A Day Trip to Susa

Sorry for the long absence…life got in the way…to pick up where I left off…I was in Turin taking in the sights of the Piedmont.

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My main goal for visiting the Turin was to visit the Arch of Augustus in Susa. Susa is a small town in between Turin and France. The train ride from Turin to Susa was probably one of the most beautiful of my life. Like Turin, it rained, but it rained on and off, and totally stopped long enough for me to hike out to my arch, do my thing, and then get back to the train.

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The building at the peak of that mountain is the Sacra di San Michele, a former Benedictine abbey (now run by another order), that dates to the 12th century. (Umberto Eco based his novel, The Name of the Rose, on this Abbey.)

The city of Susa was charming and small. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but my path to the arch led me through the town center…The town was super sleepy and not very populated…but that was okay with me. Like in Turin, while I was walking through Susa, I had a hard time believing I was in the same country as Naples.

 

A small sampling of the small town of Susa.

Finally, I found my arch. I knew it was in the mountains, but I had no idea just how beautiful of a site this arch occupied. The view was incredible, like ridiculously so. So ridiculously beautiful, I was moved to song. Now for those of you that know me well, I am usually singing. I also love The Sound of Music, and most musicals generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while walking around the arch and its surroundings (see the pic below of what the arch overlooks), thinking myself entirely alone, I sang loudly and at full voice the title song from The Sound of Music. IMG_1423

A few minutes into my warbling, I realized I was not as alone as I imagined. Hidden below the hill, was a large group of teenaged students on a tour of the town. I heard some applause, and promptly blushed in horror as the climbed the hill to explore my arch. A few of them smiled and said, “brava!” and the tour guide leading them gave me the biggest grin..many of them didn’t care. Never have I been more glad to be confident in my vocal talents, and it’s a story I’ll remember for forever. And honestly…WHO WOULDN’T BREAK INTO SONG AT THAT VIEW?

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Me and the group of students that caught me and my vocal stylings. 

After completing my work, I headed back to the train station and the sky opened up. I enjoyed the view again on my way back to Turin. I treated myself to a late afternoon gyro (when in Europe?) and enjoyed my last few days in Italy.

 

Turin/Torino

Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).

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The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.

I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.

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The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.

In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.

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My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.

I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.

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One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II

The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.

Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories

The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.

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Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus 

The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.

Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.