Crossroads Tour – Portovenere…

It’s a pleasant morning as I retrace last night’s route to the train station. I walk past the Benedictine abbey ruins that I saw on the tour bus last night.  Even in ruins it is a very peaceful place, and my heart is touched by a single rose bush, its blooms framed by the marble columns… 

It’s amazing how easily I’m distracted and how quickly I can lose my way, and yet still manage to get to the train station on time.

The train travels through Margherite, Chiavari and Sestri. I see orange trees growing in back yards, and a cemetery in Sestri right next to the train track. Through Levanto, then Monterosso, and now, I have a first class cabin all to myself. 

  • Travel tip:  The train station in La Spezia is very small with a Tourist Information desk is in an unmarked, nondescript building just outside the station. The attendant is very helpful and pens in my route to the ferry terminal on a map which he then tears away from a pad of identical maps. How clever.

I take the stairs down to the Viume and proceed through the piazzas. 

La Spezia must be the home of Benneton. Colors of Benneton. Undercolors of Benneton. Oh, look, another Colors of Benneton. The waterfront in Genova is filled with Jamaican street vendors. Here the same products are sold by gypsies. I pass a pair of gypsy women begging for coin, one is particularly aggressive and shouts curses at me as I pass. 

  • Travel tip: I learned in Venice not to give coins as they will continue to hound you for more, sometimes following you down the street. Better to suffer the curses they fling at you and your offspring, a thing I would also encounter in Cordoba, Spain. 

I walk along the docks until the ferry arrives and find a seat topside. I keep reaching new pain thresholds, and now have a sore throat. Today my feet hurt so much I am tempted to stay on the ferry.  I’m really glad I didn’t try to do the Cinque Terre tour which is best done on foot. 

Castello Andrea Doria

  • “Portus Veneris” was first mentioned in the itinerary of Emperor Antonio in 161 AD, when it was used as a naval station for Romans on their way to Gaul and Spain. The city was fortified in 1160.  Andrea Doria Castle sits on the site of fortification dating back to the 13th century, although the structures standing today date from the 16th century when it was built by its namesake, Andrea Doria, who was a Genoese Admiral. During Napoleon’s rule it was used as a political prison. 

The monolithic skyline of Portovenere comes into view and in spite of my feet screaming at me, I’m eager to explore the fortifications. I am at once irritated with the people in front of me who stop as soon as they debark, preventing the rest of us from getting off the boat. Stupid Tourists! Finally I get past this throng and walk swiftly along the wharf, noticing how green and clear the water is. I can see the bottom of the gulf and schools of small black fish are streaming around the sterns of the boats moored here.

The terrain here is the steepest I have encountered so far. I get a few yards into the market area before turning around and heading back to find the tourist center which has now cleared of Stupid Tourists. I really regret not packing a second pair of shoes, and not renting a locker for my bags at the trains station. 

By some miracle I make it to the top of the fortress. From this vantage point I can see the other older castle and church in the distance, but decide against trying to walk any more distance today. The views are spectacular and I think I get some of the best shots so far this trip.

I edge my way back down the hill. Goodness, the stairs. The STAIRS. Steep, deep, irregular, no handrails in places, and my shoes are wrong and my bags are siding with gravity to nearly pull me over a couple of times. It takes every ounce of energy I have to get back down without falling. 

Here are more of my photos of Castello Andrea Doria.

The beach I had hoped to find here is a 20’x20′ patch of sand, occupied by kids kicking a volleyball. Dipping my feet into the sea is probably ill advised with my blisters, so I content myself with sitting in the sun and watching the world as I wait for the ferry. I have an hour and could probably attend to those postcards. Or I can continue to just sit here in the sun. Guess which one wins…

I had planned to hail a cab back to the train station in La Spezia, but there weren’t any cabs at the stop. Had I taken a cab, I would have missed the key patterned mosaic in the archway above the sidewalk, a house with aqua shutters instead of green ones, and a much needed gelato, where the cafe tables were dressed with linens and outfitted with wooden ashtrays, which I thought was an interesting contradiction between form and function.

At the train station, I scan the departures board for my original train to Firenze but don’t see it. I go to the information desk where I buy a new ticket for the next train home, and am told that I have to connect in Pisa, in even less time than my original ticket! Great… I retain both tickets, deciding I can use the original if I miss the connection on the new ticket.

It’s spring break, and the train is filled with loud chatty teenage girls on holiday. My fingers go into my ears when the noise level becomes intolerable. I commiserate  non-verbally with the distinguished looking businessman sitting across from me, when he does the ‘finger to head, just shoot me now’ gesture which is entertaining in its sheer universal reach. The decibel level finally declines enough to allow me to nod off, but I wake up at every stop, of which there are far too many on this route. Get me home already, please.

We arrive in Pisa. The closest exit is barred shut and the college girls are taking sweet-all time to exit in front of me. “Hurry!” escapes my lips, in a none-too-polite outdoor voice. Another collection of Stupid Tourists blocks the only set of stairs from the subway down to the station.  I push my way through, not caring whom I offend. I rush down the stairs and then back up the other stairs to the lobby to check the schedule. My train is the first one listed and is now boarding. I make a mad dash back down the stairs, and then back up again at Platform 8. And I make the train with minutes to spare.

  • Travel tip: The Pisa Station isn’t so bad after all, and the system works  well once you get the hang of it. Be sure to validate your ticket in the yellow box on the platform, else wise you might end up paying a fine.  

The regional trains are new to the fleet, this one is a double-decker and is fairly luxurious as far as trains go. I grab a window seat for the hour-long trip through Pontedera-casciana, Empoli, Lastra a Signa. This route is different from the others I’ve taken so far, taking me through more modern areas, industrial districts and green belts. In spite of the new architecture, the style remains the same – multi-story stucco buildings with green shuttered windows and ether tile or what looks like red tile composite roofs, the composites having less depth and visual richness than Tuscan tile. The new buildings are void of extraneous detail with the notable exception of the doors, which are still very tall, ornate, some are arched. 

I’m getting my wish to see the countryside by train.

Here’s another gypsy, this one leaving printed requests for money which she collects on her return run through (bowing mutely to those who donate to her cause). I’m amazed at seeing beggars on the trains, clean and not badly dressed, and wonder how many people ride the rails by either begging for fare or riding until they getting tossed off, only to hop onto the next train heading towards their destination.

I am very tired, but I feel much better now that I am on my way home. I arrive at SMN at the time my original ticket had me departing La Spezia. That’s a win.

Travel tips:

  • There’s a station at Firenze Ridifi. Do Not Stop There. It’s industrial and scary looking.
  • Research your routes before you leave home, it would have been really good to have an understanding of the city bus systems.
  • Print out everything you need. Do not depend on being able to access the internet in Genoa (although it might be a different story now).
  • Learn the language well enough to understand it. I’ve been able to ask questions in Italian, but I can rarely understand the answers. I did not buy a cell phone, I’m pretty sure it would have been useless with the language barrier.
  • Travel while you are young and able-bodied. I’m not sure I would have been able to manage this terrain 10 years from now.

Dinner, and a walk over the Carrerra Bridge which now sports several white beanbag chairs among a grove of saplings set in huge white tote bags. Green installation art for the locals to laze in. The next bridge over, lights up. I walk by the now familiar gelato shop on the corner, and the kitchen shop which today has a full size Majolica BBQ in the window. Hysterical!

Back in my room, I catch up on journaling and photo uploads before tucking myself into bed for the night…

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