It was a 6AM start to get ready, have a bite to eat and catch my 7AM taxi to the station in Lyon. I was still eating when the taxi arrived by the guy at the hotel started loading my bike into the taxi for me while I finished. It was a bit of a challenge putting the seats down in the little Mercedes hatchback and sliding it in, but we managed. Although my train to Chambéry wasn’t leaving until 8:40AM I thought it couldn’t hurt to get there early, since I didn’t have a reservation and the transport strike drama continued. Lucky I did, because my 8:40AM was cancelled and I had to jump on a 7:30AM train to Chambéry immediately to have any chance of making the 11AM connection to Torino. I was very grateful to the station staff who carried my bag for me to the platform to be sure I made it in time. The train was almost completely empty and there was even a dedicated space where I could hang my bike. Arriving into Chambéry, I went to the information desk to ask about my train to Torino. Surprise, surprise that was cancelled too. The next train would leave at 1:30PM and again, there was no chance to make a reservation, I just had to hope. The station staff kindly offered to make an exception and let me store my luggage in one of their offices until my train left, so I could freely explore the city.
It was only 9AM so I had a good four hours for adventuring. First stop was the tourist information office where I picked up a map with all the sites. I then headed to the vélostation where I hired a bike for 3 Euros to get around town. The map had all of the major sites numbered so I started at number 1 and made my way through the list. I visited the Chateau (of course!) that was once the residence for the dukes of Savoy. While the building is still in use for county council offices, the gardens are open to wander around and there is a museum for free. Next I went down the Rue Basse Du Chateau, a very cool medieval street with one of the last overhanging footbridges left in the town. Then I came to the Elephant fountain in the centre of the old town with the mountains in background. I only passed through the museum, because I was short on time and stuck my head in the Cathedral to check out the painted ceilings, apparently unique in style. Around midday I found a brasserie and enjoyed double steak blue cheese burger with all the trimmings for lunch, before riding back to the vélostation to return the bike. At some point I realised that in the rush, I had forgotten to return my room key at the hotel, so I dashed off the post office and sent it back with a very apologetic letter. I’ll have to watch my credit card over the next few days to see if they charge me! Chambéry was a really lovely place, and not too big to get around in a day. It was great that things had worked out the way they did and I got to spend some time there.
Soon it was time to board the train and say goodbye to France. With all my luggage in tow (fortunately they had trolleys at the station) I waited nervously with a crowd of people on the platform. When the train arrived it was already full. I approached the conductor, showed him my rail pass and explained I needed to get to Torino. To my relief he was very cool about it as he looked at my bike and other luggage and basically wished me luck in finding room. If I could find a place, I was in. I went up and down 2 or 3 carriages, looking in the baggage areas. Stuff piled up everywhere, it was crazy. Eventually I came to the last carriage where there was a tiny bit of space to squeeze into. I jumped aboard with my bike and bags. It would be a rough ride for the next few hours, but at least I was going. On the train I met a couple of guys from Pensilvania, Connor and Zack, who are spending 24 days on a summer vacation backpacking around Europe. There was a another guy travelling with them, but he had managed to find a seat in one of the other carriages. They had already been to Spain, Holland, Italy, France and were now getting to the end of their trip, but having the time of their lives. There was a scary moment at one point when I got off the train to let another passenger out, then mistakenly thinking it was Torino, put my bag down on the platform. As I turned to get my bike and other gear, the doors closed. I called out in panic, my mind racing, trying to think how I would get myself out of this predicament with my bike in Milan, and me stranded in a regional town somewhere near the French-Italian border! Luckily that didn’t happen because one of the station staff saw me and the doors opened again.
One of the main reasons for visiting Torino was to meet one of my fellow students, Fabrizio, who is studying the Design Anthropology course at Swinburne online. We had commented on each other’s work throughout the semester and exchanged a few emails about meeting up. With all the train cancelations, my plans had been shuffling around, but luckily i still had some credit on my french prepaid SIM so i could keep in touch by email as things changed. After mistakenly sending him to the wrong station in Torino, the “bearded guy on a blue bike” was there to greet me when I arrived. It was an amazing experience for both of us, having only exchanged messages online, to now meet one another in the flesh. “You’re real! Swinburne is real!” he said when he saw me. Fabrizio is a super cool guy and was keen to be my “Cicerone” (tour guide) around Torino. The first stop was Toolbox and the Fablab, the coworking space and maker lab where Fabrizio works. I had heard a bit about it, and done my research project this semester on coworking so I was really interested to check it out. Fabrizio gave me the tour and introduced me to a few people, before we left my bags and headed off on the bikes to check out the city.
Riding in Torino is a bit scary. In France, bikes are king, so much so, when the Loire à vélo crossed the motorway outside Tours, I had a line of 20 cars on either side stop and wait for me to pass! Not so much in Italy. It’s more like Melbourne where you get the impression most drivers don’t like you and you live in constant fear of your life. That didn’t deter us though. We cycled along the river seeing castles and parks. We crossed the river and saw the bridge that inspired the iconic Fiat 500 logo. We climbed the hill where we had an unimpeded view of the city. We then flew back down the hill, crossing the river the historic part of town seeing piazzas, palaces, statues and theatres along the way. After a while we stopped and Fabrizio bought me my first Italian gelato, a delicious combination of Baci and Pistachio. I don’t think I will ever be able to have ice-cream in Australia again. It was a brilliant way to see the place. After gelato we headed back to the Fablab for dinner.
The Fablab is a super-cool place where awesome people make some amazing things. I was really fortunate to meet a bunch of these people who welcomed me so warmly. Maria at Toolbox was lovely. Christina was fun trading ideas of Aussie and Italian stereotypes. Davide and Christian shared some funny anecdotes about shoes… The conversation with Julia was hilarious as Fabrizio introduced us, she said in Italian “I don’t speak English”, which Fabrizio interpreted for me, and I replied “That’s ok. I don’t speak Italian.” Enrico showed particular admiration for my bike (he clearly has impeccable taste). There was also Diego, Elena, Pedro, Giancarlo… and many more. A truly great bunch of people, that I was so glad to meet and really hope I get to see again someday.
Dinner was a traditional Italian pizza (Christina and Fabrizio ordered a delicious Quattro Stagioni for me) while there was presentation made discussing the recent activities and achievements of the Fablab community. Despite it all being in Italian, I got the gist of some really good projects that they are working on in RFID, Arduino and 3D printing. After dinner, Fabrizio and I were both feeling pretty tired. We went back to his place, in the village of Villarbasse where he offered for me to stay for the night. Fabrizio’s mum was very kind, making up a bed for me to stay and offering me something to eat (although I refused). I was really touched by the generosity of these people who I’d only just met, but welcomed me so warmly into their home. After playing with Fabrizio’s dog Kirra for a while and meeting the cats, Phoebe and Mia, it was a quick shower then off to sleep.