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The wonders of couch surfing
I have walked under miles of lovely colonnaded pavements to get to the piazza which is rumoured to be the largest in Italy if not Europe. It seems like most of the people in Europe are here too as thousands of local chocolate lovers stream over the bridge into the square to enjoy the 10 day chocolate festival. There are dozens of stands all selling top quality chocolate in fancy shapes and big bow tied boxes. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
I have reluctantly separated myself from the chocolate and am wandering another one of the many , many grand piazzas here in Turin. At the centre is the Palazzo Madama . Now this isn't as the name suggests a posh brothel , but a castle . It is a kind of terracotta Tower of London with a gothic facade. Today being International womens day, all women get in free, Hoorah! I stick my boobs out [not strictly necessary] in case there is any doubt and go on through .
Back in the piazza a temporary wooden dance floor has been constructed and show off. Italians are strutting their stuff dancing sultrily cheek to cheek. Classical music fills the square. After a while the famous music from Turandot comes on. One elderly chap in the crowd asks if anyone minds if he sings, everyone encourages him and he breaks into the tenor solo, Nessun Dorma. He is pretty good and there is not a dry eye in the Piazza. If you want authentic Italian culture this place has it everywhere you look.
A dark blue Alfa Romeo is parked up with sulky looking Carabinieri sitting in it waiting to pounce.With their knee high shiny boots, babyblue stripe down their trousers and bulging holster on their hip they look pretty damn fine. I eye up a robust old lady wearing a fur coat and consider mugging her in order to get them to frisk me up and down a bit.
The next morning my kindly host drops me off a the bus stop nearest his work and we agree to stay in touch . I am moving on to my next couch surfing stop.
I decide to give my feet a rest and take a train out to the mountains. It is beautiful but very quiet as the ski season is nearly over. Almost all the shops are shut and there is just a bar or two open. Having exhausted all this village has to offer in an hour I hole up in a bar that is all terracotta floor tiles chesnut beams and rustic alpine charm just opposite the train station to pass the hour before the next train arrives. I have nothing to read so I spend the time fantasysing about what I would do if I had won the 90 million jackpot in the euro lottery this week. A fabulous lifestyle a la Victoria Beckham unfolds as I buy a villa in Florida and Tuscany with a flat in Knightsbridge for the winter. Having waited an hour I then have to run to catch the train and just make it.
Back in Turin I go to a restaurant called Brek.Their catchy slogan is "Fast food no good! Brek very good!" They have branches all over Italy and also one in Changi airport, Singapore. Terminal 2, if your backpacking ever takes you that far and you fancy a bit of spaghetti. I bump into an English girl from Torquay who I met on the plane over here. She is staying in the only hostel in Turin where I am also hoping to stay on Friday night as due to my usual last minute organisation I didn't quite managed to arrange a couchsurf for that night.
I leave the restaurant fully sated with salad, gnocchi and a large glass of wine. I then get a phone call from the girlfriend of my next host, she speaks in really good BBC English and asks when I am going to arrive as they are cooking for me. Yikes! I say I am vegetarian and don't want to put them to any trouble. She says that's OK the meal is vegetarian. It's a good job that I am so skilled in eating vast quantities of food as it looks like I am about to eat dinner number two .
Sergio's flat is in the centre of Torino tucked behind the new and fabulous law court building or Palace of Justice as it translates from Italian, or fairytale castle as I, cynical former slave of the criminal justice system that I am, call it. On first meeting my new host is like a life sized Super Mario and just as bouncey. He has lived in this flat since he was 5 and it is is a batchelor pad mix of art deco and vintage 60s. I am given a large gin and tonic Italian style ie loads of gin with freshly squeezed orange juice. Both he and Elizabetta talk at the same time and fast. They are relaxed, humourous and cultured I am made to feel immediately at home. I am shown to my room with my own bathroom, and introduced to the cat. I am given the door key and shown how to lock the door when I leave.
In a hotel or on a campsite I would have been asked for my passport as security. Here after nothing more than a two line email asking if I can stay I have been given a bed, fed, watered, welcomed like a long lost relative and given the front door key to their home .
Is it me, or are these couch surfing people pretty amazing? I like a world like this.
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