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Travel Blog: Turin – the city of neon lights and stylish arcades

 

Turin seems to be a paradox. Whilst possessing over 10 miles of pedestrianised arcades (the largest area in Europe) through which to wander and enjoys its beautiful shops, cafes and restaurants, it is also home to Fiat and some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

The most striking feature of the city is the vast array of linear arcades offering perfect protection from the elements. They look particularly appealing at night.

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Piazza San Carlo

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Via Po

What adds a strongly retro flavour to some of the arcades is the presence of neon lights.

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Corso Vittoria Emanuel

Of course being Italy, and Turin being the home of Lavazza coffee, it is not surprising the city has a wealth of wonderful historic cafes. We regularly punctuated our exploration of the city  in order to venture beyond the stylish cafe facades to get our next shot of caffeine. Standing at the counter and watching the barista effortlessly serve up your next perfect espresso is one of the great joys of being in Italy.

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Caffe Vittorio Veneto 1878

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Caffe Universita

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Baratti e Milano 1875

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Caffe Fiorio 1845

The latter cafe doubles as a gelateria or ice cream cafe, and most of the cafes serve decent food, which is no surprise given Turin’s high culinary status.DSC02309

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Porto Di Savona 1863, Turin’s oldest restaurant

Another historical claim for Turin is that it saw the birth of the Italian film industry. Today film culture is especially celebrated in the National Museum of Cinema housed inside the majestic Mole Antonelliana tower.

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Inside, there is an interesting mix of displays with the strongest emphasis given to the Italian neo-realist movement of the late 1940s which featured such powerful films as Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City.

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Elsewhere in Turin we came across some contrasting cinemas varying from the 1934 art deco classic, the Lux, to the 1958 Cinema Romano,  the first officially recognised art house cinema in Italy, and the more contemporary art house cinema, Cinema Centrale.

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Turin featured very strongly in the 1969 British cult film, The Italian Job, which included scenes in the city centre’s streets and most famously the rooftop test circuit of the Fiat Lingotto Factory.

The factory closed in 1982, but the unusual structure towering over the track contains an art gallery designed to showcase the personal art collection of the late Gianni Agnelli, formerly head of Fiat.

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The factory itself also underwent a conversion to a shopping centre, offices, etc. The whole Lingotto redesign was overseen by Renzo Piano, the architect responsible for the controversial Shard building in London, Europe’s tallest building to date. The rampart used to enable cars to gain access to the roof is still evident next to the shopping centre.

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To get to Lingotto, we travelled on the latest section of the Turin metro network opened in 2011.

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It would seem that more investment in public transport is needed in Turin to help offset the pollution which was very evident during our stay.

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View from Mole Antonelliana tower

Earlier in December, the city made all public transport free to try and reduce the dangerous levels of pollution recorded in the city. It would seem that Turin’s prosperity based on the success of car production is now literally contributing to the choking to death of its citizens. It was sad to discover its once great tram network criss crossing the city has been reduced to just six routes. It seems not enough Italians can forgo their love of cars.

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One way to improve Turin’s air quality

Paris, December 2015

 

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We love visiting Paris in December when the Christmas lights adorn many of the city’s landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Saint Germain, the ferris wheel on Place du Concorde, etc. and when there are relatively few tourists to detract from the city’s charms.

However, this December proved to be a different, less comfortable experience for three main reasons. Firstly, we were visiting the city exactly a month after the November attacks which were responsible for 130 deaths. There was a noticeable armed security presence at various points in the city, and the Place de la République, which was the focal point for subsequent public demonstrations of solidarity, still contained a large array of expressions of grief and sadness, as well as social and political comment.

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On the Friday evening, after enjoying a meal in the 11th arrondisement, the streets and cafes seemed as lively as ever, but as we turned a corner on Rue Charonne, we were confronted by the huge collection of tributes left outside  La Belle Équipe restaurant where 19 people had died. The personal messages, pictures and flowers combined to create an intense feeling of tragic loss.

 

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La Belle Équipe

The shoes left at the scene of the Place de La République were the remainder of a silent protest to mark the presence in Paris of the Climate Change Conference. Street gatherings had been outlawed by the state of emergency imposed after the November 13th killings, and so 10,000 pairs of shoes were left in the square as a form of symbolic protest, a few of which remained when we visited.

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Whilst emerging from the metro at the Arc de Triomphe, we noticed traffic was barred as a large team of tankers sprayed water around the famous landmark. Rivers of yellow paint were running down the streets leading from the Arc. It transpired that Greenpeace had flooded the area with the paint as a publicity stunt aimed at the Climate Conference. From above it was meant to symbolise the power of the sun.

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News agency photo

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We came across another artistic response to the threat of climate change at the Pantheon where an Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, had installed a dozen large blocks of ice (or ‘mini-icebergs’) which were gradually melting during the Climate Change Conference.

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Needles to say there was some concern expressed about the energy consumption used to transport the ice all the way from Greenland to Paris.

It was evident from the array of political posters adorning the city’s billboards that there were important regional elections taking place, and in the first round the Front National had performed (not too surprising in the aftermath of the November attacks) to the dismay of many in the capital.

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They were less successful in the final round of elections the following week, but had still managed to poll more votes than in any other national election in France.

On a lighter note, there was much evidence of the popularity of Frank Sinatra, as on December 12th it was 100 years since his birth. We marked the occasion by watching his 1968 film, Detective, at the Cinema Mac Mahon, which famously featured in Jean Luc Godard’s 1960 classic new wave film, A Bout de Souffle.

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Finally, a few Winter images of our favourite Parisian park, the Luxembourg Gardens, which whatever the season, never loses its appeal.

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