Friday, May 24, 2019

More from Turin, Italy: May 20-23, 2019

We visited the super informative but overwhelming Egyptian Museum with its huge collection of Egyptian artifacts. They had human mummies, animal mummies, sculptures, pots, and some painted scenes I've never seen.

The painted decorations on wooden coffins of Egypt's Old Kingdom had the eyes of Horus (the falcon god) painted on the left side. The dearly departed was placed in the coffin on his/her left side to allow the body a view outside the coffin.

Eyes on the side of an Egyptian coffin
I've always liked the story of Nut (pronounced Newt) the Egyptian Goddess of the Sky. Nut gives birth to the sun-god daily and he passes over her body until he reaches her mouth at sunset where she swallows the Sun. The Sun journeys through her body and Nut gives birth to the Sun the next morning. The painted sarcophagus of Butehamun, a scribe and builder of tombs at the Valley of Kings in Thebes, had two scenes representing the Earth (Geb), Sky (Nut), and Sun/Air (Shu).

Geb and Nut were siblings. Nut as Sky was always on top of Geb (often shown in a fully erect state). Their father, Shu (Air/Sun), separated the two siblings but not before Nut became pregnant by Geb. Shu has to keep them apart so that there is a space between for us humans to live.

Nut, goddess of the Sky, separated from Geb, god of the Earth,
by Shu the god of Air 
Conceiving the Sun through the union of Geb, god of the Earth
 and Nut, goddess of the sky
Coffin Lid of Butehamun
Scribe of Deir el-Medina
As we were about to leave the Egyptian Museum at closing time, I could hear thunder outside. It was a nice day when we went into the museum, but pouring when it was time to go. A line of black Africans with umbrellas for sale were outside the exit doors like sharks waiting for guppies. I applaud their ingenuity. We slipped through their line without being caught. Turin has many, many pedestrian arcades that give shelter from sun and rain and we didn't have too far to go.

We went to the nearby Palazzo Madama Museum and saw a great Steve McCurry Photography Exhibition. One of his main themes was reading and many of the photos showed people from all walks of life all over the world reading books, newspapers, notes.

The Palazzo Madama had a great exhibition of medieval Religious art as well. I especially loved the humor and creativity on a couple of the 15th-century wooden choir pieces.

With all its pedestrian streets and boulevards, Turin is a great city for walking, and we walked all over. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was on the edge of the historic center and conveniently just a few blocks from the South Turin Train Station. It was just a 10-15 minute walk to most of the sights. Turin was an easy city to navigate.

View of Turin from Mount of Capuchin
Church and Convent of Saint Mary on the Mount of Capuchin
above the River Po

Three nights was too short of a time to explore Turin. Suddenly, it was time to go home. The day we left, it was so clear, we had a final look at the Alps from above as we left Italy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Shroud of Turin, Turin, Italy: May 20-23, 2019

The Royal Church of San Lorenzo
This morning after breakfast in Cortemilia, the hotel owner/chef's mother-in-law graciously agreed to drive us the short distance to catch the local bus to Alba. In Alba we caught a train to Turin.

My knowledge of Turin was limited to two things: first, it was the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics and second, the Shroud of Turin is here. I've always been fascinated by religious relics and practices so I certainly wasn't going to pass up my chance to see such a famous relic.

The Shroud of Turin is believed to be the length of linen cloth in which Christ's body was wrapped. It has blood stains and the imprint of a human figure. Further, it is believed to show evidence that the corpse was crucified with nails, was beaten, was whipped, was crowned with thorns, and after death was pierced in the side.

The Shroud has a long history of ownership and disaster although no historical evidence exists before the 14th century. In 1453, the Savoys (the Savoy dynasty existed since the year 1000 in the Alpine area between Italy, France and Switzerland) obtained the Holy Shroud. After suffering fire damage in 1532, the Shroud was moved in 1576 to Turin. The Shroud was housed in a chapel of the Royal Church of San Lorenzo until in 1694, it was finally placed in a Chapel and altar designed by Guarino Guarini and specifically built for it. The Chapel is between the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist and the Royal Palace.

In 1983, the House of Savoy gifted the Shroud to Pope John Paul II and the Holy See but the Shroud continued to be housed in its chapel within the Royal Palace.

In April 1997 a devastating fire severely damaged the chapel which was undergoing a restoration at the time. Luckily, the Shroud was not in residence during the restoration process.

In 1988 three laboratories (Tucson, Oxford, and Zurich) used Carbon 14 dating on a small piece of the Shroud. It was dated to between 1260 and 1390. Coincidentally, in 1390 the Shroud was declared a fraud and the "artist" confessed to creating it.

In 2002, the Shroud was sent to the Vatican for restoration. Patches and darns from earlier damage were removed during the textile restoration. The removal of the patches allowed the backside of the Shroud to be photographed and scanned.

Despite the Carbon 14 dating, some say the finding is not reliable because pollution and contamination suffered by the Shroud would have influenced the results. The Vatican has yet to  weigh in on the authenticity of the Shroud.

While the Guarini designed chapel continues to be under architectural restoration, the Shroud temporarily resides at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in an inert gas environment in an airtight, laminated bulletproof casket. Inside the Cathedral, videos in many languages explain the history of the Shroud and show the post-restoration images of the Shroud.

The present resting place of the Shroud of Turin
The crucifixion sculpture reflected in the
glass surrounding the Shroud's resting place
Our visit to the Royal Palace allowed us access to the Guarini designed Chapel in its not quite renovated state as well as a fascinating, vertigo inducing, virtual-reality tour of the dome with VR goggles.

The interior of the Guarini designed dome
Front Entrance to the Royal Palace in Turin

Monday, May 20, 2019

Walking Piedmont Day 7, Cravanzana to Cortemilia, Italy: May 19, 2019

Another day of walking in the rain. Today our distance is 13.33km/8.28mi and it involves first a steep descent followed by a steep ascent to get to the town of Bergolo. Bergolo is our half-way point.

With rain gear and the addition of our umbrellas mostly to preserve our map, we headed out. Before leaving Cravanzana, a hill town, we briefly checked out their castle.

Looking back at Cravanzana

There was so much water on the trail that little cascades ran down the descents.

View of Torre Bormida in distance

Finally, we made it to Bergolo and even though it was a long continuous ascent, it didn't seem so bad.
We located the restaurant, Ristorante l'Bunet, we hoped to dine in and despite our muddy, wet condition, they had a place for us. We ordered "knitting needle" pasta in a tomato/sausage ragu sauce and a glass of wine. It was fabulous and just what we needed to distract from the chill of our wet feet. Knitting Needle pasta is a specialty of this region. At one time, grandmothers made the pasta shape (a long tube) by wrapping the pasta dough around knitting needles. It is still made this way. On the menu page of the l'bunet website there is a video showing the process. It was beautiful. After donning our wet clothing once again, we strolled through the charming town of Bergolo before getting back on the trail.

Bergolo has art (sculptures and paintings) on some of its stone walls.

The outskirts of Cortemilia
In Cortemilia, we stayed at and had dinner at Hotel Ristorante Villa San Carlo. The owner/chef is Carlo Zarri who has cooked for both Sophia Loren and Michelle Obama. His recipes are in his book Da Sophia A Michelle. Additionally, Chef Carlo told us that each autumn he puts on a truffle dinner at the Weston Hotel in Napa, California. Needless to say, dinner was spectacular.

Our 7-day hike wasn't the leisurely, wine sipping stroll that seemed to be promised. We either missed the wine-sipping locations or by the time we got to the wine tasting locations, they were closed for Italian siesta. That said, we always had great foods and wine for dinner. We enjoyed trying local cheeses each morning for breakfast. It took us a couple of days to get into the rhythm of the walk and familiarize ourselves with the maps, but when we found the zone walking was easier. We enjoyed the detours and strolling through medieval hill towns along the way. The landscape of Piedmont was spectacular with its neat patchwork of orchards and vineyards broken up by wildflower meadows and wooded areas filled with birdsong. In short, it was a great week.

Tomorrow morning, no hiking. We take a bus to Alba to catch a train to Turin.

Ristorante l'Bunet in Bergolo
Hotel Ristorante Villa San Carlo in Cortemilia

Utracks took care of all the route and hotel details and moving our luggage to our next night's lodging. Hotels were always comfortable and usually had an excellent restaurant connected with them to make the evening of a long day's walk much easier.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Walking Piedmont Day 6, Cissone to Cravanzana, Italy: May 18, 2019

We woke to heavy rain today. After breakfast, one of the hotel/restaurant owners drove us 6.5km down the road to Bossalaschetto to begin our walk. It wasn't really cheating as it was an option offered in our Utracks literature. It was worth it as it continued raining all day.

Cutting off the 6.5km we still had a walk of 14.53km/9.03mi ahead of us. It was a slog. On steep 4x4 tracks, we slipped around on the clay trail. Dan and I each took one hiking stick to remain upright. I didn't remove my camera from my pack so the photos today are all from my cell phone.

At one point, while looking at our maps and trying to decide if it would make more sense to walk further but on the roadway, a tree limb fell not more than a meter from where we were standing. It was crazy.

We did decide to stay on the slippery, steep trail and keep our distance down.

We walked through hazelnut and oak forests. The white truffle of Alba is found in this area.

As we were walking through a muddy, wooded trail just before reaching the small town of Feisoglio, we heard a low growl, twice. We looked but couldn't see the source of the sound. It could have been a dog, but it was definitely bear weather so that's where my mind went. There are small populations of brown bears in the nearby Alps.

Lunch was at a small cafe in Feisoglio. We had hot chocolate and shared a ham and cheese sandwich on fresh focaccia. When we left, there was a puddle of water around where we sat. We weren't there long enough to get dry.

We stumbled into Cravanzana in the late afternoon. We were so covered with mud that the hotel made us remove our boots and gave us slippers to enter. We were soaked. My rain pants seemed to channel rain into my hiking shoes so I walked with wet feet all day. Our room had a heater and a towel dryer in the bathroom so by morning, our clothes were clean, dry, and ready to be saturated with rain again.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Walking Piedmont Day 5, Cissone Loop walk, Italy: May 17, 2019

Since we're spending two nights in Cissone, today we don't really have to go anywhere. We already saw Cissone in five minutes last night so we decided to take a 8.54km/5.3mi loop hike that took us to the little hill town of Serravalle Langhe at an elevation of 737 meters.

Despite the overcast skies, the walk was beautiful with wildflowers most of the way. The hills are dotted with hazelnut orchards.

We found a cafe and warmed ourselves with hot chocolate and cake before we strolled through Serravalle Langhe and onward toward Cissone.

Looking back at Serravalle Langhe
Cissone on the distant ridge

With all the wildflowers in the area it is a perfect place for keeping bees.

We arrived back in Cissone just as it was beginning to rain. We had another great dinner at Balcone sulle Langhe. Tomorrow we move on.