Tuesday in Genoa ~ Part 1 of 2
Plans to explore a bit of the city when I had arrived the previous evening went swiftly out the window as I reached my hostel and rested my poor legs. In no time at all, I had to search for dinner and then night had fallen (alongside my eyelids). After the deepest of deep sleeps I awoke to climb up to Spinata Castelletto through the city’s steep and winding paths. Once a fortress of Castelletto, this ‘balcony’ offers a 360 view where one can admire the multicoloured terraced buildings, medieval towers and Baroque peaks and domes of the city. The early morning sun brought about a haze on Genoa’s skyline, and so I decided to make a later return to see the sunset and the city’s beauty in a different light.
Meanwhile, caffeine was in order. Slowly stepping back down the steep trail up, I embedded myself into the winding spaghetti of Genevan streets, the buzzing arteries of the old part of the city. Whilst looking for a decent looking enough cafe, I popped in and out of tiny churches and buildings hidden amongst the colourful terraced tower houses. Turning a corner, I perched inside an empty cafe, ordering an espresso (of which I never drink but had to given the unquestionable custom). Upon receiving my teeny cup, I was given a spoon of freshly whipped, slightly sweetened, cream. Unknowing whether it was to sample or to put in my coffee, I did a bit of both, not looking back at the counter in case of ridicule. I sat at the border of the street and the cafe, watching businessmen rush to and fro and general city goers go about daily life. Moments later, a busker pulled up a few meters away and started singing sweet Italian lyrics and melodies into the morning.
My espresso was over in a heartbeat and I thought to try out another establishment. Subsequently, I exited, turned left and went right next door to another cafe. This time I had a far less tranquil experience:
Espresso culture is undeniable in Italy. I had heard rumours, but once immersed in my first few cafes in Italy it was confirmed: greeted with an exceptionally enthusiastic ‘ciao!’ that quickly merged into a stream of ‘arrivederci!’s and ‘buongiorno!’s for other customers, before I knew it an espresso was in my hands. Typically you can ask for whipped cream on top, or like most Italians, you can chug the lot with a spoon of sugar. Panicked, I quickly chewed a custard-cream filled croissant I ordered alongside it, getting icing sugar pretty much everywhere you could imagine, and attempted to quickly get out of the madness. It seems the average duration is not more than a couple of minutes in such establishments, with no seats even available. Accordingly, I made my move which was accompanied by a resounding ‘grazie!’ Shockingly, coffee throughout my trip was crazy cheap (even at airports), espressos only being about $1 and any “longer” styles of coffee not more than $1.50 or so, such as americanos, lattes and cappuccinos.
After the coffee mayhem I had had enough caffeine for the day and ventured toward the local aquarium, which usually isn’t something I would go to but rumour had it that this was one of the best aquariums in Europe; I can’t say I’ve been to many, but by gum it was amazing. The Acquario di Genova is located in the Porto Antico (old port) and is the largest aquarium in Europe, having been built to celebrate the fifth centenary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World. As such, it’s a spectacular experience inside; glass panes dividing fish from man stretched high above one’s head in dimly lit corridors, exposing the swathes of water in the tanks that are home to a marvellous array of sea creatures. From manatees to crabs to dolphins to penguins, the Acquario di Genova immerses you in the sea-world like you’ve never been before, having also the most extensive range of aquatic biodiversity in Europe. Fortunately, the aquarium undergoes various sustainability programmes whilst also preserving endangered species from environments under threat across the world so you can put your mind to some kind of rest during your visit.
But if there’s one exhibit that’s well worth going for it’s the spectacular, almost “gallery”, of jellyfish:
Post-aquarium, I barbarically had a seafood lunch at a popular local Friggitoria (an Italian shop selling fried food, often fish and chips) (Antica Friggitoria Carega). Trying to ignore where I had just been, I perched on a tiny stool at the back of the cramped interior, only inches away from the chefs in the back. But it’s well worth it to try the sweetest seafood you’ll have in a long time (if you’re from the middle of the UK like me with only a canal to your name). On offer are a range of fried items, including an array of seafood from mussels to octopus to prawns and squid, fries and even pizza and other Italian goods. I recommend a mixed seafood plate, served with salt and slice of lemon to squeeze atop – perfect to slowly nibble whilst watching the chefs in action in the back. It’s worth noting the friggitoria was rammed with Italians, and so I knew it had to be good, local men gossiping with the chef who seemed to be doing an excellent job at multitasking.
It was back to aimlessly wandering around the city again, meandering around the old town’s vessels, alive with shops and cafes and a steady stream of both locals and tourists. I’ve never felt more like in a movie than I had done in this place, the characters cropping up and the general atmosphere being so charismatic and so… Italian. At one point, a flock of nuns came out of nowhere and started handing money to older pedestrians on the streets and then disappeared into a large black door at the entrance of one of the colourful Genevan terraced houses.
I had had enough of the old town for the time being, and I headed toward the newer part of the city, meeting Piazza Raffaele De Ferrari smack bam in the middle. This piazza is Genova’s main square, situated right in between the city’s modern centre and historical centre, leading toward the famous Via XX Settembre – a grand shopping street with marvellous architecture all the way down including some of finest Art Nouveau buildings in the region.
In the older part of the city, it can be unclear as to how hot is is or what time of day you’re in as the paths are incredibly narrow with dusty, high terraces extremely close to one another, engulfing the sky. Stepping out onto Piazza Rafaela De Ferrari exposed the fierce sun and at once my skin started to sizzle again. Keeping in the shade, I explored the newer part of the city, also on the look out for more Italian snacks, of course.
Alas I had finally sampled famous Italian Cannoli, unsure as to whether UK-versions I had had were the real deal. For sure, this was the best cannolo I had tasted; A Cannolo (plural: Cannoli) is a crunchy biscuit tube that has been deep fried and shaped when chilled, filled with fresh sweetened ricotta cheese and dipped at the exposed ends in either chocolate shavings or chips, candied orange peel or crushed pistachios. My feet ached tremendously, the heat aggravating the fatigue I think I had permanently acquired after the previous days’ flight, and no seats were available in Don Cola either. So I tried to enjoy my cannolo and macchiato quickly, so I could seek refuge on a nearby street-bench that was calling my name. Never has having afternoon coffee been such a struggle.
Walking back to the old town…