I knew this would probably be my last trip, for a long time anyway, to Turin, the city with which I started this blog. And in which I spent a memorable Thanksgiving. So I went up for one last weekend to tick the last boxes off of the list: The National Museum of Cinema, The Egyptian Museum, Caffe’ Bicerin, the Racconigi Castle, and the Sacra di San Michele just out of town.

I took the 4-hour train ride from Rome late on Thursday, too late to do anything. On Friday, I too the local bus downtown to see the National Museum of Cinema. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Texas), I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema. Because before college, during, and ever since, I’ve had a passion for cinema the way others have for reading. I like watching films of all sorts, and then I reeeeally like discussing them. And I find the history of cinema fascinating – the evolution of an art form inextricably tied to the evolution of technology. So I was hoping the Museum of Cinema would get into film history and technology, and not just display movie memorabilia like the bicycle from The Bicycle Thieves. (Actually, hold up – is there somewhere I can see that?)

I was not disappointed. After stopping across the street for a cappuccino and cornetto (which they call brioche up there), I bought my ticket and headed into the museum (and then ran back across the street to the bar, because I suddenly couldn’t find my phone, and then it wasn’t at the bar either, so the helpful bartender offered to call it, which he did, and it rang in my pocket).

The Museum of Cinema is housed in the Mole Antonelliana. The Mole (pronounced “Mole-ay” is the most iconic building in the Turin skyline. A multi-purpose building in the center of the city with a faceted dome and ornate spire. The museum inside is the tallest museum in the world, but the Mole should be seen even without the museum it houses (it is at least a drive-by, or coffee-by).  The museum inside is really stellar for a film buff like me.  It is on several floors, and the exhibits begin with examples of humankind’s fascination with moving images – kaleidoscopes, dioramas, shadow puppets, flip books – all hundreds of years old and terribly cool.  The photography, and then moving pictures. See the antiques, see the images, enjoy the dark and moody atmosphere of the museum. If you want to see a lot of movie posters and stills, they are there, too. Finish up the self-guided tour walking down a spiral ramp from the top of the interior dome to the floor – don’t look down over the rail if you’re afraid of heights, and then walk through the various recreated movie sets before you finish up. It only takes two hours or less, depending on how geeky you are. Note: if you’re not a film buff, you probably won’t care about a lot of it.

The Mole in Turin, which houses the National Museum of Cinema.

The Mole in Turin, which houses the National Museum of Cinema.

Sorry for the shaky Blackberry pic - this is the spectacularly designed interior of the Mole/National Museum of Cinema.

Sorry for the shaky Blackberry pic – this is the spectacularly designed interior of the Mole/National Museum of Cinema.

Saturday, I headed out of town, near Cuneo, to visit Racconigi Castle. It is worth a visit if you’re in Turin for awhile. It’s a modern castle than you’re used to visiting in Italy, with some residential rooms decorated more 1970s than 1370s. But the gardens were sumptuous and no wonder – they was designed by the same guy that designed the gardens at Versailles. Also, the guide was good, and I learned a lot about the Savoy royal family, of which I had known nothing when I woke up that morning.

Turin Racconigi

Freezing at the Racconigi Castle.

In Racconigi, I had a remarkable meal at El Quartin. Don’t let the Spanish-sounding name fool you; this restaurant is typical Piemontese. I had a mixed appetizer plate that included a horse meatball (don’t judge me! and anyway I probably won’t have it again, but it was delicious and tasted like bison), and then, turkey breast with gorgonzola sauce.

The next day, I took off in the car to see the Sacra of San Michele. First, I had lunch in a town called Susa at a restaurant called Ristorante Menea, which had a very reasonable fixed price menu with myriad dessert options.  This town wasn’t far from the border with France in the Alps, and as I was walking along the little brook babbling with water that probably tasted like Evian, through the impossibly cute gingerbread-house buildings, I thought to myself, “This really looks like Helen, Georgia.” With a full belly, I headed to the Sacra di San Michele.

The Sagra di San Michele is not on any American’s list of things to see. It was not on THIS American’s list of things that I knew existed on the planet. This is a thousand-year-old abbey juts out of a mountain – an Alp – north of Turin like a great stone mushroom poking out of the ground. From miles away on the highway, you can see it. Then when you start winding up the mountain in the car, you cannot help but imagine that monks and their visitors used to climb this mountain on foot – and be impressed. You wind and wind, driving up the mountain, with nothing but rocks to your left, and trees and death to your right. Once you get to the abbey, it consumes your entire field of vision. It is that big. The stairs leading to the entrance emerge from the rocks and I guarantee you, as you’re walking up, you will draw comparisons to Hogwarts.

Hogwarts Sacra di San Michele

Hogwarts The Sacra di San Michele

The view of Piedmont from Sacra di San Michele.

The view of Piedmont from Sacra di San Michele.

An Alp.

An Alp.

The tour is interesting. He told us that the abbey is 999 meters above sea level,  was built in the year 999, and was 999 km from both Rome and Paris. A quick fact-check on Googlemaps indicates that this is… not true. But hey, it is definitely a 1000 year old abbey on the top of an Alp with 360-degree views of all the other Alps. The air is clean and crisp and thin, and if you’re in Turin, please make some time to go out here.

The next day was Monday, and I was on my own again. I got on the bus with my map in hand and headed out to visit the Egyptian Museum. I freaking love Egyptian stuff!!! In the Louvre, in the British Museum, in the Vatican Museums, my favorite section is usually the Egyptian one. And here, in Turin, is the largest Egyptian museum out of Egypt! I was pumped. Glad I saved this thing for last!!

In the bus on the way to the museum, I was flipping through the guidebook, reading up on the Egyptian Museum. Woah-woah-woah what???? Closed Mondays???  But today is Monday!!! I called my friend, “Can you get online and find out if the Egyptian Museum is closed today??” It was. The worst part was, I KNOW that museums (and other things, like restaurants), are often closed on Mondays. I had made a ROOKIE MISTAKE!!! My second rookie mistake in the few months I’ve been coming to Turin. Quickly, I checked to see if, by chance, the Museum of the Resurgence was open (on my B-list of things to see). Nope – closed. Why? Because it was Monday.

So… what to do? I was on my own and I still needed to go to Cafe’ Al Bicerin to try their signature drink called… wait for it… the Bicerin.  A mixture of dense Italian espresso and hot cocoa, with foamed milk on top. Not as sweet as it sounds, a little bitter, I can’t say it’s delicious, but interesting. Identical in space, location, and recipes since 1763, just sitting in there for 20 minutes counts as sight-seeing as well as snacking. There were only about six tables inside, all small, and marble. I sat by myself with my guidebook, a raisin danish and a Bicerin, and almost leaned my book into the flame on this candle:

Not the best tasting drink I've ever had, but then neither is champagne.

Not the best tasting drink I’ve ever had, but then neither is champagne.

Caffe' Bicherin. Older than America.

Caffe’ Bicerin. Older than America.

And here’s something I love about Italy. I tried to pay with a 50 for something that cost about 6 euros. They asked if I had anything smaller, and I didn’t. So the store manager said I could leave and just bring back the 6 euros another time. Tell me when that would ever happen in America, if the two parties to the transaction are strangers to each other? I said that I was leaving in the morning for Rome and wouldn’t be back, so she took my 50 and gave me 44 in change, and I said thank you very much for the offer. There is still a lot of trust between merchant and client.

So, that was probably my last tour of Turin. Some day I may have a reason to go back, and if I do, I’ll make sure it’s not a Monday.