Today I left Turin. After checking out I wandered leisurely through town past the Opera House on the way to the Porta Nuova Station. How did I know? Apart from the sign, the recorded singing was a bit of a clue.
Porta Nuova (New Gate) is the third busiest station in Italy for passenger flow after Rome Termini and Milan Central, with about 192,000 journeys per day and 70 million travellers a year and a total of about 350 trains per day… but today, it felt incredibly quiet. Presumably travel numbers haven’t quite returned to pre-Pandemic figures.
Having read this busy fact I found myself looking around and comparing the passenger levels to my big trip before the Pandemic struck. I also compared it with previous trips to Italy.
The station really did feel quiet. There were empty seats throughout the station and sitting next to the departures board I had no trouble finding a seat (because yes, I do feel much happier when I can watch my train progressing up the board and I like to know the platform I have to dash to sooner rather than later. London Euston: I’m looking pointedly at you).
The station was first opened to the public in December 1864 – although the work was completed in 1868. There was no official opening ceremony at the time, which was partly because the capital of Italy had just been moved from Turin (after holding the role for only three years) to Florence. It was finally officially opened in 2009 – better late than never
There’s an immersive Banksy exhibition opening in the Summer. I found myself wondering how much of that is about encouraging people back to rail travel: You can have dinner, have drinks, do your shopping catch a train AND see an art exhibition. What more do you want from a railway station?
And so far, so incredibly easy. Rock up with your ticket on your phone, wander through to your platform, board the train, find your seat and at some point, a conductor will appear to check your ticket. A very different experience to Chinese rail travel. (Or English, certainly at main stations – I sometimes think they’ve been encouraging the platform guards to be more Gandalf in their thinking: None shall pass).
My carriage was, of course, almost at the furthest end of the platform. However, my seat was the first through the door meaning I wouldn’t have to dislocate my shoulders to avoid coshing fellow passengers with my backpack. (I’m very conscious that it adds another two feet to my circumference at the back).
This was a fast train and would only take an hour to reach Milan – it’s final destination being Naples.
The carriage filled up ten minutes later at Porta Susa’s subterranean platforms. Originally built in 1868 (not that you would believe this based on the glass exterior) it’s apparently less busier than Nuova – based on passenger numbers today, I am not convinced.
In April 2006, work began on the reconstruction of the station in conjunction with the Turin Passante regional railway and Porto Nuova’s days as the main city station may ultimately be numbered.
The ambitious project involved quadrupling of the number of tracks that run through central Turin and at Porta Susa, the line was widened to six tracks with new platforms being built beneath the thoroughfare Corso Inghilterra. A 300-metre long, 19-metre high glass and steel structure was built above the tracks to create a new station, which is intended to become Turin’s main hub of urban, regional and international rail traffic.
I arrived here three days ago and saw no sign of any older station.
The train rapidly picked up speed and we sped put of Turin through a flat landscape of fields, industrial sites and settlements. The forested hillsides skirted away.
The train slowed as we reached the outskirts of Milan.
Only an afternoon in Milan? Yep. I’ve been here before so I’m just having a wander past a few monuments. From Milan Central, into the city centre to see the Duomo and the statue of Victor Emmanuel the first king of Italy.
It’s hard to be awestruck by it when it’s covered in more pigeons than sit on the wires outside my parents’ house… just waiting for my stepdad to wash his car. The lion looked like he was desperate to twitch his nose to startle the pigeons on his face.
The Victor Emmanuel Gallery, the stunning shopping arcade next to the piazza was heaving and, like me, I bet not one of those visitors was buying anything. Leonardo’s square was quiet by contrast.
Along to the Sforzesco Castle which is a fantastic place to spend a day. It was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan Francesco Sforza on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Parts of it were demolished were demolished during Napoleonic rule and one Italy was unified it wasn’t certain that there was political appetite to restore it. The castle now houses several museums.
At the top of the castle’s grounds is a triumphal arch. The Arch of Peace was started during the Napoleonic era but construction wasn’t always consistent (thanks to various conquests). The Arch stands at the site of a gate from the Roman era when it was known as Jupiter’s Gate. The newly built Strada del Sempione entered Milan at this point so this was the site chosen for the Arch. This road, which is still in use today, connects Milan to Paris through the Simplon Pass crossing the Alps.
I was simply here to work up an appetite for afternoon tea. Of course I was having afternoon tea at some point during this trip and in my painstaking research (you’ve got to take this seriously) I found some very good reviews for Palazzo Parigi. Decision made.
Did I want to sit in the garden or the salon? Tough choice but the salon looked amazing and here follows some faffy-angled shots from the table. The view to the foyer was my favourite but in the time it took to pour, what I swear was a larger glass of, champagne, than you’re usually given in the UK, a bald headed man was sitting in front of me and that just didn’t work for the photos.
This place was so nice that even my bag was given a seat. (So was the bald man’s briefcase, I noticed).
The tiered tray arrived. I wasn’t convinced that this would be as filling as afternoon teas that I am used to. (No I’m not comparing this to Moscow afternoon tea – that was food for four people and fed me for three days.
Three sandwiches – more thumb than finger to be absolutely honest, so fairly generous. The ham and tomato in a light mayonnaise was delicious. The cucumber and cream cheese (on brown bread) was refreshing and flavoured with fresh thyme. The salmon and lettuce on white was good though I was now wondering if refills would be offered… reader, they weren’t.
No scones, straight to the pastries.
The madeleine with a slither of candied orange was delicious sharp and tangy rather than sugary. Blueberry, custard filled slice preaented a brief dilemma – two bites would be polite but it was flaky pastry so that would be messy: one bite it was and a tsunami of flakes was averted. The chocolate choux was to die for – it really needed to be larger.
The tea was now on its way. I’d seen one tray diverted before I started eating the pastrieswhich was somewhat worrying. What could have been wrong with it? There was no Darjeeling. Assam arrived instead. The leaves hadn’t yet been added to the water so would require three to four minutes before I could pour. Absolutely fine by me. It was also a pretty generous pot.
The second plate of pastries…
Lemon meringue tart and readers with a memory may remember that I’m always sceptical about lemon meringue. This was perfect. Soft meringue tipping over a sharp and fresh lemon curd while the pastry cup did not require a hammer and chisel to cut – it all just melted in the mouth.
I followed this with the orange cheesecake (gambling that the last pastry was chocolate not coffee – that was a cherry not a coffee bean wasn’t it?) It was perfect.
Yes, it was a cherry on the final pastry. Good lord, it was heavenly: chocolate pastry, chocolate ganache and, possibly for want of a better description, chocolate hundreds and thousands.
A fabulous venue, attentive and friendly (but unintrusive) service. Delicious food though not in copious quantities. The à la francaise afternoon tea comes in at €35 – the champagne was probably worth the price (but I’m not sure that the classic at €27, without the champagne, would be). The sandwiches and delicate pastries were absolutely divine but, while I did feel full now, I did suspect that I’d be seeking a slice of pizza by the time I reached my next stop.
(I usually find that an afternoon tea results in not being able to eat again until the following morning’s breakfast).
Top Tip: Milan Central’s Left Luggage Office is great. There are a number of companies who after a Google search, highlight that there is either no facility or an office that closes at 1830 and that you should use their facilities.
This is Central’s left luggage office. It’s open 0700-2100 and I paid €7 to drop my luggage off for just over six hours. It was easy to find – clearly signposted. The staff were friendly and I didn’t have to book my bag in online. I walked in, presented my ID, was given a ticket and came back later to hand over the money in return for my rucksack. Easy.