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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                               Torino, Italy (part 2)

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Ciao! We left off last week here in Torino, Italy just after I checked into the plush Grand Hotel Sitea.

I had 30 minutes to chill before meeting the press group I was with in the lobby. I unpacked, showered (the water pressure was superb), lay down on the comfy bed and turned on the tube. I love checking out foreign TV. There were plenty of channels, and a few (including CNN) were in English. But I preferred the Italian ones. They’re channels I don’t get to see every day, as well as a way for me to start practicing my Italiano (which is almost hopeless). As I watched the Italian news I thought I was imaging things when I saw the weatherman wearing a military uniform give an incredible five-day forecast. I have no idea what was up with the military uniform, but I can tell you after he gave a forecast predicting temperatures 20 degrees above normal I felt like saluting him. For a second I thought he was quoting in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. 25 degrees Celsius converts to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so I jumped on the bed to celebrate.

Downstairs I met our PR host Pam Johnston, Lucia Coppo from the Official Communications Department of the Regional Council and Carol Bazzani (email: casamos@libero.it), our tour guide/translator for the entire stay. Carol used to live in Canada, so her English is as perfect as her Italian. A professional tour guide, her rate for three hours is 120 euros ($155USD); a full day (6 hours) costs 250 euros ($323USD). Having Carol was like being shown around by my college history professor. She knew everything but the type of trees. (That’s a joke -- I kept asking her what kind of trees we were passing. She had no clue, and neither did I.) She knew all the history, as well as the best places to go in the city. Once in a while she referred to the Turin TimeOut guide book for addresses or phone numbers. When I asked why she carried TimeOut, she said, “I wrote part of it.” Good answer!

From February 10 to 26, 2006, Torino and Piemonte are hosting the Winter Olympic Games. They are expected to bring a million sports fans to the area; millions more will watch on television. That’s a huge difference from the last time Italy hosted the Winter Games: 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Virtually the entire city is under construction. There is scaffolding on almost every major building. Interestingly, there are few new facilities going up. Instead they are renovating the old ones. I think that’s cool – it will make the experience much more authentic. Visitors interested in seeing the building sites of the 2006 Olympics can take Friday afternoon tours with Turismo Torino: Atrium Torino, 10121 Torino, Italy; tel. (011) +39-535181; fax: (011) +39-530070; contact@turismotorino.org.

The Olympic venues will be spread not only throughout the city, but the Piemonte region too. For example, the skiing events take place 45 miles away in the Alps. Plenty of tickets are still available for the Games, but if you’re looking for plush accommodations (3- to 5-star hotels), the Olympic organizers say they are already sold out. However, cheaper places can be found online here If you are in the U.S. and want to purchase tickets, contact the official U.S. broker CoSport.com (877-457-4647). If you live outside of the U.S., refer to the official Olympic website. For more information on the Torino Olympic structures, click here.

With the Olympics coming the one thing that the entire city (and my hotel) needs is more wireless high-speed internet. It’s so frustrating to visit a 4-star hotel in a major city, yet be unable to find easy internet access. Our hotel does have one computer for guests to use (and it’s free), but a slow connection will not cut it when the whole world comes next February for the Winter Olympics. Let’s hope officials make it a priority to turn the whole city wireless before the opening ceremonies.

The city is beautiful. It combines baroque and modern architecture with 2,000- year-old classical piazzas and castles. On a gorgeous spring day we strolled Torino’s most popular road, Via Roma. The city's main shopping street is where you find all the big names of Italian fashion and design. There are also one-of-a-kind boutiques – clothing, jewelry, leather and herb shops, plus everything you’d expect from a rich, noble past and fashionable residents. The other popular shopping streets are Via Garibaldi (the city’s longest pedestrian street, with plenty of book, perfume and clothing stores), and Via Po.

Via Po is named after the Po River, Italy’s longest (652 kilometers [405 miles] long, and 503 meters [1,650 feet] wide). The river runs right through the city of Torino, and it was there I saw the first of the Piemonte region’s many castles. I was fortunate to visit a few. You’ll read about them soon, but none was more impressive than Castello di Venaria, a former hunting lodge by the Savoys’ summer residence. This ridiculously huge palace will be soon re-open to the public. There are two miles of rooms, plus a magnificent church and beautiful gardens. Today it is Europe’s largest restoration project ($258 million), and will be ready for the 2006 Winter Olympics. It has to be, because the opening gala dinner will be hosted in the Diana Room (a gallery dedicated to the goddess of Diana, and connected to the Palace). For more info on Piemonte’s castles, click here. Castello di Venaria.

On our tour we walked by a beautiful cathedral named Il Duomo of Torino e Capella della Sacra Sindone. Carol told us the Shroud of Turin is inside. Jesus’ burial wrap is 14.5 feet long, 3.7 feet wide, and is made of linen of “herringbone” weave. What is amazing about the shroud is that it clearly shows an image of a man who appears to have been crucified. Unfortunately, the shroud is unveiled only every 25 years, and it was on display most recently in 2000. We went inside just to check out the covered jewel chest in which the shroud is kept. Located in the far left corner of the church, it is carefully watched by a guard who makes sure no one takes pictures or speaks loudly. Closer to the entrance is a photographic reproduction of the cloth. Pictures are allowed there. An expert nearby answers questions. For more information, including the history of the shroud, check out the Museo della Sindone, via San Domenico 28; tel.: (011) +39-4365832.

A few days later, on Palm Sunday, I was walking by the Cathedral. Outside – as at all the other churches in the city -- nuns were giving away olive branches. In the U.S. we celebrate with palms, but Italians use small branches from olive trees. The Turin Shroud Cattedrale di Torino; tel.: (011) +39-521-75-79.

It was time for my first food experience: lunch at Caffè San Carlo. It was there that I learned how different Northern Italian food is from Southern Italian (which is what I and most of the world is used to). Northern Italians do not eat a lot of pasta with tomato sauce. They prefer risotto, lots of beef, veal, buttery cheeses, salami and truffles. I am a picky eater, so I chose an array of snacks from the buffet: sliced roast beef, cauliflower with cheese, and vegetable quiche. I am not a big fan of risotto, but my colleague insisted I try hers with cheese. It was so good that I ate a whole plate. The only thing that bummed me out was when I bit into an unsuspected hairy anchovy in my vegetable quiche. Yuck! I hate anchovies, and for a second I thought I would gag. Luckily the waiter came just in time with an assortment of ice creams. They removed that fishy taste, and replaced it with pure delight. Cafe San Carlo: Piazza San Carlo, 156, Torino; tel.: (011) +39-532586.

We toured more of Torino’s clean wide boulevards. I learned Turin is famous for its café culture, as we checked out many small, cozy historic coffee shops. We ended up in one the most famous and oldest: Al Bicerin, founded in 1763. It is one small room, with decorated wooden walls and mirrors all around. Everyone sat close together around small white marble tables. The most famous coffee drink there and throughout Torino -- especially in winter -- is Bicerìn (pronounced bi-che-rin). It’s a concoction of thick, rich hot chocolate with a shot of espresso, topped with a layer of frothy cream. I don’t like espresso, but it looked and sounded so good. I could not take my colleagues’ moans of delight any longer; I broke down and ordered one. I felt guilty about breaking my four-week streak of not having chocolate for Lent, but this was something I had to do. I knew the following day we would tour a chocolate factory, and it would be impossible to leave there without eating a sample. Besides, I needed a burst of energy. I had slept only two hours on the plane, and the nine-hour time change was starting to catch up with me. After drinking that unforgettable Bicerin drink, I realized it would have been almost a sin if I had gone to Torino and not ordered one. I also realized you don’t need winter to order one of those bad boys. I’d get one any time of year. Al Bicerin Caffe also sells homemade flavored chocolate bars for two euros each. I definitely did not leave empty-handed. If you’re not familiar with drinking and ordering coffee in Italy: It’s totally different than in the U.S. Check out these tips. Caffè Al Bicerin; piazza della Consolata 5, 10122 Torino Tel (011) +39-4369325

We visited another famous coffee shop: Fiorio. At first I turned down the drink and dessert menu, but then I was told the place serves the best gelati in Torino. The long line of people backed up that boast and you know I couldn’t leave without trying their specialty; gianduiotto, a blend of chocolate and hazelnuts. What the heck, I had already broken my pledge -- I might as well go down in flames. A healthy scoop costs only 1.50 euros ($1.93 USD). Caffe Fiorio (Fine 700), Via Po 8, Torino; tel.: (011) +39-817-0612.

After every sugar high comes a low. You can bet mine was major -- especially considering the combination of no sleep and a time change. It hit me hard at our next stop, the Olympic headquarters. I was jonesing so bad for a nap, I was shaking. Luckily I was not at our hotel. If I had lain down on something comfortable I would have stayed there for 10 hours. That would have brought me to 3 a.m., and my sleep pattern would have been ruined. Instead, I told the group I had to make an important phone call. I went outside, and lay down on a cement bench. That 30-minute nap did me right!

I didn’t really lie, because I did make a few calls using the GSM phone I got a long time ago from Cellular Abroad. GSM phones can be used in almost every country (though not Japan or Korea). Whenever I go abroad I call (1-800-287-3020) Cellular Abroad and order that country’s SIM card. It gives me a local number, and talk time. What makes GSM phones superior to T-Mobile and Cingular (US cell phone providers with GSM capabilities) is that a local SIM card makes calling out much cheaper. You get a local number (so locals don’t need to call the States to reach you), and every phone call received is free -- regardless of where it comes from. A one-minute call from Italy to the States averages just 50 cents and local calls are just a few pennies. You can’t beat that!

We went back to the hotel, changed quickly and headed to a special dinner 25 minutes in the picturesque hills of Torino. Driving up one cannot help but notice the Basilica di Superga. A masterpiece of Baroque architecture, it was built in the first half of the 18th century. We stopped to see the incredible views. When the sky is clear, the entire city of Torino as well as the Alps appear to be within walking distance. The best way to get up there is by the historic Rack Tramway. Opened in April 1884, the cars were towed by a steam engine until 1934, when it was transformed to electric power. The cars are the originals from 1934 ones, but they have been completely restored. Warning: It’s a steep ride, with an average gradient of 13.5%. For timetables, click here.

The place to eat up there is Osteria del Paluc. Chef Marina Ramasso has transformed her downstairs house into a small ristorante. It’s expensive, though, so it is best for special occasions. Reservations are a must. Mrs. Ramasso loves cooking, and teaching her guests all about Piemonese food. We ate course after course of different types of salami, vegetables, meats, risotto with truffles (more on truffles next week), cheeses, wines, and too many desserts. At Osteria del Paluc I learned that cooks in this area tend to use more butter than olive oil, and sauces are served with meats and vegetables, not just pasta. I also learned not to eat for 2 days before dining there. Osteria del Paluc, Via Superga, 44, Baldissero Torinese; tel.: (011) +39- 940-87-50.

Next week we finish up our trip to Italy with a tour of one the region’s best chocolate makers, wine vintners, a very cool museum, and a restaurant that is like nothing else you have ever seen. Ciao!

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From Torino


Our Group





Olympics are coming!



Center of town

Motlo Bella


Via Roma

Beautiful Gardens

Reproduction of the Shroud

Olive Branches


Outdoor Cafes



More Gelati

Olympic Headquarters

Basilica di Superga

Osteria del Paluc

Say Cheese



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