Monday, September 15, 2014

Last Day in Genova

Omg I am so late in writing this. Well, in my defense I wrote it while I was on the plane going from Croatia to Munich on the way home and it totally wiped. Sooooo yeah.
Our last day in Genova was pretty packed. We spent the morning doing the shopping we had to do for gifts to bring home from Italy. We both ended up lugging around 2 kilos of Italian coffee to Croatia and then back home. hahaha.
After dropping our goodies off at the hotel room, it was off to the day's adventure. Our plan was to get up to the Castello d'Albertis, which we had seen in the telescope at the maritime museum the say before. The guy at the front desk of our hotel had given us directions which included taking the funicolare up the hill. So we take the metro, walk about 8 blocks and bam there's the funicolare. After getting out and looking around, it looks like the building the guy marked but its an abandoned university building. A castle-like building was up the hill so we hiked up the hill toward it. Only to discover it was a private home. What the heck, right? Back down the hill we walked and tried the next hill over, which required we walked up about 1 km worth of switchbacks going uphill. It was hot and humid. Eventually we found the castle and were grateful for the shade!
Castello d'Albertis, now a museum of culture
Albertis Crest
The castle is now a museum of culture, dedicated to the travels of the last Albertis who was quite the 19th century Indiana Jones! There were old weapons and artifacts from Papua New Guinea, China, India, and other countries. The inside is amazing! It also had displays from Native and Latin American indigenous cultures.
Inside the Staircase
View of the Port of Genova from the Castello d'Albertis
By that time we were starving and under a timeline since we wanted to get back to the Chiesa del Gesu before it closed. Back down a second funicolare (which was like a little car, and went vertical and down a track like a ride at Disneyland.. hahaha), and into the Metro, we made it 40 minutes before it closed.
Let me describe this church for you. It's simply amazing. You walk into the quiet, the domes overhead letting in natural light. There is marble everywhere. Beautiful geometric designs of marble in the floors, warm rust colored marble pillars, leading up to the altar where the marble altar table glows under the reflected light from the ceiling. The walls are adorned with Rubens paintings (and other Renaissance artists) in the many little chapels that line the nave. McC and I were standing admiring a painting of the Assumption when a gentleman approached us. In Italian he asked how we liked the painting. We told him it was beautiful, especially Mary's face as she's carried into heaven by angels. He then proceeded to give us a personal tour of the church. After a couple days being back in Italy my language skills have significantly improved so I had no trouble understanding this man at all. He told us who paid for the gold leaf in the ceilings (not the Church, but private families from Genova who had gone to Spain and the New World but continued to sponsor art there), the different styles of art at the time Rubens created his masterpieces and even how Rubens painted his family into a painting of St. Ignatius's miracle. McC and I both felt really special for having been able to experience a tour like that, like it a was a treat! 
Chiesa del Gesu
The salumeria where we had bought meat was open after siesta so we went in and bought another bottle of the Traminer wine. The lady there remembered us and we were happy to have another bottle because that stuff is TASTY! We went back to the hotel and forced ourselves to clean up and get some dinner. The girl at the front desk called over to a restaurant called Osteria d'Piazza and we walked over. It sits right on the Piazza Colombo and theres a prominent statue of Christopher Columbus right there in the middle. (He's sort of a popular guy here in Genova)
Thankfully we were seated immediately because that place got packed with locals quick. We ordered calamari fritti which was delicious! Some wine later, and I just had to have pesto while McC had the risotto. I had the tiramisu for dessert but it wasn't exactly in the form I was used to. It was still tasty though. 
Funny thing about Genova: they have high tech condom dispensing vending machines on some corners. Randomly. HAHAHA 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Genova - Remnants of a Maritime Republic

Another late morning but hey we're on vacation so what do we care...hahaha. We walked down the Via XX Settembre to the Piazza de Ferrari and grabbed cappuccini and foccacine at a cafe on the piazza for a somewhat early lunch. We had to see what time the churches opened, and it turns out they opened in the afternoon so we went back to the Palazzo Ducale and saw the Robert Capa exhibit of his photos documenting the Allied liberation of Italy during WW2. The pictures were very moving and the moments he captured on film of our soldiers, German prisoners and the Italian and Sicilian people made it easy to imagine what they were feeling. Working with veterans in my spare time, it struck me how much things change and how much they stay the same. The fatigue and maturity beyond their years reflected in our soldiers' eyes, were ever present. Yet those same eyes and faces are now encased in supreme personal protective equipment and advanced communications and firepower. How did my grandfather survive Europe in WW2 without all the kevlar?
After the exhibit we walked down the street to the next metro stop at the old port so we head over to the Galata Museo al Mare. This place was a pretty cool museum of Genova's maritime history with a big exhibit about Columbus. It was interesting to see mock ups of his three ships, and even see actual letters he wrote to the bankers who financed some of his voyages. There were displays of armor and canons from the 16th century and even and a complete scale model of a ship. The top floor is a glass encased rooftop patio with excellent views of the city and the port. They even have an Italian Navy submarine thats now a museum. McC and I took some pictures and walked down the waterfront path where there were fruit and veggie stands. The people here are very friendly and the produce was beautiful.  You could even buy wheels of cheese, all privately made. McC bought some fruit and we got back on the metro.
We went to the Catedrale di San Lorenzo. The black and white stacked marble is very common here in Genova but the soaring columns in the church were impressive. They had an exhibit on the church's treasure so we checked that out too. Among the items they were showing was a beautiful green glass bowl made in Roman times, and many reliquaries from the medieval period. Our tickets included entry into the diocese museum which was across the alley. At one time this was the chapter house for the priests on San Lorenzo. There were beautiful frescoes, inspired Renaissance style religious paintings and much of the original building had been preserved.
We made it over to the Chiesa del GesĂș, SS. Andrea e Ambrogio but there was a Mass going on so we couldn't look around. We decided to come back the next day. McC saw a sign that the church was having an exhibition of Rubens paintings so we knew we had to come back.
By that time we were exhausted and starving so we went back to the place we had eaten that morning. They had a pre-dinner wth 4 courses and we decided on that. The food was so good for being so simple, and of course we had to have more wine!
While we vowed to sleep early alas we both had insomnia, although I was awake until nearly 5am. I soo paid for that the next day.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Genova Day 1

What is it about being out of the country and relaxed that I just cant get my ass in gear in the morning?  McC and I set the alarm for enough time to get cappuccini before getting on the train but we didnt get to it. Dragging our luggage through the pedestrian tunnel and back down La Fegina, we then lugged it upstairs to a cafe to wait for the train. We ended up seeing some other Americans we ran into a couple nights before at Via Venti. Cinque Terre is popular with Americans, most likely due to Rick Steves guidebooks. Granted, its a pretty awesome place to go. Once again we had to run to the opposite end of the train for the first class carriage (hello shin splints!). It was a nice uneventful ride back through Liguria to Genova.
Even though I'm a history major, I'm more familiar with Roman occupation of Europe and the Church's continuance of power in the region. However, a specialist on Genova I am not, outside the basic knowledge of it being a city-state and being a maritime republic. Our cab driver gave us some great tips on things to see and do, and things to stay away from. We chilled out in our hotel room for a couple hours before venturing out to see the city. We're on the third floor and have a balcony right off the Via XX Settembre.
First stop was the Piazza de Ferrari. Those who know me from my veterans work know why I wanted to see that. Hahaha. We continued across the street to a theater school which had a giant sculpture of Italian national hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi, in front of it. Italy wouldn't be a unified country without him so thats a pretty important monument.
Around the corner we went and ended up at the Palazzo Ducale, which is where the rulers of Genova lived. It was the afternoon so we were only able to get tickets to the tower and the gaol (jail). McC and I got up to the roof area and were given hard hats. We didn't know why until we saw how short the doorways were. I'm a lot taller than McC to begin with but even she had to duck. Medieval Genovese must have been pretty damn short, like near 5'1, because those doorways only came up to my shoulder. After climbing extremely steep stairs to the top of the tower we were treated to spectacular views of the city. Genova is a very dense city, the typical Renaissance architecture where they built up becuse you can't build out in a fortified town. Next was the gaol where political dissidents, pirates and even Garibaldi were kept. They were pretty dismal and not easily escaped. McC and I took a bunch of silly pictures with our hard hats and standing in the jail cells, trying not to giggle too loud and have the old man with the hard hats get mad.
Afterward we checked out the Cathedrale di San Lorenzo from the piazza because I left my scarf in the room to cover my shoulders. We kept walking and after turning onto Via Dante, were soon standing in front of the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. A few steps past the tiny house, there is a neoclassical courtyard commemorating 500 years of the Genovese republic,  and just past that one of the original gate towers to the city, the Porto Soprana.
We were getting hungry by then but really didn't want a huge meal like we had at Miky the night before so we opted for lighter Italian fare. We intentionally got lost in the narrow alleys and walkways of Genova looking for a salumeria to buy some meats and cheeses. I translated and we ordered salami toscano and some brie, along with a bottle of wine. I had olives and auricchio I had bought in Cinque Terre to go with it. A quick stop at a bakery to get some bread and my favorite occhi marmellata cookies and we were off. Best low key dinner ever and that wine was outstanding, even though it was only €9!
Tomorrow is a full day and we can't wait to see the churches!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cinque Terre Day 2

Well our intent to get going nice and early sort of didn't happen, and we weren't out the door until 9:30. We headed over to Pasticcheria Laura for cafe latte and pastry. Unbeknownst to us this was a hot spot for the locals, and got packed 5 minutes after we arrived. McC had a slice of pastry that looked like it had berry filling but we discovered it was chocolate. I had a small fruit tart that had the lightest, sweetest crust I've ever had (Mom, please don't murder me for sayin that). We escaped the crush in the nick of time.
I remembered I didn't bring a scarf to visit the churches so we stopped at a shop next to our pensione. €10 for 100% cashmere? Yes please! We made our way down through Piazza Garibaldi and decided to check out the castello which sits on a high rocky promontory, ready to alert the town in case of Saracen pirate attacks. As we walked up the path I noticed another structure sitting below it, also looking out to sea. While I had seen it the night before I didn't truly understand what it was until just then. It was a German pillbox bunker leftover from WW2. Nearby La Spezia was a Nazi stronghold during the war, as it had a big port, but the Germans dotted the little villages up the coast from there with troops as defense from Allied attacks. The bunker was in great shape and I was amazed at being able to see something in real life that I had only seen in my grandfather's photos from the war.
After that we bought some train tickets and head to the next town south, which is Vernazza. Little Vernazza sits in a very steep canyon leading down to its little harbor.  The buildings are a rabbit warren of paths, tunnels and warped steps leading every which way. We did a little shopping and then ventured into those alleys, on our way up to the Castello Andrea Doria, which is a fortified building from the middle ages. The view from the tower and deck is amazing. You can see Monterosso on one side, and Corniglia on the other. Behind you climbing the steep canyons are the famous terraced vineyards of Cinque Terre where they grow the grapes for their wine. McC and I went in search of the outside deck for the wine tasting I had read about only we discovered it was closed on Wednesdays.  Damn! Some nice Korean ladies from Lake Arrowhead were lost in the pathways and followed us out. How random! We've met quite a few Americans here in Cinque Terre, which is sort of funny.
We decided to check out the church of Santa Margherita de Antiochi which was built in the 13th century. Its a very dim church, simple on the inside with very thick walls and highly place windows. I imagine they probably hid all their wealth so as not to be a target for pirates. McC and I started getting hungry by then so we went in search of lunch. We ended up at a tiny enoteca, with some foccacine (sandwiches made from foccacia, which was "invented" in Cinque Terre) and wine. Perfect light meal. I really wanted some gelato so I bought una coppa piccola with chocolate and raspberry.  Omg it was good. There is nothing like gelato made in italy, I don't care what anyone tells you! McC and I were bummed about the wine tasting but we found another place to do it and walked right in. The Cinque Terre is known for their white wines but also for a specific dessert wine called Schiaccetrá. Its fairly strong and served in small glasses. To me its has this honeyed texture and even tastes like honey with almost no aftertaste. They serve it with cantucci, which are little almond cookies sort of like biscotti. I was a bit buzzed after that so we decided to go back to Monterosso and chill out.
Once we got back we wanted to check out this sculpture of Neptune clled Il Gigante. It was made in 1910 but the Allied bombing raids on the Germans in the area wrecked it pretty bad so he's missing his arms and the giant shell he used to carry. The main body is still intact and is magnificent in scale, even from as far back as we were standing. We met a nice older lady from La Jolla who was by herself and strolled with us for a bit. We checked out this restaurant called Miky which is #1 in a lot of guidebooks and on TripAdvisor. I made us a reservation for that night for dinner.
We decided if we were going to have one expensive dinner then Miky would be it. And holy cow it was worth it! This area is known for its seafood so I decided to step out of my box and order the stuffed anchovies. SO GOOD! We also ordered spaghetti with monkfish and olives (which they set on fire at our table), yellowfin tuna and filetto piemontese. For dessert it was tort ciok con banana carmellato. Its safe to say we were in a food coma after that. The 20 minute walk back to our hotel was needed to work off some of the food and I fell into bed like a sack of potatoes. Tomorrow we leave for Genova on the next phase of our trip.