What do you do when you have a long weekend; three whole days off work but you don’t get paid until the next week so can’t afford to go anywhere far away.…..you have adventures in your city and the surrounding area. Over the Easter weekend we were gifted one whole day off, I know it’s very very exciting.
As a group, my friends and I are trying to see the things that tourists, travellers, heck; even Italians as I found out might not necessarily go to see. Those little places that don’t get a mention in Lonely Planet but have so much to offer people seeking something off the beaten track. On Easter Monday, my friend B called me and asked if I wanted to go to Racconigi with her and her boyfriend for the day. Of course, firstly I agreed and then secondly, I asked, “What’s Racconigi?” Racconigi, it turns out is a small town about an hours drive outside of Torino which has a quite impressive castle and surrounding parklands.
B and P came to pick me up and I knew from moment that B took out her phone and started blasting and subsequently singing “Locomotion” by Kylie Minogue that this was going to be an interesting trip. One of my biggest secrets, that by now, probably isn’t that much of a secret is that I can’t drive. Yep, I’m 31 years old and I can’t drive…..legally. Illegally I am a super driver. Shhhhh don’t tell anyone. I am an excellent passenger though. I love driving, correction, I love being driven. Sitting back, relaxing and letting the world pass you by. Sadly, the road out to Racconigi isn’t THAT interesting. You are driving through small uninteresting towns, business parks and industrial estates mostly although off in the distance there is the ever present backdrop of the mountains that sometimes just don’t look real. It’s as if someone just decided to select a different background and tacked on “mountain scene number 5” from the drop down menu. I have been assured that the mountains ARE in fact real! Actually one fun game to play on the way out to Racconigi is ‘Spot the Hooker’, you can play it similarly to ‘Yellow Punch Buggy’, where if you spot the hooker first you get to punch someone else in the car in the arm. But heed my words and play at your own risk or you could end up with sore arms and hurt feelings.
What seems like five hundred repetitions of ‘Locomotion’ later we finally arrived in Racconigi. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to a small, slightly rural town in Italy on Easter Monday, but it is a quiet, ghosttown of a place. Everything is locked up tight and closed for the day. We wandered through the deserted street searching for a cafe or bar en route to the castle. Being ‘Italian’, we couldn’t possibly continue on without a drinking a coffee, that is a ludicrous idea. How can you expect to do anything without a coffee before it? The bar was unremarkable, similar to every other little cafe bar in Italy so we didn’t stay longer than we had to. Suitably caffeinated we ventured on round the corner and were greeted with the site of Castello di Racconigi. The castle was one of the residences for the Royal House of Savoy. The outside is surprisingly warm, inviting and homey. We quickly divided up the castle; B and P would take the west wing, I could have the east and we would share the joining middle section for group parties and the like.
You need to buy tickets to enter the castle and the park, of course in typical Italian fashion they are sold at different ticket desks and a joint ticket is not available.
The castle is very regal and pretty much everything that could be decorated is. These people didn’t believe in minimalism. There are a million different things to see walking around the castle. The entrance hall is pretty impressive, just keep looking up, there are a million different carvings and interesting little details to see. Like most historical houses, there is a path to follow and it’s nearly impossible to miss out any rooms. It being Easter Monday when we went the castle was pretty busy but I can imagine on a normal weekend or weekday that you might have the castle almost to yourself.
The castle sits at the top of a huge parkland which is also open to the public with the purchase of a ticket although they seemed to have a somewhat lax ticket checking policy.The park is the perfect antidote to the castle’s opulence and grandeur. A massive central lawn is surrounded by shaded walking paths, many of which were closed at the time that we went because I think they were doing work on them getting them ready for summer. The castle is great for a rainy day but the park is the perfect place to spend a day out in the sun. The day we went many families in the know had brought out blankets and picnics to spend the last day of their long weekend outside working on their tans. The park is also home to a bird sanctuary and there are many warning signs to look out because the resident storks might drop a branch on your head.
We finished with the castle and wandered around the empty streets back to the car. We still had many hours of daylight left and decided to go get a late lunch in Bra, a nearby city. I can hear my very mature readers giggling at ‘Bra’ and I can honestly say that with my immature sense of humour, I also chuckled at ‘Bra’. The Italian pronunciation has a long ‘r’ and a short ‘a’ sound not our English short ‘r’ and long ‘a’. Bra is famous as the home of the Slow Food movement and you can see signs on many restaurants that promise a ‘Zero km’ menu, meaning that the produce they use comes from the immediate vicinity around Bra not trucking in vegetables or meat from other parts of Italy or the world. Bra is also famous for their particular sausages. I have had an experience with Bra sausages before and it is a pretty funny story. The first weekend I was in Torino, me and two friends went out to a bar and ordered some food. I ordered the Bra sausages thinking that they would accompany my beer quite nicely. They arrived at the table and looked a little strange and by looked a little strange I mean were completely raw. I squeezed on my lemon and plunged in. I don’t know if you have ever eaten a raw sausage but the experience is not really pleasant. Raw sausage has an off putting texture to it and is far too mushy for your dear writers palate. My friend who actually speaks Italian explained to the waiter, that we are foreign and didn’t understand that the sausages were meant to be eaten raw but her poor Canadian friend couldn’t stomach eating them so could they please put them in a pan and heat them up, the waiter obliged and what I received back were some of the most delicious sausages I have ever eaten.
So this story played through my head when in the marketplace in Bra we saw that they were serving sausage paninis and thankfully they were cooking the sausage from the beginning. B and I left P in the line for the sandwiches and went off in search of beer. In the time it took us to find, get and return with the beer P had moved maybe 2 feet. This was going to be a long wait. The people waiting in line were kept entertained and passive by a band playing what I can only assume are crowd favourites from about 50 years ago, judging by the age of the people dancing and singing along. The difference in dancing abilities mirrored the singing abilities perfectly, some were excellent and clearly well practiced and some …….well let’s give them a medal for participation. After about an hour we finally made it to the front of the line and the slightly frazzled looking kid serving told us that they were out of bread for the sandwiches but he could give us a bowl of sausage with a few slices of baguette for a reduced price. Having waiting in line for that long we would not admit defeat and accepted his offer realizing afterwards that he was giving better bread to other customers. I think he was just angry at us because we ordered beer and he had to change the keg over. Fair play, kid.
As we were sitting on the curb eating our bowls of meat, an event that can only happen in Italy occurred. A police car with lights flashing and closely behind a tractor slowly drove down the road and over the sound of the engine you could hear a quieter tinkling sound following it. The tinkling sound was from the bells around the necks of a gigantic flock of sheep being kept in check by vigilant border collies while the farmers smoked and chatted to each other. The procession was rounded off by another police car with it’s lights flashing, silently warning other drivers to look out for Little Bo Peep and her gang as they paraded through town. Sufficed with our sausage and ‘What the Fuck??’ moment for the trip, we walked into the centre of Bra. Bra is a lovely little town but of course you can say that about many places in Italy. And also like many places in Italy, it’s situated on a hill. A very big hill. As we were walking, we saw the brown tourist attraction signs pointing us up to the top of this very big hill. Not deterred by a bit of walking and the mystery of what the ‘Zizzola’ was we ambled on. 5 pm on any day is not a good time to go visit a tourist attraction in Italy, 5 pm on Easter Monday is an especially bad time to try and visit a tourist attraction in Italy. The gates were closed and the side access road actually led into someone’s driveway so our attempts to figure out the Zizzola were thwarted. All I can tell you at this moment is it was a rounded brick building on top of a hill with a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside. We might not have seen the Zizzola but the view was totally worth the climb up.