Crossroads Tour – Second day in Genoa…

I find a guidebook across the street in the Piazza de Ducale Genova and study it over a cup of caffe ginseng at the Arte dell Caffee. But there’s no useful information, not even a map.  I ask the baristo, who points me in the general direction of the Lanterna.

On my way out, I snap a photo of the infamous green door of my B&B, and note the numbering sequence on the street. Starting at 9, then 7, 17, 15, 5 (my door), then a door with no number, and another with no number, and another 7. I was looking for 5/10 and had no hope of finding it short of reading the labels on the doorbells. Which is the only way I have managed to find any of my hotels thus far. Fellow travelers take heed.

It’s a pleasant walk to the waterfront, past a boat in drydock that is being pressure washed, past the aquarium, and the Neptune, a replica of a 17th century galleon that was used in Roman Polanski’s ‘Pirate’ film. An open air tour bus is idling in front of the maritime office. The driver speaks enough English to direct me up the street towards the Lanterna. I said I would be back for a tour, he said, “wait until after 1 PM because there is a labor strike today.” ”Fun for you” I said, and he laughed.

Less than 10 minutes down the street, I meet the rally head on. The Genoans refer to these as a “Public Manifestation.”  The Transportation Union strike has shut the ferries down, and a police escort is clearing the street for about 200 marchers who follow to the beat of music blasting from huge stereo speakers stacked into the back of a pick-up truck. An old man hands me a Communist newspaper and indicates that I need to respond in cash, but I hand the paper back to him. Someone else hands me a flyer, which I replicate here: 


Past the rally and to my left, I spy my landmark.

  • The Lanterna dates back to 1543, having been rebuilt after the original was destroyed in a fire in 1514. It stands a total of 177 meters (the rock takes up 40 meters on its own) and the light can be seen for 36 nautical miles. This square tower, which claims to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world, is perched high above a working port which dates back to the Roman era.

The boardwalk leading up top the Lanterna is studded with informational signs but I only read every other one, believing I’d find a book with this information in the gift shop (which, as usual, will turn out to not be the case…) 

The first sign describes the Lanterna Promenade (Passeggiata Panoramica) that marks the ancient road connecting Genoa to its Western neighbors, and following the walls that surround the city. The boardwalk leading up to the lighthouse is being coated with marine tar. A police car stops behind me, and a dark haired cop asked if I am here to see the Lanterna. After a minute or two he seems to realize that I’m a tourist, and after several more attempts, communicates to me in pen and ink that the lighthouse is the “Cymbol of Genova.” Our language barrier prevents further conversation which is really unfortunate. I hike up to the base of the lighthouse and go to the ticket office window. 

But the Lanterna is closed! It is only open on weekends. No amount of pleading gains me access to the tower, but I am welcome to wander through the public park surrounding the base of the tower, and visit the museum. Reconciling myself to that fact, I take a seat on a bench at the base of the beacon, and eat a mid-day snack. I look over to my left to see that the officers that stopped me earlier (no doubt wondering what I was doing there on a day the site was closed) were also finishing their break. As they get up to leave, I ask to take their picture. 

The blond cop takes my camera, and without speaking, motions for me to stand with his partner so he can take our photo. The partner asks me where I’m from, and when I say “Seattle” he responds with “Ah, Rainy City.” “Yes,” I reply. 

He then starts to lead me somewhere to show me something, and as I turn to retrieve my purse from the bench, his partner walks over to guard over it. The dark haired officer shows me the garden that lay below the foot of the Lanterna, and that I would have completely missed had he not pointed it to me. What a great interchange that was, and a great trade off for not being able to get inside the lighthouse itself. The 365 steps to the top would have probably done me in anyway. 

Genoa is another city where the building that houses the museum, is in itself a museum. The Lanterna Museum is in the fortified base of the tower, which did not defend the lighthouse, but rather, the Porta Nuovo, the gate that marked the road leading from East to West. The first several rooms are nothing but benches and video screens, each screen depicting a different aspect of Ligurian arts and culture. The range of topics is broad, from modern port traffic, to medieval sculpture and paint, velvet weaving, processing fruit for confectionery, choir boys preparing for a church processional. This cool and restful spot would be a really great place to spend a hot afternoon. 

Deeper inside this building I arrive in rooms filled with the several pieces of the lighthouse and walls covered with schematic drawings.

I find my way down into the park. On the other side of the Lanterna base there are more signs, including one that describes the houses in the distance that were the summer manors for Genoans during the 16th century. Having seen all there is to see, I take one last look at the ‘Cymbol of Genova’ before backtracking back to the tour bus. My feet, which are now both bruised and blistered, are fighting with the heavy cobblestone walkways and are ever so thankful to reach the smoother boardwalk. 

A short distance from the Lanterna is a shopping mall, where I hope to find a bookstore and a history of the Lanterna. But the bookstore is a fail, as is a shoe store where I had hoped to find another pair of shoes. At the end of the mall is a COOP, one of the chain grocery stores in Italy. I see local apples, pears from Argentina, imported tomatoes, Valencia oranges, and red asparagus. Pomegranate juice is prevalent. It’s weird seeing hard liquor on the shelf on the next aisle over from socks and underwear.  Sale flyers were notably absent. I buy lunch — a satisfying spinach ricotta torte and some lemon-sized pears, which are crunchy but have virtually no flavor. Grocery stores have already become my favorite go-to places for a quick and cheap lunch.

  • Travel tip:  In Firenze, you are not allowed to handle produce, the green grocer does that for you. Here you grab a disposable glove from one of the boxes among the produce, and help yourself. You must also weigh and print a barcode for every piece of produce before you go up to the check out. I forgot to do this with a banana, and I was not allowed to buy it.

It’s now about 1 PM. Traffic is at a stand still as a police escort returns to the rally point, marching in front of a motley and angry group of youth from the labor demonstration. I’m making faster progress on foot than the cars are. I arrive at the aquarium just as one of the tour buses is pulling in.

  • Travel tip:  I’ve never ridden a city tour bus before but I highly recommend them. It’s a great way to get oriented and see things that may be too far get to to by foot. It’s also a great way to rest your feet, and let someone else do the driving.

The narration over the headphones talks about the arcaded walkways, covered with arabesque archways (similar to Venice), and how Genova made efficient use of the limited land they had between the sea and the mountain. We pass an opera house that was rebuilt after being destroyed during the bombings of WWII, and a row of delicate archways that is all that remains of a medieval Benedictine abbey.

An ornate building that during the Renaissance functioned as Genova’s stock exchange. An Arc de Triumph built by a prominent Communist architect, and beyond it, a garden dedicated to Christopher Columbus, with his three ships in ‘bloom” on a terraced plot, though I later discover that the visual impact is lost when you actually walk in that park.

The Oriental Market, laid out in concentric circles in an old convent. The Palace of Giants, marked on its corners by pairs of marble men supporting the buildings greco-roman columns on their shoulders. The Abbey of St. Steven, built from pink stone from Liguria, considered to be one of the most valuable building materials in Genova. 

I notice several buildings with Juliet-style balconies, some in wrought iron but most in stone. A few buildings are decorated in elaborate trompe l’oeil. A top floor apartment is flying a pirate flag from its corner terrace. The narration on the tour bus also mentions the trademark striped marble buildings as a main feature in Ligurian architecture. The train station decorated in Neo-Classic style but which dates to 1905.  

Additional photos of Genova can be viewed at Daveno Travels.

The Genoa Aquarium

  • Built for the Genoa Expo 1992, the aquarium houses 63 tanks in its 10,000 meter space, and is said to be the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. The first tank features a reconstruction of a 15 century pier in the harbor of Genova, considered the starting point for the voyage of Christopher Columbus and other prominent Genoan navigators.

I was struck by the intense landscaping of the tanks. Unlike the Seattle aquarium whose tanks are bare, these hold your attention even if there aren’t any fish. Some of the coral is from the coastline along the Cinque Terre. 

The penguin tank was a scream!  The tank replicates the environment of the Falkland Islands and is inhabited by both Gentoo penguins from the Antarctic and Magellanics from the coast of Chile and Argentina. They buzzed the glass constantly and were pretty interactive with us.

I also watched a diver cleaning the tropical lagoon, where Cuba, a playful sea turtle, kept coming up to ‘kiss’ the diver’s face mask and rub along the entire length of his body. Cuba is a rescued turtle who was discovered in 2000 in a box addressed to the aquarium, with a note that gave a birth date of August 1996, and that she had come from Cuba. Another rescued sea turtle is also here. Ari was smuggled into Italy by a tourist from the Maldives and later abandoned, and adopted by the Aquarium.

The Galata Museum of the Sea

I exit the aquarium and traverse the boardwalk, past the farmer’s market and Jamaican vendors selling purses and sunglasses, past the Neptune galleon and on to the Museum of the Sea, which my dad would have really loved. It’s a multistory building housing 10,000 meters of exhibit space separated into 17 galleries, not including the submarine outside. 

The ground floor, housed in what looks like another ancient building with low spreading curved ceilings which shape the room like a Quonset hut, is themed The Age of Oar. There are banks of armor, a reliquary containing some of the ashes of Christopher Columbus, and a full scale replica of a 17th century galleon. The Age of Sail exhibit covered 2 floors and includes a nice collection of globes and navigational instruments, although the room is very dimly lit and it was difficult to get decent photos. 

Replica of a 17th century galleon

The third floor was unexpectedly educational. The Age of Steam walks you through replica rooms of a ship, as athird-class passenger would have experienced them, complete with engine noise and a view of the sea out of the tiny porthole. Towards the end of this floor you are given a ‘passaporto’ and immigration papers, and are taken through the immigration process at Ellis Island. As an American, it was pretty eye opening to see this process from the side of an Italian immigrant. The passport is bar coded and activates a video inspection officer which is apparently pretty amusing judging by the reactions of the Italians in front of me. Yet another reason to master Italian before visiting Italy.

After signing a release and checking my bags into a locker, I put on the hair net and hardhat I am handed, and board a reproduction of the N. Sauro, Italy’s largest submarine. Had I been aware of the pre-show, I would have learned how to use the periscope and hydrophone. I should have opted for the free headset which apparently also had additional instruction.

I did not have time to see more than half of this Maritime complex. But I’m happy to be adding “has been on a submarine” to my list of life experiences. 

Photos of the Aquarium and Galata Museo are available at Daveno Travels, with additional shots of the Galata Museo (including the submarine) on Pinterest.

I opt out of dinner and return to my ‘convent’ room. I take off my shoes to find that one of my blisters has a blister. I didn’t think that was physically possible… I’m really regretting not having packed another pair of shoes for this part of my trip. I end the night with a bath, and packing for an early day tomorrow to La Spezia. 

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