Time to change locations again.
The day started with Kas going for another run on the roof of the NH Lingotto. When she came back in we all got dressed and went for breakfast. The breakfast here was pretty good.
We left the hotel mid-morning, as we didn’t think we were in any particular rush, and we programmed Violet to take us out onto the motorway system in the general direction of Genoa. It was really quick to get out of town, which was good, and we quickly found ourselves speeding along the A21 towards Asti. When we got there we took a diversion of the motorway to go find a geocache in the Province of Asti. The one I chose was about 5 minutes up the road of the motorway. easy peasy, or so I thought. It turned into a disaster of biblical proportions. It took me ages to find the cache, and because of it’s being buried in thorny bushes I got scratched to bits on the way in. Five minutes after we’d left I noticed that I didn’t have my sunglasses. Kas politely agreed to go back but when we got there I just couldn’t find them. I must have spent three times as long as it took to find the geocache. I eventually gave up and Kas came out for a quick look. Of course she found them straight away, hanging in a bush. So one geocache found, but rather sadly, we’d spent nearly an hour finding it.
The second geocache was alongside the A21 in a rest area and was in the Province of Alessandria. It wasn’t separated from the carriageway in any way, so the girls stayed in the car while I jumped out and found the cache. Phew ! A quick one.
From here we continued east until we reached the A7 and headed south, despite Violet’s repeated insistence the we use a different road. We swapped drivers somewhere along the way as Kas was finding the drive rather uncomfortable. So I got to drive down what has to be one of Europe’s most scenic motorways (and also one of its slowest and wiggliest). It’s one where an existing wiggly road was doubled up with a second carriageway, but there is so little room in the valley it goes through that essentially they are completely different roads, and at many points the second carriageway is on the wrong side of you. Once we got close to Genoa we made a left turn along the A12. This couldn’t be more different from the A7 if it tried. It’s a newly built road which runs more or less on the flat and simply alternates between bridges and tunnels for the entire course from Genoa down to La Spezia.
La Spezia was to be our home for the evening. We’d booked the Hotel Ghironi for the night as this looked to be one of the few half-decent looking places in town that had rooms that could sleep all four of us. It was a flippin’ nightmare trying to navigate into their car park, and as a result we decided to leave the car there until morning.
Despite being the self-styled Gateway to the Cinque Terre, La Spezia is essentially a port town rather than a tourist town, so it’s not particularly full of decent accommodation.
Anyway, the hotel checked us in but told us they couldn’t run us to the station in their minibus (as we hadn’t booked). They might be able to fetch us back though. So we got them to order us a taxi, and pretty soon we were on our way up to the station and buying tickets for a 4pm (ish) train.
Our destination was the Cinque Terre village of Vernazza. We chose this one above all the others simply because I’d seen a cookery programme on daytime TV with Gino D’Acampo where he’d visited a gelateria in Vernazza and proclaimed it to be the greatest gelateria in the whole of Italy. You can’t sniff at a claim like that, so it seemed a reasonable use of an afternoon to spend ages in the car and on trains just to visit it. We did that first, as it had been a long time since breakfast. The gelato was exceptional.
From here we made our way downhill to the small harbour, took a few photos, and did an earthcache (in the Province of La Spezia – tick) before deciding that the sea looked very appealing. We’d bought our swimming stuff with us, anticipating the possibility of a dip in the sea, and it proved to be very refreshing. The air that day was really muggy and heavy, so it was really pleasant to climb into the relatively cold sea for a swim. We swam inside the harbour and Izzy was going at it like a good ‘un, so wee felt fairly comfortable in letting them swim without us. I did go in the water for a while but suffered for the first few minutes as the salty water found its way into all the scratches I’d acquired whilst doing the geocache in Asti earlier in the day. Ouch ! I guess it had the effect of keeping infection out though.
By this time is was most certainly dinner time. We farted about for a while trying to pick a restaurant before plumping for a small one with a secluded terrace at the back which we had to ourselves. It was quite a simple place but the food was good. Because we weren’t driving we were also able to both have a beer.
I think we caught a train back at about 8:20 and arrived back in La Spezia in time to catch the hotel’s minibus back home. Technically, I think they sent it specially to meet us after I’d called them from the station at Vernazza, but hey ho ! It was there waiting for us and we found it quickly.
It had been a long day again, so the girls went straight to bed and I spent an hour in the cubby-hole round the corner swearing at the poor internet signal whilst trying to update the geocaches stored on my GPS. Such is life when caching abroad.
To the Piazza Castello
Walking from the main train station through the heart of the city.
At the Piazza Castello
There are fountains.
Pounding the Streets
This place is quite literally on the money.
Towards the Po
It’s strange to think that the river here is the same one that flows into the sea near Venice.
“Now as you go around look for that bloody exit. We can’t go around here all night.”
Day 5 saw us needing to get in the car and head off somewhere different. We had our normal substantial breakfast at the hotel and said goodbye for the final time at about 9am before heading out to the motorways.
Our target for the day was to reach the city of Turin – a journey of about 170km from where we were, via the Milan Tangenziale and then the A4. On the way there we obviously needed to make a couple of stops to “colour in” various provinces with the completion of a single geocache. Very conveniently, the provinces of Novara and Vercelli both contain a motorway service station on the A4 that contains a single geocache. Rather irritatingly, the Province of Biella isn’t quite intercepted by the A4, so we didn’t go there, and as a result our map of Italy now has an irritating little gap there, because we’ve cached in every province that surrounds Biella. Maybe we’ll go back one day, or maybe we won’t. We decided not to stop because we had a busy afternoon planned in Turin and didn’t want to waste the day chasing caches in the middle of nowhere.
The city of Turin was one of our main targets for the holiday, because neither Kas nor I had ever been there other than driving past on a bus on the way to various skiing holidays. When planning the holiday we decided that the best way to see central Turin would be to try to visit all the original shooting locations for the original (1969) film, The Italian Job. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a truly wonderful comedy caper about a bunch of London gangland thugs trying to pull a heist in Turin, and stars what was, at the time, a full-on British luvvie-fest in much the same way that all the Harry Potter films are. It’s packed to the rafters with famous British TV and cinema celebrities. It’s also interesting to watch as a history lesson in the monstrously stereotypical views held by many people in the UK at the time – the British are all portrayed as calm, hard working, erudite and loyal if somewhat eccentric, whereas the Italians are all portrayed as feckless, disorganised, over-excitable, loud and incompetent. All apart from the Mafia, who are portrayed as stylishly dressed and sinister. But enough of that. We shouldn’t judge people of the past by today’s standards, apparently.
The basic plot of the film is that a bunch of London gangland criminals attempt to steal a bunch of gold bullion on it’s way through central Turin from the airport to the Fiat factory at Lingotto and then try to escape in three Minis through a traffic jam they created themselves, onto a waiting bus which carries them over the Alps into Switzerland. Central Turin therefore forms the backdrop for all scenes involving the heist itself and the escape in the Minis. Because they were escaping through a traffic jam, some of the escape scenes are filmed in places you wouldn’t normally take a car, and that’s really the whole point.
We entered Turin on the north side and Violet the Sat Nav took us on a route round the east of the city centre which took us straight past Shooting Location #1 – the Gran Madre di Dio, where the initial black & white film of the proposed heist was shot and sent to Michael Caine and Noel Coward. Well that was a good start, I have to say. More of that later, though, as we came back on foot later in the day to “do it” properly.
The next location we arrived at was one that we initially didn’t plan at all, but when I found the location it was far too good to miss. In the middle of the week before we travelled, while I was researching the various shooting locations, I learned that the Lingotto factory was converted some time ago into a shopping mall with hotels. One of those hotels is the NH Lingotto. Why is this important ? Because if you read the hotel information closely enough you can establish that guests are allowed to use the rooftop test track as part of their fitness & exercise facilities. Well Kas always likes a good run, and if we hadn’t been staying there we probably wouldn’t have gone at all, so I rebooked our hotel in Turin to the NH Lingotto. Violet found it relatively easily but unfortunately we arrived early enough (about midday) that we couldn’t get into the room. The receptionist said it would be an hour or so and he could give us some free tickets for the Fiat museum in the shopping mall, but to be honest we had other plans, so we went back to the car and covered ourselves in suncream and headed off to do our homage.
One other advantage of moving to the NH Lingotto is that there’s a Metro Station just outside, from which it’s possible to get a train to the city centre in about 10 minutes – the metro runs from Lingotto through the Porto Nuova Station. Ideal.
From the station we walked north in the general direction of Piazza Castello via Piazza San Carlo. Most of the walking here was through covered arcades down the side of the road, which provided very welcome relief from the sunshine. It was turning into a hot day.
On this stretch of walk the “homage” included the covered arcade where the policeman on the motorbike slid off on the wet floor. That’s in the Galleria San Federico (and yes, that is the correct spelling). We spent a couple of minutes there trying to figure our which direction the motorbike came in from.
At Piazza Castello there are a couple of the shooting locations. The Palazzo Madama is the place where “Camp Freddie” is seen acknowledging the start of the heist from the palace balcony. The balcony in question was obscured from view, though, as a result of some maintenance work on the front of the building. On the opposite side of the square there’s a covered arcade which I believe is the place where during the escape scenes one of the guys grabs a chicken leg from a restaurant table as they pass by. This is really getting a bit nerdy, isn’t it ? Well, “go hard or go home” is the operative phrase.
Whilst in the Piazza Castello the girls also took the opportunity to get soaking wet in the fountains. Well, why not. Kas said it was fine so long as they both accept that they’ve then got to spend the rest of the afternoon slopping around in wet clothes and shoes. The temptation was too great. In they went.
Once the kids were bored of getting wet, we retired to a nearby touristy, over-priced cafe to treat ourselves to the traditional daily ice-cream, and then we set off in an eastward direction looking for some more filming locations.
The loading of the bullion into the back of the minis was filmed inside the Palazzo Carignano, where there’s a great big wooden door on one side and three mini-sized arches on the other. From here it’s a short walk to the Galleria Sub Alpina, which is the indoor arcade with the plants that the minis drive through immediately before the “falling off the motorbike” shot. It’s all nicely joined up around here.
It was getting slightly late in the afternoon by this point and we still had a couple of places we wanted to go, so next we scuttled off in the general direction of the Mole Antonelliana, a place which is so good that it is quite literally on the money. The gist of the place is that it was originally started as a massive synagogue, but then the local Jewish community ran out of cash and/or took offence at the amount of overspend being incurred as Alessandro Antonelli amended the design, so the synagogue was never completed. At some point later the building was taken over by the City and was completed in its current form. It now hosts a Museum of Cinema in its lower floors, but we were there primarily to catch the lift to the top so we could get a great view of the city, and do a couple of geocaches.
From here we continued east towards the River Po and the Gran Madre di Dio. The church was used twice in the filming of the Italian Job – once at the start, where it’s the location of the initial black & white film reel sent to Michael Caine explaining the plan, and once during the escape scenes, when the minis career down the front steps around the outside of a wedding. On the river at this point is also the ramp down and the weir where the minis make their escape, although the sewer tunnel entrance/exit are elsewhere in the city and the sewer tunnel itself is in Coventry. Two for the price of one at this location, then.
Ever since we’d left the Mole Antonelliana the weather had been looking progressively more threatening, and because it was now approaching 5pm we decided it was time to head back to the hotel so that Kas could get her evening run up on the roof. The walk back through the city to the station was quick and painless and once we got back to the hotel we were checked into a really very nice room.
Kas got changed quickly and then we all went down to reception to collect the keys and made our way through the shopping centre to the lift that takes you up to the rooftop test track. The time up there was spoiled somewhat by the thundery weather, which meant that the peaks of the Alps were shrouded in cloud, but still it’s a spectacular view from the top and definitely one of the lost iconic locations for the film shooting. Looking east from the rooftop you can see the top of the Palavela, which is the big white-roofed building that the minis drive onto the top of. Except the roof is now black rather than white. In the film it also looks distinctly like the place is only just being built, but it was actually completed 8 years before the film was released.
Once Kas had finished we shot down into the room and everyone had a quick shower and we went out to eat. We found a place called “Eataly”, which seemed to be half shop, half restaurant. Their “thing” is that every food item they sell is from Italy. The main downsides were that they don’t sell Coke, Sprite, or anything else in that vein, and you have to pay up front, but the food (and beer) we ordered was excellent.
We had a long day ahead on the following day (again) and it was nearly 10pm when we finished eating, so we decided to head straight back to the hotel and get some zzzzzzzz. It had been a long day packed with silly touristy stuff in a rather beautiful city.