I left Verbier, Switzerland, on Thursday afternoon and crossed into Italy through the St. Bernard tunnel. The second you come out of the tunnel and into Valle d'Aosta you know you aren't in the land of Swiss precision anymore. Everything in Italy is a little looser; at times almost rundown but with that Old World charm that just reeks of the pervading dolce vita. Every strategic hillside throughout Piedmont and Aosta is dominated by a decrepit Savoyard castle, remnants of their rule through the 16th to 18th centuries in northern Italy. As the valleys widened, the gnarled winter vines of area vineyards, dormant and stretched in orderly rows lined with crumbling stone walls, ushered me south toward Turin and my first sight of the 2006 Olympics scene.
I managed to hit Turin in a little under two hours just before 5 p.m., but rush hour was well underway and Olympic traffic only compounded the problem. It took me 90 minutes to find my hotel, far from the action in the San Paolo district southwest of the city center. I swear the national anthem of Italy is a Fiat horn, constantly blaring as if it actually makes a difference and gets you there any quicker.
Trying to track down the media center was no breeze, either. Although there are thousands of helpful volunteers in Torino 2006 gear all over the city, they all manage to tell you something different and don't appear to be all that well coordinated (beyond the fashion get up, that is). After being booted from the "official" accreditation center (I have the distinction of being "non-accredited media"), I gave up and headed towards the Piazza Castello, where the Medals Plaza is set up in the heart of the old city.
Despite the busy, industrial feel of the southern part of town, Turin's town center and the ancient Roman quarter are distinctly more happening and aesthetically pleasing. The Via Roma and Via Garibaldi are glitzy window-shopping zones, while the quadrilatero Romano is a funky neighborhood of twisting narrow alleyways full of winebars and shoe shops.
I asked my cab driver for the name of a good-value restaurant that the locals rate. He delivered with the molto authentico Da Mauro, a favorite of the city's Juventus soccer team, whose photos from the last three decades line the walls. A hand-typed menu (Olivetti HQ is in Turin) had incredible primis of pasta, secondis of meat and fish (I went with the vitello con rucola), and nothing was over ten Euros. A big Peroni, a half-bottle of Barbera, and I was out for less than 30 bucks.
Just as I was leaving, I overheard some English from behind me and looked to see the familiar face of Billy Bush walk in the door. A friend of a friend and the mouthpiece of Access Hollywood, he was in town covering the human element of the Games for NBC and stumbled into Da Mauro much as I had. I joined them for another glass of wine and a digestif, then made my way back to the hotel.
Opening ceremonies go down tomorrow and I don't have a single ticket in hand as of yet. I need to figure out the city, public transportation, and find out where I can actually access a press area.