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
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
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
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).
The Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Genoa, Italy.
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.
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.