It’s a pleasant walk to the waterfront, past a boat in drydock that’s 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’ll be back for a tour,” to which he responded, “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 the beat of music blasting from huge stereo speakers stacked into the back of a pick-up truck. People are handing out flyers and Communist Party newspapers.
The Lanterna dates to 1543 and claims to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world. The boardwalk leading up top the Lanterna is being coated with marine tar, and the barrier walls studded with informational signs. I only read every other one, believing I’d be able to find a book with this information in the gift shop (which never turns out to be the case – a problem which would plague me nearly every place I travel to).
A police car stops behind me, and one of the officers asks if I’m here to see the Lanterna. After a minute or two he realizes I’m a tourist, and due to the spoken language barrier, writes on his pad the words: “Cymbol of Genova.” I really wish I could have learned sufficient Italian – so many opportunities for conversation lost. I hike up to the base of the lighthouse and go to the ticket office window.
But the Lanterna is closed! It’s 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 to visit the museum. Reconciling myself to that setback, I sit down on a bench at the base of the beacon for a snack. The officers that stopped me earlier (no doubt wondering what I was doing there on a week day) were also finishing their break. As they get up to leave, I ask to take their picture.
- Travel tip: Always check schedules before planning your itinerary!
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 am 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 trade off for not being able to get inside the tower. I find one of the best views of the garden, from the window of the WC.
The Lanterna Museum is in the fortified base of the tower, which defended the Porta Nuovo, the gate that marked the road leading from East to West. The first several rooms contain 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. It would be a great place to shelter from the hot afternoon sun.
Deeper inside this building I arrive in rooms filled with the several pieces of the lighthouse and walls covered with schematic drawings.
I take one last, wistful 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 I am ever so thankful to reach the boardwalk.
A short distance from the Lanterna is a shopping mall, where I look for books about the Lanterna but fail to find them. 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, the next aisle over from socks and underwear. Lunch today is a spinach ricotta torte from the COOP deli, and some lemon-sized pears which are crunchy but have virtually no flavor.
It’s now about 1 PM. Traffic is at a stand still and I’m traveling faster on foot than the cars are. I arrive at the aquarium just as one of the tour buses is pulling in.
The narration over the headphones talks about 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 the destructive bombings of WWII, and a row of delicate archways that is all that remains of a medieval Benedictine abbey.
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 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.
- Travel tip: The open air city tour buses are a great way to see the things you might miss on foot. They’re also a great way to rest your feet for an hour or two. I either taking them first thing to orient myself to the city, or as a last thing to see the things I missed, and not have to carry my bags around a city between checking out of my hotel, and heading to my next destination.
I notice several buildings with Juliet-style balconies, some in wrought iron but most in stone. A few buildings are decorated in elaborate trompe d’oile. A top floor apartment is flying a pirate flag from its 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. I hop off the bus and head to the Aquarium.
Next up — the Genoa Aquarium…
- This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. The full text, which includes historical notes and additional travel tips, is housed at AugustPhoenixHats.com.