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Turin’s “pedestrian island”.

A few years ago – back when I lived in Corso Mediterraneo  – one of my oldest friends came to visit me in Turin. I picked her up from the bus station and we headed straight for Amici Miei – let’s just say one of the best pizzas in town (I don’t want to start a food fight). Two pizzas and one San Simone later, we started to walk home in the late summer light. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said to my friend. ‘It’s impossible to get lost in Turin.’ I began to explain that the city was once a Roman military camp, which is why it is arranged in a convenient grid pattern. 10 minutes later I had no idea where we were. We found ourselves in some kind of enchanted land with Hansel-and-Gretel houses and eerily silent, tree-lined streets. Suddenly, an enormous statue appeared in front of us. Without knowing it, we had stumbled across the Giardini del fante, or the Infantryman’s Gardens, one of the city’s many secret gardens. Since that summer night, the gardens have become perhaps my favourite oasis in Turin, city of oases.

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Sandwiched between Corso Einaudi, Duca degli Abruzzi, Montevecchio and Galileo Ferraris and dissected by Corso Trento and Corso Trieste, Turin’s isola pedonale or pedestrian area (I prefer the literal translation: pedestrian island) is known for its eclectic architecture and ornate villas complete with turrets and towers,  wrought iron gates and large bay windows, and even the occasional loggia.

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The pedestrian area sits on the site of Turin’s old Piazza d’armi, or military parade ground, where, after moving the army to its current location in Corso IV Novembre at the beginning of the last century, the town authorities decided to perform a “piazza pulita” (a clean-up operation), opening up the ground for new constructions. The requirements were clear: the more extravagant, the better. The result is a kind of architectural sweet shop, a unique mix of styles not to be seen anywhere else in the city. The island is beautiful in all seasons, on a winter’s night or a summer’s evening, but for me spring is the most spectacular time: it’s when the Judas trees come into blossom with their purple flowers, complemented by the pale-blue wisteria draped over the houses…

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While I was making these very same pseudo-literary reflections last Sunday afternoon, a small voice interrupted my thoughts:  ‘Excuse me, you’re standing in our goal.’ I turned around to see a boy in a football shirt looking up at me. Oops. That’s the other thing about the pedestrian island: it’s full of kids and full of football games. Walking around the gardens made me remember my childhood, many years and many miles away, playing football in the street with jumpers for goalposts, yelling ‘car!’ and diving out of the way whenever somone drove down the road (right through our makeshift football pitch). In Turin’s pedestrian area kids don’t have to worry about passing cars, just absent-minded pitch invaders like me who inadvertently become part of the game. That’s what I love about the place: whenever I go there, I can’t help feeling part of the living and breathing city that is Turin. If you want to feel part of it too, I suggest you take a stroll…

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