October '19 - Refinement: Turin
Turin. I'll be honest, another city I had not heard about before looking at the map and plotting an approximate road trip route. It's in Italy, a reasonable drive (trying to keep driving times under 5hrs) and it's not Milan (not as my first driving experience in Italy thanks).
Typing the name into Google I was instantly convinced it was a place more than worth visiting, apparently not uncommon knowledge for Europeans. Yes I've heard of the Shroud of Turin but it offered a lot more than that (note the Shroud is not actually visible, you can see the encasement within which it's kept).
Turin is in north west Italy and close enough to the Alps that you can see the snow capped mountains from the city. It was actually Italy's first capital city, for 4 years in the 19th century. Before that it was a major European city and the capital of various kingdoms (e.g. Savoy, Sardinia). Today it's population is almost 1 million but it feels much smaller. It is also known for being the centre of Italian car industry, particularly Fiat.
The AirBnb was in a suburb of the city, to ensure there was private parking, a non-negotiable feature of accommodation in Italy for me. Absolutely zero chance of driving in/around the centre of these bigger Italian cities and returning the rental car unscathed! Road rules and Italian drivers are mutually exclusive, and parking ... ugh. It was a fairly gritty suburb and required 4 locked doors to get into the apartment, one door with a 4 prong bolt lock. But it felt safe and the car was safe, important. The car didn't move for 5 days (bus, tram, walking far easier).
On entering the centre, it was quickly apparent that this city is boiling over with culture and history, and dare I use the word, refinement. It's packed with galleries, cafes, churches/ cathedrals, castles, palaces, piazzas, and museums (including the tallest in the world), and most are located in/around stunning buildings that all have enormously long colonnades. Apparently Turin is known for these colonnades, they're incredible, I've not seen anything comparable before including in Rome. It's no surprise the city centre is partly UNESCO listed.
Turin also hosts Europe's largest open-air market (800 stalls over 50,000m2, open 5 days a week), a must-see for street photographers! It was like a giant sprawling creature slowly consuming multiple city blocks, once you're in the risk being that you'll never escape. As always for markets like this, it was full of lively characters. It actually felt more like a massive market in Nairobi given the dominance of Africans.
We did an enormous amount of walking in Turin, up to 20,000 steps a day according to the ever-watchful smartphone. However, walking was the highlight - exploring and taking in what really is splendor, particularly at night when the city turns it up a notch with all the street lanterns and illuminated buildings. The weather was excellent too, it's known to suddenly rain and rain a lot in Turin.
As a side trip, it was a visit to Milan. Didn't really have enough time to visit a place like Milan but got to some of the major sites: the huge Sforzesco Castle, the absurdly ornate / selfie-paradise Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II covered mall, the massive - and I mean massive! - Duomo / Cathedral of Milan and the completely over the top luxury shopping district. It's a great city, yes crowded with tourists, but impressive.
Just walking across the main square in Milian in front of the Cathedral would undoubtedly mean you'll feature in the background of hundreds perhaps thousands of selfies, some girls had specific suitcases with them and outfits just for the 'shot' (#Milan, NEXT!).
At the end of a long day in Milan I again realised how poorly I handle large crowds, so whilst it was an eye opening city, the next place on the itinerary was sounding appealing - the hilltop castle town of Montforte d' Alba, population: not many at all.
Clickable photo gallery below!