Turin, a city of industry and art
Our first stop in Turin was the Lavazza museum, which was awesome. I’ve always loved their coffee, but I am now a true fan. The brand’s history is impressive, and the museum is a fantastic mix of education and entertainment. Their genius marketing campaigns over the years are exciting and whimsical, but the espresso machine designed and used in the International Space Station was one of my favorites. I was interested in this museum before we arrived, but after seeing it, I wholeheartedly recommend anyone in or near Turin go for a visit.
After completing the museum tour and enjoying a complimentary espresso or two, we walked to the Turin Cathedral. This was one of those “a-ha” moments when you fail to do the mental math to associate a thing you’ve always known of (in this case, the Shroud of Turin) with the place you are visiting, the Cathedral of Turin. It wasn’t until we walked into the Cathedral, and I was taking photos of a shaft of light hitting the altar, that I realized this was the home of the Shroud of Turin. It seems obvious now, but we went to the building without realizing the connection. Unfortunately, the case that houses the shroud was covered with its protective cloth so we couldn’t see anything, but we were there. The Cathedral has an exquisite copy of The Last Supper on the rear wall, which was nice since it included the section cut out of the original so we could see Jesus’ feet.
Upon exiting the Cathedral, we could see an interesting square a few blocks down the street, and since we couldn’t check into our hotel yet anyway, we decided to go exploring. The square was very cool, with a lot of high-end shopping surrounding it and a couple of old churches at one end. The churches were very nice, although I was too distracted by what was happening outside them to go in. We’ve discovered that churches in city squares are a popular draw for summer weddings, which means cool cars. This time, the cars were modern and very fast. I loved walking around trying to photograph the black metallic Lamborghini Murcielago and Porsche Cayenne and the Austin Yellow BMW M4, all adorned with veils and bows awaiting the wedding party.
The day was sweltering, so we decided to cool down with a cup of gelato from a shop on the side of the square. It was so good it was challenging not to order more immediately, but I refrained, and we started our way back to the car. Our walk took us past a Roman wall from the city’s founding. The gate dates back to 25 BC, which is a little mind-blowing.
My main reason for making Turin a destination on this trip was the former Fiat Lingotto factory and headquarters. This building has fascinated me since I first learned of its vertical assembly line and rooftop test track many years ago. After seeing Henry Ford’s assembly process in the early 1900s, Senator Giovanni Agnelli (the CEO and major shareholder of Fiat) returned to Italy and commissioned a new factory for Fiat that used a similar process. The resulting building is a masterpiece of engineering and forward-thinking that saw raw materials enter from the train station next door on the first floor and finished vehicles exit on the fifth floor to the test track on the roof. It is genius and madness at once, and I love it.
It ceased to be a functioning factory in 1982 and was converted to a mixed-use space with retail, office space, an art gallery, and a DoubleTree Hotel, which is where we stayed. We checked in and immediately went to the Pinacoteca Agnelli art gallery to see the rooftop track. The art displayed at the Pinacoteca was excellent, with several Picassos alongside Canali’s stunning portraits of Venice. But the real draw was the greenspace display installed on the former test track. Being on the top of the original Fiat factory and the track where they tested every Fiat for over 60 years was amazing. I loved being in that spot of history, not to mention where they filmed parts of the original Italian Job. To make the experience even better, the views of Turin and the surrounding mountains were spectacular.
Italian National Auto Museum
Our stay in Turin was brief, only one night, but we had time to walk to the Italian National Automobile Museum to tour the displays. The museum is well planned, and the flow through time is thorough, educational, and entertaining, which is tough to achieve. There were some odd breaks in the timeline with older cars popping up later in the experience, but overall it was well done. The racing through history portion is well curated and bested only by the Mercedes Museum. There were more historically significant Ferrari Formula 1 cars here than at the Ferrari museum. We both enjoyed the tour, and it was time and money (30 euros) well spent.
We chose to stay in Turin for the Fiat Lingotto building because of my personal obsession, but we discovered an amazing city that truly deserves more attention. Turin was the Detroit of Italy with a thriving industrial focus that eventually faded and, like Detroit, took jobs and led to some serious socio-economic issues. But today’s Turin seems poised to embrace its past and usher in a future of art, science, and progress. Green technologies are embraced and championed everywhere across the city from spectacular energy-efficient buildings, accommodations for electric cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, and a vibrant art scene. The entire vibe of the city was surprising and made us want to stay longer.
The Swiss Alps
This day began not from Turin but our last stop at Lake Como. I include it here because there is so much to write about for Lake Como; I felt it deserved its own post.
Another goal I had for this trip was to drive a few alpine passes. I knew we would be close enough to the Switzerland border to make it feasible, and upon further research, I found we would be close to two of the most legendary passes, the Furka Pass and the Grimsel Pass. We stopped at a gas station immediately after crossing the Swiss border to get the mandatory toll vignette. This windshield sticker costs 40 Euros and is your toll pass for 95% of the roads in Switzerland. If the authorities catch you driving on Swiss roads without it, the fine is 250 Euro, so I ensured we got the pass. Crossing this border had been a burden on my mind for a while after seeing rants about the long lines, invasive searches, fines for not having the toll sticker, etc. As usual, it was a total non-event and couldn’t have been easier; don’t believe everything on the Internet, folks.
The drive to our first stop was smooth, with excellent highways and scenery as we traveled through one mountain valley after another. We finally turned off the A2 and started to do the climb to the Furkastrasse. The roads lived up to their reputation of being fun with constant climbing turns. There were a few cyclists, but not enough to gum up traffic. We found the first stop quickly and soon stood where Sir Sean Connery did in Goldfinger. The view was beautiful, with a glacier in the distance and the road winding above and below. We took a bunch of photos and then resumed our climb up the legendary Furka Pass.
I thought we might luck out at one point when we heard the clear noise of jets above. We saw two Swiss F-18s in full aerial ballet mode high above; I was hoping they would drop into the valley and do a low level, but no such luck. We stopped at the famous turnout for the Hotel Belvedere and glacier views. As you would expect, hot cars were everywhere. The parking lot had several Porsches, including a 718 Spyder, an Aston Martin Vantage, a 70s Pontiac Firebird, Caterhams, a Lotus Exige, and a smattering of others. However, with all those fantastic sports cars, my favorite was an old couple in a vintage 1960s Rolls-Royce. We later saw them at a turnout flying a drone; the juxtaposition of this elderly couple in a classic luxury barge flying a drone for photos on one of the most famous driving roads in the world was hilarious.
After grabbing an overpriced snack and being overcharged by the very unfriendly man running the café, we headed to the Grimsel Pass. The drive was fun because it wasn’t that long, and there was very little traffic, so I had a chance to wind out the 308 and have a little fun in the corners. As we arrived at the top, we disappeared into the clouds and reached a small lake and the central hotel in Grimsel. We stopped to take photos and check out this bizarre area with glacial lakes, fierce wind, and seemingly never-ending low clouds. We were in the heart of the Swiss Alps with an elevation of 2,164 meters, and you could see two glaciers that feed the Rhone river. It was spectacular and cold, very cold.
After that, it was time to make our way to our Lake Como Airbnb, which included more twisty mountain pass driving, which was excellent. The next post will be about our last and possibly favorite stop on the trip, Lake Como.