Paris and the South of France Tour

Day 17 Sunday May 17, 2009

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What a layout!

Five o'clock found me awake and overflowing with energy. I turned on the light by the edge of the bed and labored over the computerized version of the journal. Sue awoke at 6:45 and asked if we were going to go to breakfast at 7 a.m. I, needless to say, had just decided to go back to sleep. Instead, I summoned up just enough energy to stumble into the bathroom to shave. I there discovered that my can of shaving cream was empty. I pitched it and lathered up with soap. It was a little messier, but it served the purpose.

Carrot, blood orange, and regular orange juice.

Sue and I went down to breakfast together. The Hotel Genio´s breakfast facility was far superior to any that we had encountered in France. It featured ham and prosciutto, plenty of fruit (including peaches, my favorite), seven or eight types of cereal, yogurt, breads, croissants, and other breakfast rolls. They also had scrambled eggs that were not runny. They had very good coffee and plenty of teas. They would even make you a cappuccino or caffè latte if you requested it.

Sue and I stuffed ourselves at breakfast so that we would not need to stop for lunch. We commonly used this tactic on trips on which we had to buy all of our meals.

Where did everyone go?

Sue behind the very tall statue in front of the Egyptian Museum.

I picked up one of the free copies of La Stampa that the hotel had arrayed on a table near the breakfast area. The big news was that A.C. Milan (Silvio Berlusconi’s team) had been upset by Udinese, a result that gave the championship of Serie A to Milan’s cross-town rival, Inter. I also discovered that the excitement in Piazza San Carlo on the previous evening had been about two events: 1) Mediaset had staged a talent contest among six professional singers and six dancers. At least one or two of the male singers had a large following of girls and women. 2) Nearby, producers of “Grande Fratello,” the reality show that had inspired the American show, “Big Brother,” had been conducting interviews for its next edition. Evidently tens of thousands of people had applied. Earlier in the day, there had also been a gay pride parade. Ho, hum. Just another day in Turin.

The Roman wall in the basement of the museum.

Our plan for the day was to visit Turin’s number one attraction, the Egyptian Museum, and then do whatever we felt like doing. There were a few local culinary specialties that I had read about and wanted to try – the coffee/cocoa drink call bicerin, the chocolate-hazelnut concoction called gianduiotti, and the veal tonnato. I needed to take a little nap first, so we did not step out of the hotel until a little after ten.
Engraved hieroglyphics.

What a contrast! Almost no one was on the street, and practically no store was open. It occurred to that we me might actually have trouble finding a place to eat supper. Our excellent dinner of the previous evening had convinced us to abandon our original plan of having a really nice meal in the evening. We found ourselves craving good old real Italian pizza, and it seemed likely that our chances of finding a good pizza place that was open were better than our chances of finding a good restaurant that sold Piedmont cuisine at a reasonable price. I had checked the Fodor´s book, and most of the recommended restaurants were indeed closed on Sunday.

The basement contained a number of dioramas depicting Egyptian life.

A stone sarcophagus was covered with hieroglyphics.

We walked down Via Lagrange toward Piazza Castello. We saw very few people and almost no open shops. After we had traversed eight or ten blocks, we eventually stumbled upon the Egyptian Museum, which shared a building with the Galleria Sabaudia,[1] the home of the Savoy family’s art collection. There was not much of a crowd yet. We bought our ticket and entered.

The number, size, and quality of the stone statuary were stunning.

Dozens of statues received dramatic presentations.

This museum had an unusual layout. Visitors were allowed very few choices about which rooms to visit. A one-way route was pretty much prescribed for everyone. A couple of rooms on the ground floor emphasized Egyptian history and archeological discoveries. Then you had to descend into the basement, which had some interesting dioramas and a few stunning exhibits. On the other side of the basement a staircase led back to the ground floor. Then you had to climb another set of stairs to the first[2] floor. After that you must descend to the ground floor, on which were located the bookshop and exit.

The collection was stunning in many ways. The sheer number of objects boggled the mind. The very large statuary were spell-binding in their size and in their artistry. Dozens of sarcophagi and mummies, including mummies of cats and other animals, were on display. Papyri and scrolls of hieroglyphs covered several walls of the museum. I have never been that interested in the history of ancient Egypt, but for those who were, a wealth of timetables and historical data were presented in both English and Italian.

The sphynx on the right is a reflection.

The biggest surprise of the museum was a Roman wall that had formed the boundary of the ancient town of Taurinus. The fact that this was to be found in the basement made it pretty clear that modern Turin must sit several meters above the Roman city, a phenomenon that Sue and I had witnessed in Kraków and elsewhere.

Sue devoted a considerable amount of time to poring through the hieroglyphs looking for evidence of bunnies in ancient Egypt, but her efforts were not very fruitful. She was tempted by depictions of jackals and many squiggly glyphs that looked like snakes with antennae or maybe snails without shell.

One great thing about the museum was that it provided a few places to sit down and rest. Something about moving at that very slow museum pace on the very hard surfaces has always tired me out.

Halfway through the tour our route intersected with the path for the Galleria Sabaudia. We discovered from a sign that was still posted there that we could have gotten into the art museum for free on the previous night. If we had known that it was free, we might have gone.

The baboon guarded the staircase.

While we were in the museum, we heard a parade or something go by. I thought that the music sounded like bagpipes. We looked out the window, but we did not see anything.

Pets in urns.

The top and bottom of a sarcophagus.

Women got the royal treatment, too.

The museum was truly fantastic, but after a few hours we had seen about as much of ancient Egypt as we could absorb in one day. Sue went to the bookstore to look for postcards. I adjourned to the lobby to look for a place to park my rear end.

A three-layer sarcophagus.

Mummy with fingernails.

A mummified brain.

Sue had a little difficulty deciphering one section of the Book of the Dead.

A sarcophpagus of a bird.

This chair had feet.

Dog mummies.

While I was sitting on the bench I noticed that the signs in the lobby advertised the “Museum” and “Bookshop,” not “Museo” and “Libreria.” This was especially puzzling because I had read that in Turin, unlike in most of the large Italian cities, not everyone spoke English. Furthermore, the museum seemed to draw a lot of young students from the surrounding area. Presumably they would understand Italian much better than English.

I was quite amused by the antics of a chubby adolescent who was part of a group of kids loosely assembled in the lobby. He was chasing a young girl in a half-hearted way. I detected roughly equal portions of flirting and menace.

From an open window on the first (i.e., second) floor of the museum we had been able to view Palazzo Carignano, King Victor Emmanuel II’s birthplace. We could also see some outdoor cafés down in the piazza. We decided to see if we could get a bicerin in one of them.

Cat mummies.

This was once a crocodile.

While Sue was in the bookshop looking for postcards, I deposited my keister on the bench and observed the nearby statues and the mass of humanity. I was diagonally across the lobby from the bookshop, so I spotted Sue when she finally exited.

No bicerin seemed to be served at the cafés in Piazza Carignano. We decided to go to the Mole Antonelliana, a building with an unusual squared-off dome. It was apparently designed to be a Jewish synagogue, but it never served that purpose. The best views of Turin were from the dome, which could be reached by elevator.

Piazza Carignano.

We were disoriented when we left the museum. After a few miscues we walked down Via Carlo Alberto toward Teatro Regio, the famous opera house. On Via Po we found Caffè Roberto. The operator said that he would make up a bicerin for 5€. We sat down, and we each ordered one. It contained a layer of chocolate, then a layer of coffee, then a layer of whipped cream.. It was pretty good, but I would never spend that much for it again.

We followed Via Giuseppe Verdi past the Teatro Regio. I was shocked to see so much grafitti on the walls of the opera house and even more across the road from it. The season was not over, but there were no operas being performed either evening of our stay. By coincidence, The Queen of Spades,[3] the same opera that was shown in Budapest when we were there in 2007, was scheduled to begin the next week. I assumed that they would be doing the Russian version. How weird would that be – attending a Russian opera in Italy?

The old man did not seem to thrilled with his bicerin.

The newlyweds loved Turin.

We walked up the street toward the Mole Antonelliana. On the way we passed the very large building that served as RAI’s headquarters in Turin. At the Mole there was a thirty-minute wait to get into the eight-person elevator to go to the top of the dome. The elevator ride cost 4.50€ each, and there was no other way to reach the dome. After twenty minutes or so, Sue got very tired of standing in line. There was a sitting area at the very end of the line, and she snagged a seat as soon as she could.

In front of us in the line was a guy who stood at least 6'5”. He appeared to be by himself. Along with five or six other people, the three of us jammed into the elevator car, which had a human operator and glass walls. In the past riding in transparent elevators has occasionally made me uneasy, but this time the ride up was no problem at all. We passed through the Cinema Museum, which was housed in the same building. From the elevator we could see posters of Rudolph Valentino, whose films the museum was featuring.

The opera house.

RAI´s office building.

Our first view of the Mole Antonelliana.

The line for the elevator.

The views at the top were impressive.

I was surprised to see the big guy standing in line to come back down only about a minute after we arrived at the viewing area. I could think of no reasonable explanation as to why anyone would stand in line for thirty minutes to be squashed in an elevator only to come right back down as soon as he reached the top. If he were not so tall, I might have suspected acrophobia.

We located the Po River in order to orient ourselves. Then we found the train station and the other landmarks that we had seen from ground level. We took plenty of photos and movies from every direction.


The deck was crowded with tourists.

The elevator.

We descended through the Cinema Museum.

The ride down in the elevator seemed much faster than the trip up had been. Most of the people in our car were Japanese. A few of the women seemed pretty scared.

At first, we thought that the policemen were part of the demonstrations.

We did not have much interest in visiting the Cinema Museum, so we began the long trek back to the hotel. We did not have anything specific on our agenda, but if we came across a place that sold gelato, we might be tempted.
The animal skeleton somehow symbolized global warning.

The protestors were evidently opposed to the G8.

We came across a group of young people who were protesting something about the G8. Theu were accompanied by an impressive phalanx of policemen in riot gear. In fact, it would not be surprising to learn that the cops even outnumbered the demonstrators. It was hard to determine the protesters’ objective. They were surprisingly low key. There was no shouting at all. Many of them were dressed in costumes. I don’t think that I would dress like a clown if I really was interested in changing the government’s policies. The whole thing seemed more like performance art than protest.

The protest was certainly peaceful.

Precari were part-time workers with very limited legal rights.

Sue’s desire for a gelato had metamorphosed into a craving. It was not nearly warm enough for me to consider eating ice cream, but I, too, was ready for a break. Unfortunately, hardly any stores or restaurants that we had passed were open on Sunday. We decided that we might have a better chance on the main pedestrian street, Via Roma. After we made our way back there, we rather quickly found an outdoor café with gelati called ParadIce.

The two ladies with their empty gelato bowls are to Sue’s right.

We discovered that not everything in Turin was reasonably priced. Sue ordered a fruity concoction that went for 8.20€. She was hoping that it had currants or raspberries, but it contained only cherries. The waitress brought her a sampling of some cherries to taste to see if she wanted it. She decided to get it. It was too chilly for a gelato for me. I got a beer for 5€.

We sat next to some ladies in dresses whose ice cream cups were already empty when we arrived. We seated ourselves so that we could watch the people in the street. The ladies were looking in the opposite direction. They were still there when we left, and they never ordered anything. We could see a little cigarette smoke coming from a few tables away, but it was not too bad. We departed ParadIce poorer but more refreshed.

We ambled back up Via Roma to the hotel. I took a shower, and we both took naps. Sue asked the desk clerk for advice about pizza places within walking distance that served real Italian pizza and were open on Sunday. She mentioned a couple. We settled on one with the unusual name of 011 that was about three blocks from the hotel.

Our yen for real Italian pizza was four years old.

The guy who greeted us when we arrived acted as if he were the owner or manager. He apologized that his English was not too good, and he told us that his cook was from New Jersey. There was only one other couple sitting outside even though the weather was quite pleasant. Sue and I both ordered pizza and beer. Sue got the gorgonzola and speck pizza that Tom had ordered in Villefranche-sur-Mer and a dark beer. I chose my usual anchovies and capers accompanied by a light beer. The pizza only cost 5€, and it was quite good.

I asked our waiter what “011” signified. He explained that it was just the area code for Turin. While we were waiting, he brought us a plate of polenta, which he “offered” to us for free. We never pass up free food. He did not tell us what it was, but we figured it out.

After the meal was over, he offered us a drink, but we turned it down.[4] The total bill came to only 27€, including the 4€ cover charge. For that we got two pizzas, an order of polenta, and two large beers, we got to consume them in a very pleasant sidewalk café atmosphere, and we had extremely attentive service. It was easily the best bargain of the trip.

Even Italians drink beer with pizza.

The last piece of polenta.

Asciughe for me; speck for Sue.

As we were about to leave, I looked inside to see if I could see the fellow who served us. I was going to tell him that his prices were too low, but he was nowhere in sight.

Stan was evidently still the man in Italy.

We walked back to the hotel in a really good frame of mind. We both had had a really good time in Turin. It was relaxing enough for Sue and interesting enough for me.

Many establishments in Turin, including the Hotel Genio, had neon signs that were backwards when viewed from one direction.

As we passed a shoe store, I was startled to see on display in the vetrina an Adidas Stan Smith-model tennis shoe. I had worn Stans for everyday knocking around for many years back in the eighties and nineties, but I had not seen them in stores for ages. I have identified closely with Stan Smith, who, despite the fact that he was almost two years my senior, was drafted into the army at about the same time that I was. My understanding was that he had spent his entire hitch in the Special Services[5] giving tennis lessons. I would bet, however, that I was discharged with a better collection of stories.

Sue inquired at the desk about arranging for a taxi to transport us to the Porta Susa train station in the morning. The lady told her that it would be about a five-minute cab ride to Porta Susa, and the taxi would arrive within five minutes. We packed up and went to bed.

[1]  “Sabaudia” is the adjectival form of the name of the Savoy family, the ancestral rulers of Piedmont. King Victor Emmanuel II conquered the rest of Italy in 1870 and had the good sense to make the new country a constitutional monarchy. King Victor Emmanuel III was dethroned after World War II largely because of his support of Mussolini. Turin and the vicinity still feature many palazzi and other structures that the Savoys built.

[2]  Italians, like the French, do not count the ground floor when they number floors in a building.

[3]  An opera that I have never seen and certainly would have attended in Budapest if I had not been so dense.

[4]  Sue later told me that she did not understand that he was giving away free drinks. She said that she would have accepted his offer.

[5]  Not to be confused with the “Special Forces,” also known as the Green Berets. Special Services ran the army’s gyms and bowling alleys.