My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marks the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. My Crossroads Tour series details my travels to Florence (and a few other cities) and Istanbul in May 2011.
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 note the numbering sequence on the street. Starting at 9, then 7, 17, 15, 5 (the Green Door to the Ducale B&B), then a door with no number, and another with no number, and another 7. I was looking for 5/10 and should have just read the labels on the doorbells. It seems to be the identifier for B&B’s in this part of Italy. Fellow travelers take heed.
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, or what the Genovans refer to 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 a pick-up truck that is blasting music from huge stereo speakers stacked in the bed. 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 below:
PER COMBATTERE LA DISUGUAGLIANZA SODCIALE, LA PRECARIETA, LA CRISI ECONOMICA PRODUCTTIVA Per difendere il diritto al lavoro e I diritti nel lavoro, per donne e uomini, cittadini italiana e migranti PER UN NUOVO MODELLO DI SVILUPPO CHE VALORIZI LA GIUSTIZIA SOCIALE, L’AMBIENTE I SAPERI E LA RICERCA PER UN FISCO CHE CONTRIBUISCA ALLA RIDISTRIBUZIONE DELLA RICCHEZZA: MENO TASSE A LAVORATORI E PENSIONATI, TASSARE LE RENDITE FINANZIARIE E GRANDI PATRIMONI Per uno stato sociale incluvio e fonte di ricchezza sociale PERDARE UNN FUTURO AI GIOVANI SENZA DIMENTICARE ANZIANI E MIGRANTI Per il diritto delle lavoratrici e dei lavoratori a votare piattaforme e accordi PERDIFENDERE LA DEMOCRAZIA E FONDAMENTALE VOTARE SIAI REFERNDUM DEL 12 GIUGNO CONTRO IL NUCLEARE PER L’ACQUA BENE COMUNE
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 to 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, 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 Genova 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 realizes 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.
Travel tip: Always check schedules before planning your itinerary!
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. fI ind one of the best views of the garden, from the window of the WC.
Genova 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, 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 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 both Venezia and 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 for a banana, and I was not allowed to buy it. You must also tell them if you need a bag, and how many, so they can add those to your total before they ring you up.
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: 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’ve learned to 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.
The narration over the headphones talks about the arcaded walkways, covered with arabesque archways (similar to Venezia), 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. The Palace of Giants, marked on its corners by pairs of marble men supporting the buildings greco-roman columns on their shoulders. I notice several buildings with Juliet-style balconies, some in wrought iron but most in stone.
The 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 Abbey of St. Steven, built from pink stone from Liguria, considered to be one of the most valuable building materials in Genova. A few buildings are decorated in elaborate trompe l’oeil. A top floor apartment is flying a pirate flag from its corner terrace. The train station decorated in Neo-Classic style but which dates to 1905.
I hop off the bus and head to the Aquarium…