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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ready to Visit Piedmont? Save $200 on a Specialty Tour

Our personal and professional friend, Anna Maria Sorrentino, who was born in Torino and was here with us last week runs a fantastic specialty tour company called Shop, Wine and Dine. In honor of the Olympics, she's offering $200 off any of her fall trips to the region of Piemonte.

The $200 per person discount will be honored if the booking is made directly through Shop, Wine and Dine and the deposit is paid by March 31, 2006. It applies to the following 2006 tours:

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mangia! -- At the Venues

No hot dogs, but they have beer. No hamburgers, but will prosciutto do? Wonder what spectators are noshing on while watching the events? Here's a sample menu (most venue offerings are the same, others have slight variations):

Certain Rules Still Apply Even During the Olympics

I had a nice conversation with an Associated Press reporter yesterday, trading observations about the city of Torino, the people here, the Olympics. One of our topics of conversation made it into this short piece:

Reserved Torinesi keep the lunch hour the lunch hour for the Olympics

TURIN, Italy -- Olympics? What Olympics?

Turin, Italy, has welcomed thousands of foreign visitors to the Winter Games. And its restaurants are extending their dinner hours well into the night.

But there are limits. Late lunchers find most restaurants' midday schedules unchanged. They're closed between lunch and dinner. That means for many, a late afternoon lunch is a takeout or a sandwich in a cafe.

Kathy McCabe, who writes a newsletter called Dream of Italy, says the people of Turin are famous among Italians for their reserve. That may help explain why restaurant and store schedules are so little changed for the Games.

Scalping, Skating, Sasha and a Chinese Pizzeria

I now completely agree that the ticket prices for the Winter Games events are outrageously overpriced. Take last night's Figure Skating - Ladies' Short Program -- I believe the cheapest seats still set you back 170 euros each (and for this popular event, were sold out long ago). How does the IOC expect to fill the seats with anyone but sponsors or do they not care? In fact, sponsors bought up blocks of tickets long ago and if and when they realized they didn't need quite so many, passed them along to the "secondary market" or what we also call "scalpers." Scalping though usually refers to selling tickets over face value. As a rule that hasn't been the case at these Games, that's why we took our chances and headed out to the Palavela last night without tickets...

We immediately encountered one scalper who wanted 100 euros each for tickets. We decided to keep looking. It became a bit of a games as the scalpers seemed a bit more undercover at this event. Yet, I was never wrong when spotting a single man standing alone, looking around, to guess he was a scalper. One guy who had one ticket to sell (280 euros face value) was simply outrageous in demanding 200 euros with just 15 minutes before the program began. Finally, an American man overheard us "negotiating" with some slightly rude scalpers and offered us two tickets (170 euros each, face value) for 80 euros each. We were so pleased, we even gave him a Dream of Italy pin.

Twenty-nine skaters competed last night, among them three Americans - Kimmie Meissner, Emily Hughes, Sasha Cohen. There were plenty of American spectators among the crowd of 6,000. Italian fans also made up a large contingent as there were two Italian skaters competing. Three themes of the evening: 1) an energetic and friendly crowd, cheering on all of the skaters; 2) lots of falls; 3) bizarre scoring.

Sasha Cohen was the last skater of the evening and boy did they save the best for last. Her performance was phenomenal and so far superior to the other women that the crowd went absolutely wild when she finished. Again, we were shocked when the scores can out and she only narrowly moved into first place.

Skipping dinner and watching four hours of skating, holding your breath at every turn, can make you hungry! At 11:30 p.m. the Chinese pizzeria across from the venue sounded good to me. The menu included both Chinese specialties and pizza. I orded some Chinese dishes - while I can eat Italian food all day, every day, this was a nice change an interesting way to cap off an exciting evening.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ceretto's New Restaurant in Alba

I mentioned our fantastico culinary tour of Piedmont and have been meaning to return to write further installments of all that we saw and ATE. I was so impressed with the new restaurant the Ceretto wine family has opened in Alba that I rushed it into the February issue of Dream of Italy. Here's an excerpt:

Owned by the Ceretto wine family, Piazza Duomo, which opened last May, is led by 34- year-old Milanese chef Enrico Crippa. Crippa has worked with Gualtiero Marchesi in Milan and at La Palme d’Or in Cannes and Ledoyen in Paris. He also trained in Japan, which explains the abundance of seafood andAsian influences in his cooking. Critics havecompared Crippa with the famed Ferran Adria of Spain’s El Bulli. Adria may be best knownfor the use of foam in his creations.

On a recent visit, we didn’t experience outrageous dishes in the tradition of Adria, but better yet, a wonderful mix of traditional Piedmontese fare with modern and international twists. The appetizers included: steamed focaccia with lard and rabbit; rice macaroni seasoned with sesame and salt; wontons filled with ricotta and lime; rabbit liver mousse.

The courses following included: artichoke puree with thinly sliced potato; fresh cod salad with a green sauce; egg pasta pockets filled with potato and leeks in broth; veal shoulder cooked in Barolo with polenta.The meal ended with a chestnut cream creation as well as a refreshing gelatin of Moscato wine with oranges.

Piazza Risorgimento, 4
(39) 0173 366167
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
Reservations recommended.

On Second Thought, Maybe I Won't Have the Chicken

When you're immersed in the happenings of the Olympics, its hard to forget that there's a world outside Torino, let alone many other things taking place in Italy. One story we successfully avoided until dinner the other night is that of the dozen or so discoveries of bird flu in Italy.

Italians usually have pasta as a first course or primi piatti and some kind of meat as the second course or secondo. Veal is by far the most popular choice for secondo. Occasionally, chicken is offered on the menu and one of our group ordered pollo the other night. The waitress said they were no longer serving it due to the bird flu discoveries. Consumption of chicken is down 70 percent across Italy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Notes

Bill Bush is Everywhere We saw the Access Hollywood host again last night. This time eating at the wonderful and cozy, L'Agrifoglio. Go this restaurant for its fantastic selection of Piedmontese cheeses, as well as traditional regional dishes. Open only for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Via Accademia Albertina, 38/D; Phone: (39) 011 837064

Some Avoiding the Mountains Especially after yesterday's snowfall, some spectators are forgoing a trip to the mountains to see events. Friends who went to Saturday's Super G - it was a steep, two-mile walk before they were told the event was cancelled - have vowed never to go back up there. I fell and hit my head while walking to last week's men's snowboard cross. Spectating at these Games isn't for the faint of heart.

Will We See You in Piemonte? The big question as the final week of competition opens is whether Torino and the region of Piemonte will be able to transform the attention to this part of Italy into a future tourism increase. If you want more information on the region and how to plan a trip here, visit www.seeyouinpiemonte.com

Berets Still Hot You may remember that the Roots beret was the must-have item at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. The 2006 version is a hot item here in Torino. I got mine by talking my way into the store at USA House, but I wouldn't recommend this approach as they have really cracked down on letting people in.

Italians Can't Handle Lines I hate to make rash generalizations but having been cut in front of in line so many times in the past few weeks - from the gelato line to the line for bathroom - I am going to say it - Italians are a line-cutting group!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Today Show in Torino

If you're in Torino and looking to meet some Americans, your best bet is to head to Piazza San Carlo where NBC has set up their studio. There seems to be a general crowd gathered here throughout the day, regardless of whether a show is currently filming, but it fills up the most during the afternoon taping of The Today Show (beginning at 1 p.m. local time). While a lot of people, Americans and foreigners alike, come to check out the scene, the crowds don't even remotely rival those that amass outside their studio in Rockefeller Center, so your chances of chatting with Al, getting on camera, or just snapping a couple photos are pretty good.

I passed through the piazza well after their taping ended, around 5 p.m., and caught both Katie Couric and Matt Lauer hanging around outside. Matt was talking to a foreign reporter, while Katie chatted with Jay Leno's intern Ross.

Dream of Italy will be hanging out and handing out our limited edition Olympic pins during The Today Show taping this Tuesday, February 21st. If you've been collecting Olympic pins for years or are just starting your collection, be sure to come find us!

One you've gotten your fix of Americans and The Today Show stars, stop into Stratta, one of Torino's famous chocolate shops, for your chocolate fix. Try some of their Gianduja chocolate, the hazelnut chocolate that Torino is known for.

--Shauna Maher

Skips and Stones...

After watching part of a curling match in the Sponsor Village with some passionate Italian fans, we had to go check out the sport in person. Curling competitions are being held in the Palaghiaccio at Pinerolo, about a 45-minute train ride from Torino. We easily picked up tickets for the Women's Round Robin Tournament which will determine the teams that qualify for the Semifinals. (Most of this week's events aren't sold out, making it easy for residents and spectators to make last minute decisions.)

After learning a whole new vocabulary of skips and sweeps and stones, we were ready.

During the Round Robin, 8 different countries were competing, making it somewhat hard to follow all 4 games. Fortunately, our seats were on the side next to the U.S.A-Russia match, so we were in perfect position to root on our Curl Girls. There were a lot of Americans in the crowd, including a group of study abroad students who were constantly chanting "Ole, ole, ole, ole, U.S.A, U.S.A." You might not expect it, but curling draws quite a raucous crowd. The Swedish and Italian fans stole the show, with incessant chants, cheers, and an abundance of flags around the arena.

Though I've been guilty of simplifying curling to the description, "shuffleboard on ice," in the past, I quickly realized the difficulty of this strategy sport. You might not have to be in the best shape to be a curler, but you've got to always be on the defensive. We saw far too many stones bumped out of the house at the conclusion of an end (curling lingo for round - each game has 10 ends).

The American girls were down for most of the match, but were able to come up big in the final minutes of play to tie Russia, 7-7. Ironically, the Italians, who were playing next to the American match, were also able to force a tiebreaker in the tenth end, with the score 7-7. We didn't expect any nailbiting, but we could hardly watch the delivery of the last few stones in overtime.

Much to the crowd's dismay the U.S. and Italy were unable to capitalize on their tiebreaker opportunities, and both teams lost in their extra end.

--Shauna Maher

White Night Fell Dark for Some of Us

Last night Torino was crowded. Or should I say C-R-O-W-D-E-D. Maybe "mob scene" would more accurately describe it?

On our walk over to the hip neighborhood of Quadrilatero, the scene seemed innocent enough - marching bands in the street, a sidewalk vendor selling hot dogs (if we had only known how long we would have to wait to eat, we would not have passed the 'dogs' by!) But as we walked down the pedestrian street of Via Garibaldi, the crowd got more and more thick. Did I mention that we were hungry, REALLY hungry, and that all of us had had a bad day of one sort or another? That always makes for nice group dynamics. :)

Last night was Notte Bianca, or white night, an Olympic celebration during which most of the city stayed open until 5 a.m. and an event for which most of the population of Torino and every other Italian city, seems to have showed up for.

We went from restaurant to restaurant looking for a place to eat. Even a place to wait at the bar until a table opened up. Niente. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

We came across one eatery where my blonde, beautiful, Italian-speaking friend worked her charm to at least secure us a table an hour from that time. But blood sugar was dropping and nerves were fraying. Should we throw in the towel and find a pizza window somewhere, stand 10 deep in a line and finally get something to eat? We waited outside the restaurant - mostly remarking at the idiots trying to drive SUV-size vehicles down the narrow, human-filled streets.

Angelo (we will forever remember his name) finally announced that a table was ready for us. In the excitement, deprevation, highs and lows of the night, I forgot to write down the name of the restaurant. I will report back on that. We went on to share three bottles of wine (there were four of us), some fantastic food and a highly coveted table.

I'll leave it to another blogger I have been following to describe the night more generally, and potentially with less venom:

Dan Steinberg of my hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, has been writing a most entertaining if at times, slightly disturbing blog (the guy has a thing for cheese - I mean, I love cheese as much as the next person, but, Dan takes it to a new level) called Tales from Turin. He put a nicer spin on the evening:

"I do love the Olympic spirit," John said. "It kind of feels like, am I at the Olympics or am I at Mardi Gras?"

All kinds of people were randomly stopping and chatting. People tributaries poured in and out of bars and restaurants in the porticos.

"True Italy," Kathleen said. "Everyone coming together in the middle of the night and just living. There's something genuinely nice about it, just genuinely nice about seeing all these people communicating and getting along and having a good time."

"Look how pretty this is," Maria said, when we finished riding the People River down to the real river and were looking out on the brightly lit restaurants and bars and clubs on the other side. "There are no barriers in the Olympics, no barriers. The Olympics are an example of how there are no barriers between cultures."

Kind of cheesy, I pointed out.

"Yeah, but The Washington Post loves that," she said.

Winter Games Trivia

Italy has hosted the Olympic Winter Games once before - exactly half a century ago in Cortina d'Ampezzo. These were the first Winter Games to be televised, and were the first in which the Soviet Union competed.

Forty meteorologists and nivologists (snow experts) from the Piemonte meteorological office are continuously mapping temperature trends and snow movements so athletes can choose the best equipment and ski wax for the conditions.

Curling stones are made from a rare, dense granite quarried on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Curling is known as the roaring games because of the noise the stones make as they travel across the ice.

Source: Panasonic Media Guide

Saturday, February 18, 2006

February Sponsors

The following companies have made Dream of Italy possible:

Chiantionline - olive oil from the heart of Tuscany

Dream of Italy Designs - fine Venetian glass jewelry created by the masters

Italia Rail - book your train tickets before you travel to Italy

Kublai - this Italy-based travel agency can handle all aspects of your trip

La Dolce Via Travel - custom trip-planning services for all areas of Italy

Villa Romano - beautiful Italian decor and gifts; trips to Tuscany

Is the Holy Grail in Torino?

Legend has it that the Holy Grail is buried underneath Torino's Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Single-Issue Sale: Buy Back Issues of Dream of Italy!

Through the end of February, you can save $2.00 off the single-issue price of any back issue of Dream of Italy, The Insider's Guide to Undiscovered Italy. There are two ways to purchase a back issue:

1. For immediate access to a PDF version of an issue (which will be e-mailed to you once you pay), select "(e-mail/PDF)". Price: $7.00 per issue (regular price is $9.00)

2. To have a hard copy of an issue mailed to your home, select "(hard copy)". Price: $9.00, including postage (regular price is $11.00)

Here are some of our bestsellers:

Remember - all paid newsletter subscribers have complete online access to ALL OF OUR BACK ISSUES - so depending on your needs, it may be more sensible to become a subscriber! For a limited time, every new subscriber will receive Dream of Italy's Torino 2006 pin - a collector's item!

In Italy, Friday, the 17th = Friday, the 13th for Americans

I don't really understand how the number "17" can be considered unlucky but then again, I was born on the 17th day of August, so I'm partial to thinking highly of the number. I almost forgot the significance of Friday, the 17th, to Italians, until this report from the Associated Press reminded me. Here are some of the highlights:

The 17th in Italy is the equivalent of that bad luck day known to many cultures, and it is accompanied by the usual superstitions. Curve No. 17 on the treacherous Olympic bobsled track in Cesana is the only turn without a nickname for that reason.

In Roman numerals, the number 17 spells out XVII, but an anagram of those letters reads “VIXI,” which in Latin means “I lived” or — less literally — “I’m dead.”

This convoluted play on numbers and words, coupled with the fact that Friday is believed to have been the day of Jesus’ Passion, gave birth to the superstition.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Best Way to See Them Skate

If you didn't get tickets to any of the remaining figure skating events, we highly suggest you get tickets for one of the practice sessions (tickets were still available for tomorrow and Saturday's sessions as of this afternoon). From 9 a.m.-3 p.m. spectators are allowed to fill the first two levels of the Palavela and cheer on their favorite skaters. We caught today's Ice Dance practice.

The practices are very structured and essentially allow you to see two night's worth of programs in one day. The pairs were split into 6 different groups and practiced the compulsory dance programs as well as individual practices of their original dance programs (although the 4-5 pairs of each group are allowed on the ice for the full 40 minute practice sessions, each pair gets priority while their original dance song selection is played).

The relaxed atmosphere of the practices brings out the true critic in every spectator. Our personal favorites were American pair Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (of course), but Romanians and Israeli skaters also caught our eye as something special. Of course, we were judging more than just the skaters' moves (which were beyond anything we could ever attempt on the dance floor, never mind the ice). Bright orange is definitely the color of this ice dance costume-season. All the U.S. women dancers seemed to be dressed in similar hues.

--Shauna Maher

Meddling with the Medal Ceremony

Tonight after watching American Seth Wescott win gold in the brand-new Snowboard Cross competition, we decided that it was time to check out the Medal Ceremonies here in Torino. With our event tickets in hand, we set off towards the Piazza Castello. After having our tickets checked twice by Torino event staff, we put our bags and jackets through security conveyor belts and prepared to join the crowd already amassed around the podium stage. At this point a member of the Torino security staff interrupted us - "Ma รจ impossibile." Impossible? What?

Turns out, a ticket for a medaling event isn't enough to get you into the ceremony. Each day, beginning at 2 p.m. special Medal Ceremony tickets are handed out for free to the first 400 people to make it to one of the ticket locations - the Atrium in Piazza Solferino and the Olympic Superstore in Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Sports fans and music fans alike snatch up these tickets to see their favorite medal winners and listen to a free concert (the lineup has been quite diverse - tonight was Jamiroquai, last night Duran Duran).

Though we understand that all the spectators from each day's event (some days as many as 30,000 people) could never safely fit in the piazza, it does seem a little unfair that spectators will often miss out on the medal ceremonies since they are in the mountains or at one of the venues in the afternoon.

After attempts to coax the event staff to let us in anyway, we were escorted (kindly, but we kid you not) out of the piazza. We joined the ticket-less crowd outside of the gates to enjoy the ceremony (projected on jumbo screens) and a fantastic fireworks display.

--Shauna Maher

Author Jim Sajo on Torino's Restaurants and Surprises

Last night at a reception for the region of Piedmont, I met Jim Sajo, author of Torino 2006: A Local's Guide to the Winter Olympics. I thought it would be a good chance to ask him why he likes this city so much...

Dream of Italy: What does Torino have that you haven't found in other cities?

Jim Sajo: The most noticable difference has to be the number of diverse dining posibilities. In Italy, it is generally hard to find cuisine from Mexico, Thailand, Japan, India, China, etc. Those kinds of restaurants are pretty common here. And some of them are very good.

DOI: When was your first visit to Torino? How has the city changed?

JS: First visit was September 2004. Now, there is much less construction and traffic delay, which is nice. When I arrived this time (February 1), it was my first opportunity to see the front facade of the Porta Nuova train station. It's a striking sight.

DOI: Do you think the Olympics will draw foreign tourists to Torino after the Games?

JS: I hope so and think so, but the city will need to do more than just rely on tourism to sustain the momentum caused by the Olympics. They have other big events planned (World Architecture Congress, International Book Fair, etc.) but need to find a way to keep the infrastructure financed.

DOI: Torino has so many historic cafes. Which one is your favorite?

JS: Guardia Costantino on Via San Francesco di Asisi. I like the caffe because the spoon they give you with your espresso is dipped in chocolate. Two sins at once! Plus the staff - Sabrina, Rossi and Costantino, are terrific, friendly and helpful.

DOI: What is your favorite day trip out of the city?

JS: A visit to the hills of Le Langhe, where the country's best wines are produced (and consumed, when I visit). Alba, La Morra and Barolo are the towns I like.

DOI: What is your favorite restaurant?

JS: Tough call. I love the pizza at Genarro Esposito. The best pizza is the San Anastacia, with authentic mozzarella di bufala and cherry tomatoes.

But if I had to choose my last meal, it would be at Cantina Barbaroux, on via Barbaroux. I love the agnolotti pasta covered in many cheeses.

DOI: Anything else you think our reader should know about this city?
JS: It is a place that will surprise you. And I mean that in a good way.

Torino Trivia

Torino’s name sounds like the Italian word for bull (toro) and there are bull emblems all over the city. But Torino is named after a Celtic tribe and the word means, “of the mountains.”

Torino was the first place in Italy to adopt cross-country skiing. Swiss engineer and resident of Torino Adolf Kind helped found the Ski Club of Torino in 1901. The first national ski federation was set up in Torino seven years later.

Source: Panasonic Media Guide

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Braving the Nordic

Despite the cold and an early event time (I had to get up at 6 a.m. to make it on time), spectators were out in full force at Pragelato Plan for the Men’s Team Nordic Combined competition. If you’re not really sure what the Nordic Combined is, you’re not alone. In this event, 4 members from each country take two jumps off the so-called “long hill.” Their jumping scores (which are given according to jump distance and style) determine their start times for the second half of the event, a 4x5k cross country relay race.

Today’s crowd, as one might expect, was primarily Italian; however, as one might not expect, probably half of them were under the age of 10. In other words – best field trip ever.

Besides some Italians, who were clearly there for the novelty, everyone seemed to belong at the Nordic Combined competition. Decked out in the finest ski gear and boots, most had the leathery-looking skin of seasoned skiers.

I gravitated towards the amalgamation of American flags, which turned out to be where the U.S. Nordic Team’s families and friends had set up their cheering section. American fans were scattered throughout the stadium, but these were obviously the ones to stick with. Hailing mostly from Utah and Colorado, they knew all the aspects and stats of the sport and kept me one step ahead of the announcers.

They also alerted me when the event was first postponed due to severe winds at the top of the slope. After all the competitors jumped in the first round, there were two attempts at re-starting the final round, before the judges called the event on account of the weather. All spectators were told to keep their tickets and to pay attention to the Internet to find out when the event will be rescheduled. The event has yet to be rescheduled.

In America, no one would stick around a baseball stadium after the game has been called off due to rain. But this is Italia, and Italia means vino. Instead of rushing for the bus shuttles back to Pinerolo after hearing the bad news, everyone flocked to the heated spectator tents. Groups huddled around tables, watching the televised coverage of the Women’s Slalom and sharing bottles of rosso.

Regardless of the abbreviated athletic action of the day, it was definitely worth the trip up to Pragelato. Perhaps my favorite was the line of event workers charged with smoothing the slope with their skis. Anyone who has ever been to a baseball game at Yankees Stadium will know why I was half expecting them to break out into “Y.M.C.A.”

Although I’m pretty sure Y.M.C.A. was never played, the playlist of songs for in between jumps was rather heavy on American pop and disco hits. Among the crowd favorites were “Love Shack,” “I Will Survive,” “Cotton Eye Joe” and a few Madonna hits. Anything to keep the crowd on their toes and the frostbite away.

--Shauna Maher

Women's Luge at Cesana

We were impressed that our trip form Torino to Cesana via train and shuttle bus went smoothly. The venue was absolutely breathtaking. We purchased expensive category A tickets for this event, but soon realized that standing room tickets, where you just stand along the track, would have been far better and cheaper. Halfway through, we left our seats and stood along the track.

NBC's luge analyst Carol Lewis says: "This track at Cesana is a scary combination: technical and fast. It's one hard-assed course. In 2005 at the Olympic test event, several athletes were so seriously injured that the event was canceled. The International Luge Federation demanded that the course be made less technically demanding for the Olympics."

This sunset view alone was worth the price of admission. It was a shut out for the Germans who won gold, silver and bronze. An American - with a good-sized crowd of hometown supporters here - came in fourth.

Luge is considered the most dangerous sport at the Winter Olympics. The women yesterday were sliding down the course at about 60 miles per hour. One woman came off her sled and kept hurdling forward on the ice. She had to be taken away by ambulance.

Culinary Travels Through the Region of Piedmont

Some of you may have seen Chef Roberto Donna of Washington, DC's Galileo on yesterday's Today Show. A group of us had the pleasure of joining Chef Donna on a culinary tour of his native Piedmont region. Mama mia! As I have long told people, the food and wine of this region is among the best in all of Italy. Lately, there's the exciting emergence of a younger generation of producers and chefs using traditional Piedmontese culinary ways as the inspiration for modern creations. We had the opportunity to observe both tradition and innovation at work in the hills of Piedmont's Langhe area.

First we stopped at Ceretto's La Bernardina estate (where this photo was taken) to meet up with Alessandro Ceretto, member of the third generation of the wine-making family. The Ceretto brothers, the second generation patriarchs of the family, are known as "the Barolo brothers" in the United States. They own several estates in the area and we moved on to the town of Castiglione Falletto, home of their Bricco Rocche winery, an exquisite example of the latest in modern architecture and modern wine-making (this is where they age their Barolo). The Cerettos are part of that group combining the traditional with the modern here in this exciting and growing region. Dream of Italy
has covered them in the July/August 2004 issue as well as our Special Report: Turin/Piedmont.

Stay tuned for more on installments about our culinary tour...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ClubBud: Torino's Hottest Party

Last night was the kickoff of Budweiser's "ClubBud" - a six-story, pyramid-shaped nightclub next to the Po River in the center of Torino. The four parties planned for ClubBud during the Games are the hottest in town. Last night's party was in honor of the U.S. snowboarding team:

Nancy Kerrigan talks to U.S. Snowboarding Half-Pipe Gold Medalist Shaun White

Olympic Gold Medal Skier Johnny Moseley talks to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. Billy wasn't the only Bush in attendance; the president's daughter, Barbara, was also spotted.

the "Speedo Hot Tub"

the scene at Club Bud

Shaun White was joined by other snowboard medal winners of the day, including silver medal winner Danny Kaas, Women's Snowboard Halfpipe gold medal winner Hannah Teeter, and Halfpipe silver medal winner Gretchen Bleiler. Past Olympic medal winners, like Speed Skater Bonnie Blair and Skeleton competitor Jimmy Shea, also joined the party.

Scoping Out The Sponsor Village

This being my first Olympics, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I did, however, have vague Disney World-esque notions of commercialism and entertainment all wrapped up into a perfect little package, a spectacle digestible no matter what your native tongue. Very little of this can be found of the streets of Torino itself. The City Center is adorned with red "Passion Lives Here" banners and the occasional strip of giant torches, but otherwise no gaudy displays jump out at you. That is, until you enter the Sponsor Village, located in the Piazza Solferino.

The Sponsor Village was exactly what I had been waiting for. Giant tents screaming corporate logos - FIAT, Coca-Cola, Samsung - plus the Atrium 2006, which is devoted to the promotion of the games, Torino and Piemonte. In fact, it's somewhat reminiscent of Epcot, but with more advertising and less rides.

The Coca-Cola area, taking up a two floor building and several virtual simulator machines outside, appears to be the biggest in the Sponsor Village. You are badgered with the logo everywhere you turn, but once you look beyond the advertisements, there are some highlights. Children (and adults for that matter) can try out a new video game at two kiosks or pose for a picture in Coke-themed bobsleds. (If bobsledding isn't your thing, there's another photo opportunity on the second floor, where you can pose with a replica of the Olympic torch). The first floor holds all of the Coke Olympic memorabilia you can imagine, starting from the beverage's first Olympic appearance at the 1928 games, when 1,000 cases accompanied the U.S. team to Amsterdam.

The most entertaining activity is the hockey "Speed Shot." Visitors are challenged to shoot a hockey puck at speeds that rival the Olympic champions (which, apparently, is 160 kmph). If your shot exceeds this speed, then your name and information will be taken down for the chance to win event tickets. The fastest man and woman each win a pair of tickets. I topped out at 34 kmph; a little boy who appeared to be both 7 years-old and to have never held a hockey stick in his life shot 29 kmph. I blame soreness from trekking my suitcase around the city, obviously, for my poor performance.

The FIAT area, as one would expect, houses several models of theme-decorated cars, plus loads of memorabilia (like uniforms, costumes, skis and snowboards) from past Olympics. The main draws, however, seemed to be the foosball tables that attracted Italian teens, and the giant screens showing the Italy-Germany curling match (Italy won, much to the crowd's delight).

Samsung lets you play with all the latest technology - which were mostly cell phone/digital camera/mp3 player combinations. Tech buffs would have understood all of the different specs, but I understood the only necessary information displayed with most of the products - "availability: Korea." Looks like we'll have to wait a bit for these new all-in-one toys.

I was sort of expecting free stuff at the Sponsor Village, which wasn't abundant, but I did eventually find in the best forms possible: chocolate and wine. One booth in between the Coca-Cola building and the Lancia Ice Bar (before entering you don an Eskimo-hooded poncho) was holding a Gianduja tasting. Gianduja is the hazelnut-flavored chocolate native to Torino, and was available here in 11 different flavors, like bianca (white) and caramello (no translation needed); I tried menta (mint), which was, of course, delicious. As for the wine, that was courtesy of GE, who was hosting a concert at 7 p.m. next to the skating rink.

The skating rink is located in the center of the Village. If ice skates were at the top of your packing list, entrance to the rink is free. Otherwise, you can rent skates for 3.50 euros per hour. Although the rink was closed when I first arrived (around 6 p.m.), it re-opens at 7 p.m. and you can skate until midnight.

Unfortunately, the area set up for visitors to try their hand at curling wasn't operation. Translation: I'll be back.

--Shauna Maher

Monday, February 13, 2006

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The Loot: Opening Ceremony Bag

Once the opening ceremony ended, well and even before, spectators were scouring the empty seats for leftover bags and programs -- as I watched, I just kept thinking "Ebay." The opening ceremony kit includes a foil bag holding a red seat cushion, ceremony program, white poncho, Torino 2006 flashlight and Torino 2006 cow bell. I saw one kit with an opening ceremony ticket going for $49.99 on Ebay yesterday, but can't seem to find the auction now. USA team berets are hot again as are certain rare pins (NBC, some of the sponsors). I'll keep you updated on the most-have items from this Olympic Games.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Women's Hockey -- U.S.A. Kicks Butt

Just returned a few hours ago from the women's hockey game featuring U.S.A. vs. Germany. The American women were impressive with a 5-0 win and the crowd was enthusiastic. The Palasport Olimpico, next to Stadio Olimpico, was pleasant, brightly lit, open and airy. We were surprised to see that the game had cheerleaders -- young Italian women wearing gold, white and orange uniforms with the "Passion Lives Here" slogan on them. Definitely a number of Americans in the crowd - waving flags or sporting red, white and blue face paint. A rowdy bunch in one of the top tiers started the longest lasting wave I have ever seen. The whole stadium did it for about 10 minutes. Getting home from the venue was a nightmare. Just after the event we waited a half an hour for a bus. It seemed like some transportation planner may have forgotten that the Games were going on? By the way, six of the women's hockey team have Harvard degrees. Not bad.

Sunday Strolling in Torino

A bit crowded today. Via Garibaldi (Torino's pedestrian street), 5 p.m.

Special Train from Milan's Malpensa to Torino

If you're coming to Torino for the Games via Milan's Malpensa Airport, the logistics just got a whole lot better. Trenitalia has just added a high-speed train between the airport and Torino's main train stations. It takes just 1 hour and 27 minutes and you can avoid the unpredictable traffic on the A4 highway into town. Here's the information from the Trenitalia Web site:

From 10 February you can travel from Milan Malpensa Airport to Turin in 1 hour 27 minutes, with a time saving of about half an hour with respect to the buses.
The service makes stops at Torino Porta Nuova, Torino Porta Susa, Novara Ferrovie North, Malpensa Airport reaching 300 km/h in the high speed sections between Turin and Novara.

Eurostar Italia train times valid from 10 to 26 February:

- TURIN PN 06:55 - TURIN PS 07:04 - NOVARA FNM 07:43 - MILAN MALPENSA 08:22
- TURIN PN 16:55 - TURIN PS 17:04 - NOVARA FNM 17:43 - MILAN MALPENSA 18:22
- MILAN MALPENSA 10:40 - NOVARA FNM 11:05 - TURIN PS 11:53 - TURIN PN 12:05
- MILAN MALPENSA 20:40 - NOVARA FNM 21:05 - TURIN PS 21:53 - TURIN PN 22:05

A trip from Turin to Milan Malpensa will cost 16 euros in 2nd class and 21 euros in 1st.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Opening Ceremony: Tickets for 125 Euros Each!

Those overpriced binoculars -- we left them in the apartment and had to decide whether to turn around for them or not. It was 6.45 p.m. and we were running late trying to get over to the Olympic Stadium to possibly buy last minute tickets for the Opening. I decided that it was Murphy's Law if we went back and actually had the ability to see everything clearly, we wouldn't get in. Instead, we stopped at the "bancomat" and took out a few hundred euros each. The rest of the evening was a ballet of serendipity. We walked to Porta Susa train station just in time to hop on the special number 10 bus headed to the stadium. So far, Torino's public transportation has worked well for us. Despite a few delays due to road traffic, we reached the stadium by about 7.30 p.m. or so. The ceremony was set to start at 8 p.m.

Spectators were lined up along the road - at first we couldn't figure out why, but realized they were waiting for the Olympic torch to arrive. We thought it would be arriving in a few minutes, so hung out in the crowd a bit and wondered how we would find someone who was selling tickets. It didn't take long and a man walked by yelling, "tickets," in English. As we were cutting it close time-wise, I wasn't going to let him pass by. He had three tickets for 150 euros each. We only needed two and I negotiated him down to 125 euros each. An American man next to me suggested that I take the tickets over to an Olympics volunteer and verify they were legitimate. He said he thought so. We didn't know exactly where the seats were located but didn't care. With tickets reporting being sold and resold for nearly $1,000, the price was right for us!! We were still blocks away from the Olympic entrance and started running to get to inside the stadium in time for the opening.

The whole area was impressively designed and lit well. You could feel the excitement and hear the noise coming from the stadium. One advantage of arriving late was the chance to whisk through the metal detectors without any lines. Finding our seats was a little more daunting - the signs didn't seem helpful and the volunteers kept saying the entrance for our seats was just "one more down." After about five tries, we found the right entrance and were pleased that our seats were NOT in the very top sections but actually in the back of the middle section! Score!

We had missed the first few minutes and all of the other spectators were wearing white ponchos and shining flashlights. We found a silver bag of goodies on each of our seats. It held the said white poncho, a cowbell, a flashlight, an official program and a seat cushion.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Last Night's Parties: Prince Albert Sighting

The highlight of the Games so far was spotting Prince Albert of Monaco at the Visa Olympians Reunion Center Kick-Off last night. Admittedly, I'm a big fan of publications like People magazine as well as all things royal, making me quite familiar with the bachelor prince. I have also visited his tiny principality. Albert looks exactly the same in real life as he does in pictures. While I didn't get a photo with the prince, I did take some photos of Albert and will post them here shortly.

Most of you will remember that the athletic prince was a member of Monaco's bobsled team. He retired from competition after the 2002 Winter Olympics and now works with the International Olympic Committee. Following the death of his father Prince Rainier last year, Albert became the ruler of Monaco.

And We're Off...

Helicopters buzzing overhead. Sun has set. People scurrying about. Overpriced binoculars in coat pocket. No tickets in hand for the Opening Ceremony. Just a wad of euros. We'll see...

Last Night's Parties: Whistler Apres at Canada Place

Did you know that the 2010 Winter Olympics will take place in Vancouver? Canada has a huge delegation of athletes here at the Torino Games, but the city is also crawling with numerous Canadian government officials, Olympics planners, tourism promoters, etc. The Vancouver 2010 folks have even transported a huge log cabin to Torino. It is located at Piazzale Valdo di Fusi and open to the public during certain hours.

The cabin, called British Columbia-Canada Place was the site of last night's "Whistler Apres" - a pub party held from 8 p.m. to midnight. The casual event featured Whistler DJ "Mat the Alien" and good ole Canadian beer. Canadian athletes and officials mixed with their counterparts from around the world. Partygoers could head up to the cabin's second floor to buy all kinds of red and white Canada apparel. Their leather hat appears to be just the thing to wear when the temperature here plummets at night.

Preview: Opening Ceremony

Here's what to look for tonight:
  • at least 2.5 hours devoted to Italian fashion, design, passion
  • theme - "Passion lives here."
  • 35,000 spectators including 40 royals and/or heads of state -- also expect to see First Lady Laura Bush, I'm in the press center and the press traveling with her just arrived
  • Luciano Pavorotti performing
  • designs by Giorgio Armani
  • speculation that the torch lighter may be Italian skiing sensation Alberto Tomba a.k.a. "Tomba la Bomba"
  • 5-time Olympic speed skater (and cyclist) Chris Witty carrying the American flag
  • in-line skaters with flames shooting out of their helmets
Wonder what is the official protocol for the "Olympics opening ceremony"? Find out here.

Baby, It's NOT Cold Outside

One of the most surprising aspects of my time in Torino so far is how warm it has been -- I should add the caveat -- during the day. It is supposedly 43 degrees this morning but with the bright sun, it feels even warmer. Weather.com's 10-day forecast predicts temperatures in the low 50s by the middle of next week. At night though, it definitely gets cold and no one feels weird wearing ear muffs or fleece head bands. Actually, the cheesier the apparel the better, this is the Olympics after all...

Nightly Concerts: Duran Duran to Gianni Morandi

Whoever booked the acts for the nightly concerts to be held in the Piazza Castello aka Medals Plaza sure had variety in mind! The series of concerts kicks off Saturday night with a performance of a personal favorite of mine, Andrea Bocelli. Sunday night, Kelly Clarkson, of "American Idol" fame, is scheduled followed on the 13th by Enrico Morricone (just found out he wrote the music for my favorite film, "Cinema Paradiso"). The concert series will continue through the evening of February 25.

While thousands of free tickets were given out to locals last week, a source tells us that 400 free concert tickets will be given out daily for that evening's performance between the hours of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Piazza San Carlo, 161. Can someone pick us up a pair for Andrea Bocelli?

February 8: First Stop - Buy Event Tickets

The order of the day for our first full day in Torino was to secure at least a few tickets to see the Olympic events. We headed over to Piazza Solferino which where the Atrium information center and Sponsor Village are located. The Sponsor Village officially opens tomorrow, so more on that then (I am on planning on trying the free curling lessons they have there). In between the Atrium and the Sponsor Village is a small outdoor ice skating rink, open to the public. I saw a reporter from NBC filming a live shot in front of the rink.

The Atrium sells tickets to the Olympic events as well as other cultural events throughout the city. A crowd had formed around the two computers dispensing event tickets. Customers were called up by number and it wasn't looking promising when I drew number "47" and they were only now helping the person holding number "12". Luckily, when we reached the "30s," most people holding those numbers had left and I only had to wait about 25 minutes in total.

Thanks to a conversation with a Torinese woman next to me, I learned that tickets to ice skating (maybe the only way I will see Michelle Kwan?) and speed skating practices were being sold for only 20 euros each. Each practice ticket is good for entrance to the Palavela rink between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. I bought tickets for the 16th and 20th. Just as I was buying my tickets, the practice tickets were virtually sold out.

February 8: Torino - Citta di Traffico?

We arrived at Milan's Malpensa Airport early yesterday morning. Luckily, we flew in with some colleagues who had arranged for a van to pick all of us up. It took well over two hours to get from the airport to Torino. Once on the A4 highway, which runs between the two cities, we thought we might make good time, but there were two factors working against us: 1) it was the end of morning rush hour, and 2) construction on the highway. The other passengers in the van who don't speak Italian, needed no translation when the announcer on the radio declared "traffico intenso."

One concern for these Games has been traffic. We got our first taste of it.

If you are coming to the Olympics by way of Malpensa, there are several options for getting to Torino. Depending on when your flight arrives, the Sadem shuttle buses may work for you. They leave Malpensa three times a day for Torino (11.30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.). The same company provides buses between Torino's airport and city center and they run more frequently than the Malpensa buses.

Still Looking for Accommodations?

The list below will help you navigate the dwindling options for housing during the Winter Olympics:

Cartan Their packages cost nearly $1,000 per person, per night for a stay in Turin, about half that for their "mountain program."

CoSport (also official
U.S. agent for event tickets)

Craig's List (Milan) This is how I found the apartment I am renting for the duration of the Games!

Andrea Dellavecchia (e-mail: andrea.DELLAVECCHIA@iveco.com) has a one-bedroom apartment with a washing machine and satellite TV available. It is located in Turin's Piazza Gran Madre, just across the Po River, and about a 10-minute walk from Piazza Castello. He's asking 350 euros per night.

Expatriates.com Private owners have a few apartments listed.

Extra Torino Hotel rooms in Turin starting at 270 euros per night. Rooms in mountain lodgings starting at 320 euros a night.

ItalyWinterGames.com They have a number of apartments still available in Turin, including in the center. Plan on spending at least $350 per night for a double. They are constantly adding new options, but quickly running out.

Jumbo Grandi Eventi

Ludus Tours Has more availability in the mountain towns.

Mary Nicotra (e-mail: maria.nicotra1@tin.it) is a Torinese resident who can help you find an apartment rental for a decent price. Tell her what you are looking for and she can find what you need. She still has private rooms available in Torino apartments, but most of her high-end offerings are gone.

Montagnedoc Lodging in the mountain villages.

Maria Prat (e-mail: mprat@med.unipmn.it) is a local professor who is renting a double bedroom (with a private bathroom) in her Turin apartment, located five minutes from the Porta Nuova Train Station. She offers daily breakfast as well as high-speed Internet access. She is asking 700 euros per week for two people.

Umberto Scotti (e-mail: Umberto.SCOTTI@iveco.com) has a 2-bedroom apartment, less than 1 km from where the medals ceremonies will take place. It is currently unfurnished, but he will put in the beds, sofas, tables that you require. He'a asking about 4,800 euros for the duration of the Games, but willing to entertain offers.

Select Italy They have apartments still available in Turin and mountain towns, at about $5,000 per week. They still have hotel rooms in Turin at $500 and up per night.

Somewhere Tours Has a double room in a centrally located Turin apartment for 280 euros per night. (May no longer be available.)

Azia Sartirana (e-mail:aziasar@yahoo.it) It's a very beautiful apartment in Sauxe d'Oulx with eight beds. The price is 300 euros a day and 4000 euros for all Olympics.

Emanuele Salusso (e-mail: esaluss@yahoo.it) Has a luxury one-bedroom apartment, completley furnished, with a big hall and kitchen. It is located 150 meters from Turin's Piazza Gran Madre, just across the Po River, and about a 10-minute walk from Piazza Castello. I'm asking 300 euros per night or 3500 euros for the duration of the Games.

Vacation Rentals By Owner Worth a search for "Turin" and some e-mails, but I only heard back from one owner and her apartment is taken.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Torino Ticket Sales Gathering Steam

Winter Olympics organizers report they have sold 690,000 event tickets, out of a total of 1 million, according to Reuters. Italians began buying more tickets in January - some 100,000 - for a total of 300,000 tickets. They will make up the largest delegation of spectators followed by Americans and Germans.