Thursday, October 21, 2010

Places: Somewhere In Time

Genoa -- and particularly Old Genoa -- was a fun and exciting place to hang out. The city's medieval section, complete with street vendors and seemingly a festival every day (and night), was fascinating.

Other than when I was out and about, the bulk of my time was spent in my hotel room, at the nearby Cafe Barbarossa and on the terrace at the top of the Hotel Cristoforo Colombo.

Let's start with my room. It was just as I expected it to be: tall ceiling with long purple curtains, wallpaper with patterns in olive and beige, old cherry armoire and dresser, full length mirrors -- just like my great-uncle's house in the Westmoreland neighborhood of Portland.

My room faced a narrow alley across from a residential building where I could hear the neighbors talking at times (right).

One night, I awoke suddenly to the sounds of two women boisterously engaging in "chiachere" or chit-chat. Their voices so closely resembled my Gramma and great-aunt, I swear I had been transported to the late 1950s, listening to them cackle while I dozed to sleep in the "cold bedroom" at my grandmother's house.

My brother Robert believes my flashback was the result of their dialect and accent; I agree, but it was also their voice quality, both in terms of tonality and cadence. Eerily similar.

Beginning with my first night in Old Genoa, I spent most days during the cocktail hour at the Cafe Barbarossa -- conveniently located next door to my hotel -- where they served generous portions of "antipasti" (i.e. appetizers, including focaccia bread, ham sandwiches, potato chips, celery, carrots and green olives).

A life-size Elvis Presley greets guests at the door of the Cafe Barbarossa (left).

Breakfast was served daily on the terrace on the roof of my hotel. Open for guests from 6 a.m. until midnight, the terrace featured nice views of the Port of Genoa and the city (below).

In the daytime, I could spend quality time reading and writing; in the evenings, I had the whole terrace to myself, sucking on bottles of Ceres Strong Ale and texting my network of family and friends.

Simply put, Cinque Terre (below) did not disappoint. The ability to view these ancient villages by boat was fantastic. The villages cling to mountains choked with olive groves and dry-stone-walled vineyards, where farmers have eked out a living over many centuries.

Wine growers still use a monorail mechanisms to ferry themselves up and the grapes down these uniques lands. In some cases, farmers must harvest their crops by boat. If the hillsides are not worked, they will quite literally slide into the sea.

Torino was quite different from Genoa. Where the streets are windy and curved in the hometown of Columbus, the avenues in Torino (below) are straight and laid out in a grid format. You can tell the city has been influenced by the Swiss and others from points north.

Milan is simply a big city. An industrial center in Northern Italy, Milano is filled with many classic buildings, sculptures and other art. I spent my last night in a Milan airport hotel that was nice, but spendy: 150 euros for one night (by comparison, I spent only 900 euros for 19 nights at the Cristoforo Colombo Hotel).

My clear favorite of these three of the ten largest cities in Italy was -- no surprise here -- Genoa. The main shopping streets and squares descend into the city's medieval old town. Nearby, Genoa's historic port and newer dockside areas are crowded with cruise liners, fishing boats, ferries and yachts, as well as a world-class aquarium.

Exploring this ancient maritime city gave me an insight into Italy's past and present that was unique. For me, Genoa turned out to be so much more than a place; it was a trip through time.

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