Turin: Day 3 – Basilica di Superga

Our last day in Italy began at the unholy hour of 5am.

Wanting to give ourselves ample exploring time before our flight home, we hopped the early train back into the city from Pinerolo. Our route took us past the curling venue on our way out of town, and memories of Canada’s big win the previous night came flooding back through my head, fighting the cobwebs of morning for space.

It had truly been a remarkable few days. Little did I know, one of our most memorable experiences was still to come!

Ally and I had tossed around different ideas for how we would like to spend our last day in Turin while we were still planning our trip back in England. We
had debated hitting the museums and seeing the Shroud of Turin, but in the end decided against it. Neither of us wanted to spend our last hours in Italy cramped in confined spaces with hundreds of other tourists – that’s what airports are for. In the end, we opted instead for the Basilica di Superga, an old basilica located in the hills on the east side of town. Being lovers of architecture and the great outdoors, this seemed the natural choice. (And I can assure you that the small fact that there happened to be a Geocache hidden within 100m of the basilica, which, if found, would allow us to add yet another new country to our caching history played only the smallest role in our final decision of how to spend our day. Stop laughing.)

As mentioned, the basilica is located in the hills east of downtown Turin, and while the site is accessible by automobile, there is a far slicker method of approach open to visitors. An old rack-and-pinion train runs from the bottom of the hills and winds its way all the way to the summit, with the basilica only a 5 minute walk away. We arrived at the train station a half-hour before the first train of the day was scheduled to depart, and had a chance to explore the site while we waited. When we purchased our tickets, we were also given a pamphlet with a “spot the wildlife” game, which basically consisted of staying on the lookout for enormous posters of local wildlife during the ascent and checking off each one in our pamphlet as they were spotted. There were promises of fabulous prizes should we correctly mark all of the animals that appear along the rails.

There was a small museum inside the station which housed a number of interesting tidbits concerning the history of the train, as well as general public transit in Turin. While some would find such pieces of information fascinating, I showed my true level of maturity by ignoring most of these historical artifacts and instead studying in detail a miniature replica someone had built of the entire train station, interiors and exteriors – completely out of Lego. And I’m not talking about some little kid’s school project here – this thing was exact, right down to the location of each of the palm trees in the courtyard. Even better than that though, was the discovery that, within the little Lego museum inside the little Lego train station, there was a little Lego miniature model of the Lego miniature model of the train station. It blew my mind just staring at it.

I’ve included a few “comparison” photos for your perusal – bonus points if you can pick out the Lego versions.

Ally was eventually able to pull me away from the model when the train began boarding, and in a matter of minutes we were on our way, clickity-clacking our way along the rail line up through the hills of Italy. A thick misty fog blanketed much of the city, and though we saw many gorgeous estates and terraced gardens alongthe way, we could catch only the occasional view of what would be on other days a breathtaking vista of downtown Turin. Residences gaveway to thick forests as we progressed, and then to our surprise we were suddenly surrounded by snow on all sides! Pure, deep and completely untouched, it blanketed the ground and trees as we approached the top.

We exited the train at the top station along with the three other passengers that had accompanied us, and saw a sign leading us to the Basilica di Superga. We hadn’t yet spotted the Basilica from the train, and in our research had not come across any pictures of it – so we had no idea what to expect as we took our first steps through the deep snow along the footpath.

Well, a few steps was about as far as we got before the vision of the magnificent Basilica, shrouded in mist, appeared before us through the snow covered trees and stopped us in our tracks. As we crunched through the thick snow along the pathway which wound its way up to the summit the Basilica’s bell tower came into view, and moments later we were standing at the summit.

For all you history buffs, here’s a bit of history on the basilica. Also, you can get a neat view of the surrounding area – including the rail line we traveled in on – from the overhead shot.

In addition to the church itself, our other reason for visiting also proved a success. It was a quiet day at the time we were there, so we were able to sneak down the snow covered trail unnoticed to find our precious precious Geocache. (Anyone interested to see what a cache page looks like can view it here, though only after registration are you able to see the specific coordinates of the cache). This trip out is just another example of the many times that this hobby of ours has taken us on unexpected wonderful adventures, and I’d recommend it to any and everyone.

After touring around the summit we still had a bit of time to kill before the next train departure, so we walked down to the upper station in order to try and claim the aforementioned fabulous prize related to the critter-spotting game we played on the way up. Imagine our surprise when, after walking into the station, we’re met with a whole diorama of stuffed animals – one for each of the animals we should have spotted during the ascent! Also included in the display was, for reasons I will most likely never fully comprehend, a witch riding a wild boar. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. (Oh, and incidentally, the “fabulous prize”? Sticker.)

By the time we came back down on the train, the clouds over Turin had begun to dissipate, and we were able to take in the view that teased us on the way up. The timing seemed perfect to me – one last fantastic view before we had to leave.

We made our way back downtown and cooled our heels in a cafe for an hour before heading out to the airport. Our trip home was uneventful but seemed to drag on, as return trips are wont to do. We flew into Luton and from there took a bus back home to Cambridge. We were exhausted when we finally arrived and fell asleep almost the minute our heads hit our pillows, with images of Italy still dancing in our heads.

Our trip to Italy was one of the most spontaneous little adventures I’ve ever had the fortune to go on, and it turned out to be a fantastic experience. From watching some world-class curling and cheering Canada to victory, to exploring a completely different landscape, to simply being welcomed open-armed into a wholly different culture, the trip was spectacular.

There’s an interesting curling-related post-script to the story as well:

A few days after we arrived back home, I received an e-mail from my Dad. He’d come across an old photograph that he thought I’d be interested to see, especially in consideration of what I’d been up to.

The man second from the left is Herman Walsh, my great-grandfather.

Curling, it would seem, is in my blood.

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