We Still Didn’t Drink All The Vino: Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Return To Italy
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – SURPRISE AT THE BASILICA
DAY SIXTEEN – Get Me To The Tram On Time, Missed It By That Much, Going Superga-ga, “Are You OK Sir?”, Social Climber, Among The Tombs, Unexpected Private Tour, Somber Reminder, Directionally Challenged, Economically Challenged, You Can Never Have Enough Shrouds, Taking Sanctuary, The Magic Taxi and Our Final Fantastic Turin Dinner
Sometimes the tour leader screws up. Today would be one of those days, although the screw-up eventually led to an unexpected surprise. Clean living, I guess.
Once again, we met for breakfast in the lovely Il Gioiellino dining room. Our plan for the day was to travel about four miles and visit a famed basilica. Unfortunately, I came under the spell of Federica’s delicious cappuccinos, and when I looked at the time, I knew we might not make the 10 a.m. tram up.
We bade farewell, and although our taxi driver wound through the streets of Torino like something out of The Italian Job (thankfully he didn’t drive down any steps) …
… we arrived at the Sassi-Superga Cog Train station about 10:05. As they say, “That train had left the station.”
Not to worry, I thought. “They run every 15 minutes,” I told the crew. As 15 minutes went by, there was no tram. Taking a quick look at my notes (something I should have done while sipping my caffeine at the B&B), the tram takes about 18 minutes to get up to Basilica di Superga … they only run on the hour. This got me to worrying that we might not have much time since the literature I read said the basilica closed for a couple of hours around noon. As the others sipped even more caffeine, I paced and wondered if senility had finally crept in.
The Sassi-Superga Rack Railway climbs more than 1,300 feet. In 1934 it was converted from a train hauled by steel cables to a central traction rack railway, which has been restored and renovated throughout the years.
Finally, at 11 a.m., we hopped on this little narrow-gauge railway and the tram huffed and puffed up the hill to the basilica.
Speaking of huffing and puffing, deposited at the station on the hill, it was still a fairly steep walk to the basilica. Senility was now replaced by just plain old age.
While I’m resting from just thinking about that walk, here’s Basilica di Superga’s history in a nutshell: “Turin, 1706. The town is invaded by the French army of Louis XIV. The Piedmont’s troops and the Austrian allied troops are in trouble. The Duke Vittorio Amedeo II and the Prince Eugenio of Savoia-Soisson, leaders of the local army, climb the top of the Superga’s hill in order to observe from an elevated point of view the battlefield. In a small church, located on the top of the hill, the Duke kneeled in front of a Virgin Mary’s wooden sculpture and made a vow: in case of victory he would have built a bigger church in honor of the Virgin. After a hard battle the enemy army was defeated and the town was free. Vittorio Amedeo kept his vow, assigning the construction of the Sanctuary to Court’s Architect Filippo Juvarra. The preexisting church was demolished and the hill was lowed of approximately forty meters in order to built the complex. In 1717 the Sanctuary’s first stone was put down, and the inauguration took place fourteen years later in 1731.”
We walked inside, and darned if I still wasn’t winded by that climb. As I approached the altar, I must have made an “old-man sound,” because a young Italian guy came up to me and said, “Sir, are you feeling alright?” I have to get in better shape for Portugal next year.
The basilica includes six chapels, four altars and a main altar, while many of the sculptures and monuments are carved out of Carrara marble.
While we scoped those out, Kim was once again drawn to a dome.
It was at this moment I heard words to cause dread. “Would you like to climb up the staircase to the balcony? There are great views.” I could not turn down the challenge, even as Tracy was perusing our living trust. At the ticket office, they said we had about a half hour to climb the steps and get back in time for a tour I really wanted to take. “Let’s do it!” I replied enthusiastically. There are 131 steps that wind up a narrow, spiral deathtrap (it really wasn’t that hard). I had paid €3, and damnit I was going to climb it, which I eventually did.
The views of Turin and the countryside were pretty good even on a hazy day.
The architecture was also interesting to see from this vantage point. The bell tower has eight Corinthian columns.
I carefully walked down the staircase, hoping not to scrape all the skin off my blood-thinner arms, but thankfully Sir Bleed-A-Lot made it unscathed to the bottom. What I was most interested in seeing at Basilica di Superga was the tour of The Hall Of Popes, The Royal Tombs, the Chapel of The Infants and the Chapel of The Queens.
We met our guide, and although the entire tour was in Italian, he would come over and whisper in English some of the highlights along the way.
We could take photos in the Hall of Popes, but when we descended to the other part of the tour, photos were strictly forbidden (foreshadowing alert). The Hall of Popes contains 266 paintings portraying all the popes.
Yep, there’s Francesco with a few of this predecessors.
As we descended to the Royal tombs we were greeted by a white Carrara marble sculpture of St. Michael Archangel whipping Lucifer’s butt.
It was a great tour underneath the basilica (about 45 minutes), but we were disappointed we couldn’t take pictures. Our guide was very helpful to point out the greatest hits of the tombs in English. Back above ground, we were about to walk around the exterior of the basilica, when I got an idea (yes, it sometimes happens). My website had helped us secure tickets to The Last Supper … perhaps if I explained I was a writer (well, I guess you’re the judge of that) they would at least send me some photos from The Royal Tombs et al.
I asked the nice lady at the desk if that would be possible. A few of them huddled and conferred (like the referees should have done in the Rams/Saints game). The woman at the desk returned and said, “Yes, it will be fine for you all to go back and take photos.” Wow, I had just wanted them to send me some.
So back down to the tombs the four of us went, led by our trusty tour guide. “How cool is this?” I thought.
We paid our respects to Michael one more time. I thought I heard him ay, “Didn’t I just see you guys?”
It was off to revisit the Royal Tombs. Vittorio Amedeo III had the vision to build a place where his ancestors and descendants could lay in rest. Currently, there are 61 members of the House of Savoy buried here.
In no particular order we saw the tomb of Vittorio Emanuele I, the Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia in the early 19th century. At the foot of this monument is the tomb of Vittorio’s wife Queen Maria Theresa.
Next to Vittorio is the tomb of Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia, Vittorio’s father. His wife Queen Maria Antonia Ferdinanda is in the tomb below.
The incredible large tomb of Carlo Alberto I, who served as the King of Sardinia from 1831-1849, is prominently displayed in the center of the crypt. Carlo attempted to unify Italy until the time of his death in 1849.
There are four statues (two seen here) that surround his tomb. They represent Faith, Hope, Charity and the Genius of Fine Arts.
In the Chapel of the Queens, we find the tomb of King Charles Emanuel III of Sardinia, designed in the mid 1780s. There is an allegorical figure (the guy with wings and a helmet) called “Military Genius.”
There is a monument to Maria Teresa of Toscana, the wife of King Carlo Alberto.
Also in the Chapel of the Queens is the funeral monument to Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo della Cisterna (I think she wins for longest name, too), the wife of Amedeo Ferdinando, the King of Spain. Maria was of great help to the poorest women in Spain, and when she died they sent two handmade silk rose crowns, which are encased in the crypt.
The Chapel of the Infants houses the remains of 14 children and nine adults.
It was quite a time experiencing this area with just the five of us. We left a nice donation for their extra efforts in allowing us to return to take photos.
Back outside we looked at the columns up close and then up to the bell tower …
… and then walked to the back of the church where another memorial stands. This one to an ill-fated soccer team. In May of 1949, the Grande Torino football team’s airplane, on a return trip from a game in Lisbon, Portugal, crashed into the embankment of the Superga. In all, 31 people perished in the accident.
Since then, Superga hill has been a pilgrimage spot for people to come honor the team that won five consecutive Premiere Leagues and one Italian Cup. Photos of the team and scarves mark the spot. Each year, on the anniversary of the tragedy, “thousands of fans climb up the hill to remember the team.”
It was a gorgeous day …
… so we took one last look at this marvelous building.
We walked back down to the Superga station and waited for the next train.
Eighteen minutes down …
… and since there were no restaurants of interest in the area, we decided to go back to Turin.
As we soon found out, there were no taxis either. We decided we would take a tram back to town. Nearby were two stops for the tram, one going to the right … the other to the left. Mary, Tracy and I asked which tram we should take, and the guy pointed to the left. So, of course, when Kim asked which one we should take, Mary said the one that was headed to the right. Why, I don’t know, although that stop was located to the left.
We told Kim that the guy pointed to the left, and he said (and may I emphasize Kim said this), “Never in doubt, seldom right.” Yes, they are still married. So at the tram stop headed to the right, Mary and I asked a construction worker which tram would take us back to Turin. He answered, “The one across the street going left.” By that time, Kim and Tracy were already waiting at that stop.
The entire event reminded me of a bunch of directionally challenged San Diego State football fans visiting Notre Dame in 2008.
On the tram, we faced another dilemma … how do we pay? There was a machine for depositing coins, but we had no idea how much. Since no one spoke English, and our Italian is about as good as any of our other foreign langue skills, I didn’t have a clue what to do (something that should be inscribed on my tombstone).
Then one of us (I don’t remember who) said, “I think I read that transportation is covered in the Torino+Piemonte Card.” That sounded like a good answer, so we exited at the station near the Piazza Reale. Because we had donated money at the basilica, I didn’t feel too guilty, and since we were not struck by a bolt of lightning, we went in search of a restaurant after Kim and Mary bought some soccer gifts for their grandchildren.
By now it was after 2:30 and since we had early dinner reservations, we all decided to skip lunch and check out a couple of more Turin sights. When in Turin, it’s always “Shroud Time,” so we headed over to Museo della Sindone (Holy Shroud Museum).
There is an interesting 15-minute film to open, but Tracy and I only found the museum mildly interesting (I think Kim and Mary liked it more), including this piece that held the shroud until about 20 years ago.
No, I didn’t really draw on the Shroud. Just another Kim/Tom crazy tradition dating back to the caves in the Dordogne.
I was very interested in visiting the adjacent Santo Sudario, which was a private area where the Dukes of Savoy worshipped and where a copy of the shroud is displayed over a “gilded altar.” It was closed for renovation.
But there was still one more place of worship (I’ve got to count these up) nearby that looked interesting on paper … Santuario Basilica La Consolata. It was constructed in the 11th century and underwent a series of renovations in the 1700s.
A Romanesque campanile still stands.
We had really looked forward to seeing the Chapel Of The Grazie, but a funeral was taking place so we had to see it from afar. It looked beautiful.
Highlights included The Chapel Of St. Andrea incorporating an ancient altar …
… and, once again not surprisingly, a colorful ceiling.
We checked out The Small Choir Of The Two Queens (of the Savoy House) … Queen Maria Teresa (Carlo Alberto’s wife) and Maria Adelaide (wife of King Vittorio Emanuele II) who died at the young age of 33 after enduring some tough pregnancies.
True to its name, The Major Sacristy And The Corridor Of The Crucifix contains a crucifix from the late 17th century.
I think by now we had run out of churches …
I said farewell to St. Giuseppe Cafasso.
After a few more minutes we walked outside. By now Tracy had finally had her fill of walking, but this also seemed like a place devoid of cabs, so onward we trudged. By a miracle (perhaps all this church viewing had paid off), a taxi pulled alongside us. We looked at him with a hopeful glance, he shook his head “yes,” and we were off to the b&b. Another possible divorce moment averted. We all packed for tomorrow’s journey.
Returning to Osteria La Capannina for dinner, we observed that our waiter from the first visit was serving as the night’s maitre D. It seems Jerry Orbach had the night off. We were seated in the covered patio area as a light rain fell.
Once again dinner was good (but not quite as spot-on as the first night) and included my risotto with artichokes and gnocchi in cream sauce. I was now a full-fledged pasta consumer.
We’d hit the road tomorrow for our final destination. On the way we’d utilize that Torino+Piemente card one last time at another House of Savoy Royal palace.
About 90 minutes after that, we’d reach one of the most beautiful spots we have ever stayed. Orta San Giulio is gorgeous, and the location of our B&B couldn’t have been more perfect.
After arriving and downing a quick lunch (complete with what could have been a major injury), we’d hike up (with the emphasis once again on “up”) to our final UNESCO sight of the trip. Three out of the four of us would make it all the way up the hill, but we’d all get together in the evening for a late happy hour with another million dollar view.
Next: DAY SEVENTEEN – Where’s The Palace?, Venaria Disease, Quite A Hall, Going To The Chapel, Le Notre Gardens, What A View, Tracy Wipes Out, Chivalry Is Officially Dead, Ascending The Summit, Calling It A Day, Corkscrewed, Wine Shop To The Rescue, Going To A Garden Party and I Might Have Screwed Up … Again!