Turin: Day 1 – Planes, Trains & Curling Games

We arrived home last night from an incredible three days in Turin, Italy. Originally, our main goal in going was to watch the Olympic curling finals, and in that our athletes did not disappoint – the Canadian women’s and men’s teams won the bronze and gold medals respectively. What we found once we arrived, however, was an incredible adventure chock full of memorable characters, including but not limited to an inebriated Olympian offering dining advice, a sports enthusiast sporting nothing more than a rubber chicken, and a witch riding a wild boar to a castle in the clouds.

To put it plainly, there’s a lot to write about.

As such, I’m going to split up the recounting of our trip into a few pieces in order to allow myself a bit of sleep and to offer to you, dear reader, comfortable bite-sized servings of our vacation.

But, enough with the introduction. Andiamo!

Thursday, February 23:

The alarm went off at 3:30am.

Our decision to prepare our bags for our trip the previous evening gave us the “luxury” of stumbling straight into our shoes and shuffling zombie-like to the Cambridge train station to catch the early service to Stansted Airport. Upon arrival, the check-in process was incredibly easy and we spent a good hour and a half sitting in the boarding lounge awaiting our flight.

It was in the waiting lounge that we had our first taste of the good humour and boisterous nature of the Italians. A flight bound for Palermo had completed boarding but was still missing two passengers, a fact made known to all in the lounge over the public-address system. Every few minutes, the Italian check-in clerk would come onto the PA system to request that the missing passengers make their way to the check in desk immediately, as their plane was about to leave. However, as time wore on, the clerk began to have some fun, extolling the virtues of lovely and scenic Palermo to all in the lounge, and advising anyone wishing to experience this wonderful place to approach the service desk.

At the last moment, the two passengers in question came hurtling through the lounge and straight onto their plane, and our flight to Turin began boarding shortly afterwards. Onwards!

Had Ikea ever been asked to design a plane cabin’s color scheme, I think it would’ve looked a lot like ours.

Bright yellows and blues were the colours of choice for everything from the overhead baggage compartments to our seat-back trays and armrests, a design choice that could’ve lead to a staggering headache had I not a window and a fantastic vista to keep my attention.

Our ~2 hour flight from Stansted to Turin took us over the Alps and near to Mont Blanc, offering us breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks pushed up through cloud cover. My attentions were pulled away from the landscape only briefly when our stewardess came down the aisle selling scratch tickets and whiskey.

Arriving in Turin, we whipped through passport control and, having packed everything we needed in carry-on luggage, enjoyed the luxury of striding confidently past the luggage carousels and out the door. Aside: As someone who has parted company with his luggage unexpected in the past, I can report that this simple action of walking past the carousels without a trace of anxiety can be incredibly cathartic.

We hopped a fancy shiny train – which still had what we identified as “that new train smell” – into Porta Susa in the middle of downtown Turin, walked from the terminal out to the street and were instantly face to face with metropolitan Italy in all its glory. Grand old buildings with high-arched arcades and long tree-lined streets served as a backdrop for the many trolleys, buses and cars that whizzed around the city.

We also met “Neve”and “Gliz”, the mascots of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games (seen in the right-most picture). Vancouverites who grumbled about our choice of mascot for 2010 may quiet down a bit upon discovery that we’re competing with a snowball and an ice-cube. I found it moderately unsettling that the first thing the pair reminded me of were the Happy Tree Friends, an animated group of cute fuzzy wide eyed animals who, before the end of each and every episode, meet horrible and graphic ends. I haven’t linked to the site because I don’t much like it.. but, frankly, these two really do look like some of the characters.

I fell in love with Turin as soon as we stepped out of the station, and it was only at the urging of my better half that I kept from wandering off along side-streets and into bustling markets – we had time only to pick up our event tickets from the downtown venue office and get out to the games, the first of which was the women’s bronze medal match (Canada vs. Norway).

Our luck continued, and we found the venue office in a matter of minutes. Tickets in hand, it was back to the train station and on to Pinerolo, host city for the curling matches.

On the train ride out of town, we passed the Olympic village where the Olympians were housed for the duration of the games. We noticed that, on each building, flags were draped from windows and balconies to identify the nationality of those within. Except the Canadians, that is, who instead chose to fly only a single flag that was nearly five stories tall and covered the entire side of the building in which they were staying. We rock.

Also on the ride out, we had our first brush with fame. Sitting beside us were four members of the Canadian women’s hockey team – y’know, those ones who won the gold medal for the second year in a row? Yeah, those ones. We chatted for a bit, and even made off with a signed team postcard!

We arrived in Pinerolo and proceeded directly to the curling venue located across the street.

Game 1: Women’s Bronze Medal – Canada vs. Norway:

Canada 1 2 5 7
Score 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Norway 3 4 6 8

(full game statistics here)

From the get-go with their steal of four (thanks to a great shot by third Amy Nixon), it was clear that the Shannon Kleibrink rink was in peak performance, which given their very recent spat of bad luck (food poisoning and a faulty alarm clock, for starters) was a promising sign.

The same could not be said of Dordy Nordby, the skip of the Norwegian team. Though she’s been curling at the world level for nearly 15 years, she had a poor throwing percentage for the round. Try as they might, the Norwegians couldn’t fight past Canada’s shot making, and were held to a single point with hammer in all but one end.

It was a decisive victory for Canada, and it won us the bronze medal. Still, their victory was aided by a number of mistakes made by the Norwegian team, and things could have been quite different had they not being having such a poor round.

We left the arena in high spirits, with plenty of time to walk into town, check into our hotel, and return for the women’s gold medal match that was scheduled to begin in an hour and a half.

Along the way, we met a group of Norwegian fans in matching jackets. They were incredibly friendly people, and we hit it off instantly – we also discovered that, as it happened, we were staying at the same hotel, so we even received a guided escort right to the front door of the Albergo Regina, our home for the duration of our stay.

Or so we thought.

As the lady at the check-in desk spent more and more time flipping back and forth through the guest registry, I started to get that funny oh-shit sensation in the pit of my stomach. This sensation was not helped by the phone call she then made to the hotel manager, which consisted entirely of low-volume high-velocity Italian punctuated with extravagant gestures towards the guest registry insinuating it to be a vile and disgusting tome. She then handed me the phone.
“He wants to speak to you.”

As I discovered, there had been a small misunderstanding:
I understood that I had reserved the room.
The manager understood that I had not.

He had, apparently, been awaiting a confirmation from me, and, having not received one, had given up our room. As a result, when we did arrive, there was, quite literally, no room at the inn.

We were suddenly homeless in a bustling city filled with tourists for the Olympics, with only an hour before our next scheduled game.

Will Colin & Alison find shelter in a tourist-packed town, with night swiftly falling?

Will they be able to watch the women’s gold medal curling match, scheduled to occur in less than an hour?

And where the heck is that whole “witch riding a wild boar” thing he was talking about?

Find out in the next exciting installment of “Canadian Abroad: Adventures in Turin”!

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