It was my first time in Italy. This was a country that I was long overdue to visit. With places like Florence and Rome literally at my fingertips, it might be considered an odd move to choose to visit Genoa instead. Genoa had always fascinated me though. Nobody ever talks about it, but, if Google Images was to be believed, it's a gorgeous seaside city! Many Italians had told me that people from Genoa were an unfriendly lot that tended to keep to themselves. This should have been strike 2, but my curiosity persisted. After some deliberation, I pulled the trigger on a train ticket, and booked myself a place to stay.
Hostel Review: Abbey Hostel
Price: 22 EUR (23.97 USD) per night
This was just about the cheapest hostel I could find, so I didn’t go in with high expectations. Once I got there though, it turned out to be awesome! I met some wonderful people who were staying there, and the staff was all very nice. When I first arrived, the room I was staying in was full of loud girls from Uruguay, none of whom spoke English. It’s been 3 years since I lived in Madrid now, but I’m proud to say that I can still hold a conversation in Spanish! Eventually they left, and they were replaced by a grumpy, smelly, chain-smoking Italian sailor, who spent most of the night in the bathroom in his designer underwear doing God knows what. I was happy when he left. All the same, I would definitely recommend staying here.
Here's the link: http://www.thehostel.it/en/abbey/
Arriving In Genoa
The train ride from Milan to Genoa was short and pleasant. A thick, low-hanging fog covered the Italian countryside that morning, blanketing the fields and small towns with mystique. Our train sliced through the fog like a hot knife through butter, affording us only momentary glances down the tiny brick alleys of the small towns we sped through. I arrived in Genova Piazza Principe with a series of distant snapshots etched into my memory; foggy pieces of other people’s lives seen accidentally through the a train window.
Walking out of the train station, I sat down for an espresso in the first coffee shop I came across. The smell wafting out the open door of that shop was too glorious to ignore. Smells of chocolate, pastries, and coffee blended together to form a downright seductive aroma. After so long spent inhaling exclusively exhaust and garbage in India and Bangladesh, I was easily persuaded to enter each and every shop I passed by. The roasted coffee on the salty Mediterranean air was too tempting to pass up. I could already tell that I was going to spend most of my time in Genoa eating.
Genoa has something special to offer the culinary world: pesto.
Pesto, il mio amore
No Genoa = No pesto.
Yes, the Genoese were the first to ever pound together fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to form the life changing concoction known today as pesto sauce. And for that I thank them. Being in the birthplace of pesto, I already knew that I was going to be on an all-pesto diet for the duration of my stay. Whatever I ate, I got it slathered in pesto, and I have no regrets. Of all the places I ate, the best one was a random little restaurant that I found down a random alley off of a large street called Largo della Zecca. The crowning jewel of the meal I ate there was the giant piece of tiramisu, that walked the watery line between moist and wet like a champ. Unfortunately, I don’t have an address for you, but in a place like Italy, it’s hard to choose wrong.
As a side bar to my dining experience in Genoa, who was it that said that Genoese people are unfriendly?? That quickly turned out to be utterly false. While I'll admit that the overall vibe of the city seemed to be slightly less welcoming than Milan, I met some wonderful Italian people whenever I stopped for food. After friendly conversations with my servers I would receive hearty slaps on the back as I walked out. "Ciao Peter!"
Seeing Genoa By Foot
When I wasn't eating or drinking, I was walking. I walked all over Genoa, and I had a great time doing it. Europe has nearly infinite history, but Genoa's harbor was a major port as early as the 6th century B.C.E. As such, the city is an absolute labyrinth of tiny, brick alleyways. My game plan for exploring the city was simple: I disappeared down one of these alleys and got my self as lost as possible as fast as possible. It's hard to get too lost in a city like Genoa though, because you are always sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. If you are walking towards the sea, you will be walking downhill. If you are walking away from the sea, you will be making a steep climb. I spent a long time wandering through the more low-laying alleyways before I made my turn uphill.
One of the most amazing things about Europe is the abundance of huge, beautiful churches. Churches are a dime a dozen in Europe, but that doesn't make them, individually, any less impressive. I found my way into quite a few churches in Genoa, most notably a church called Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato. As one might expect, it was big, it was beautiful, and it's rich history had blessed it with intricate artistic detail. Here are some pictures:
Amazing, right? The crazy thing about cities like Genoa though is that churches like Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato really aren't very special, at least not aesthetically. Having been built in the 1500s, every church has a long and unique history, but fewer are architecturally or artistically distinct from their peers.
Here's another church that I took some time to sit in, that was only a few city blocks away. While Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato has its own Wikipedia page, this church functions in complete obscurity. I don't even know it's name, because it wasn't written anywhere that I could find when I was there. Tucked away down a tiny alley, it looked pretty unassuming, so I didn't have any sort of expectations when I pushed the big, wooden door open. I was taken completely by surprise by what I found inside...
Elderly men and women quietly shuffled in and out. They would take a seat somewhere in the old wooden pews, and sit for a while, softly murmuring prayers with their heads lowered in reverence. I sat the pews with them, taking a few minutes to soak in the silence. This was the first time I had been inside a church in a long time. I was raised in Middle America, going to church multiple times per week, but by this point I had been away for a long, long, long time. I had immersed myself in cultures that were completely different than my own, and visited a plethora of spiritual sites for other religions, mostly Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic. Now I found myself in a church once again, looking at the artistic depictions of the belief system I was raised on with strangely foreign eyes. There was a time when I would have felt at home in this pew, but now I was an outsider. It was weird, but my trip was almost at an end and there would be plenty of time for reflection later. I headed out, and started walking uphill.
The climb became steep quickly. Before long I found myself panting and sweating as I pulled myself up a steep brick alley. When I finally turned my head around to see where I had gotten, I could see the Mediterranean out over the rooftops of Genoa. I continued my walk upwards, until I came to what appeared to be a high school. There was a large group of trendy Italian teenagers out for either recess or a communal smoke break. Whichever the case, there was a large cloud of tobacco smoke wafting upwards, over their group. I snapped this picture and reflected on my own high school experience:
I continued my hike upwards. I climbed through winding, cobblestone alleys with Italian sports cars parked left and right. I climbed through small walkways covered in graffiti and small vines whose leaves had begun to change colors. The autumn air was crisp and cool.
Finally, I reached a major road in a higher elevation neighborhood called Castelletto. I was tired, so I once again succumbed to the advances of coffee's sweet aroma. When I finished my tiny cup of espresso, the barista did his best to explain to me how to catch a bus. I caught the 62 bus.
The once I got on the bus, I was promptly driven by views so spectacular that I impulsively hopped right back off of said bus. I used that bus for a free photographic tour of the city, hopping on and off the bus every time something caught my eye out the window.
Around me on the bus Italian youngsters with a headphone in one ear joked and laughed with each other. I continued hopping on and off the bus until I arrived at the famed Piazza de Ferrari.
Piazza de Ferrari
While I had done minimal research on Genoa before showing up, I did know that this plaza was supposed to be one of the 'attractions,' so when I saw the "Piazza de Ferrari" slide across the tiny screen on the roof of the bus, I jumped ship.
Piazza de Ferrari is the cultural and commercial center of Genoa. The fountain is arguably the city's centerpiece, and around it, in the beautiful old buildings, much of Genoa's financial sector is crowded into offices. At street level though, the storefronts around Piazza de Ferrari mostly belong to small cafes and high-end fashion retailers. Watching all the beautiful people go about their days, some the insecurities I felt in Milan's Piazza de Duomo were beginning to eat at me again, so I did some window shopping. I didn't buy anything though.
I spent my time in Piazza de Ferrari taking pictures. I was pretty amused by the expression of agony on the faces carved into the sides of the fountain. Water gushed out of their gaping mouths as if these classical figures were perpetually vomiting. I chuckled as I photographed them. I'll let you guess which photograph I'm talking about (below).
From there I hopped back onto the bus. My next destination was a neighborhood called Boccadasse, which was at the far southeastern side of Genoa. I road the bus as far as it would take me, and then hopped off in search of a taxi. It probably wasn't the most economical choice, but I was lost, so I bit the bullet and coughed up the 5 EUR (5.49 USD) for a cab. It actually was a pretty cheap ride I suppose, and it was all the more worth it because of the destination.
Perhaps the biggest and most noteworthy street in Genoa is called Corso Italia. It spans all of Genoa's seafront, east to west, and it is a reliable landmark no matter where you are. At the far eastern side of Genoa's city limits, off of Corso Italia, is the old mariners neighborhood. Its name is Boccadasse, and it has historically played home to the fishermen and sailors of Genoa. Genoa has always been an important port for Italy, and Boccadasse has always been an integral part of Genoa. Oh yeah, and it's gorgeous. Look at this:
Sitting amidst the boats stacked on the shore were a hilarious group of old, shirtless Italian men. They all reminded me of my late Italian grandfather, Nino, so I snapped a few pictures of them, which I will cherish forever.
I mean really.
Look at these wise-guys.
I passed the rest of my day exploring the tiny, brightly colored alleyways that wound their way through Boccadasse. The water of the Mediterranean was a stunning amalgam of aqua/navy blue and teal-green. I was clearly walking through some expensive real estate here because I constantly found myself peeking through barred gates.
I soon found myself away from the main routes of the neighborhood, scrambling down tiny, overgrown, brick passageways that led me down towards the sea. Around the bend of this main area of Boccadasse was more of the same. A father and son floated in a lone, white boat, each with a line cast, waiting for a bite as has been done here for generations. Green mountains covered in arid Mediterranean shrubbery set the background for the brightly colored buildings here. It was pretty picturesque.
Once I was done exploring Boccadasse, I walked the length of Corso Italia back into Genoa. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I was in no hurry. I was perfectly content to stroll.
Old Italian men rolled by on bicycles. Nino reincarnated again! I knelt down and took this picture, which was another unlikely favorite for me in Genoa. Miss you gramps ♥️️
That's about it for Genoa. But I wasn't done yet. If you thought Boccadasse was pretty, just wait. The next place is going to put it to shame.
Stay tuned for Cinque Terre.
In the mean time, it's time for a favorite from Nino's day.