11. Landing: Genoa


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Apr 25th, 2011
11. Landing: Genoa

This the ship’s destination and  our final port of call. Genova (as Italians insist on calling it) started as an excellent natural harbour, was enlarged over the centuries, and each hill is now crowned with a splendid old castle or fort depending on antiquity. We have 3 nights here, before moving on to Florence.
It was exciting to watch the coast of Italy approach in the clear, calm morning. The city is built on several hillsides overlooking its port, which is huge and crowded with shipping. Bypassing the cargo side, we head into the passenger section, nudge past luxury yachts, small ships and many, many cruise liners. Several of these belong to the ‘Moby’ line, and stand out as they are painted with giant disney cartoons of the Sylvester & Tweety variety. The MSC line has its own wharf, and we tie up next to a huge cruiser of 12 storeys, the ‘Galaxy’, which makes the Melody look like a poor relation!
Soon after breakfast we were ordered below, to await our various debarkation turns. Our waiting post turned out to be the gloomy and stuffy cinema. But once processed through the terminal (very like an airport), without a backward glance we took a taxi to our hotel, chosen on the internet by James, back in Cape Town. The hotel turned out to be very well situated, in the interesting Old Town, a couple of blocks away from the historic waterfront as well as the central train station (200 meters). It is also opposite a lift that appears to lead straight into the side of the hill.
After the cramped ship’s cabin, the hotel room felt blissfully large, with a bed that didn’t move, a bathroom one could turn around in, and space to stow things like too many large suitcases. We felt pampered. Shuttered windows let in real air and light and street murmurs. Leaning out I could see a half-view of the western curve of the city and a bit of harbour. The TV only yielded local Italian channels though. I can recommend the hotel for being central, convenient, clean, friendly and not expensive: Hotel Standard, on the via Balbi.
As soon as we were settled we went out to explore the immediate neighbourhood, find the tourist info shop and get internet connections. The city oozes history, with elegant palaces (palazzos), sections of old city walls, church bell towers and stone fortifications, some of which are over 1000 years old.

Genoa is a mixture of scruffy, slab-sided, dingy buildings with peeling paint and chunks of plaster missing, and highly decorated grandeur. Most of it needs a darn good sandblasting to regain its former glory. Half of the old city has been claimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (before it crumbles from sheer neglect, looks like) and proud banners proclaiming this fact are stretched across many of the streets in the Old City.

Some restoration has been done, for example a block away we discovered this public water point and laundry facility – I could just imagine the women washing the week’s clothes and gossiping away, a real hub of activity watched by the men in the ancient public house opposite!

The tourist info shop on the via Garibaldi was, miraculously, open for business and stuffed full of leaflets and brochures in english, hooray. Now we had city maps our next priority was to find an ISP to deliver us from the slow hell of on-board internet connectivity. Time to get back to work and see what the clients are all up to. We finally spied a Vodafone shop – the familiar brand was a magnet and we rushed in to buy chips and airtime, but there is an Italian equivalent of FICA in force, so we couldn’t  purchase any kind of phone or internet connnection without producing our passports. The surveillance age bites. Darn!

Trolleybus, note WiFi zone poster on lamp post

By now pretty footsore, we decided to try taking a bus back to the hotel, which is in the direction of the Stazione Principale (train station). James spotted electric tram cables and we duly emerged into a grand central plaza called the Plaza Ferrari – yep, as in the sports cars. Here is a beautiful fountain and grand equestrian statue, and buses and electric trams going in all directions. I flag one down and try out my rudimentary phrasebook Italian. Si, si, says the driver, stazione di treni…….. great. We jump on and look about for a ticket seller. There is none, so we guiltily ride the bus all the way and jump off just in front of the hotel.

Fountain in the Plaza Ferrari

OK here is some info for those who may want to take a bus in italy: The tickets are on sale at tobacconists and news stands. You can get a single ticket that lets you go anywhere for 90 minutes, or you can get passes for a week or a month, whatever. Just don’t ask the bus driver for a ticket. Once on the bus, you fight your way to an inconspicuous little machine and stick your ticket in the slot, to ‘validate’ it. Some machines have more than one slot (the same routine with tickets applies to trains, we later find).
So on a legal bus ride, we returned with passports to the Vodafone shop only to find it closed till 3.30, Italian equivalent of the siesta. To pass the time, we wandered about, exploring.

As in Cadiz, many of the side streets of old Genoa are very narrow; some of the in-between lanes are only wide enough for, say, a single horse and rider or one little old lady with her shopping. High overhead there is washing strung up to dry on pulleys going along the walls. One has to dodge dripping denims. At one point we found ourselves in some very narrow alleys with suggestively-dressed young ladies smoking in doorways. The post-prandial two hours can obviously be spent in bed should one feel so inclined.

Eventually we both got new local simcards plus one GB and 3 GB of wireless broadband respectively. They said it would take up to 24 hours to activate, but back at the hotel we found that this became accessible after just an hour. The speeds are not as fast as we would get via a physical phone line, but still, bliss after the unreliable dial-up speeds we were getting on board.
We picked up some fresh bread, wine, olives and cheese from a little supermarket, and took this first meal in Italy back to our room for a late lunch. Cheers and chin-chin! Viva l’Italia, we are here at last.
In the evening we popped out the the trattoria next door to the hotel and had ourselves our very first italian pizza! Thin of base and simple of topping, it was mucho delicioso!


  • Connie

    26 Apr 2011

    Yummy – next time get some of those Italian tomatoes…or are they in season yet? Anyway, cheers!

  • Sharon

    26 Apr 2011

    I feel better now I have caught up with your escapades! We’ve just returned from our first ever holiday ‘abroad’ in Mallorca, so I totally get your feelings of awe and that magical feeling of discovering new places and things. Believe you are headed our way? Give us more details – can’t wait to see you xx

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