Can't find a hotel room in Turin for the Olympics? Worried about getting stuck in traffic on the single-lane road that leads to the games' Alpine hub? Don't want a repeat of the nightmare at the Salt Lake City airport the day after the 2002 Winter Games ended?
Visiting Turin after the Feb. 10-26 Olympics may have its advantages.
The 1 million people expected for the games will be gone, making travel, hotel reservations and the city's world-class food and wines much more accessible. Post-Olympic visitors will also enjoy a completely remodeled city.
TURIN TRANSFORMED: Turin's urban overhaul was modeled on Barcelona's, the 1992 Summer Games host. While the sports venues are ready, much of the work won't be completed in time for the Olympics.
A new airport terminal is scheduled to be finished before the games, but only a small section of a $1.16 billion subway will be ready. The rest of the system should be completed by 2008, along with a high-speed train between Turin and Milan that will cut the trip between the two cities from 90 to 40 minutes.
Virtually the entire downtown area is getting a facelift, with piazzas cleaned up and repaved.
Restoration of the old royal residences in Venaria, a 30-minute ride from Turin, should be completed by the end of 2006.
POST-OLYMPIC EVENTS: From April 2006 to April 2007, Turin and Rome will be UNESCO's world book capitals. The designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization brings a year's worth of readings and events. Each district of the city will be named for a type of punctuation, such as the Period and Comma district or the Parentheses Piazza.
In October, the Slow Food festival will hold its extravaganza in Turin at the Lingotto, a former Fiat factory turned cultural center, with smaller offerings around the city. Created in response to American fast-food chains in Italy, Slow Food promotes gastronomic culture and traditional foods at risk of disappearing.
Annual events in Turin include a chocolate festival, March 24-April 3; a September musical festival, this year featuring Vivaldi and Mozart with the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra; and in November, Italy's second-most important film festival, after Venice.
SPORTS: If it's still sports you're after, Turin is home to Italy's most successful soccer club _ Juventus.
The team has won a record 28 Italian league titles and is marching toward its 29th.
The team plays September to May at Stadio Delle Alpi on Turin's northern outskirts. Tickets are not hard to get; most team fans reside in southern Italy.
Juventus will likely play in the Olympic stadium next season while Stadio Delle Alpi is remodeled. The city's other team, Torino, will move permanently from Delle Alpi to the Olympic stadium.
Turin hosts the Winter Paralympics from March 10-19.
The chess Olympics are May 20-June 4 and the fencing world championships, Sept. 29-Oct. 7. Both events are tentatively slated for the Olympic speedskating oval, which will become a multipurpose site after the games.
The ultramodern speedskating oval was designed by the same firm that worked on the Millennium Dome in London. Other modern architecture within walking distance include major works by Arata Isozaki, Gae Aulenti and Renzo Piano.
FOOD: It's the surrounding region of Piedmont rather than Turin itself that has a reputation for great food. So for a fine meal, ask where you can eat "Piemontese."
Start your Piemontese feast with bagna cauda, a heated sauce for dipping raw vegetables. Agnolotti, a form of ravioli, is the region's best-known pasta and is a great primo or "first" dish, often served with creamy gorgonzola-based or truffle ("tartufo") sauce.
Most restaurants offer a variety of meat and fish for main courses. Tagliata - sliced steak - is a favorite. "Bollito misto," mixed boiled meats, is a regional specialty.
For dessert, "torta nocciola," hazelnut cake, is another local treat. Try a cheese platter, too. Piedmont is home to several high-rated cheeses such as toma, bra, robiola and castelmagno.
The Baita del Formaggio shop on via Lagrange offers a variety of cheeses. Around the corner, on via Andrea Doria, the Casa del Barolo enoteca has an array of wines. Good chocolate shops are also nearby.
Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Asti wines all come from Piedmont and are world-class. Piedmont is also home to Menabrea, one of the few high-quality Italian beers.
After dinner, sample the local "amaro" (bitter), San Simone. It tastes like cough medicine but is said to help digestion. Up in the mountains, try "Genepy" (Juniper), an Alpine after-dinner drink - just beware of its 35 percent alcohol content.
Since Turin is full of southern Italians, many restaurants and pizzerias feature southern delicacies such as Burrata, fresh buffalo mozzarella.
Turin is also famous for chocolate, namely gianduiotto, a hazelnut variety; and bicerin coffee.
For lunch, drop in any bar for panini sandwiches or small hot dishes, or go to a focaccia shop. Focaccia originated in the nearby Liguria region.
SIGHTSEEING: Turin is a bustling mix of eclectic styles _ from ornate French influences to Art Deco to ultramodern Olympic venues. The city is desperately trying to shed its industrial image and make itself over as one of Europe's new cultural centers.
Already, Turin's pre-Olympic cleanup turned several downtown streets into pedestrian-only zones, some with weekend open-air markets.
Europe's biggest open-air market, Porta Palazzo, is found each morning (except Sunday) in Piazza della Repubblica, the city's largest square. Everything from fresh produce and flowers to clothing and housewares is on display. Try Sicilian arancini, fried rice balls with various fillings - greasy but good.
Nearby you'll find the Balon antique and memorabilia market.
The downtown area is filled with small bookstores and shops on side streets.
No visit to Turin is complete without a visit to the landmark Mole Antonelliana, which was designed as a synagogue but never used as one. The towering structure features a 530-foot spire. It now houses a cinema museum where you can watch the silliest moments in movie history while sitting on toilet bowls; rest assured, the openings in the bowls are covered!
Most visitors prefer a thrilling elevator ride through the center of the Mole and out onto an observation deck for a great view of the mountains. The elevator has no support structure, hanging freely on cables.
The Museo Egizio, Turin's other celebrated museum, claims the second-biggest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside Cairo.
There are also several new contemporary art outposts, such as the GAM (Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea) and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo downtown, and the fortress in Rivoli, a 20-minute drive from Turin.
ALPINE: Ski enthusiasts attending Olympic races in Sestriere and the women's venue of San Sicario will be disappointed to learn they will not be able to hit the slopes once the races are over.
Sestriere and San Sicario will be closed to recreational skiers and fans during the games. Runs in nearby Sauze D'Oulx, Claviere and Bardonecchia will be open.
When grouped together, the above-named resorts are called the Via Lattea (Milky Way).
Sestriere is considered one of the ugliest Alpine resorts in Italy, but the skiing is topnotch. (For charming villages, head over to the Dolomites in northeastern Italy.) The two circular towers ("torre") - symbols of Sestriere - will be part of the athletes' village.
A new chairlift built for the games connects Sestriere to San Sicario.
Bardonecchia is expected to become a European snowboarding center after games.
If you go:
TURIN AND THE PIEDMONT REGION: http://www.turismotorino.org/ or http://www.regione.piemonte.it/lingue/english/index.htm.
OLYMPICS: Tickets to some events are still listed at http://www.cosport.com/ or (877) 457-4647.
GETTING THERE: Connecting flights to Turin are available from Paris, Milan and Rome. Low-cost EasyJet flies to Turin from Paris-Orly and London-Lutton.
GETTING AROUND: Buses and trams are efficient, but the best way to see downtown is to walk. Eleven miles of arcades protect pedestrians from the weather.
WHERE TO STAY: Eight new four- and five-star hotels were built for the Olympics. The two Meridien hotels at the Lingotto are luxurious but practical only if your visit is based around an event at the Lingotto. Otherwise stay downtown.