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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Turin: Day 2 – Giocondas, Pan Galactics and Sweet Sweet Victory

Our minds instructed us to rise at the crack of dawn, pack our things quickly and get out on the town in order to see as much of Pinerolo as we could before having to leave the following day. Our bodies however, suggested rather a different strategy – more of a delicate, almost subversive start to the day – consisting primarily of staying in bed until 10am at the very earliest, and then putting forth only the minimal amount of energy possible to get ourselves up and out the door.

I leave it to you to deduce which of these equally tempting options we went with in the end. A hint – KING sized bed. Extra pillows in the hall closet.

The first task of the day, once we could deny the reality of morning no longer, was to meet up with Heather (our Canadian friend who had kindly offered to translate for us at the B & B) at the home of Signore Giovanni Gros, landlord and proprietor of one of the quirkiest little B & Bs you’re likely to find in Pinerolo.

We had originally planned to walk from the Hotel to the B & B, knowing from Heather’s description that it should be within easy walking distance. However, after failing to find the street on any of the maps we had on hand, we resigned ourselves to walking back into the downtown square and catching a taxi. We had a momentary panic when we realized that we had no idea what taxis looked like in Pinerolo, or what the policy was with regards to hiring one. In the end, we found a cab (a black Aston Martin driven by a man who, by his clothes, would not be out of place at a banker’s meeting on Wall St!) who, as we had suspected, drove us back up the hill and parked us about four blocks from where we’d started that morning.

Actually, on our first pass, our cab drove right past where we wanted to go. We came over a hill, and saw Heather waiting for us at the side of the road. We waved, she waved, we…drove right by her without slowing, and watched her shrink rapidly in the distance as we stared back at her from the rear window. Cabbies are, however, trained to understand the “universal language” of tourists, and our shouts of “Nonono! Arreto! Arreto?” quickly explained the issue clearly enough for him to stomp on the breakers and take us back to Heather, who looked a bit relieved to see us reappear.

And so it was that we met Giovanni, a wonderfully friendly old guy who very clearly had a passion for everything he did. We were welcomed into his home instantly, and given a grand tour of the flat that would be our home for the night. I have never seen a single room filled with as much random kitch and collectibles as I did that day. The place was stuffed with African statuettes, brightly colored parrot figurines, bronze-cast decorative cookware… there was even a copy of the Mona Lisa looking over the room.

Giovanni had offered to drive us all to the curling match that afternoon, but announced that first, our arrival must be celebrated. We went downstairs to where he and his wife lived, and were there introduced to Limoncello, one of the most startling spirits I’ve ever had the opportunity to sample. The words to properly describe the taste of this stuff elude me at the moment. The best I can offer is Douglas Adams’ description of the effect of sampling a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, which seem surprisingly apt:
“..[L]ike having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”

Recovering as best we could from the unexpected onslaught of lemony booze, we were off to the Men’s Bronze Medal match.

Game 3: Men’s Bronze Medal – Great Britain vs. USA:

GB 2 4 7 9
Score 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
USA 1 3 6 8 10

(full game statistics here)

We were surrounded by American fans for this match-up, and our quiet cheers for Great Britain were lost in the boisterous hootings and highly organized curling-oriented chants with which the surrounding fans came armed.

It was a sad game to watch. Great Britain played a wonderfully delicate game – soft shots and close draws, with tactical raises and bumps in place of stronger shots – but it was no match for the raw power of the US team, who threw takeouts with a huge percentage of their stones and kept clearing out their opponent’s opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, they played extremely well and deserved their win. But I couldn’t help but feel as if I were watching a David & Goliath match-up in which delicate strategies and careful planning were continually crushed by pure force.

Also, it didn’t help my mood when one of the fans directly to my right began to cheer the mistakes of the other team. Curling is a gentleman’s game, and such a thing is simply not done. Poor taste, frankly.

A slight moment of levity during the game was delivered in the form of a fan who jumped over the boards, ran out next to the ice and proceeded to shuck off all of his clothing to leaving only a strategically placed rubber chicken (in place of the more traditional fig leaf) to, erm, protect himself from the elements. The enormous tattoo of “GoldenPalace.com” on the gentleman’s posterior helped explain his actions. For those that missed this one, Golden Palace is an online casino that offers some fairly substantial rewards to idiots willing to put themselves in the public spotlight with the company’s website address somewhere on their person. The jackass who went off the diving board during the Summer Olympics was doing it for similar reasons – luckily, this guy had the wherewithal to stay off the playing surface.

After the bronze medal game, we went into town for a bite to eat and to make dinner reservations at the restaurant we had attempted to visit the night before. We would not be denied a second time, no sir. We walked around the downtown core for a few hours after our meal, until it was time to head back to the arena for the main event

Game 4: Men’s Gold Medal – Canada vs. Finland:

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

(full game statistics here)

What a game, and what an experience.

The stadium was packed with Canadian fans. You would never know the event wasn’t being hosted on home soil for all of the maple leafs on display that night. And the raw energy of the fans that night was absolutely infectious. We sat in the “gold” seating section at the end of the sheet of ice amongst other rabid Canadian fans and Olympians who had come out from Torino to watch our boys try for gold.

The game was fantastic to watch. Both teams played with an amazing level of skill, and at the finish of the fifth end, it was anyone’s game. At that point, the Canadians led the Finnish team by a single point.

And then there was the sixth end, in which Canada scored 6 points. To put this in perspective for you non-curlers, a six-ender is nigh-on impossible in a competitive match – or at the very least, highly unlikely unless the opposition makes a number of grave errors with their stones. But throughout the end, the Finnish team played very well – or at least, did not makes any visibly huge mistakes. The result of that end came more, as I would later hear an announcer describe it, from a combination of genius tactics and deadly-accurate shot making on the part of the Canadian team.

It was all over after that. Two more ends were played by requirement of the Olympic competition, followed by the hand-shake. Shortly after the game came the Men’s Flower Ceremony, where we saw our Canadians on top of the podium, absolutely beaming. We had learned from a fan during the match that the skip’s mother was currently in hospital battling cancer, and wasn’t able to attend the game. So when we saw 25 year-old Brad Gushue wave to his Dad in the first row and mouth “Hey! You should call Mom,” it was nearly enough to get us all weeping.

Said it before. Sayin’ it again. Canadians are cool.

We were, quite understandably, on cloud nine as we walked out of the venue that night, and had ample time to stroll back into town for our dinner reservations. Upon arrival at the restaurant, we were asked to wait for several minutes while a table was cleared up for us. Finally, we were seated, though menus had not yet been delivered.

And we waited. And no menus arrived. And Ally and I started to get the funny feeling that perhaps a message was being delivered. We both suddenly felt quite awkward and uncomfortable sitting in a fancy restaurant surrounded by well-dressed locals, while we were both dolled up in our Canadiana and couldn’t even speak the local language.

In the end, it was our own preconceptions and fears that had gotten the better of us. After watching the treatment given to other customers, we realized we were not being snubbed or neglected – rather, it was our concept of quick dining that had rushed us to an incorrect conclusion. As soon as we took pause and relaxed, all was well – and we had a dynamite meal. (Our change of mood was likely also aided by the fact that my order of a demi-litro di vino della casa was incorrectly understood as a litro, and I didn’t have the vocab to try and correct the error.)

The night ended much like the night before, as we walked along the quiet dimly-lit streets of Pinerolo back to our flat. We would not, however, have the luxury of sleeping in a second time, for tomorrow morning we were headed to Torino!

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Turin: Day 1 (cont.) – Fancy Digs, Gorgeous Feasts, and..yup. Curling.

(In case you missed the first Turin entry, you’ll want to start here.)

When we last saw our heroes, they had just discovered that there was no room at the hotel at which they had believed they had a reservation. Let’s join them now, shall we?

Shortly after receiving the bad news that we were technically homeless for the next two nights, our situation improved. The manager’s wife came down from upstairs, clearly feeling bad about the situation, and called around to other hotels in the area on our behalf to check for vacancies. She found one at a hotel up the hill – Villa San Maurizio – but only for one night. Good enough, we decided, and we set off to track down our new home with only a crude hand-drawn map and fairly general directions.

As one might expect (especially one who is familiar with my skills as a navigator), we got lost along the way. We had reached the church that stood on top of the hill overlooking Pinerolo which we knew to be close to our hotel, but couldn’t progress any further.

When an elderly woman approached us on the street, I performed the traditional tourist introduction (that delightful combination of trying to apologize for bothering her, thank her for stopping, and assure her that I wasn’t a serial killer – all at the same time) and then asked if she knew where our hotel was located.

She didn’t speak a lick of English, but I took from her actions that she didn’t know the way.

But here was another moment where the wonderfully friendly nature of the Italians shone through. The lady pulled us along down the street – prattling on in conversation to us the whole time, realizing full well we couldn’t understand a single word – until we reached a busier street. She then flagged down a car, and after they rolled down their window, asked them if they knew how to get to our hotel.

Before we knew it, the car’s driver has gotten out and pointed us on our way. As it turns out, we had only to walk down the hill.

Fate, it would seem, would take good care of us during our trip: our room at the hotel was absolutely gorgeous. With a stone balcony with a view that looked out over the entire city and the soft peal of church bells in the distance, it was a wonderful surprise.

We also had at our disposal the latest in bottom-cleansing technology – a branch of science that I have not, to this day, had the courage to make use of. Not that I am in any way opposed to the device in principle, mind you. Far from it. Rather, I harbour certain fears about the types of injuries that could be sustained were one to accidentally use the device improperly. Perhaps if it came with a little instruction manual. With pictures. But not too many.

After dropping off our bags and inspecting our new room, we were off to the Women’s Gold Medal match.

Game 2: Women’s Gold Medal – Sweden vs. Switzerland:

Sweden 2 4 6 7 9 11
Score 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Switzerland 3 8 10

(full game statistics here)

This was a fantastic game to watch, and a nail-biter right down to the final stone of the extra end. Both teams were at the top of their game – as the throwing statistics show – and there were no favourites for who should take home the gold. In the end, Sweden took the win with a beautiful double-takeout by skip Anette Norberg with her final stone. The crowd went wild – it was a fantastic shot, and a well-earned win.

Following the match was the flower presentation ceremony. (The medals are awarded back in Torino at the medals plaza, but the Gold, Silver and Bronze winning teams are awarded flowers at the venue.) Shannon Kleibrink and the rest of team Canada looked thrilled to be on the podium, and it wouldn’t be the last time we would see Canadians on those steps.

While watching the match, we began chatting with a lady sitting behind us in the stands. Heather turned out to be a fellow Canadian who had been living in Italy for the past six months to learn Italian. When we happened to mention that we were still on the lookout for a place to stay for the following night (having only a single night’s reservation at our fancy pad), she instantly suggested that she could contact the owner of the B & B she was staying at! Next thing we knew, she had not only arranged a place for us to stay for the following night, but even offered to meet us there the following morning to serve as translator while we checked in. I said it before, I’ll say it again. Canadians rock.

We were on cloud nine as we left the evening match, having had our accommodation related worries evaporate before our eyes while watching a fabulous game. But now, it was time to sneak back into town and find some of this fine Italian cuisine we’d heard so much about!

Pinerolo by night was gorgeous. There’s just something about high-vaulted arcades with good lighting. As we walked towards a restaurant we had had recommended to us earlier in the day by our Norwegian friends, we passed a few interesting shop windows that were vending some products that one wouldn’t normally see front-and-centre on display. In another window, we found a curling broom displayed that was exactly the make and model that Ally used to use back in Vancouver!

When we arrived at the restaurant, we bumped into an unexpected familiar face. Standing in the smoking area outside the restaurant was former Olympic curling champion Pål Trulsen of Norway, holding court with a circle of fans while drunk out of his gourd. He was, however, on the ball enough to inform us in passing that there were no tables available at the restaurant. World class curler and source of local dining information! Who knew?

Alas, he was quite right about the lack of tables at the restaurant, and so our search continued. As we passed the Hotel Regina – the hotel at which we had originally intended to stay – we recalled that our friendly troupe of Norwegians had waxed poetic on the topic of the hotel’s dining room. We decided that, if we couldn’t enjoy the hotel’s guest rooms, we could at least try out their food.

I have never, and may never again, consume as much as I did that evening.

We each ordered a pre-set four-course meal off the menu, and enjoyed every single dish. We were both stuffed to the gills by the time our fourth courses were finished, and as the waiter collected our plates he left us each a spoon. We both stared at our newly delivered cutlery with a combination of surprise, anticipation and dread, our eyes meeting across the table, the unspoken question hanging in the air between us. A fifth course?

(“Oh come, sir. It eez onlee a tiny leetle wafer…”)

Indeed there was a fifth course, and it was wonderful. And after said course, there was coffee. And after coffee, there was conversation with the other diners – among them our gang of Norwegians, who also had at their table the coach of the Canadian Men’s and Women’s curling team! As we rolled our way out of the dining room, we were given a Team Canada whistle by the coach, and wished them well at the gold medal match the following day.

A combination of a fantastic day out, good food and a half-litre of wine had left us in a euphoric state as we walked up the hill to our hotel overlooking the hill, where we fell asleep almost instantly after we hit the sheets, and enjoyed a long, peaceful sleep.

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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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RSS & News Updates


For all of you nerds up on the latest and greatest in web technology, I’ve decided to make this site more RSS-friendly. I’ve created a simple RSS feed file that will contain info on the latest post – nothing more than a dated title field and blank description (’cause frankly I can’t be bothered to copy over all of my content). My web-savvy days dried up back when framesets were still cool and CSS had yet to rear its head, so I’m keeping it nice and simple to ensure I don’t hurt myself.

Still, it’s enough to allow you to add me into your personalized Google pages and find out when I’ve updated the site.

The feed file is located here:

Nothing monumental has happened since last I posted, though there are certain developments in previously reported stories:

In business news…
My utter and complete refusal to leave the BBC after my week-long internship has paid off, and I’ve wrangled a longer-term (read: indefinite length) internship with them, working on their afternoon show. It’s still a non-paid gig, but it’s a start. Now all I need to do is make myself completely indispensable and then present my list of demands.

Moving to arts and entertainment…
My dreams of becoming a Cambridge choirboy, however, will not be realized, at least not with the group for whom I auditioned. Sadly, I received an email from them last week saying that I had not been selected to join their ranks. So, the search for a musical outlet continues.

And now onto the travel and sports report…
The days tick down to our spontaneous trip to Italy this coming Thursday. Both of our Canadian curling teams are still in the running for medals, and our men’s team has secured a place in the semi-finals by beating out the Americans earlier this afternoon. With any luck, we’ll be able to watch both of our Canadian teams in person from the sidelines. Be sure to watch for us in the Thursday and Friday matches! (We’ll be the dead-sexy pair decked out in Canadiana.)

Finally, the house-husband update…
Any aversions or fears I may have had concerning the admittance of a bread maker into the household were quickly blown away by the scent of the first freshly baked loaf of French bread that I whipped up a few days after its arrival. It’s an absolutely fantastic device, and works exactly as I would hope: Add Ingredients, Press Button, Wait, Eat. The only problem we face now is making enough of the stuff to sustain our eating habits – as it’s so delicious we’ve started eating far more of it, and our little machine can only spit out itsy bitsy little loaves. Worse yet, it comes with a whole recipe book of ideas, including one for “Chocolate Bread”. Clearly, we’re doomed.

The Hoover, however, remains in the closet. And frankly, unless it starts giving off a delightful aroma or begins to produce some sort of tasty comestible in an attempt to win my favour, it can stay there.

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Of Guy-Quotients and Spontaneous Vacations

It occurs to me as I wait in eager expectation for the delivery of our recently purchased vacuum cleaner, food processor and bread-maker, that I may recently have hurdled over a fair number of house-husband milestones without fully appreciating the effect such events would have on my underlying Guy-Quotient.

However, as I become older and w-.. older, I become less and less concerned with such thoughts. ‘Cause frankly, now would be a bit late to start worrying – I’m a singin’, wine-lovin’ Broadway musical-enjoyin’ skinny guy for chrissakes. If I can still hold my head high with those mantles, then is it such a crime that I do it while enjoying some fresh home-baked bread?

The fact that the vacuum is a Hoover may, however, tip the balance irreversibly.

In my defence, we recently picked up a killer purchase with a high-scoring guy factor through amazon.co.uk. We had been trying to find a decent computer monitor to pair with my tower which will shortly be arriving, and about a week ago we found one: An Acer 19″ wide-screen LCD that cost us a pittance (less than £200) that arrived on our doorstep one day after we ordered it. T’is a thing of beauty and I love it dearly.

Quoth the wife: “We win”.

In other news, a half hour of unsupervised Internet surfing on my part has resulted in our taking a spontaneous vacation near the end of this month.

We’re both curling fans, and have been going through a fair amount of withdrawal since arriving in England. With the Olympics on the horizon, I was looking forward to finally catching some footage either online or on TV. But then it ocurred to me that, from where we are, Torino is not exactly a mysterious far-away land.

…And the discovery that a flight from Stansted to Torino costs about £19 during the week didn’t hurt either.

Long story short, Ally and I are going to Italy for a few days to watch the Olympic curling finals! We fly into Torino on Feb.23, and hop a South-West train to the town of Pinerolo to catch the women’s gold medal final that evening. The men’s bronze and gold finals both happen the next day.

It seems that we were fated to go, in that we were not only able to locate cheap flights so close to the date of travel but also found affordable accommodation at a hotel less than 2km from the venue. Part of me was actually a bit put off at just how easy it all was. For example, when I called up the hotel to enquire about vacancies, I had all of my pre-translated phrases laid out in front of me, nervously excited about trying to communicate across the English-Italian language divide.

“Buona sera, Albergo Regina.”
“Buona sera Signore! Parla Inglese?”
“Yes. Yes I do,” he replies, in flawless English.

A half hour’s worth of careful translation for nothing. I’d even conjugated my verbs, dammit! Still, I’m certain I’ll have numerous opportunities to try out my non-existent Italian and embarrass myself thoroughly once we arrive.

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Kermit, Live at the BBC

I am home from my final day of a week-long internship at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, and am already sorry that I won’t be heading back on Monday morning. Funny though, I wouldn’t have expected to have been saying that based on my first few experiences.

I showed up at the ‘Beeb at 10am on Monday morning, and soon discovered that I would have to be fairly pro-active if I was going to learn anything during the week. There was no one on the premises that appeared to be officially responsible for interns and work-experience students, and the workload was such that no one had very much time to show me the ropes. So, I spent the first hours of my day looking over other people’s shoulders while they worked, more and more worried that my long-awaited internship would be reduced to nothing more than hiding in a corner.

I was, however, saved by the Sue Dougan afternoon show. They were having an absolutely awful time of it (their afternoon guest having canceled at the very last moment), and could use all the help they could get, even in the form of a green intern who could do little more than research and phone-answering.

Thus began the fun, working alongside the show’s producer to run the show. We set up guests, researched stories (I can officially say I “chased a few hot leads”), and just generally kept the boat afloat for the week. The show format was a perfect fit for me as well – three hours of good music and talk, focused on Cambridgeshire county.

By the end of the week, I had worn a variety of different hats – everything from story researcher to phone basher (“Hello, Colin Richardson, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, please come on our show”. Rinse. Repeat) to street reporter (wandering around a public park with a big microphone kit at my side, interviewing strangers) to… uh.. performer.

Y’see, each day we would play an hour of music from a certain year which our listeners would try to identify for a chance to win fabulous prizes. Interspersed with the music would be pop-culture bits and pieces from that year – what movies opened, who was born, who died, etc. Well, today we did 1976, which was, as it turns out, the year that the Muppets went out on their own, leaving Sesame Street for “The Muppet Show”. On a whim, we decided it would be hilarious to have a surprise guest from the Muppets call the Sue Dougan show to say ‘Hi’.
…And how many people in the studio had a North American accent?

Yup. I was live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire today as Kermit the Frog.

If I can get a copy, and copyright issues allow for it, I’ll have it up for you all to revel in my …y’now what? I have absolutely no idea what I should call it.

But now begins the battle to get myself back into their ranks for another week. I was given the distinct impression from the general casualness around the office that if I can just keep showing up, I could work myself in fairly easily. I’ve already been invited back for a remote recording from Peterborough next Wednesday, and the afternoon crew have welcomed me back on a daily basis – but I first need to clear that with the higher ups which may or may not pose some difficulty… too soon to tell.

It’s humbling to be back down at the bottom of the pile without any experience directly in the field, but at the same time it’s very exciting and I know it won’t take long before I start to feel more comfortable.

In other words, It’s not easy being green, but I’ll be halfway up the stairs before you know it.

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