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A Weekend in Genoa

A Genoa Travelogue by Ben Cooper

Friday: First Night in Genoa

I turned up at my hostel in Genoa early on a spring evening. Although it was only late April, it was a warm night; swallows were swooping and the evening sunshine was casting long shadows as I walked the couple of blocks from the train station.

I was staying in the Blue B&B – a pleasant guesthouse down by the port as it turned out. Having checked in (and been subjected to the usual barrage of hospitality that you get in family-run Italian guesthouses), I set out for a bite to eat. I was starving from a days travelling.

When I left the hostel, the evening had moved on, and gloom had descended on the people as they took their evening passeggiata or walk. The atmosphere was lively as the city slowly geared itself up for a Friday night out. I found a scruffy little trattoria and settled down over a menu.

It wasn’t much of a decision what to go for. Pesto alla genovese is the town’s signature dish, so Pesto alla genovese it had to be. After the time-honored language exchange (pigeon Italian followed by quizzical looks and then eventual comprehension) I settled back over a glass of wine and waited for my food to arrive.

After a short wait it came out. With a dramatic flourish from the waiter, a steaming plate of Fettuccine di Pesto alla Genovese was put in front of me. Parmigiano was liberally grated on top, and I was left to devour my food in peace.

There were no frills, no unnecessary embellishments, just an absolutely delicious plate of food. With my carafe of cheap wine and a coffee, the bill was a fraction of what it might have been in Rome or Florence.

It had been a long day, and after dinner I walked home, tired but content, before slipping into bed and sleeping the sleep of the well-fed traveller.

Saturday in the Old Town

Saturday morning announced itself in a blaze of sunlight through my window (having forgotten to close the shutters the night before). Outside it was a beautiful day: a thin haze clung to the dazzling blue sky, and I was tingling with anticipation as I stepped out into the city.

Walking out of the hostel, I strolled round the curve of the bay and before very long found myself in the heart of the Old Town. Running away between Via Grimaldi in the north and Via Gramsci (and the port) to the south, Genoa’s Old Town is sensational.

In many ways it resembles an ever so slightly cleaner, more orderly version of Naples’ Centro Storico. Its caruggi (narrow alleyways) have got the entire atmosphere, with just a little less of the rough edge that some travellers find intimidating about Naples.

There are the same bustling artisans’ shops, the same high buildings that seem to lean inwards and partly obscure the sky, and the same washing, that flaps as a puff of tepid wind move sluggishly between the buildings.

Narrow passageways, buildings scummy with the dirt of ages, darks barking, shopkeepers bellowing at one another… All are sights and sounds that have scarcely changed for hundreds of years.

  Photo: The Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Genoa, Italy.
In terms of sights, I spent the afternoon visiting Genoa’s clutch of excellent churches: top of the list was the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, whose striped bulk rises majestically above the city. This was quickly followed by the hardly any less fantastic Santa Maria di Castello (to the south of the Old Town) and San Donato (on the Piazza San Donato).

Having trawled the evocative Old Town, and checked out a couple of its beautiful churches, I sat down in the warm early evening sun in a bar just off the Piazza delle Erbe (just to the south of the Cathedral).

Several hours passed as I read my book, drank wine, ate a couple of light bites and watched the world go by. As with the night before, the streets quickly filled up with couples and families (many of whom warmly greeted each other), and the atmosphere was warm and inviting.

Night set in, and, tired from a long day’s charging around the city (as well as a glass or two of wine too many), I headed back to the hostel.

Reluctant Sunday Departure

After a leisurely breakfast spent idly dipping my breakfast cake in a frothy cappuccino, it was off to have a last wander round the city. I love the parts of Italy to which fewer tourists go, and while Genoa’s by no means totally devoid of tourists, it manages to never feel congested.

It was with a heavy heart – and weary feet – that I took a quick, final arc around the town. Sundays are miserable at the best of times, and every possible effort should be made to avoid travelling on them, but Genoa was surprisingly lively.

Having picked my bags up from the hostel (and saying my fond farewells to my hosts) I started meandering to the train station. Old women were scuttling off to church and men sat in the sun chatting and laughing; here and there children kicked a football about in the street.

As I sat in my seat watching the city slide by as the train pulled away, I reflected quietly on my time in the city. It was a fly-by-night visit, and I felt frustrated at only having scratched at the surface of things to see and do, but Genoa had beguiled me, totally and utterly.

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