Believe it or not, I'm still not ready to let go of Christmas.
Yesterday I went into Canterbury with my Mum to look at the fairylights, sip cups of Christmas tea at Tiny Tim's tearooms and buy wintry ghost stories from Waterstones. I should have spent the day revising for the exams I have in exactly four days but sometimes it's nice to ignore "should"s and pay more attention to "what the hell!"s even if I am beginning to crap myself a little bit. Revision hasn't gone very well this time.
Another thing that I did this year whilst I should have been revising is go to Turin.
At the end of term, I flew straight to Milan to spend some time with Michele before going home for Christmas. My plan was to spend the days whilst he was at work with my head in my books and laptop to get the bulk of my revision done so I could enjoy Christmas.
Of course, life never quite works out the way we think.
It turns out, he had sneakily taken some time off work and booked us a little trip away.
We drove up to Turin on the Sunday and arrived just in time to have an early lunch at a little restaurant hidden just underneath the iconic Mole Antonelliana - conveniently called 'Sotto la Mole" (under the Mole).
It was a wonderful little place with a menu peppered with Slow Food symbols (the movement originated in Piedmont 25 years ago!)
Grissini (breadsticks to you and me) originate from Turin and make a nice appearance in Sotto la Mole's bread baskets. They were much lighter than usual breadsticks though, more like a nice crispy pastry than the breadstick as you know it.
We tried some typical dishes from Piedmont, some of which we had tried earlier in the year when we went on a long weekend in the Piedmontese countryside (which I still haven't managed to blog about despite it being about six months ago!)
Polenta with melted cheese (sorry, I don't know which, I just know that it was a local one and it tasted like a delicious farm!)
A reimagining of the bagna cauda (a typical Piedmontese sauce flavoured with anchovies, often served with vegetables to dip in) with a tarragon frittata.
Pumpkin gnocchi (a table of Americans came in after and I heard most of them order this - seriously good choice guys!)
Crusted lamb with potatoes (prepare to eat lots of meat in Piedmont)
And a wonderful cheese board with honey (and be prepared to eat lots of cheese if you're vegetarian!)
Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of our desserts; whilst mine wasn't the most aesthetically impressive it was definitely one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. A huge gianduiotto (normally a little chocolate made using hazelnut paste to create a melt-in-your-mouth piece of heaven except mine was the size of my fist) with pieces of pear and a caramel sauce inside. My. Goodness.
Speaking of impressive, this is the Mole, Turin's most iconic edifice:
Home to the cinema museum, it was our next destination.
Just before that, we tried to take a nice photo together. It didn't work.
We didn't even drink that much wine with lunch but for some reason it was just not working.
We were in Turin for the Sunday afternoon, the Monday and the Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, with Turin being in Italy and all, everything was closed on Monday (something that cheesed me off no end when I was living and working in Italy). Michele had an idea for Tuesday morning so that left us with the rest of Sunday for squeezing in the tourist sightseeing.
Starting off with a view of Turin from the top of the Mole:
We played a game; spot the direction of Milan, the smoggiest city in Italy.
Inside, the Mole is completely hollow.
A path spirals up the inside of it, making up part of the museum exhibitions. Through the centre of this colossal room, the lift shaft to the top cuts right down, giving you a brilliant view. It's slightly disorientating as you go up past the exhibitions and the people, up to the very top where the ceiling begins to narrow into that point so that it seems as if the walls are closing in to crush you.
The museum was really fun and interactive, starting with a history of cinema and animation ranging from shadow theatres to modern day film. There was a pretty cool display showing you the original method of projecting 3D images although it ruined my eyesight for the rest of the day! Then you move up into the awesomely huge room which has a few movie sets dotted about as well as comfy lounge chairs for you to lie back and watch films in.
We spent a good few hours in there and it was well worth it!
By now it was getting late so we only had time for a quick look at the Egyptian museum. It's the second largest collection in the world after the one in the British Museum so it's well worth a visit for ancient history buffs!
It was really interesting although I find it really hard to imagine how everything would have been when faced with cabinets and cabinets of artefacts. I think more museums should adopt a Disneyland-style aesthetic and really recreate the environments the objects would have been set in (Milan's Natural History museum is bloody excellent for this!)
The next day, of course, everything was closed.
We took advantage of this and had a long lie in before spending a few hours wandering around the empty city.
Gianduja (that hazelnutty chocolate I mentioned earlier) comes from Turin so we swung by one of the most famous chocolatiers in the city and bought some goodies to take home.
Apart from that, there wasn't all that much to do except wander around and look at some of the incredible architecture the city has to offer.
To me, Turin just cries out to be photographed in black and white.
After we'd had a little wander and a spot of lunch (more meat and cheese for us both respectively) we retired to the hotel spa. This was the first time in a spa ever for the both of us so you can imagine how it went; two awkward adults slightly out of their depth wondering how to turn the jacuzzi on and whether it's acceptable to play sharks in the pool.
I tried a sauna for the first and probably last time in my life. It felt like hell. Like, honestly as if someone was trying to cook me alive. It was horribly quiet apart from the occasional tick and crackle from the coals and it smelt like splintering wood and death. And it was so bloody hot. I do not fare well in the heat. I could not breathe.
Melodrama over, we tootled back to our hotel room and got dressed before heading out for the evening, when the city transformed into a huge luminous art show.
The city was bright and beautiful with the rain slicked pavements throwing the colours and lights back up at us. After a day in the sauna, it was pretty cold so we began combing the streets for a wine bar of some kind. Our luck was in and we found a brilliant little enoteca offering huge glasses of wine for as little as €3.
For dinner we stumbled across the street to Le Fanfaron. We hadn't really looked into where to eat that night and chose it pretty much because it looked cute and cosy inside and it was approximately thirty seconds walk in the bracing night air. It turned out to be an excellent choice and I wish I'd taken more photos. My salt-cod ravioli with onion sauce was absolutely delectable.
The next day was unfortunately our last. Tuesday morning brought with it a grand reopening of museums and exhibitions so we squeezed in the incredible Women of Vision exhibition from National Geographic. It's an incredible collection of photos and stories, all from female photographers, to celebrate their talent and their incredibly sensitive capturing of tales from around the world, be they related to women's issues, wildlife or vanishing societies. I bought the exhibition catalogue at a rather lovely €12 and will cherish it for a while.
Then we took one last look at Turin before saying ciao for now and hopping back in the car.
Back in Milan, we went for a walk around the city on my last night before flying home.
We were very excited (and hungry); we had a table booked at a very exciting new pizzeria. We walked past it a few times to have a look and could see a huge crowd of people waiting outside. Phew, we thought, lucky we booked!
Our table wasn't until quite a bit later so we carried on walking around, looking at the Christmas lights.
We wandered our way across the misty piazza and looked up at the colossal Duomo. Once the tallest building in Milan (and there used to be a law preventing any building being built higher) it's incredible to think that this cathedral took five centuries to complete.
I can't imagine something like this being created today.
We then had a little stroll down the newly polished Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
The tree had been decked out by Swarovski and was the most fantastically sparkly tree I've ever seen. The different colours in the photo below are from the light glancing off the crystals rather than coloured fairy-lights.
So, funny story. We headed back to the pizzeria (the one we had booked a table at... the one with the huge group of people outside hoping for a seat... anybody else got alarm bells ringing at this point?) where we were promptly told that we had definitely not booked a table as they didn't take bookings. Confusion. Hunger. Hangriness. Then horrible clarity as we discovered we'd called a different restaurant with a similar name followed by a walk of shame through the scorning crowd we'd just jostled our way through. Eek.
Instead we headed to a lovely little Sicilian restaurant just around the corner where we drank the most delicious wine by Donna Fugata and ate caponata and cassata and generally stuffed ourselves silly. And all was well.