.
Flowers and birds highlight the Cabinet with Walls of Silk with Flower Decorations.
We passed through a former music room, with its walls now decorated with fake architecture …
… a room highlighting Chinese life scenes.
… and eventually walked through a lovely room that led to the bathroom, complete with an interesting tub, which meant we could now make a clean getaway..
Our tour was at an end.
Located just 20 minutes from the center of Turin, Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi was a great stop.
The area around the hunting lodge contained some interesting architecture.
We called the host at our Turin b&b and told her we were on our way, and she said she’d meet us outside the property.
Our home for the next few nights would be Il Gioiellino (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II). We somehow navigated the busy streets of Torino inflicting no damage to the population. Arriving at the b&b, I realized my driving “skills” would now be seriously challenged. We were on a small, one-lane road adjacent to the main road (with a median in between), and as cars lined up behind me, I had to carefully negotiate some hairpin turns to avoid hitting delivery trucks (and deliverymen) who had virtually blocked the entrance to the b&b loading area. Somehow I missed the trucks and the narrow entryway, and our wives unloaded the car, so Kim and I could find a nearby parking lot, which we eventually reached safely.
Our rooms were on the third floor (thankfully there was a lift for the knee-challenged). Both rooms were very pleasant with a shared area with lots of water that we desperately needed. Hydrate! Our very nice host Federica gave us the lay of the land. She said most of the big-ticket sites were within 20 – 25 minute walk and there was also a taxi stand close by. We also gave her the time we would meet in the breakfast room the following morning.
Speaking of eating, after a quick lunch, we walked into Turin. This car reminded me of those five poor guys in Bologna with their tiny rental mobile (although not this small).
Not far from our lodging, we ducked down a street to a restaurant our b&b host had recommended. Although closed at the moment, its front door was slightly ajar. We entered and were met by a dapper gentleman, and inquired if they had reservations for that evening, and we told him who recommended his restaurant. He said, “Ah, Federica. We can get you in.” As we walked away I started thinking he really looked like someone famous, but I couldn’t get my finger on it. In a short distance we came upon someone even more tired than we were. Get your naps when and where you can.
In about 20 minutes, we reached Piazza San Carlo on our way to see another palace. But, of course, two adjacent churches caught our eye, one that was just finishing a wedding. We ducked into both San Carlo Borromeo and Santa Cristina, which are almost mirror images of one another.
Santa Cristina dates from the mid 17th-century …
… while San Carlo is a couple of decades older.
Afterward, we walked by an equestrian statue of Emmanuel Philibert, one of the Dukes of Savoy (not to be confused with the Dukes of Hazzard).
The streets of Torino were incredibly packed thanks to a blocks-long book fair. We fought through the masses and reached Piazza Madama, which was also incredibly busy, although for an entirely different reason. With music blasting even louder than in my backyard while shooting baskets, dozens of people were putting their pedal to the metal in an outdoor spin class.
The Palazzo Reale stood in front of us, but that would be a stop for tomorrow.
Today, we were going to cap off our day by stepping back through time inside Palazzo Madama (included on the Torino+Piemonte Card). (By the way, the statue in front of Palazzo Madama is a “defiant monument to the Sardinian troops, erected by Milanese exiles during the triumphant visit to Milan of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, January 15, 1857.”)
Palazzo Madama, named after the illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V (Madama Margherita of Austria), has had quite a history. Upon its completion in 1505, it was a Medici compound, housing two Medici cardinals who later became popes. It was also the residence of the royal dowagers of the Savoy family in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pope Benedict XIV made it the seat of the Papal Government in the 18th century, and it hosted the first Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century. Since 1934, this palace has housed the collections of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Turin’s municipal museum of ancient art.
Our self-guided tour took us to four floors that contained paintings, religious pieces of art and sculpture, art from the 15th century and Renaissance and decorative arts. Plus, we got those requisite colorful ceilings and a terrific view out over Turin from the Panoramic Tower.
Highlights included (not in order):
We did not need an Atlas to find this beautiful porcelain display.
You’re never far from religious art at any of these places, but not that many date back to the 14th century like Compianto Sul Cristo morto and Madonna col Bambino.
My main man Michael had his picture here, too. I told him I was feeling well (story of Michael and me), so he could go help some other sick people.
Other important pieces were Morra della Virgine (1490) and Il Sacrifice of Isaac (1738).
We rode the small elevator at this point to the Panoramic Terrace, where, true to its description, there were panoramic views of Torino …
.. and the Alps in the distance.
It was time to visit the Sala del Senato. The now Senate Hall was completed in the mid 17th century. The inaugural session of the senate of the Kingdom took place in 1848, which “confirmed the commitment of the House of Savoy to the unification of Italy.” The beautiful ceiling was restored ten years before that.
Of course, after seeing the Senate, we visited the Cabinet. This piece is from around 1730.
The Ballroom was a 20th century addition, knocking down a couple of walls from the 18th-century Pages Room and Parade Room.
One room seemingly was more beautiful than the next. One of these was the Sala Quattro Stagioni, where they really went for Baroque.
Sala Quattro Stagioni was referred as the Cabinet Grande del Circolo (Great Cabinet of the Club). I thought that this room should have played a little Vivaldi. One could get dizzy looking at the ceiling.
Finally the Camera di Madama Reale featured numerous paintings.
Our photo of the room wasn’t so hot, so thanks to Museo Torino for this one.
The “Triumph of Madama Reale” is the ceiling’s centerpiece.
Exiting the building, we set our eyes on one last beauty, a flight of stairs called in 1740, “one of the most beautiful staircases in the world.” And it was.
Back outside, we caught one last glimpse of our first stop the following day.
Our feet suddenly went on strike, so we took a taxi back to Il Gioiellino, where we took another of our famous seven-minute naps.
Soon, we were taking the short walk to Osteria La Capannina, where we were met by the same gentleman, now even more dapper. “Law & Order,” I blurted out. The guy looked like the late, great Jerry Orbach.
Detective Briscoe (I mean, our Maitre D) showed us to our table and was personable as he was professional. Within a half hour, once again our restaurant of choice was filled to the brim.
When I opened the menus, my eyes lit up like a slot machine hitting the jackpot. “Pasta with White Truffles” ($25) jumped off the page and soon they were jumping in my mouth. Although not as sensational as Bovio, it still was good enough to earn a much-deserved “Wow.” I also ordered a delicious braised beef with Barbera and fried polenta in a red currant sauce. I love currant events.
Tracy was bowled over by her pumpkin soup with fried leeks and spinach, and she also loved her pasta with veal ragout and fried pancetta.
Mary and Kim opened with insalata mistas. Mary enjoyed her agnolotti pasta with butter and red hazelnut powder.
Kim was singing I’m Dreaming Of A White Pizza With Prosciutto and Chopped Pistachios and was kind enough to share with those of us who never get enough to eat.
Our waiter here was also stupendous, and our bill with a couple of glasses of prosecco (plus a bottle of wine) was €78 per couple. We enjoyed our meal so much that we booked a table for two nights later, only this time in the enclosed outdoor portion.
For perhaps the only time, I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.
That would prove to be fortuitous, because our next day in Torino would be another busy one.
We’d start at a fabulous palace containing some artifacts that were more the “Wow-worthy,” a historic church attached to the palace, a cinema museum to end all cinema museums and then take a visit to the largest Egyptian museum outside of Cairo. This would end up being one of our biggest walking days, so we were glad we ended with another delicious dinner that provided us with some surprising entertainment.
NEXT: DAY FIFTEEN – Breakfast With Venetians, Making It Reale, Fire In The Chapel, Horsing Around, Holy Shroud Batman, At The Movies, I Can Hear Music, Out Of Service, I Want My Mummy, I Can Hear Music (Part Due), Cab Shut Out, Slow Down Tom, My Dinner Of Wows and You Can’t Hold a Candle To This Decanting Method