The next point in our motoring tour through the Italian north was Genoa.
Medieval port, former powerful Republic of Genoa, and the Motherland for Niccolo Paganini and Christopher Columbus (and even though there is no convincing evidence of Genoese ancestry of the great navigator, the building where he was allegedly born is shown to tourists).
We were approaching the city at dusk and it looked impressive from the height of the hills: sparkling bay and houses climbing up the slopes. Our apartments were situated right in the middle of the old town. But still, it took us by surprise when the GPS said “You’re arriving, your destination will be on the right” as it did on the busy road with intense traffic. A torrent of cars and scooters was rushing both ways. Having riskily parked our car at the edge of the road, we set off to find out more exact situation of our permanent dwelling.
Only in the morning it got clear that the place we arrived to was the exact location, where the final scene of 2008 feature “Genova” starring Colin Firth was shot. Here the two-level concrete highway pierces the city through with cars not even slowing down.
“La Citta Vechia” apartments, which we booked beforehand at booking.com, seemed proper to stay at. Unusual interior design and atmosphere played the deciding role.
We were met by vigorous young fast-talking hostess, an Italian Giovanna. She was talking exclusively in Italian, which we don’t speak, and we responded in English, which she doesn’t know. But somehow we found common language and resolved all business concerning checking in and out.
We had mixed emotions about our apartments when we arrived, looking at all the old stuff, which of the flat was full. There were vintage things everywhere: wardrobes, commodes and bedside tables, old chairs and a canopied bed. The second bed was wooden and old with high bent headboard. Then there were paintings in heavy frames, outer wiring for the lamps, jewelry boxes, hatboxes, wooden chests and ancient cases, patchwork duvets and pillows, stacks of books and magazines, and old cutlery…
It all seemed like someone’s grandmother’s old flat was turned to a successful business. However, no one spent money on fixing the apartment or getting new furniture. All that combined, it gave the place unrepeatable vibe and did not seem like a standard hotel suit.
Slide show of our cozy room for vintage and still life lovers:
Disadvantages were found later, but were insignificant (acceptable for 3 nights). The most annoying was probably chatter and laughter from the pub downstairs, heard inside, because the windows in the apartment were old as well.
But what windows they were! Wall-high French casements with forged parapet and heavy shutters. It was a pure delight to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, while standing near the open window!
The other drawback were very cold floors (one could use some slippers), but on the other hand it was stone mosaic floor!
And it also wasn’t exactly tidy in the apartments, but we decided not to notice dust and uncleaned kitchen.
It said that breakfasts were included when we reserved. It consisted of an assortment of different cookies, croissants and other local pastries (changing every morning), butter, tea and coffee. On the eve of the Easter Giovanna brought divine Easter cake. As we had our kitchen, we could be creative at dining – having bought groceries at the nearest supermarket – cook a feast for supper or breakfast.
A rather big advantage of the flat is its situation in the center of the old town, so it’s walking distance from all significant places in Genoa.
Walking is the best way to get to know the city. For the most part in our journeys we just walk through the city’s streets, having studied the list of main places to see before. And then you can bump into something you hadn’t thought you’d ever see – so walk…
It’s the grand embankment of the city. It means Old Port in translation. In the past it welcomed the ships of Genovese merchants and was a center of Mediterranean trade. Now it’s a modern port, harboring cruise liners, cargo ships and hundreds of private yachts.
The port of Genoa.
Walking along the embankment we found a pirate galleon “Neptune”, specially built for 1986 Roman Polanski’s film “Pirates”.
The scent of the sea, weary fishermen’s boats, rocking on cold waves and fishnets on the shore create a unique atmosphere of the port town.
You can also visit Aquarium of Genoa and Galata Museo del Mare (Museum of Sea), dedicated to seafaring history and of course to Christopher Columbus.
Right on the water surface of the port sits an immense glass sphere. It’s a hydrosphere – a place one can also visit. Inside the construction of glass and steel lives its own life a little tropical world. It contains mini exposition of tropical plants, birds, fish and insects. The main goal of the hydrosphere is to illustrate fragility and vulnerability of live nature and biological connections, existing between every link in the chain.
Porto Antico is the favorite leisure place for the residents and guests of the city. Also, a huge number of local restaurants can be found here.
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
The San Lorenzo cathedral is one of the city’s visit cards. Its construction is said to begin in the XIIth century, but as usual, it was rebuilt and changed through the following centuries. And only by the XVIIth century the primary construction works were finished. Its feature is asymmetry of the facade. Two towers have different heights and decor. In front of the cathedral lies the most spacious city’s square. The entire old part of present Genoa is a labyrinth of narrow well-streets, squeezed behind the fortress walls.
There were no big squares, nor public building in Genoa during the Middle Ages, so the only social space was in front of the San Lorenzo cathedral, where most of political and social life took place.
We warmed ourselves on the square, clutched by tall buildings, and let ourselves enjoy the best ice-cream in the world – gelato. There was no place to hurry to, you could just sit back and relax, see more around – watch people for two hours.
Majestic cathedral building reminds of a prisoner’s robe by its striped exterior. Pieces of black and white marble interchange, creating a pattern of stripes. Inside is grandeur and god-fearing atmosphere of a gotic cathedral.
Piazza De Ferrari
It’s Genoa’s main square. One can sit on the parapet, feed the doves and listen to the fontain’s rustle. There are a lot of tourist with selfie-sticks. Come in the evening, put your camera on a tripod and erase all sightseers with long exposure.
Piazza De Ferrari
Long labyrinths of narrow streets stem from Piazza De Ferrari, leading to cozy Italian patios and luxurious palaces of noble Genovese of the past.
It’s situated not far from the city’s center and it’s not difficult to find. Old town tires very fast and even depresses. The streets are cold and grim, blown by drafts, and the sky is to be seen only if you look directly upwards. That’s why it’s a relief to break out from well-streets to the open space, where the eye is satisfied with the view of the horizon and the green of nature.
Park Villetta Di Negro
Sweet Italian old ladies, having spotted tourists, came up to us and in perfect English recommended the best locations to oversee the panorama.
Park is a brilliant place to see the city at scale and splendor. Breathe the land breeze in and enjoy yourself.
Unexpectedly we bumped into the Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition “Genesis”. Having seen the advertisement on the street, we didn’t believe our luck. We could see the works of the most distinguished photo-journalist in big format and impeccable quality!
Two hours of walking from one hall to the other: people, animals, seas and continents. We stopped for long and tried to analyze how could he made such impressive shots.
By the end of exhibition legs began to ask for mercy after long afternoon walk, but we endured since you don’t get to see such stuff every day. This man didn’t go on short-term trips. His photos are the reflection of master’s personal life, spent in unique places, in grueling conditions and minimal comfort. Only this way one can manage to take such unrepeatable shots.
Well, for example, in the afternoon from 12 to 4 almost all shops and restaurants are closed, but instead everything lives into the depth of night.
We dreamed to see and hear the sea, but here it’s enchained by ports and to come close to it is almost impossible.
We anticipated the heat of Mediterranean spring in Genoa, we got cold winds in our first day there…
We wanted to see the easy-going Italian port city. But it’s not at all easy-going. It suppresses, encases in its narrow alleys, where sun doesn’t shine and drafts make you shiver. And only after climbing high up can you appreciate its beauty and charm.
Genoa has strong character. It’s not a luxurious and fashionable as Milan. And so, its inhabitants wear the imprint left by their ancestors: sailors, merchants, adventurers and warriors.
One must accustom to the city’s life, get to know it, day by day, with patience, open its secrets…
But for it not to look so sad, on the second day we discovered a great park and observation point, saw the colorful little houses with wooden shutters climbing up the hills, went to nearby Boccadasse to the sea, sat on the rocks, listened to the surf. And celebrated our last evening by delicious dinner in the local restaurant.