Crossroads Tour: Of Ships and Sea Creatures – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked 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.

The Genova Aquarium

Built for the Genova 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 15th century pier in the harbor of Genova, considered the starting point for the voyage of Christopher Columbus and other prominent Genovan navigators.

I am 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 is a scream, as you will see in this short video clip. 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 very interactive with us.

I also watch a diver cleaning the tropical lagoon, where Cuba, a playful sea turtle, keeps 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 left in a box at the aquarium in 2000, 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 then 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 Galata is one of the oldest buildings in the Genoa Darsena (port). It houses the Museum of the Sea which has displays ranging from the Age of Oar, to the Age of Steam. Outside the Galata sits a replica of the N. Sauro – Italy’s largest submarine, which you can tour. Boarding a submarine in Genoa was the last thing I ever expected to do…

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, including Morion helmets, some of which were made in the workshop of Pompeo della Cesa, a renowned Milanese armorer during the reign of Philip II. The last photo shows a morion engraved and chiseled with military motifs from the classic period. This style of helm was typically worn by petty officers, German mercenaries and the Doge’s body guard.

There’s 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 covers 2 floors and includes a nice collection of globes and navigational instruments, although the room is very dimly lit which made it difficult to get decent photos.  I did manage to snap this shot of a replica 14th century astrolabe to add to my photo collection.

The third floor is unexpectedly educational. The Age of Steam is a series of rooms as a third-class passenger would have experienced them, starting with a walk along a plank to board the steamship, and once aboard, a sleeping bunk, the washroom (shown below at right), engine noise and a view of the sea out of the tiny porthole.

Towards the end of this floor we were given a ‘passaporto’ and immigration papers, and were taken through the immigration process at Ellis Island. As an American, it was a real eye opener to see how an Italian immigrant experienced the process. The ‘passaporto’ includes a barcode on the back that activates a video inspection officer who asks you questions about your arrival on Ellis Island. The questions must have been pretty amusing, judging by the reactions of the people in front of me. Yet another reason to master Italian before visiting Italy next time…

After signing a release and checking my bags into a locker, I put on the hair net and hardhat I was handed, and board a reproduction of the N. Sauro, Italy’s largest submarine. I missed the pre-show which would have taught me how to use the periscope and hydrophone.

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. 

Dinner tonight is ice cream, which I take back to the Ducale. I take off my shoes to find that one of my blisters has a blister, which I didn’t think that was physically possible. I end the night with a bath, and packing for an early departure tomorrow to La Spezia.

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