J&D's Travelog


Turin, Italy

February 17-20, 2006

D was wrapping up his temporary assignment in France, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity of making the short trip to Turin to attend our first Winter Olympic Games. So without the tickets that were supposed to be delivered but never were and a semi-confirmed hotel room in the heart of Turin, we made our way across the Alps (or through them as the case may be) to spend a few days at the temporary focal point of winter sports.

Palazzo Reale
The royal palace.

Twin churches
The twin churches in Piazza San Carlo.

Porta Palatina
One of the entrances to the Roman camp.

Garibaldi and Sant Maria del Monte
Garibaldi and Sant Maria del Monte.

Gran Madre di Dio
Gran Madre di Dio perched along the Po.

Green Count
The Green Count in front of the city hall.

Mole Antonelliana
The Mole Antonelliana dominates the Turin skyline.


Via Pietro Micca
Splendid architecture and arcades along Via Pietro Micca.


Duomo de San Giovanni Battista
Duomo de San Giovanni Battista.


Over the years Turin grew from a Roman outpost to the capital of Italy to a modern industrial city. To protect the northern frontier from the Gauls, Julius Caesar founded a military camp in the Piemonte region of Italy. Named Castra Taurinorum after the taurini or mountain people that inhabited the area, it eventually grew to the city called Torino. After the Romans, it was subjected to a number of rulers including the Goths, Franks, Lombards, and the Church until it finally ended up in the hands of the House of Savoie whose territory included most of the western Alps from north of Geneva to Nice. In 1559, the Savoie dynasty moved its capital from Chambéry on the French side of the Alps to Turin bringing with them their most prized possession of the Holy Shroud. The shroud or sindone is currently kept in the Duomo de San Giovanni Battista but won’t be on display again until 2025. Turin flourished under Savoie rule which directed the construction of Baroque palaces and churches as well as the nearly 11 miles of arcades found throughout the city center. Through marriages, treaties, and land swaps, the House of Savoie eventually became kings of a united Italy under Vittorio Emanuele II in 1861, making Turin its first capital before it was moved to Florence and ultimately Rome.

Modern Turin became an Italian industrial powerhouse with the 1899 founding of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, more commonly known as FIAT, Lancia in 1909, and Kappa clothing in 1916. Turin was the birthplace of the Italian cinema industry as well as media giants such as RAI telecommunications and the La Stampa newspaper. A list of native sons and daughters of Turin would include Amedeo Avogadro, the Agnelli family (founders of FIAT and owners of Juventus), Vincenzo Lancia, Alessandro Martini (famed vermouth tycoon with partner Luigi Rossi), Umberto Tozzi, and Carla Bruni.

Turin is also well known in culinary circles as the birthplace of solid chocolate. Prior to the 18th century, chocolate was limited to the affluent society and still consumed as a drink. It was the House of Savoie that introduced it to Turin from their connections in Spain. In 1778, the first machine to create a chocolate paste was developed in Turin enabling chocolate to be consumed as a solid. In the 19th century, the Napoleonic wars made cocoa beans increasingly more expensive and difficult to obtain. In Turin, easily obtainable hazelnuts were ground and added to the paste resulting in the distinctive gianduiotto chocolate for which Turin is now renowned. A century, Pietro Ferrero created a spreadable version in Turin, now known as Nutella. Another wonderful Italian confectionary, nougat or torrone, is also reported to have its origins in Turin where, since pre-Roman times, the locals used to consume a paste made from pine nuts and honey. Chocolate is also a primary ingredient in the drink first made popular at Turin’s oldest café, Al Bicerin.

Holy Shroud
The case containing the Sacra Sindone.

Caffe Al Bicerin
Al Bicerin first opened in 1763.

A Bicerin - chocolate, coffee, and milk.

Torino 2006 Symbol
Host city of the XX Winter Olympiad.

Gliz and Neve
Y'all come back now.

Turin's Olympic Stadium
Stadio Olimpico.

The Olympic Experience

Getting to Turin has always been eventful for us. This time we found ourselves waiting for a train at the Chambéry gare when we should have been waiting for a bus across the street. D had failed to notice that what he thought were train tickets were actually bus tickets, a minor point that the French rail ticket agent also neglected to mention. Nevertheless, we arrived just in time for Friday evening rush hour and to hustle down to the Olympic Stadium to pick up our tickets that never arrived in the mail. Tickets for one event safely in hand, we looked at some options to supplement our bounty – maybe ski jumping, speed skating, giant slalom, or short-track? No, only women’s hockey and curling were available. We decided to stick with what we had and try again in the morning.

Turin had prepared well for the occasion. The construction that permeated the city in November when D had visited was all but gone. Streets had been closed to cars in order to accommodate the additional foot traffic generated. Plenty of extra buses and trams were put into action to move spectators to and from the Olympic venues in the southern part of city. Stores extended their hours. Streets and piazzas were decked out with lights to commemorate the event. We joined the flow of tourists up the Via Roma and into the Piazza San Carlo to take in the Olympic atmosphere. The piazza was buzzing with visitors displaying their colors – drunken Swedes singing, drunken Russians singing louder, and Japanese taking pictures of it all. As we moved on to take in Piazza Reale, expecting even more festivities, we were disappointed to see that it was completely surrounded by barricades. Turin’s hub was being used to host the medal ceremonies and some weekend concerts such as Paolo Conte, Whitney Houston, and Anastasia. Consequently, the piazza had been sealed off for security reasons. Passing through security checkpoints would be an underlying theme throughout our visit – an unfortunate sign of the times.

One of the logistical drawbacks of a Winter Olympics is that most of the events don’t take place in the host city but rather in the surrounding mountains. In the case of Turin, the mountain events were a two-hour trip away, not to mention the 45 minutes required to pass through security, making it challenging to go to an Alpine event and then one in Turin on the same day. In town, one could only choose from hockey, speed skating (both varieties), and figure skating or ice dancing – both of which have no place in the Olympics anyway. One critical thing to know if you decide to go to an Olympics is that it is all about the pins. Pins can be used as currency, similar to beads at Mardis Gras. People are either selling them, trading them, or asking for them everywhere you go. J had orders to bring home an Olympic lanyard and when she tapped a member of the Japanese media on the shoulder to inquire where he had gotten his, he confusingly thrust a pin at her.

Turin's Olympic flame
Turin's Olympic flame.


Orange sticks
Scrolling orange sticks scattered around town.


Olympic pins
Pin peddlers.

Turin's Olympic sponsors' villiage
Inside the Sponsors' Village.

Piazza San Carlo
The big screen at Piazza San Carlo.

Olympic pins
It's all about the pins.

Jagrs everywhere
There were Jagrs everywhere.

Finn fans and Czech fans
Adversaries compare costumes.

Olympic self-portrait
Olympic self-portrait.

Looking for Category C seats
Looking for Category C seats.

Olympic prayer
A prayer to the Olympic gods.


Having spent the day sightseeing and absorbing the Olympic experience, it was finally time to see an event. We were fortunate to have tickets for the Group A hockey match-up between the defending world champion Czech Republic and Finland who were red-hot following 5-0 and 6-0 victories over Switzerland and Italy respectively. An additional bonus was that the game was held at the Palasport Olimpico within the confines of the Olympic Stadium complex. The hockey arena is as marvelous from the outside as it is from the inside – bright, shiny, and brand new – with vertical seating to give excellent views of the action. We were somewhat disheartened to see that our more €40 Category B tickets meant we had to watch from the rafters and through the netting hung to protect us from errant pucks. We never figured out where Category C seats were located.

The atmosphere was charged with Czech fans draped in flags and Jagr and Hasek jerseys. Finn fans were clearly outnumbered about 4 to 1 but shouted Suomi chants and wielded inflatable blue and white hammers to make up for it. The game itself was fast-paced with few stoppages, superior to most NHL games we’ve attended. The Czechs, who were among the favorites to win gold in Turin, had already lost Dominic Hasek to a leg injury and then lost Jaromir Jagr in the second period when Jarkko Ruutu slammed him into the boards. Jagr lay on the ice bleeding for five minutes while the referees peeled off Czech players that had piled onto Ruutu. In the end, the Finns were too much for the Czechs and extended their unbeaten streak with a 4-2 victory.

Turin's Palasport Olimpico
Inside the new Palasport Olimpico.

Selanne and Jagr
Selanne and Jagr warm up.

Ruutu takes Jagr down
Jagr stains the ice.

Curling in Pinerolo
The curling venue in Pinerolo.

Curling sheets
Eight teams on four sheets.

Curling action
There was action everywhere.


Our train back to France did not depart until evening, giving us the better part of a day to satiate our appetite for Olympic action. There was only one thing to do – go see some curling. The curling competition was early in the morning and scheduled for Pinerolo, about 30 miles from Turin, so we had to take the train. As it was an impulsive decision, we had no tickets and were therefore in the unusual situation of being in need of a curling scalper. Our prayers were answered when we spotted a shady-looking Scottish bloke who was looking to offload some tickets. The deal done, we got in line for the security checkpoint, looking around to make sure we hadn’t been observed by the carabinieri. We were closely inspecting our tickets for authenticity, when the gentleman in front of us asked if we were big curling fans. We admitted our ignorance and asked for any insight he could offer. It turns out that not only was our line mate from Bemidji, Minnesota – the curling capital of the US – but he was also the father of Joe Polo, a member of the US team. In fact, half of the men’s and women’s US team members hail from Bemidji.

Once safely inside, we took our seats as the teams took the ice. We had watched some curling before and were familiar with the gist of the game, but we were both very impressed with the amount of action going on among the four sheets (curling terminology) being used. In fact it was hard to follow one game without being distracted by another. The Italian fans were going crazy at every throw from the home team. The USA was poised to enter the medal round with a win but had the unenviable match-up with Great Britain whose team was stacked with Scots, inventors of the game. The young Bemidjians took an early lead and never looked back. All of the games we witnessed that morning went down to the wire. The Germans edged the Swedes while the Finns finally silenced the Italian crowd to notch a win and a share of first place. Even the Norwegians had to fend off a tenacious effort from New Zealand but sent the hapless Kiwis to an eighth consecutive loss.

Curling on the big screen
Overhead views on the big screen help fans follow play.


Rowdy curling fans
Rowdy American fans celebrate a win over the dreaded Scots.

A game of inches
A game of inches.

US boys sweep to victory
The US boys sweep to victory.

Curling strategy
Intense strategy.

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