A city for explorers

Pisa is ideally situated to as a base to explore the region of Tuscany and beyond. And Italy’s state run railway means there are good connections to the rest of the country. There are no advanced fares or special deals, which makes booking tickets on the TrenItalia website a hassle free experience. One thing to bear in mind is that high speed trains are generally more expensive than the older, slower Regionale services.

Face coverings are now mandatory on all public transport and within railway stations. At Pisa Centrale, passenger temperatures are checked for long distance journeys. It’s an indication of how seriously Italy is treating the Pandemic, but also how diligently the authorities are working to deal with it.

So to Genoa – on a direct train that takes around two hours. The line runs close to Italy’s stunning Mediterranean western coastline, offering tempting glances of beautiful beaches and small resorts between the many tunnels blasted through the rock. NewsMutt is happy enough with his window seat.

Genoa is a city of around half a million people – and compared to Pisa seems massive. It’s the capital of the Liguria region, and being a port is set against a hefty hillside. For that reason it’s best to get an all day travel ticket which covers the local buses, trains, metro and a number of elevators helping you to get up and down the inclines. For travellers (as opposed to filthy tourists), it also holds a special connection as the birthplace of the explorer Christopher Columbus – who greets you at the central railway station.

It might have been useful to enlist his services on another sweltering day. Genoa is considerably spread out and it’s not immediately clear where the main attractions are. A metro ride to Ferrari Square gives some form of reference point. It’s almost as if they’ve got the flags out for the tourists.

If there’s one thing the Italians love, it’s a good election. And in Genoa there’s a rally for this weekend’s local elections. An added irony is that there’s also a referendum to reduce the size of the national parliament. Turkeys and Christmas, anyone?

As an important port for trade, defending the city has always been a big deal, The city’s walls date back to the twelfth century, with the most recent parts being built in the first part of the seventeenth century. The imposing, castle like structure clearly defines the older parts of the Genoa from the new. And just off the Pazza De Dante is the gate containing the house of Christopher Columbus. Sort of.

Dug below one of the city gates, Columbus’ “home” is actually a reconstruction of the real thing. It may have been in or around this site – but most of the other buildings are modern offices, shops and car parks. At a modest €3 entry (2020 prices) it honours the man himself but doesn’t necessarily do him justice. Still, there are decent views of a massive scooter park from the window.

From harbour to hilltop, Genoa likes to show off its wealth. In the port, enormous cruise ships are lined up – although at the moment they stand empty and redundant. There are container cranes, luxury yachts and a garishly modern waterside array of buildings featuring cinemas, restaurants and an aquarium. To be honest, it’s all a bit much to digest in the midday heat.

A much better perspective comes in the hills, and a bus ride ascends through perilous corners to the Castle d’Albertis – the home of a 19th Century sea captain who used his mansion to display is collection of artefacts. But there’s no need to pay the admission, as the grounds are free of charge – and a great way to see just how big this city is.

All of this exploring is extremely tiring – and it’s not done yet. Our train back south is annoyingly from Genoa Nervi station – a few miles down the coast. Fortunately the day pass ticket covers the connecting journey – and leaves an hour to explore Nervi itself. From the station, it looks a bit isolated – but step under the bridge and there’s a stunning promenade along a rocky outcrop, overlooking the perfect sea. Small cafes serve delicious gelato, and a sprawling public park starts to fill up with locals, enjoying the warm afternoon with a picnic. It’s literally postcard perfect – but without the crowds.

The return trip is during the evening rush hour, which proves to be busy on the Regionale trains heading south to La Spezia. Social distancing means only half the seats are in use, which in turn means crowded corridors, mostly featuring people with large items of luggage. Everyone has their eye on the carriage at each station, eyeing up which rare seats might become available. It makes me wonder exactly where so many people are travelling to – though it is a Friday, and weekends invariably mean people from big cities heading back home to see their families.

Genoa has been an assault on the senses compared to the more modestly sized Pisa – but the unexpected find of Nervi was a true highlight; and we didn’t actually get to see the town.

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