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Tag Archives: Savoy

Of castles and kings

29 Jan
Palazzo Reale, the royal residence in the heart of Torino at Piazza Castello.

Palazzo Reale, the royal residence in the heart of Torino at Piazza Castello.

Americans do not usually visit Torino (Turin in English), yet it is a remarkable city that deserves a closer look. We first visited in 2014. That year as a birthday gift for Ric, my train-a-holic spouse, I found the longest trip one could make in a high-speed Frecciarossa train from Roma: a little over 4 hours to Torino. As the ride was the objective, we only stayed one night (see “Motown Italy”). What a mistake. We decided to correct that.
Torinese architecture, the Museum of the Risorgimento in Palazzo Carignano, one of the Savoy Palaces.

Torinese architecture, the Museum of the Risorgimento in Palazzo Carignano, one of the Savoy Palaces.

Setting our sights on getting to know the area and seeing some of the museums as well as palaces of the Savoia, we slipped away this week for 3 nights. The charming B&B A Casa di Giò was our home. Here we found a quiet refuge, incredible hosts and, reinforcing my impression that Americans do not stop in Torino, we were the first American guests to stay in their home. Located near Piazza Castello, the heart of Torino, A Casa di Giò was perfectly located to explore the city on foot.
A typical porticoed street makes for nice shopping, protection from heat or rain.

A typical porticoed street makes for nice shopping, protection from heat or rain.

Torino is pedestrian friendly to a fault. Not once did a motorino creep up my backside as they do in Roma, and drivers actually yielded to pedestrians in the crosswalks. Lovely wide sidewalks under substantial porticos reminded us of Bologna, last winter’s city trip. The wide piazzas and generous parks combined with tree-lined boulevards reminded us a bit of Paris. No wonder! Napoleon’s occupation of the Piemonte resulted in a legacy that left the city of Torino with some of these grand public places.
Apericena is a thing in Torino as well as Milano. Buy a glass of good wine for €7.00 and you get a plate of savories at Mulassano. Stop a few places and you've had cena, Italian for dinner.

Apericena is a thing in Torino as well as Milano. Buy a glass of very good wine for €7.00 and you get a plate of savories at Mulassano. Stop a few places and you’ve had cena, Italian for dinner.

Who goes to Torino? It is very much on the radar of Italians and other Europeans. There’s a vibrant opera and the Piemonte region is also the home turf of the Savoys, Italian royalty that spawned several kings of the newly unified Italy in the 19th century. The patrimony of modern Italy is here. Castles and kings indeed!
La Mole Antonelliana. We tried to ascend, but were foiled by a Japanese film crew that had taken it over for a shoot.

La Mole Antonelliana. We tried to ascend, but were foiled by a Japanese film crew that had taken it over for a shoot.

La Venaria Reale is the Versailles of Torino. It is much easier to get to than Versailles, and far less crowded. We thought we would pass a couple of hours here. We could have spent much of the day! As the vast gardens were in hibernation, we chose to skip them and return sometime on a sunny spring day.
A sprawling estate dating to the 17th century, La Venaria was built as a hunting lodge. In its heyday, the stables housed hundreds of horses and dozens of hunting dogs. The estate has had a history of construction, destruction, additions and renovations so extensive that it is difficult to believe anyone had time to live here. Unfortunately, during the Napoleonic domination, the structures were turned into barracks and the gardens used for military training. The Italian military continued this tradition until 1978, after which it was ransacked to the degree that neither doors nor windows remained. We saw pictures of what a train wreck the property was just a couple of decades ago. Fortunately, those interested in preserving Italian history embarked on a restoration project and since 2007 it has been open to visitors.
This is how crowded La Venaria was.... Most of the people here are the same Japanese film crew we encountered at La Mole.

This is how crowded La Venaria was…. Most of the people here are the same Japanese film crew we encountered at La Mole.

I had some familiarity with the House of Savoy due to my work as a docent at the U.S. Embassy. The main palazzo at the embassy is called Palazzo Margherita as Queen Margherita of Savoy live in it for 20 years. This family has deep roots. Dukes and Counts, Marquis and Marquesses, not to mention Kings of Sardegna, Sicily, and Italy, this family dates back to 1003.
Ceiling detail, La Venaria Reale.

Ceiling detail, La Venaria Reale.

La Venaria is only one of many luxurious palaces ringing the city of Torino built, as the website states to create a refined “Crown of Delights” around the capital, as a demonstration of the magnificence of the House of Savoy. It is good to be the king.
A little something from the Egyptian Museum. Many of the artifacts were transported across the mountains from Genova in military wagons pulled by horses, 19th century style.

A little something from the Egyptian Museum. Many of the artifacts were transported across the mountains from Genova in military wagons pulled by horses, 19th-century style.

While we did not get to see any other palaces or castles from the interior (I can only handle so much majesty in a day), many are in use for other purposes, such as the Museum of the Risorgimento at Palazzo Carignano, and the Municipal Museum of Ancient Art in Palazzo Madama. This website has links to information about all of the Royal Residences.
We did manage to fit in a visit to the impressive Egyptian Museum, the second most important in the world for Egyptology enthusiasts (only the museum in Cairo is considered more important). A five-year renovation was completed less than a year ago, and the result is a well-curated, open, light, and engaging museum. Why is the second-largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Torino? It all started with a purchase by a Savoy King, Carlo Emanuele I in 1630…. Castles and kings indeed.

 

 

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A walk in the park

19 Jan
Sometimes a park is just a park. Sometimes it is Italian. Sunday we took a long walk in Villa Ada, Rome’s second-largest park (Villa Doria Pamphilj is the largest) and happened upon some photo-worthy sites.
To look at a map, Villa Ada is close to our home, but it’s a bit of a PITA to get into on foot. We’ve walked along the periphery many times and waded into the shallows, but finally, we had time and good weather on our side so we ventured a bit farther.
One of the busier paths, Villa Ada. We stuck to the woodsy ones, while most of the Italians embraced the sun.

One of the busier paths, Villa Ada. We stuck to the woodsy ones while most of the Italians embraced the sun.

The grounds and house were once owned by the House of Savoy, Italian royalty. From this family sprang four kings of Italy and also beloved Queen Margherita. Eventually, the estate was purchased by a Swiss gentleman, Count Tellfner, who named it for his wife, Ada. The Savoys bought it back again in the early 20th century turning it into the royal residence until they were ousted in 1946. In the 1950s, it became a public park.
Today Villa Ada is a sprawling landscape of paths, frequented by dog walkers and runners, but it also contains some surprises.
Egyptian Embassy, Villa Ada.

Egyptian Embassy, Villa Ada.

The Egyptian Embassy occupies the old royal residence. It was given to Egypt by the Savoys as a token of their gratitude for the assistance provided during their exile in 1946. Imagine walking through Forest Park in Portland and coming across armed soldiers guarding a foreign embassy. Yeah, it’s that weird.
Rounding a corner in a distant end of the park, we came across an equestrian center, 3C – Country Club Cascianese. There were riding lessons in session in the lovely January sun, and it has an air of exclusivity about it, although I always think that when horses are involved. Quite a contrast to the Egyptian Embassy.
Equestrian center, Villa Ada.

Equestrian center, Villa Ada.

We’ll have to go back to explore a few more paths, and there’s an entire quarter of the park we didn’t get to. Much like our beloved Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, after a few visits we should know our way around. 
In the category of NOT a walk in the park, we had an interesting visit to our bank this week. In fact, we had three visits in two days. Ric’s debit card was cracked and required replacement, so we ventured into the main branch of BNL on Via Bissolati. We had to wait about 25 minutes to be served (there’s a take-a-number machine), but the teller was able to give him a new card and PIN on the spot. We were impressed! No waiting for the mail to deliver it to our flat! Who says Italian systems are inefficient?
All’s well until we stopped at the market on the way home. With a huge line at the cashier, my BNL card wouldn’t work.  We trotted down the street to the Parioli BNL and tried my card in the ATM. The ATM took my card! Said it was deactivated! A very nice teller in this branch retrieved it only to tell me my card was no good, that I had to go back to the branch in the center to get a new one and that she needed to destroy my card. She cut it up. 
So off we went the next day to BNL on Via Bissolati. Here the teller told me that my card was perfectly good, according to the system. “It didn’t work yesterday,” I said. He asked to see it. “No, I told you, the woman on Viale Parioli took it and cut it up.” He told me she was wrong, and since I did not bring the card to him, we should file a denuncia (a formal complaint about the “lost” property) with the Carabinieri!
I was doing this in Italian, and I hate it when they tell me “no” because then I have to enter into the realm of the Italian argument, and my skills really suffer. I am just not that eloquent and my pre-rehearsed sentences collapse in a useless heap around me. But one has to push back. If you take the first no and walk away, you absolutely will make things harder for yourself. So I pushed back. “Just because his colleague at the other branch made an error, it should not be my problem,” I told him in grammatically incorrect Italian. Much to my surprise, he agreed and said “Well next time, bring the card here if it doesn’t work,” and he went on to issue me my new card and PIN. Thank God he backed down because I am no match for an Italian who is up for an extended negotiating session!
I am pleased to report that both of us now have access to our funds, but it certainly was not a walk in the park.
Click on the photos below for a better view.
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