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Trip Report Switzaly 2011: two sisters visit Zurich, Turin and Milan

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I just returned from a really lovely trip to Zurich, Turin and Milan with my favorite travel companion, my sister K. It was 8 sunny days full of chocolate, wine, great food, museums, trains… and more wine. As always, I spent a lot of time on Fodors during my planning, sifting thru trip reports and old posts, soaking in as much information as I could and picking up a lot of tips along the way. I wasn’t planning on writing a trip report, but since I did gain so much here, I thought I should return the favor for anyone else researching these places.

The itinerary
Day 1 – arrive in Zurich; sleep in Zurich
Day 2 – Zurich; lunch in Rapperswil; sleep in Zurich
Day 3 – Zurich to Lucerne; Lucerne to Chur; sleep in Chur
Day 4 – Bernina Express to Tirano; train to Milano, then to Torino; sleep in Torino
Days 5-7 – Torino
Day 8 – Train to Milano; sleep in Milano
Day 9 – leave

We traveled between cities by train, and as I mentioned I did quite a bit of research before we left – I always like to have a plan, as well as a plan B and plan C. Overall, things went pretty smoothly, aside from the usual hiccup here and there. I did make some mistakes, though

1. Day 4 was really challenging and involved too many short connection times between trains (about 25 minutes each). I knew it would be a lot of moving for one day, but also thought that we should get it over with at once, to have three solid days in Torino. In hindsight, it may have been wiser to spend that night somewhere else, and gone on to Torino on Day 5.

2. I booked our return flight from Milano (instead of Torino) based on the lower price, without first researching how far Malpensa was from the city center. The cost to go by car was well over 100 euros, so we sucked it up and took the Malpensa Express train – at 428AM. It was fast and efficient, but it wasn’t pretty.

The trip got off to a somewhat shaky start. I’m in the Philadelphia suburbs and K in Queens, and the plan was for us to meet at JFK for our SwissAir flight to Zurich. I took NJ Transit to NY Penn Station, and expected to take the LIRR to the Air Train – foiled! Mechanical problems and bad weather resulted in all trains being cancelled and a huge mob scene at Penn. The subway to Queens was also experiencing issues and major crowds, but I eventually crammed myself onto the subway and made my way to the Air Train and the airport.

This was the first of many times that I was grateful to have packed very lightly for this trip -- I had a 17” bag, K a 20”, and we both had carry-on totes. We knew we would be doing a lot of train travel and schlepping on this trip, and really made a lot of effort to edit the packing. A few times I wished I had just one or two more outfits, but ultimately life was a lot easier with the lighter bags -- thanks to Fodorite Kristina at Wired2theWorld for the great packing tips!!

http://www.wired2theworld.com/travel-tips/packing/packing-womens-clothes

Next: Zurich

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    Zurich

    We arrived in Zurich on Friday morning and quickly found the tram to the city center. There is also a train, but we accidentally bought tickets for the tram, so tram it was! After a 40 minute or so ride, we made our way to the Hotel Astor, which was about an 8 minute walk to the main train station and old town, but up a BIG hill. The hotel was pretty reasonable by Zurich standards (150 chf / night for a twin; it’s an apartment-hotel, so no breakfast, but there is a little kitchenette) and though a bit rough around the edges, it was clean and convenient with big fluffy comforters and worked out perfectly for us (though that hill got old fast).

    We shook off the jetlag and immediately set off for a look around Zurich. We walked up the River Limmat (the left bank, I think?) towards Lake Zurich, passing the Grossmunster Church and the Rathaus, where we had our first glass of wine at the Rathaus Café by the river. Lunch was a sandwich from a little booth near the Rathaus. We wandered a bit more before heading back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before dinner.

    For dinner that evening, we took the tram a few stops (but over $4 a ride for a single ticket) to a beer hall called Zeughauskeller, recommended to us by a friend that used to live in Zurich. It was really hopping and all of the tables were full. We had made a reservation, but they weren’t able to find it. They let us have a table, as long as we were out within an hour or half or so, when the next party was due to arrive. Not a problem.

    Dinner was hearty -- sausage and rosti (a big patty of grated potatoes), along with a salad and a great big beer (some in our party may have had two. Not naming names, K). The lively atmosphere made it a fun choice, and the food was fine. It was a beautiful night, so we finished the evening with a stroll down the Banhoffstrasse, up the hill and back to the hotel.

    First days can be really challenging -- I often find myself tired and more crabby than usual, but the adrenaline and excitement helps me push through. Overall, this was a pleasant and stress-free first day.

    Next: Zurich with a side of Rapperswil

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    Day 2 – Zurich and Rapperswil

    It was another beautiful day, so we decided to forgo indoor plans for a boat ride on Lake Zurich. Instead of doing a round trip, we instead decided to take the train to Rapperswil on the opposite side of the lake, have lunch, and then return to Zurich by boat.

    We walked over to the Zurich train station and easily bought tickets and found the train. We really liked Rapperswil. It’s apparently called the rose city b/c of the number of rose gardens, and I can only imagine how beautiful it must be when they are in bloom. There were loads of people out enjoying the town and waterfront on this sunny Saturday. We climbed to the top of a castle (which also houses a Polish Museum) before looking for a place for lunch. The views of the lake and Rapperswil were spectacular.

    The waterfront restaurants were crowded but a bit pricey, and also featured lots of Italian food, which we were avoiding since we were soon to be in Italy, so we decided to go a bit away from the water and grabbed an outside table at a place called Rosenstaeder in the shadows of the castle. The menu stated that the produce, pork and cheese were all local, as were many of the wines, which I always appreciate. We both started with salads and, I had a dish of potatoes and cheese (forget what it was called, but that was the gist), and K had an alpine macaroni and cheese, with apple sauce and sausage. We shared a carafe of a local white wine which was lovely. So much for a light lunch…

    We walked a bit more before making our way to the dock for the boat and our return trip to Zurich. The ride across the lake was a highlight of our stay. It was really perfect. The trip was about an hour and a half. We bought a cocktail at the bar, sat back, and soaked in the beautiful scenery and fresh air. The boat stopped at towns along the way, picking up and dropping people off. I think this would be a really great way to see some of the Zurich surrounds, especially if you were fortunate enough to have as nice a day as we did.

    After we docked, we decided to walk back towards the hotel, by way of the Fraumunster and then the Banhoffstrasse for some window shopping and chocolate shopping (after spending a small fortune at one shop, the clerk told us we should try to visit their location in Rockefeller Center. Doh! Should have bought it there!).

    The Fraumunster church did not disappoint. The Chagall stain-glassed windows were breathtaking, especially in the late afternoon light. I was mesmerized by the colors. Really beautiful.

    That evening, we had a fondue dinner at a restaurant called Le Dezaley, near Grossmunster. This place was also humming, with every table occupied. It was pretty good – a big vat of cheese and a nice atmosphere. We decided to walk back to the hotel to burn off some of that cheese (we would have had to walk to Basel to do so, though), made a few pit stops along the way, and tackled the hill for the final time.

    Impressions of Zurich (based on our very limited time there)

    • Noise: it’s really quiet. The trams were quiet (except at 4am, when we were sleeping. Then they were screechy), the people were quiet, the cars were quiet. It’s a pretty city and it seems like a great place to live. For one, it’s really quiet. Plus, the transportation was efficient and clean and not overcrowded (LOVED the tram – though it was a bit pricey). But it was, perhaps, a bit… dull.

    • Smoking: there was way more smoking than I would have expected. Much more than I noticed during our Italian leg. Maybe it’s to provide balance to all of that fresh air and outdoorsiness?

    • Sticker shock: I was stressed about prices in Zurich, and my stress-level increased quite a bit in the past months as the Franc soared (but thankfully came back down again before we left, after it was pegged to the euro). Zurich was definitely pricey. Our morning Starbucks (grande, drip, no fancy foams or pumps) was about $5 and a latte was about $7 (there were Starbucks EVERYWHERE), a glass was of wine was $8-9, and almost all of our meals were in the triple digits or close. Honestly, these were NYC prices – but I’m not used to being a tourist in NYC and paying for hotels and every meal. Ouch. Sure, we could have been thriftier and had fewer meals out and less wine. This COULD have been the dieting portion of the trip, but… it’s vacation, and that’s what we work for, right (lame attempt at justification here)??

    • Tipping: my understanding was that tips are always included in the price and not expected. I felt like something was expected (in fact, many of the bills we received had a line for a tip. We were probably at tourist-oriented places, but still…) and we usually did feel compelled to at least round up. We were constantly confused on this point.

    I liked Zurich, but if I were to visit again, I would try to see some other neighborhoods, like Zurich West, or walk the Langstrasse, which is meant to be more 'colorful'. I’d also like to go up Uetliberg mountain, and we didn’t get to the Kunsthaus Museum as planned (it was too nice out to go into a museum). Maybe next time.

    Next: Lucerne and Chur

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    Teuscher's in Rockefeller Center is pretty, but they ship the chocolates in from Switzerland once a week, and I'm not sure which day of the week that is. Much better to get them fresh in Switzerland. If you do go to the branch in Rockefeller Center, ask them when the chocolates arrive (especially the truffles).

    http://www.teuscherfifthavenue.com/

    I hope you got to sample some chocolate in Torino.

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    Ahh, good to know. I'm glad we got them in Switzerland. They were a big hit with my office friends today, as were the Torino chocolates we brought back.

    Much chocolate was sampled in Torino, too (gianduja is heavenly).

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    Day 3 – Lucerne and Chur

    We awoke to yet another sunny and warm day, and made our way down the hill to the train station and Lucerne. The train took about 45 minutes, and again I found myself pleased with our light packing – we were able to get all of our things into one storage locker (I think it was 7CHF or so).

    Lucerne was as I had read – a Swiss town exactly as you picture one, complete with mountains (though it wasn’t clear enough for us to get a good view of them on this day), covered bridges and swans in the river. It was very picturesque, and also very crowded around the Old Town. We had initially debated staying in Lucerne instead of Zurich, and opted for Zurich since it didn’t seem likely we would take advantage of Lucerne’s easy access to the mountains. Lucerne was lovely, but my first impression was that I was glad we chose Zurich.

    We had a very nice lunch along the river in Lucerne, and I’m kicking myself for not having written down the name. I had a wonderful potato gnocchi with pumpkins and mushroom, along with a very nice sauvignon blanc that the server told us was from one of the best local wine producers in the region. We had fun watching the swans preen and run atop the river (it really looks like they’re running!). The ambiance was dealt a bit of a blow when two couples from Florida (I think) sat at the other end of our table, and one of the women spent the next half hour berating her husband over just about every perceived offense imaginable. Poor Bill. I hope he was able to have some fun on the trip. He did seem really happy when the giant beer he ordered was delivered. Hopefully there were many more to come.

    After lunch, we were ready to move on, so hustled back to the station to try to catch an earlier train to Chur, where we’d be staying for the night. We stopped at the Tourist Office in the train station for a map, and headed off to our hotel, the Zunfthaus zur Rebleuten

    We loved Chur. It was Sunday so many of the shops and restaurants were closed, but it was a really pretty town and the surrounding mountains were beautiful. Arguably, it may not have been as picture-postcard pretty as Lucerne, but it had a different vibe… less touristy and more home-town.

    We wandered around for awhile, and then stopped at a café to sample a cherry liquor that is made in the region (tasty!) and to relax in the late afternoon sun. Then, it was dinner at the Fraunzakaner Hotel, one of the few restaurants that was open and served ‘traditional’ food. K had something called Capuns – dough wrapped with a leaf (chard?) and stuffed with meat – which she enjoyed, and I had a spaetzel and cheese type of dish. It was a great place and a good choice for dinner.

    Next: Crazy Train Day – Bernina Express to Italy!

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    <Maybe it’s to provide balance to all of that fresh air and outdoorsiness?>

    We spend our time in Switzerland hiking, and I'm always amazed at how many people I see smoking on the hiking trails.

    Ooooo...Teuscher...I hope you tried the champagne truffles. I used to walk many, many blocks in the heat and humidity to a Teuscher store on my bi-monthly food shopping trips to Singapore, just for a champagne truffle or two. The joy!

    Very much enjoying your report.

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    Hi jmct713,

    Another one enjoying your report! I love the detail you write so that I can easily visualize your day and your activities.

    For others who read this -- one way to reduce the cost of eating in Switzerland is to have your main meal at lunchtime, when the menu prices are reduced, and then to grab a sandwich from a kiosk, a bakery, or a grocery store for dinner. I like the grocery story option a lot and stock up on fresh bread, cheeses, local dried ham, yogurt, chocolate, etc.

    Anyway, looking forward to reading more!!

    s

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    I like Chur. It's the cleanest town I've ever been in. (Almost) all of Switzerland is pretty tidy, but Chur looks like it's scrubbed from top to bottom every night.

    There's fresh snow on the mountain peaks, your BE ride must have been lovely - looking forward to more of your report!

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    Thanks so much for reading and the feedback.

    Swandav, we did actually pop into the Coop by the train station in Zurich (popular place!) and saw they had lots of sandwiches and prepared foods and the like, which would have been great for lunch or dinner. We left with only chocolate :) There was also a food stand by the Rathaus, where we grabbed a sandwich for our first lunch. That was a pretty economical alternative, too.

    Thanks again

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    Lovely writing!
    Your reports make me 'homesick' for die Schweiz. I really liked Zurich as well, though many posters here are not in agreement.
    I went twice last year to Zurich, staying in Chur, and later, Rapperswil for a whole week! Didn't go as far south as Italy, but beautiful weather for the first week of November.
    If interested, you can click on my name for both trip reports.

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    Day 4: Crazy Train Day – Bernina Express to Italy!

    We awoke early today to say goodbye to Chur and Switzerland and hello to Italy. After a quick breakfast at our hotel, we made our way back to the Chur train station to take the Bernina Express through the Alps to Tirano, Italy.

    The roads to the train station and the station itself were abuzz with kids presumably making their way to school. It was fun to see what they were all wearing – skinny jeans or leggings with boots or Converse seem to be the standard uniform, much like in the US. Oh, and scarves scarves scarves, even on the boys.

    K went into the Coop outpost at the station for some lunch provisions, and then we headed to the train. I had bought first class seat reservations and tickets online months ago (both are needed), in fear that the Franc would go even higher, and naturally bought them at the peak (yay me). Our seats were really comfy and spacious for our 4-hour journey ahead. There were informational brochures waiting for us at our seats, and we happily settled in for the ride, cameras ready.

    The train was wonderful. Announcements were made in German and English as we approached different landmarks, explaining what we were about to see or how different tunnels or viaducts were created. We were again very fortunate to have another sunny and clear day, and the views were spectacular. There wasn’t very much snow on the peaks yet, but there was some visible here and there, and we had great views of the glaciers. Many pictures were taken, and most actually came out! If I had to air one grievance, it would be that I would have liked to have had an opportunity to go outside at one of the stops, perhaps Alp Grum, and take some pics and breathe in some fresh mountain air and stretch our legs. All in all, though, we were both really pleased with the ride and it was definitely a highlight.

    At about 12:30 the train pulled into the Tirano, Italy station, and we crossed the small piazza to the station from which the Trenitalia trains operated (there was no passport or any other controls when we arrived, btw). We had 20 minutes before the train to Milano that I had earmarked was to depart, which would have been ample time – except the ticket booth at the station was closed (closed on Sunday and Monday per the sign), and there were no automated ticket machines to be found. I confess, I started to panic a bit. (I try really hard to be breezy and go with the flow, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Sorry K. You are a very patient sister.) I didn’t want to miss that train, as the next wasn’t for over an hour, and would cause us to miss the train to Torino we were targeting.

    I left K with the bags and started dashing around the station, trying to figure out where one was to purchase a ticket. An Italian woman stopped me to ask where the ticket office was. I answered that it was closed (I study Italian and can speak a little bit), and then she asked me where the Bar was. Lightbulb! The Bar! Of course! That’s where I was to buy the tickets! So, I made my way to the Bar and in my best Italian was able to secure our tickets to Milano.

    The train to Milano was the exact opposite of the Bernina. For every comfort the Bernina offered, the Trenitalia train lacked (in fairness, the ticket was also about $100 less than the Bernina, too). It turned out to be a very warm day, and of course there was no air conditioning, so we would bake every time the train stopped. Fortunately, there was some relief because the windows opened, so we were able to get some air when in motion. It was very crowded, and most of the windows were soaped up, blocking any views. This was especially disappointing, b/c when I did stand up to peak out of the open window, I saw we were traveling through some really beautiful areas. (Lecco looked absolutely gorgeous!)

    After two hours on the bucket of bolts, we were in Milano, and again rushing to try to catch the train we wanted for Torino. We intended to take the Eurostar train, but it was sold out. As we fumbled with the ticket machine, I couldn’t help but notice that this station was wall-to-wall people mobbed. Packed at 330 in the afternoon. I had read there was a local transport train strike on this day, and not sure if it had anything to do with it or if this is how Milano Centrale normally is, but the crowds were starting to make me feel panic about getting a ticket to Torino.

    We weren’t able to use our credit cards in the Trenitalia ticket machines (I had been able to on past trips. Are they using chip and pin now?), so I made my way to the ticket office while K watched our bags. The line snaked out of the office and into the hallway, and I immediately resigned myself to missing the earlier train options. We would probably not get to Torino until 8ish. Not tragic, but I had wanted to arrive during daylight hours in case it was difficult to find the hotel. But then, lightbulb again! I had enough euros on me from a previous trip, so I could just pay cash in the machines. I ditched the line, “splurged” on first class tickets on a Trenitalia regional train, and jogged back through the crowds to K and the train.

    This train, too, was completely packed. There were no seats in first class, and a few scattered in second. Several cars were closed altogether, and several had seats that were unuseable because of water dripping from overhead. We eventually found seats somewhat close together, stowed our bags, and settled in for the rest of the trip. We were happy to be on our way on an earlier train, but it was more stressful than I had anticipated. I KNEW it was going to be a busy, hectic train day, but the heat and the crowds jacked the stress level and made for two crabby girls. I didn’t do a very good job at being breezy and go with the flow, which would have helped tremendously (must work on that). BUT, there was some air conditioning on this train, the windows were clean-ish, and we would be in Torino during daylight hours and before apperitivo.

    At last, we arrived in Torino, tired and parched and happy to have three train-free days ahead.

    Next: Torino

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    Day 4 PM: Torino

    We arrived at the Porta Nuova Station in Torino, stopped at the TI in the station for a map, and made our way to the Hotel Urbani, about two blocks from the station, where we would stay for the next four nights.

    The hotel was perfectly located. We did have some concern about being so close to the train station since often times that equates to a seedy neighborhood, but it turned out to be a fine area, easy to get to the many transportation connections and a quick walk to the center. It was a great value, but I would only stay there again if I could get a room facing the back. There was a lot of early morning street noise in our front-facing room, and it was too warm to sleep comfortably with the windows closed.

    We quickly dropped our bags off in our room and set off to take a quick look around before dinner. We really wanted pizza, so we decided to make our way to a place I had in my notes called Da Michele in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, near the River Po. The piazza was very pretty, with the bridges and buildings on either side of the river illuminated and the cafes in the piazza bustling. Torino is beautiful at night.

    Da Michele was a tiny little place. It was a Monday night and full, and we took the last available table. We each had a salad, K had the pizza with salsiccia and I the pizza margherita, and we shared a carafe of the house red wine and some grissini. It was the perfect choice for our first night in Torino.

    We walked back along the Po to Vittorio Emmanuelle II and then to the hotel, stopping at a wine and cocktail bar called the Area Café on Via Sant’Anselmo, a few blocks from our hotel. This placed ended up being our ‘local’. We visited each night during our time in Torino, and always received a friendly welcome. It was very cozy inside, with brick walls and plenty of seating, but we always took an outside table. On this night, we each had a moscato d’asti, a lovely sweet-ish wine of the region which was a perfect way to end our first night.

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    Day 5: Torino

    We spent the next three days exploring Torino, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Our first task on our first full day in Torino was to return to the TI at the train station and purchase a TorinoCard. This turned out to be a great deal for us. For 27E each, we had free access to public transport (but not the metro) and it included entry into all of the museums we intended to visit. It would also have included the transport to the Palazzo Reale and the Superga Basilica, both outside of town, but unfortunately we never made it to either of those places.

    TorinoCards in hand, we walked through Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Castello on our way to the Duomo, where the Shroud of Turin would be if it were on display (not again until 2025). They did have a small exhibit in the church about the shroud, though.

    After the duomo, we headed over to the Mole Antolleniana, a building originally built to be a synagogue but now houses a Cinema Museum. After a quick lunch in the museum café (taken while playing trivia games on the table top screens), we started our tour of the museum. This was a really interesting and fun museum and we both enjoyed it quite a bit. There were all sorts of interesting displays about vision and how movies came to be, lots of movie posters and sets, and a variety of creative seating areas to watch films projected on the walls or ceilings, such as a heart shaped bed or rows of toilets. Educational and fun! To finish our visit, we took a ride to the top in the panoramic lift (also included with the TorinoCard) for fabulous views of the city, though it was a bit hazy so the mountains weren’t very clear.

    We were ready for a break at this point, so headed back to Piazza San Carlo for a stop at Caffe Torino and a pricey cocktail. The interior is beautifully baroque, but we opted for one of the outside tables for some people watching. We both tried a Martini Bianco. LOVED. I was expecting more of a martini taste because of the name, but instead it was sweet and a bit vanilla-tasting and quite refreshing on a very warm afternoon!

    Now it was time for another break, so we walked over to the café and shop called Al Bicerin to sample one of their specialty called ... a bicerin. I feel like this drink was made for me – coffee, chocolate and milk. How can you go wrong? Very tasty. We also did some shopping in their little chocolate shop.

    We needed to walk off these beverages and make room for dinner, so we finished the afternoon with a bit more chocolate shopping as well as some book shopping (I like to read chick-lit type books translated into Italian -- they don't use a lot of hard words or verb tenses, and the stories are nice and simple and easy to follow. Good practice).

    That evening, we decided to head to the Quadrilateral Romano area of the city and a restaurant called Pastis for apperitivo. There was a lot of activity in this neighborhood, with tons of restaurants and bars and people roaming the streets. Pastis turned out to be the bargain of the trip. There was a small restaurant / bar area, but a huge outdoor patio in front. We found an empty table and each ordered a glass of wine. The waiter then explained to us that the price of our drink included a visit to the apperitivo station. Unlike many of the apperitivo places, this wasn’t a buffet, but we received a nice-sized plate of meats, cheeses, grissini and pizza with our wine – for 9E total. The ambiance was really fun, too, which made this a great choice.

    Dinner that night was a place called Osteria Venezia, in the same piazza as Al Bicerin. The piazza was lovely at night – a white washed church in the piazza called the Santuario della Consolata looked pretty in the daytime, but in the evening was illuminated and beautiful. K had a really nice pumpkin risotto and I had an unmemorable fish dish. I definitely had order envy.

    Our first day in Torino was a hit.

    Next: More Torino

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    Days 5 and 6: More Torino

    We spent the next two days enjoying Torino. I’ll just list the highlights

    • Porto Palazzo Market: This is a HUGE outdoor market with a wide variety of stalls, including a large area of fruits and veggies and the typical street fair kind of places with socks, underwear, handbags and random cosmetics. We especially enjoyed strolling around the produce area. The shoppers were really diverse, too, making for some great people watching. I’m glad we took the time to check this out, even though we weren’t in the market for produce.

    • GAM (Modern Art Museum): they had a nice collection here, and it’s a shame there weren’t more people visiting (there must have been 3 people working for each visitor). They had an interesting exhibition entitled Meloncholy which we enjoyed, including some works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Cy Twombly and Modigliani.

    • Eataly and the Lingotto: we took the bus here on our last day in Torino. Eataly was pretty much as we expected it to be, having been to the ones in NYC and Bologna. We squeezed in a bit more chocolate shopping here and a light lunch before heading over to the Lingotto across the way.

    The Lingotto is the old Fiat factory and now a large shopping mall. If you have a hankering for hot dogs or Foot Locker, this is the place! We had no interest in the mall, but the top floor houses the small but fabulous Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli. Wow! It’s small, only 25 or so paintings, but all are marquee name artists – Matisse, Picasso, Manet, Il Canaletto, Renoir. We really enjoyed this.

    • Piazza Bodoni: we stopped for a glass of wine here, and found ourselves sitting next to the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi. The piazza itself is quiet and very pretty, and the music flowing from the school was a lovely treat. Torino seems to have an endless supply of pretty piazze to sit and enjoy a coffee or wine, and we did our best to sample as many as possible.

    • Dinner at L’Acino: this was a small place in the Quadrilateral Romano neighborhood (my notes say Slow Food). We arrived early and were fortunate to get a table, as the place quickly filled up. It felt like a neighborhood place – the family at the table next to us had their dog, and we didn’t hear any English (though, we didn’t hear much English anywhere in Torino, except when spoken to us). The waiter was friendly and very sweet, describing the specials to us in a hybrid of Italian and English. We shared a bottle of Nebbiola and appetizers of zucchini flowers and peppers with bagna cauda, a dip of olive oil, anchovies and a little pepper kick. I love anchovies so this was a big winner for me. Next, K had the warm bowl of twirly pasta and salsiccia she had been craving all week, and I tried the agnolotti, a ravioli-type pasta with a light buttery sage sauce. We finished our meal with a bunet, which the waiter told us was a traditional Piemontese dessert. It was chocolate, looked like a brownie, but had the texture and consistency of a flan. Nice.

    • Dinner at Antiche Sere: I read about this place here on Fodor’s and on Chowhound, and I’m so glad that the glowing reviews prompted us to seek it out. We loved this place and had a fabulous meal here. It’s a bit outside of the center, so took about 25 minutes or so to get there by metro (we returned on the bus). Our hotel helped us make a reservation, but when we arrived, they weren’t able to find it. Even though the place was full, they asked us to wait on the back patio (with a kitty named Blondie and a complimentary glass of wine) until they could find a table for us. We didn’t mind waiting at all, but they were very apologetic about it. We were just happy they were able to accommodate us! We started with an antipasti of peppers with bagna cauda, beef with parsley pesto, a little bit of cheese and salumi and a small omelette. K then had a gnocchi in gorgonzola, but I had the clear winner with the agnolotti – delicious. We then shared a carpaccio with shaved parmesan, followed by my favorite dessert of the week, though unfortunately I can’t read my notes to tell you what it was (it looks like I wrote baubino with honey, but I don’t think baubino is correct?). Like the bunet, it had the consistency of flan, but this had a distinctly honey flavor and sat on a bed of crushed hazelnuts. Somehow we also managed a taste of a complimentary zabaglione, which also was quite nice and not too sweet. All was washed down with a really nice Barbera wine.

    All night, the two women that were running the restaurant were friendly to everyone, and all of the tables seemed so happy and having a great time. We received such a warm thank you and goodbye when we left. It was a wonderful evening.

    Next: on to Milano

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    Somehow I forgot a Torino highlight

    • Palazzo Madama: thanks to Zeppole for making this sound so intriguing that we made it a priority to visit. We enjoyed touring the palazzo and the art and ceramic collections, but were especially impressed with the grand staircases at the entrance. Wow.

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    How lucky you got to eat at both L'Acino and Le Antiche Sere. Both were closed when I was there in August, and I ended up with an indifferent meal at I Tre Galli, and an even worse one at EATALY.

    The grand staircase of the Palazzo Madama is a triumph.

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    Day 8: Milano

    I screwed up the days. The last entry should have been days 6 and 7. Onto day 8…

    This was our last day in Italy, and we did not want to leave Torino. I actually had the wateries for a second as we said goodbye to the Hotel Urbani. We both really enjoyed this city. There was so much to see and do and taste, most of the people we met were friendly, and it was very easy to get around, both on foot and on the trams and buses. It’s a great place and I hope I get the chance to go back and explore more, as well as the surrounding area.

    But, it was time to make our way to Milano. After an uneventful train ride from Torino to Milano and two subways (again, grateful for light packing), we made our way to the Hotel Genius Downtown, close to the Castle Sforzesco and the Cadorna train station, where we’d need to be at 4AM the following morning to take the train to Malpensa and our flight home.

    I was really expecting to hate Milano. I had read so many negative things about it, and read so many times that it was “industrial,” that I was half expecting to see warehouses and smoke stacks on ever corner. Instead, once we got away from the crowds of the duomo, I think we both liked what we saw and wished we had a bit more time to explore (there’s never enough time, is there?) Maybe next time.

    Here are the highlights of what we did in our short time in Milano:

    • Lunch at Obika Mozzarella Bar, on the outside terrace of the Rinascimento Department Store: we dropped our bags off at the hotel and walked over to the Duomo, but decided that we needed to fortify our strength before tackling the crowds there. I didn’t have very many appealing choices in my notes in this area, so we decided to try the Obika and at least get some nice views. We grabbed a table on the crowded outside terrace, and had a fabulous close-up view of the top of the Duomo while enjoying a simple lunch of mozzarella and great big salads.

    • Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle: we decided to stroll through this mall on the way back to the crowds of the Duomo, taking a few pictures of La Scala on the way. The glass arcades of the Galleria were really beautiful. I had read that it housed a lot of pricey shops, which it did, but was surprised to see a McDonald’s there, too, complete with “sidewalk” seating (though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised).

    • The Duomo: nothing new I can say about the Duomo. It’s amazingly over-the-top beautiful and ornate. All of the crowds and vendors in front made me a bit grouchy while we were there, but it was certainly worth the aggravation to see it.

    • Pinacoteca di Brera: unfortunately I was getting pretty tired by the time we made our way here, but even in my crabby state I was in awe of the huge collection of renaissance paintings. The building the collection is housed in is also quite interesting.

    • Brera neighborhood: we walked around here a bit in the evening and had an apperitivo at a bar in the neighborhood. It was a pretty area with cobble stoned streets and tons of bars and restaurants (and not at all industrial-looking). We sat outside for a drink and admired the skill of the many bicycle riders bumping along the cobblestone, many of whom were women in heels and impeccably dressed. We also had a nice dinner here at Osteria di Brera (I had a really nice risotto with black truffles).

    The one disappointment in Milano was that we didn’t have enough time to explore Castello Sforzesco and the many collections it houses. We did get a chance to walk through the central courtyard, and the Castle itself (and the moat) were pretty amazing. Many pictures were taken. Something else for next time!

    Bright and early the next day, we walked to the Cadorna station (past quite a few people that clearly hadn’t made it home from the night before yet) to the Malpensa Express train and a mercifully easy trip home. We were two tired gals, but it was a great trip and I’m already dreaming about the next one.

    The end.

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    Thanks too. I especially liked that you included how you didn't want to leave Torino and how Milano surprised you for its pleasantness. The maze of Castello Sforzesco is a bear to visit quickly -- it really is as much castle as it is museum.

    Milano and Torino are easy to dip into over and over again on any trip to Italy. The combine well with lots of interesting explorations, including into France, down to Liguria, up to the Italian/Franch Alps, or into Emilia-Romagna. I'm always happy to be in either city.

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    "We both tried a Martini Bianco. LOVED. I was expecting more of a martini taste because of the name, but instead it was sweet and a bit vanilla-tasting and quite refreshing on a very warm afternoon!"

    A friend who lived in Torino for years introduced me to Martini Bianco. It's my drink at home when I want to feel like I'm in Italy. The classic way to have it according to my friend: Martini Bianco (dry vermouth) on the rocks with a wedge of lemon.

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    Hi Doc,
    No, we never had any luck with using cards in the trenitalia machines, so either had to use cash or buy from the ticket office. I had no issue using the same cards in the trenitalia machines last year, so I can only assume that perhaps they required chip and pin in the machines we tried this year.

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    Chur is a very nice visit, and is popular as it is a rail crossroads, so one passes through Chur going to various other locations. It is also the capital city of Graubrunden, (Grissons) so it is a very nice and recommended stop if one is also seeing other parts of Eastern Switzerland. It would be out of the way, however, if one is trying, instead to see mostly Western (French)Switzerland. Graubrunden is considered the prototypical "Heidi" part of Swtz. and is the area where the Romansch language was/is spoken.

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