Genoa was the largest city (850,000 residents) we visited during this Italian adventure.
Arriving via Genoa’s Piazza Principe Railway station, you walk out into a busy intersection and are immediately struck by the architecture. If the thought of a one and a half hour train ride from Milan’s Centrale Station after a one hour jaunt from Malpensa Airport after an eight-hour plane ride from Newark, New Jersey sounds like too much, hang in there.
Upgrade to a first class ticket on the Milan to Genoa leg (it’s open seating from the airport to Centrale) and enjoy a table, comfortable, assigned seats and electrical outlets. Remember to pack lightly—there is limited luggage-stashing space on the trains. There’s even a trolley that comes through offering various coffees. Indulge.
Opting to stay at the Hotel Continental, mere yards from the station, made getting in and out of town very easy. It was my second stay here and although there was a ten-year gap, the service was impeccable and our room guaranteed some lovely city-snaps. These train stations pictures were taken from our window on the fourth floor.
In addition to visiting the San Lorenzo Cathedral and the harbor, this time we toured the portrait galleries of Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco. If you’re an art aficionado, you could spend an entire day—there are twenty-two rooms to go through in the Palazzo Rosso alone. Along with dozens of portraits of the Madonna and Child, variations on Christ and the Apostles, there are a few notable portraits by Anthony Van Dyck.
Admittedly, we expected more than portraits, which was our mistake misunderstanding the pamphlets, not the museums’ in their offering. Ah, to speak/read Italian and know what we’re always getting into…or would that limit our discoveries?
Such as the superb surprise of the topmost terrace of the Palazzo Rosso, which you access via a small elevator. Although you can take pictures from the level you emerge onto, brave the metal walkway and narrow steps to the parapet at the top and take in the 360-degree view of the city, harbor and surrounding hills. It’s stunning.
Both structures started life as private homes and I always long to see how the folks lived, like in the Frick Mansion (The Clayton) in Pittsburgh. You get a glimpse of aristocratic life through the view of a 20th-century residential apartment on the fifth floor and a couple of rooms setup in palace-style.
A striking feature in the Palazzo Rosso was the three-dimensional aspect to at least two of the ceilings. In one, an arm protrudes from the fresco and from another, a leg.
After the convivial interactions we had with the docents at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tempe, Arizona and the general kindness of Italians, we got a kick out of the stern and curt approach of the docents. They were very strict in making you walk in one direction and it took everything to draw a smile from one of them.
When you walk the busy streets in Italy from Milan to Florence to Siena, you are continually passing by many building fronts buttressed against the sidewalk. It makes it seem as if the cities are nothing but flat, straight-rising-up edifies. But make no mistake, hidden behind these stone walls are courtyards waiting to draw you in. It’s a delight when somewhere there is a gate or a door open and you glimpse what the area contains. As was the custom in the centuries when they were constructed, the outdoor living space, as we would now call it, was tucked away, inside, private yet eloquent. The courtyards you see behind both Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianchi speak to this inner, hidden life. I could quite easily sequester myself there for an afternoon with a good novel and a glass of the local red wine.
After the museums, a walk to the harbor was in order for salty sea air and bright sunshine. Along the way, more building art waited to be discovered:
- The Genoa Coat of Arms and others
- Piazza de Ferrari with the silver arcing fountain
- Palazzo San Giorgio
- Piazza Bianchi with San Pietro in the background…why didn’t I duck inside that church?
- Iron Work on windows and covering doors that I most assuredly avoided running into.
- A glimpse of a Suit of Armor (how old/how new?) and the Genoa Map, always around right when you need it.
Notes for when you go:
As our front desk clerk said, “The thieves are very clever.”
- Do watch for pickpockets—keep backpacks and purses in front of you and your hands on them.
- Carry slash proof items if you can—bag straps as well as the body.
- Don’t keep valuables in your pockets (wallet, phone).
- The carrugi (narrow, often long alleyways) are enticing, but if you take them, be wary.
- Residents get into museums free on Sundays and many of them are closed on Mondays, so plan your trip accordingly.
- There are various museum cards available in different combinations. If you’re staying more than one day, pick one that will work for you and save some money.
Genoa is well-worth exploring. You’ll eat well, walk ageless streets, and enjoy dozens of museums.
Next: Beautiful 19th-century haven of Rapallo
Also published on Medium.