Torino doesn’t have the ruins of Rome, the cathedrals of Florence or the canals of Venice. It does have culture…and the largest open-air market in Europe. Oh, and Torino is Turin for you Americans.
If you’re going to take a trip to Italy, I wouldn’t consider putting Torino at the top of your list, especially with other destinations like Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast, to say nothing of other key cities. But if you’re on a budget and want a really good taste of Italian culture with not a lot of tourists, Torino is the place to go.
I originally went to Torino for two days to meet some friends I had made in Ghent, Belgium. I can’t say it was my favorite city in Italy, but two days once again turned into four as I wandered through the endless markets, tried the local cuisine (which is much cheaper than other places in Italy) and met some fantastic new friends whom I shall never forget. In fact, with the lack of a big tourist industry, there isn’t a lot to do other than meet and hang out with the locals. Which was great.
My favorite restaurant was Cianci. It’s a local favorite. You’ll need a reservation to get in at dinnertime because it gets so busy. The food there is really good, and the prices are fantastic. They don’t have a lot of choices on the menu, which honestly made it a lot easier to choose what to eat. (I personally don’t like restaurants where I spend ten minutes trying to choose my meal.) The other restaurants I ate at for apertivos, sushi or just a good coffee or gelato were equally good. And yes, I gave up waiting for Japan to eat sushi. I can’t abstain from one of my two favorite foods for that long.
Torino really is a market town, and sometimes it feels like walking around in one giant market. Porta Palazzo, a 51,000 m² square in the north of the city has the largest open-air market in Europe. You can find just about anything there, from food to fashion. Then on Saturday is the Balon flea market. I don’t think there is any way to quantify how big it is, but it looks like someone raided a few thousand homes and sprawled all their contents on the streets in categorized piles. Here you literally can find anything, and lots of it. Need a pair of shoes? There are hundreds. Need a screw driver? There are thousands. You simply can find any goods (or junk for that matter). I got a fairly new pair of Nike trainers to replace my boots which were falling apart. They won’t last me for a good hike, but they’re better than what I had. And €15 was definitely in my budget.
What made Torino most special for me were the friends I made. Not only were they extremely helpful in helping me to explore the city and learn the local ways, but we had some fantastic times together as well.
I had two rather interesting experiences in Torino worth mentioning. On Saturday it was forecast to rain. In the morning it was still sunny. So having not learned my lesson from Pisa, Rome or Venice, I went out in my shorts and t-shirt to enjoy the day. It was great until around 2 PM when it finally decided to rain. And not just hard; the water was bouncing a foot off the ground and people were literally being blown sideways. Of course I enjoyed it immensely, taking photo after photo all the while.
The second incident was a little more…well…challenging. The day I arrived in Torino, I went straight to the Porta Palazzo to see if I could find some new shoes. There were plenty to choose from, but none had decent quality. I left, planning to go to the flea market on Saturday, and it wasn’t until an hour later when I realized I had put my bag down to try on some shoes. I ran back to the market only to find the cart had packed up and disappeared for the day. I checked around with the other nearly stalls but not one of them spoke a word of English. Finally I got an old Chinese woman, through miming what I was looking for, to take me a few blocks away to another Chinese shop who called the owner of the stall. He came a few minutes later and we had to walk to another part of the city where the cart was stored. But the unit was locked, so it was more searching and waiting to find someone who had the key. Finally after two hours I had my bag and things were good again. Later I was told that Porta Palazzo is famous for things being stolen. I suppose it’s a benefit that I’m not one to get scared, angry or upset, but it wouldn’t have been great to lose my bag. Well, live and learn. I certainly won’t be losing track of my things again. No more bags carried by hand – only backpacks or ones secured to my belt.
And that was Torino. Like I said, not a lot to say about the city. But I’m really glad I went. Maybe I’ll be back someday. Who knows…