Myriad travel resources will tell you that Turin houses one of the best cinema collections, and the world’s second finest Egyptian museum; that it’s the birthplace of solid chocolate, and home to international megacompanies Nutella, Fiat, and Martini. Her porticoes are charming, her historical monuments are noble, and her post-Olympic celebrity status continues to nudge Italy’s former capital city out of obscurity and into the spotlight as a quickly evolving European destination. Yet every city has its quirks, few of which ever make it into publication: poop on the sidewalks, unruly drivers, uncomfortable bathrooms. I am in no way out to discourage the people of the world from coming to visit this fine city, but I do want to give them a few hints about what lies behind the picture perfect postcard view of Turin.
1. Look out for Italian drivers!
It’s a great city for walking, but look out for Italian drivers! Though local Piemontese are quick to say “It’s much worse in the South,” I have stopped listening to my iPod when I take to the sidewalks as crossing the streets safely takes my full, undivided attention. Main two-way thoroughfares are flanked by hazardous exterior turning lanes, in which drivers regularly disregard the stop signs and red lights despite the presence of mothers pushing baby strollers or elderly couples waiting patiently on the curb. “Pedestrian right of way” seems to be a thing of fairy tales (and my Northern Californian home). In sum, do not assume the driver will stop.
2. Watch out for dog poop!
In addition to a steady left-to-right scan, glance down once in awhile to avoid the daily collection of feces left behind by local dog owners. One lovely feature of Italian culture is the small talk that usually pops up between strangers, often in the form of complaining; I’ve found that a popular topic – after the long winter, the economic crisis, and Barrack Obama – is the widespread problem of dog poop on the sidewalks. Photograph: a local artist from the San Salvario district, just south of the center, created a satirical sculpture installation titled “Merda Rosa (Pink Shit)” in response to the lack of municipal attention to this visual and olfactory offense. The lack of grassy lawns makes it extra hard to clean a mucky shoe, so take care to sidestep the little piles.
3. Be careful of bike thieves and pickpockets!
As in any urban area, people will try to steal your wallet. Keep your wallet deep in your purse/bag, keep your purse/bag securely closed, and be sure to monitor it with added caution when taking public buses. Just last week my wallet was stolen directly out of my purse while my attention was elsewhere, and in the following days I was surprised to learn that most every local I talked to about the unfortunate incident had had their own wallet stolen at one time or another. So, this is not a warning for tourists only!
They will also try to steal your bike. The owner of a florist shop near Porta Nuova train station told me that she has had six bikes stolen in the past five years, from right outside of her shop! If you want to explore Turin by bike (a fantastic option when the weather allows it, especially if one takes the paths along the River Po), be sure to lock it every time.
4. How to survive public restrooms
Other small, unexpected difficulties can arise from the strange layout of public bathrooms, how to properly open front doors, and the appropriate way to break a large banknote. As many public restrooms consist only of a porcelain hole in the ground over which the desperate must uncomfortably squat, and more often than not lack a hook for one’s jacket and/or handbag, I recommend enlisting the help of a friend to take turns holding one another’s belongings. Doors into shops and residential buildings are often latched, and must be opened by was of a doorbell-like buzzer. Look for the word suonare (ring). Lastly, the best place to break a large bill into smaller change without fear of inconveniencing cashiers is in one of the tobacco shops that can be found within three blocks of practically anywhere, as they are properly equipped with lots of change.
Someone once said that true love doesn’t mean loving someone despite their faults, but because of them. One could say that these cultural idiosyncracies don’t diminish, but enhance Turin’s charm. Come, and see for yourself!