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ITALY
WINTER 2006

ROMA 1 | ROMA 2 | ROMA 3 | ROMA 4

FIRENZE | GENOVA | BOLOGNA | RIMINI

GENOVA

San Matteo Church - GenovaIn the fall of 1996 we made our first trip to Genova (Genoa). We were so impressed we returned in 1998. When planning the initial trip, using the internet, we met Stefano and Nicoletta who were on hand to greet us and introduce us to their city. When we arrived in l998 they were awaiting the arrival of their daughter. We have been fortunate to watch precious Shaila grow up as we have met over the years in various places.

It was a one hour ride from Florence to Pisa where we changed trains for Genova, arriving at Stazione Brignole two hours later. Passing the sparkling blue waters of the Ligurian Sea and the gorgeous seaside towns of Lavagna, Chiavari, Rappalo, we knew that Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino and Camogli were mere minutes away, which evoked wonderful memories of previous visits to this beautiful area.

Genova sits in the middle of all this beauty with her coastline curving 34 kms around her gulf. The city is like an amphitheatre snuggled between the hills around her and the sea. Within this theatre are a multitude of stages for all tastes. There's the beautiful Old Port with the largest aquarium in Europe, trade and exhibition centers, quays and wharves converted into sea walks, open spaces for festivals, concerts and lots of restaurants and cafes.

The old city, the largest historic center in Europe, with its winding streets, labyrinth of caruggi (alleys) and adorable piazzas, is a living treasure chest of the past. Fresh baked bread, mouth watering pastries, jars of preserved foods, farm fresh produce and fish so fresh they blink at you are still sold in the ancient shops that share this tight-knit space with historic Baroque and Romanesque churches and elegant Palazzos.

And then there's the "newer" city with its fine hotels, powerful commercial and public buildings, elegant shopping streets and magnificent squares. This is a prosperous, sophisticated city with a vibrant cultural life that includes theatre, opera, ballet and concerts and arguably some of the best food in Italy.

We are thankful to have discovered this beautiful city that so many other travelers have overlooked and happy to be back to refresh our memories and to see our friends.

The Star Hotel President was a handy choice just across the way from the station, within walking distance of all parts of the city and easily accessible for our friends. It's a chain businessmen's hotel. The staff’s attitude went from cold indifference at check-in, to friendly. The housekeeping was erratic from nice quality towels and bedding etc. to grease on towels and a filthy radiator in the bathroom. The furnishings were chosen for durability rather than beauty. Signs indicated there was a complimentary internet point but it had been removed and the staff was left to explain the logic behind the decision, which clearly was illogical. The buffet breakfast was poorer quality than a businessman would expect. But - the location was right and the view from our upper floor room was terrific.

In front of the Brignole train station is Piazza G. Verde, a pretty green area which leads to the enormous Piazza della Vittoria with the striking "Arch to the Fallen" standing tall at the center. Arch to the Fallen - GenovaAt the other end is a sloping garden with Columbus's fleet of three ships and their anchors colorfully etched into the grassy hill. Steps on either side lead gracefully to the top. The square, surrounded by office buildings, restaurants, cafes and shops, is a natural social gathering place for the young.

The long wide boulevard, Viale Brigata Bisagno, runs from the station alongside the two piazzas, all the way to the waterfront. Across from the squares is a lovely neighborhood of apartment buildings, food shops, restaurants, cafes, wine bars, etc. It did not take us long to find several appealing ristoranti.
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The first evening we tried La Sagola, Via Della Liberta 104r, Tel. 010 588490. We had not made reservations and when we arrived the two main dining rooms were filled so we were seated in the room with the pizza oven, which was quite comfy, with soft yellow walls adorned with pretty paintings. The other rooms were of typical stucco with high brick arches.

Pizza seemed to be a popular choice but since the thin crust variety is not on our radar, we ordered from the short menu of pastas, grilled fish and meat. I started with taglierini (long spaghetti) ai frutti di mare and filetto di manzo ai ferri was my secondo. Linda’s primo was a caprese salad and she had taglierini with pomodoro and grano as her main. Everything was very good and the prices were reasonable.

The next evening we dined around the corner at Il Pampino, Via Ruspoli 31r, well known for its Argentinean meat, pasta and wine. This local hangout, which attracts a clientele of regulars, is decorated with bottles and cases of wine. Linda had a splendid pasta preparation, pansoti con salsa di noci, hand made pasta pockets filled with cheese and herbs in a heavenly nut cream sauce. My tagliata di angus Argentina con rucola did justice to their reputation, as did the house red wine. With fair prices, good quality and cheerful service and ambiance, Il Pampino is an excellent value and experience.

Via XX Settembre with its eclectic architecture is the central thoroughfare linking the new Genova to the historic center. We detoured into the giant covered market, Mercato Orientale, located in an ancient cloister, where we were assailed by a variety of aromas from fresh baked breads and focaccia to oriental spices. Serious shoppers packed every aisle selecting from the freshest products from the sea and earth. We roamed through and exited at the rear onto the pedestrian way, Via S. Vincenzo, a colorful street filled with young people munching focaccia or enjoying gelato from a shiny, new gelateria. Fashion shops along the way were doing brisk business, with Saldi as popular here as in Rome.

Opera House in Piazza de Ferrari in GenovaWe rejoined Via XX Settembre at Ponte Monumentale, where it intersects Via S. Vincenzo and climbed the stairs to the upper level on the north side of the street to see the Church of S. Stefano, which was originally built as a fortress. Then back down to XX Settembre and the covered walkways that lead into the Piazza de Ferrari, home to the neo-classical beauty, Palazzo Ducale, for six centuries the headquarters of the government. Now dedicated to culture, it hosts art exhibits, conventions, antique shows, etc. The main staircase and courtyards are very impressive as well as the frescoed halls and chapels. At the other end of the Piazza is the Opera House, with a statue of Garibaldi on horseback guarding its entrance.
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The chic shopping street, Via Roma, runs north to the beautiful Piazza Corvetto, home to the Museum of Oriental Art, the Jewish Museum and the Doria Spinola, Prefettura di Genova. The walls along the balcony of the Prefettura are covered with fabulous frescoes of great cities of Italy. Continuing north of Via Assarotti we came to Via G. Bertora and tucked into this quiet residential area at #6 is the Comunitß Ebraica di Genova, the only Orthodox Sephardic Synagogue in Liguria. The gorgeous stone building was built in 1935. We were fortunate to find Fernanda who graciously took us on a tour. There is a main sanctuary with attractive menorah-shaped metal railings on the balconies and a smaller chapel with furniture from the end of the 18th century.

Main sanctuary of the synagogue in GenovaThe ancient Trattoria da Maria is in a narrow alleyway off Via XXV Aprile at Vico Testadoro #14r. Find a place at a communal table on one of two levels and for a mere 9 euros you get to enjoy a surprisingly good meal in an authentic environment. From the offerings of the day, select a primo and secondo (with bread and water or wine), relax and enjoy some genuine Genovese home cooking. The large bowls of zuppa di cereali e legumi to start were worth the price of admission but with roast lamb and potatoes for me and stuffed artichoke with fried zucchini strings and potatoes for Linda, it was an over-the-top great value lunch.

Via XXV Aprile led into Piazza Delle Fontane Marose where we admired the lovely restored frescoed building owned by the Pallavicino family, our introduction to the stunning streetscape along Via Garibaldi. It was named Strada Nuova when it was planned in the mid-1500s as an elite residential way for seven wealthy families.
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Palazzo Doria Tursi - Genova City HallThe largest Palazzo is Grimaldi-Doria Tursi, built for Nicol˛ Grimaldi, known as “the Monarch". Built into the side of a hill, a marble staircase leads to a gallery of offices on three levels. Various museums are housed in these premises as well as the City Hall (seat of the municipality). Palazzo Gambaro with frescoes by famous Genovese painters, now the Banco di Chiavari e della Riviera Ligure, contains a fine art collection. Palazzo Lerci Parodi was built for Franco Lercari, “The Rich".

Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso across the way, which once belonged to the Brignole family, are home to the Municipal Galleries of Art. The Palazzo Rosso has recently installed an elevator to the top of the building, where there is a platform affording incredible views of the city. This street and this view belong on your list; from here you will grasp the form and shape of Genova.

Back in the Middle Ages in what was then the Republic of Genova, families used their Palazzi to show their wealth, vying for superiority. The Doria family’s domination of the Piazza San Matteo is an example of this rivalry. The black and white striped facade of the church overlooks a pleasant square, the former churchyard, surrounded by the Doria family homes bearing the same striping as the church.
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Via San Lorenzo is a lively pedestrian street that leads down to the port. Today the shoppers were out in droves and groups of street musicians were keeping the beat alive.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo in GenovaIn the middle of the street the monumental Cathedral of San Lorenzo sits proudly in the Piazza of the same name that was created to accommodate the enormous structure. The initial impact of the black and white striped facade, two bell towers, multi-colored marble doorways and large rose window is quite imposing. It is obvious that the lower bell tower never rose to the height of the other as originally conceived. The interior is done in many different architectural styles and it can be seen that the work in various areas was abruptly stopped and another style started. It is said that the unfinished work and eclectic architectural mix reflects the history of the city.

The very pretty Piazza Banchi, originally the corn market, became the center of trade for the money changers in the 13th century. The piazza is graced by two late 16th century beauties, the Loggia dei Mercanti and the church of D. Pietro in Banchi, with interesting shops on a ground floor terrace and in the square.
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Nearby Piazza Banchi is the "Carugliu Lungo" (the long alley) which once ran along the seaside linking the port and the city, bordering the network of caruggi. It's still there, albeit a lot further from the sea. Starting at Via delle Grazie, Carugliu Lungo runs into Via Canneto Curto which becomes Via San Luca after Piazza Banchi. The long alley is lined with splendid shops, artists’ studios and ancient churches and buildings.

Just in front of Piazza Banchi is the very ancient street named Sottoripa that indicated its position below the escarpment. (When the sea came too close to this shopping arcade, it was necessary to build an embankment to protect the shops.) It’s a picturesque, lively, bazaar-like shopping experience with products from around the world and local specialties including traditional Genovese wood fired oven-baked goods like farinata, chickpea meal, water and olive oil, and focaccia, flat bread both soft and crisp, dressed with delicious Ligurian olive oil and salt, which must be eaten fresh from the oven.

Moving around the caruggi of the old town can be intimidating so remember that the downward slope leads to the water. The narrow streets and alleyways are packed with wonderful treats, such as ancient buildings, tantalizing food shops, exquisite pastries, cafes, bars, restaurants and bakeries. Some have been around forever, like Genova's first chocolate maker, Viganotti, on Vico Castagna 14r. Chocolates and candied fruits, made on the premises, are sold in the original shop, with its ancient wooden counters and shelves. Barberia Giacalone (barber shop of the family Giacalone) on Vicolo Caprettari was founded in 1882 and renovated in the art deco style in 1922; white tiles, stained glass on the walls and ceiling, lamp shades and oval mirrors offer a reflection of the past.

The Chiesa del Gesu, next to the Ducal Palace, is rich in frescoes with multi-colored marble on the floors, pillars and side chapels as well as two magnificent works by Pietro Paolo Rubens. Behind the main altar is the "Circoncisione" and "S. Ignazio Guarisce un'Ossessa" is off to the side.
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We left the historic old city through the magnificent Porta Soprana, the old eastern gateway to town, built in 1155-1157 on the vestiges of the 9th century wall. It has been restored many times and of the many houses that had stood nearby, only the so-called Columbus House has survived. It was rebuilt in the 18th century on the ruins of a building owned by the navigator's father. In the garden behind the house are the remains of a 12th century cloister that was part of the destroyed monastery of S. Andrea.

Boccadasse, the old fishing villageDuring our visit we had the opportunity to spend quality time with our friends visiting the nearby old fishing village of Boccadasse with its precious homes painted in soft Ligurian pastel hues gently rising around the tiny harbor. We climbed up and around the narrow staircases and lanes, admiring the pristine condition of the houses and grounds, while getting caught up on one another’s lives.

We had a wonderful lunch of seafood antipasto, trofile (worm-shaped pasta) with pesto, green beans and potato, and seafood pasta at Giuliano Ristoranti, Via Cavallotti 81r, tel. 010 391 290. Nothing is better than a good meal with dear friends.

Our last dinner before leaving for Bologna was at the Trattoria da Guglie, Via San Vincenzo 64r. Linda finally had farinata that she declared awesome while I had taglierini al sugo di cinghiale that was just okay.

Try to include Genova in your next Italy itinerary; you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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ROMA 1 | ROMA 2 | ROMA 3 | ROMA 4

FIRENZE | GENOVA | BOLOGNA | RIMINI

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