Friday, October 18, 2013

Going Mobile

In hindsight, I was but a novice in the ways of European travel in 2010, and several key missteps in planning led to a longer-than-it-needed-to-be journey from my point of departure in Eugene to my destination in Genoa (above): a total of 28 hours from end to end.

For starters, I flew out of Eugene to Portland, where I had a six-hour layover until my plan departed for Frankfurt. Flying from Germany to Milan was fine, but Milano Malpensa Airport was a zoo.

Eventually finding a bus stop to Genoa outside the terminal, I waited patiently for awhile, but the sun was starting to set and I was no closer to my destination than when I arrived.

Eventually, a kindly Italian taxi driver noticed my plight, and with a tip o’ the hat to the Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book, he informed me that there would be no bus to Genoa, at least on that day.

Flipping through the book furiously, I learned that I would need to return to the terminal for a motor coach to the main train station in downtown Milan. Finding the right coach, I settled into my seat at the back of the bus with a sigh of relief.

Then, we hit the Milan traffic snarl and it took a full 90 minutes to get from the airport to downtown. I barely made the last train to Genoa. Arriving about midnight, I had lost a full day and a half (counting the nine-hour time change).

This time, we flew through Paris directly into Genoa. After an lengthy layover in the Charles De Gaulle airport (above), we arrived at the Aeroporto Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa (surprisingly small, about the size of Eugene’s). The taxi ride to our hotel was a mere 15 minutes.

Ah, the wonders of hindsight. After a couple days of seeing the city and adjusting to the time change, we took the boat to San Fruttuoso and Portofino. Lots of sailboats and sea craft of all shapes and sizes.

Not surprisingly, Genoa is a hub for shipbuilding, cruise ships, expensive pleasure craft and boats of all kinds. From the top of the hill overlooking Portofino, the waterway traffic was quite busy.

We planned to visit Turin, but missed our train. Instead, we hopped the rails to Ventimiglia (below), a nice alternative. My Milan experience notwithstanding, figuring out “Trenitalia” was relatively easy. By far, the best way to get around Italy is by train.

Our taxi excursion to the hinterlands north of Genoa was the capper: our good-natured driver Andrea spoke excellent English and was vital in communicating with townspeople in Orero. A two-hour drive in rural Liguria, with another hour in Orero, was a bargain at 100 euros.

Flying back at the end of our tour de Italia, we again flew through Charles De Gaulle, but instead of a long layover, we barely made it to our gate in time for our flight to Seattle: quite the opposite of our previous experience. Qu’est sera sera, whatever will be, will be.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Orero? Or Orero?

A key goal on this trip to Italy was to make another attempt to find the farmhouse in Orero, Liguria where my grandmother's family -- the Bricchettos -- had lived prior to selling the farm to their cousins, the Sanguinettis, before booking passage to America in 1912.

Researching transportation options on my last trip to Genoa in 2010, I found that only one bus ran to Orero daily -- much like the Lane Transit District bus that travels from Eugene to McKenzie Bridge and back -- so that idea didn’t work out.

This time around, my hosts at the Hotel Colombo checked on the cost for a cab to Orero: it was reasonably priced at 100 euros round trip with an hour in the small village to look around.

Only one problem, they said: turns out, there are two Oreros, one due north of Genoa about 50 miles and another located about 80 miles to the northeast of the city. We opted for the one closer to Genoa, assuming that my grandmother had spoken in a Genovese dialect.

Andrea (above), our cab driver, arrived promptly at 12 noon to escort us into the hills of Liguria near its border with the Piedmont region. The narrow mountain road twisted and turned on our way to Orero, located just south of Sant’olcese Chiesa and Casella.

Arriving in Orero, our cabbie doubled as interpreter and was enthusiastic about helping us locate family. “This is a treat for me,” Andrea noted. “Most of the time, I just drive around the city.”

After stopping to speak to two young Italian lads about the exact location of the village, we proceeded to the Church of San Lorenzo in Orero (above), which featured a plaque (below) honoring the memory of local residents who had died in the war.

Just then I remembered my Grandma’s comment that they had left Italy because "the scent of war was in the air," and that many Italians were doing “the 23-skidoo,” as she so colloquially explained it.

Next, we went to a local bar, where Andrea inquired about my family with local patrons. No luck there, so we drove to another location nearby and just walked through the neighborhood.

We spotted an elderly gentleman sitting on his front porch, so Andrea asked once again about the family names: Brichetto, Sanguinetti and Arata. The elderly Italian, probably in his late 70s or early 80s, didn’t recognize any of the names but was impressed with our efforts to return to ground zero of the motherland.

With Andrea as interpreter, the “paesano” explained that many in the village had emigrated overseas, either to America, or surprisingly to me, Argentina. His wife would periodically come to the door and abruptly but politely put in her two lire, complementing his narrative.

We continued to amble through the small neighborhood, taking pictures here and there before beginning the drive back to Genoa. Back in our hotel, my brother Robert had sent me a YouTube clip of Orero, suggesting that we were in the right place.

Unfortunately, he also sent me an email explaining that we had, in fact, visited the wrong Orero. The correct village was the one near Cicagna, north of Rapallo, not the Orero near Casella, north of Genoa. Who could have imagined? Two Italian towns with the same name in the same province? How Shakespearean.

Though initially disheartened for guessing wrong, the news did little to diminish our experience that day. Our driver was a delight, and the people we met in the village were very happy to see us. “Well, if you’ve seen one Orero, you’ve seen them all,” I mused to myself.

I make light of the situation because it was likely very similar to what might have been in the "other Orero," and now I have an excuse to return to Italy. You know what they say: third time’s the charm. BTW, check out the phone booth in the back of the house (below).