0610 The Land of Columbus (Ita 089—new)

Genoa Travel Blog

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I’m excited about discovering Genoa--  I hear the name and I picture a medieval port city, with ancient wooden sailships docked at its harbour.  I think of young Cristopher Columbus gazing out to sea from a his home here in this city.  This name has a timeless, mystical ring to it.


But when I arrive late at night my priority is to make it to the hostel before it midnight.  According to Google Maps, the hostel should be on the very last street up a hill overlooking the city--  I should just take the bus, but this seems like a good opportunity to start my adventure of discovering the city.


The hill is to steep for any direct streets--  only streets that snake back and forth on long, endless switchbacks.

  Usually there are direct stairways for pedestrians, but the stairways I follow end up in very annoying dead ends… Finally after a stretch of pitch darkness, and completely losing my sense of direction, I come across a bus stop map which points me in the right direction, and after a gruelling climb I finally make it to the hostel. 


I pay for two nights--  I want to make sure I have enough time to explore Genoa properly.  I figure it’d be cool to hike along the coast to the edge of the city and maybe explore a few towns beyond… But looking at a map of the city, that looks a bit daunting--  the city stretches along the coastline for miles and miles and miles--  in fact, if you take the train, you’ll stop at like 6 Genoa stations before you even leave the city!


Next Morning


Next morning an American college student named Patrick who is studying in London strikes up a conversation with me.

  He’s from Green Bay, Wisconsin--  not exactly a big source of World Travellers!   He seems like a cool guy, so when he asks if he can join me on my trek, I agree… It would be nice to have some company for a change.  In 3 years I’ve only been accompanied on a parkbenching trip twice: in Tiznit and Tafraoute by my brother in law, Youssef, and in White Plains, Bridgeport and Washington by my brother Andrew… I figure not very many people are going to really be able to get the gist and the rythmn of the Parkbenching style…


So we head on down the hill together--  this time have no trouble finding the stairways that lead directly to the city, and are soon exploring ancient alleys, with clotheslines strung overhead, magnificent gray and white striped churches, and splendid fountains, as we discuss travel, religion and American culture.  He explains to me how in Green Bay, “lifetime” football tickets are passed on from father to son, insuring that the stadium (which is located in little town in the middle of nowhere) will always be sold out… Despite our age difference, we find were able to have a lot of interesting discussions and have a lot in common.


Genoa has a beautiful historic area--  but then with these ugly 70s style buildings and skyscrapers that spell “what were you thinking?” built right smack in the middle… it seems the city has gotten a little confused along its journey to modernity.


We continue on, down long, royal arcades, up little hills that overlook tall, tightly packed 19th century homes… and finally down to the coast.


Patrick, who has rarely enjoyed a sunny beach in his entire life, is pretty psyched about taking a stroll on the sidewalk overlooking the rugged shore heading east--  which sounded good to me, although I was still pretty pessimistic about actually reaching the edge of the city on foot.



The view along the way is quite impressive.  The mix of stately baroque, renaissance and medieval architecture of the crowded city center left behind, we now pass beautiful tiled mansions surrounded by palm trees that somehow remind me of Dominican Republic with it tropical flair.  I wonder how much of a connection there is between Genovan architecture and that of the New World. 


Genoa was once its own city state and the seat of a small empire, and it’s clearly very proud of its past.  You’ll see the city flag flying a lot more frequently the the Italian flag.  I can’t help but wonder how folks here must feel about their most famous son, Cristopher Columbus… It must make them want to kick themselves for not having supported the guy on his mad adventure--  just think, right now half the world might be speaking Ligurian (the Genovan language) rather than Spanish!


We pass a couple of immigrants from South America and chuckle at the irony… So Genoa didn’t discover the Americas… but now the Americas have discovered Genoa…


We come around a bend and suddenly, there in front of us is a charming ancient little village of houses clinging to each other and perched right over the frothy ocean.

  In the middle, is a tiny inlet with a rocky beach and a boat harbour.  Both of us think it’s a really cool discovery--  this is more like the Columbus’s Genova that I was thinking of:  cramped, simple… It’s also a nice little glimpse into the life of the locals, as the relax, sunbath and eat ice cream in the rocky shore.  Nothing ornate or extravagant, just ordinary Genovans enjoying a warm spring day…


After an ice cream cone and a tour of the village’s labyrinth of alleys, we continue on.  Although this village clearly has it’s own identity, it’s technically part of Genova, so it still doesn’t “count”…


And so the adventure continues.  It seems like around every bend there’s another discovery to be made… whether it be a splendid castle/mansion with a grooved tower at the top… or yet another old style “village” with its own little rocky beach… or intriguing black and which rock “sandwiches” jutting out from the coast… It’s truly a beautiful hike.

  Frankly, I don’t care anymore if we reach the edge of the city or not--  I just want to discover what’s around the next bend.


And then finally, when it seems that Genoa was never going to end… after miles and miles of beautiful rugged coast and half a dozen little shoreline “villages” we see it:  A big sign that says “Genova” with a big red line through it.  We have reached the end of Genova.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been so psyched about a “leaving the city” sign…


A few days later, on my return trip


Since on my first visit to Genova I was so focused on doing the shoreline hike, when I returned a few days later I figured I could spend a bit more time exploring the city centre and the harbour.


The harbour is a bit of a disappointment.  First of all, there’s a big ugly raised highway going right in front of it.  Then, once you get there, instead of finding a postcard panorama as I kind of envisioned, you’ve a random mix of an old castle, a couple very modern looking museums, an old sailship, and various random modern structures--  no real consistency to it


But back in the old city, it’s much easier to be transported back to another time, with the hilltop castle with its imposing entrance, the cathedrals and the narrow alleys that never see the sun…


Finally, I pay my respects at the Columbus Monument and bid farewell to a complex and treasure laden city.

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photo by: Grpablo