Throughout my semester in Spain every weekend trip
I’ve taken has been solo (not counting my program’s mandatory trip to
Tarragona). But for Spring Break I planned a two-week-long journey through
Northern Italy and the French Riviera with two of my best friends. It felt
exciting to explore grand European destinations with people I have known since
pre-school and 7th grade respectively. As we stayed in private
Airbnbs and even a hotel, it felt almost weird to have so much independence
when in many ways we still felt like the high-schoolers hitching rides from our
parents to the local ice-rink or each other’s houses.
Our trip included four stops in total. In Italy: Turin
and Genoa, and in France: Nice and Aix-en-Provence. Even when we weren’t on the
town exploring, we were having the best of times watching movies or preparing
dinner in our kitchens, and I can definitely see that in my writing. As I’m
revisiting and editing my reflections, everything is very… well, chronological.
Usually I minimize that type of order when writing, but I guess my mind is more
preoccupied with connecting themes and motifs when I’m solo travelling. But
diving right in, we’ll start where the trip began: Turin, Italy.
We arrived in Turin’s airport and immediately boarded
a surprisingly nice commuter train that would drop us off about 10 minutes from
our first Airbnb.
The apartment, dubbed the Wunderkammer, was full of
vintage curiosities. From two different typewriters to a quasi-functioning record-player
to endless old-world maps; it had a sixties style with modern comfort. About a
10-minute walk from the center of town and in a neighborhood that seemed to be
a center for much of the city’s immigration, it was a great home-base to
explore this Piedmontese capital.
Vanilla Cream and Fruit is the place to be in Turin
for vegan gelato. It has various flavors from fruit classics to more decadent
chocolate varieties (not just one dark chocolate sorbet but several types),
including a rotating special of sweet guacamole. I did sample the
avocado-inspired delicacy and it was pretty good but was a little too tart for
my tastes due to its bold lime flavor. Instead, I opted for a double scoop with
a sweet chocolate (rather than the darker more bitter variety) and pistachio.
It was a wonderful flavor combo, and I took in my scoops sitting in front of the
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a simple grey stone building that was
beautifully illuminated by the crescent moon.
The following morning was a royal affair. A breakfast
at La Caffeteria Reale, located inside the Turin Royal palace was the start to
our day. They offer two varieties of vegan croissants, one plain and the other
stuffed with what seemed to be a blueberry jam. Its regal environment was also
a beautiful accompaniment to the sweet pastry.
Even if you don’t partake in a meal at the on-site
restaurant, visiting the Turin Royal Palace is an absolute must. It’s opulent
rooms with constant accents of gold, dramatic frescos and ginormous tapestries
are impressive. Additionally, the complex is part of the Museo Torino which
includes admission to the cathedral of the holy shroud and renaissance art
Every Saturday Torino plays host to a farmer’s market.
Endless rows of fresh produce from all around the world are available to the
shopper. The hectic environment can at first be overwhelming but is also is host
to some amazing bargains like .54€ for a
whole loaf of ciabatta, 2€ for a one kilogram of particularly fragrant
tomatoes or an overflowing bag of a spinach from 1€.
The authentic market experience was a great place to pick up everything to
prepare our own dinner that night. My friends each bought different variations
of gnocchi whereas I opted for a fresh orecchiette, a pasta type traditionally
made with just durum wheat semolina and water. The vegetarian oyster mushroom
ragu (I declared it a ragu post-dinner) we prepared oozed with depths of flavor
despite our limited supply of spices (all we had was salt). As someone who
often eats out while travelling it was a nice reminder that you can experience
local food culture without eating at a restaurant.
The following day we took a long stroll to Park
Valentino. The extensive greenspace is a popular spot to run, skate and picnic,
but we ended up cutting our visit short when we all needed to use the restroom
and not even the pay-per-use W.C. was functioning. So instead, we made a b-line
to our other stop that morning: Miagola Café. Located in a trendy shopping
district of Turin, Miagola is populated by six particularly affectionate cats.
Clearly well-fed and very soft, the cats were unafraid to hop into customers’
laps and onto tables. You have to be careful to leave food/drink unattended
though, one of the cats particularly liked to sniff around abandoned cups and
plates. Perhaps it’s best that it’s also a vegetarian café, otherwise I would
imagine the kitties would often run off with whole bites of food.
Our time in Turin was short, and by the time we left we had only explored a very small area of the city. Our train towards Genoa left the Turin station in the afternoon and while we waited for its arrival we harkened at a dining oddity: a wild west themed restaurant. It is always fascinating to see how American pop culture has tackily permeated internationally.