Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toussaints #1: Genoa

Genoa: where we ate gelato, got lost, climbed up lots of hills, and were led around by a Senegalese stranger

Our first official stop was Genoa, Italy.

The trip started off with my alarm clock going off at 4:00 in the morning after a sleepless night to catch a tram to the train station, and then a train from Grenoble to Lyon to then catch a 5-hour covoiturage (carshare, i.e. carpooling with strangers) to Genoa. It was my first covoiturage so I was a little nervous: getting into the car with a strange man... it seemed to go against everything I was taught as a child. Besides that, I wasn't sure how reliable it would be, maybe he just wouldn't show up? But all went well (thankfully this was the case for all four of our covoiturages). The car was full, us and three strangers. None of us really spoke to each other, which was odd but I didn't mind, I was too tired to make conversation anyway. I just stared out the window as we drove through the beautiful mountains (and lots and lots of tunnels).

The first thing we realized upon arrival: we had made a big mistake not learning any Italian before we left. We found this out the hard way while looking for the bus we needed to get to our Airbnb. And when trying to buy a ticket on said bus once we actually managed to find said bus.

Second thing we realized upon arrival: driving in Italy is absolutely terrifying (and we were still in the north!). I don't know how old people manage to use the public transportation without getting heart attacks or falling over and breaking bones.

Third thing we realized upon arrival: Vespas. Everywhere. Judging from the number of them we saw in Italy I assume that Italians learn how to ride one somewhere between learning to walk and being potty trained.

We got off the bus and called the owner of the Airbnb we would be staying at. "Wait there. Five minutes, I come." We kept looking expectantly at each car passing by, none of them stopped. Finally a Vespa pulled up in front of us and the driver took off his helmet "Hello." A Vespa? We looked at each other and then at the guy who was looking at us. was this going to work, exactly?
"One at a time?" I asked after an awkward pause.
"Sorry, my English not good?"
"Um...first I go then she goes?"
"Yes, yes"

So we sort of awkwardly decided that I would climb on the back of the Italian stranger's Vespa first.  I situated myself with my backpack and two bags, and we were off. It was my first time on a Vespa and I almost fell off a few times while going around curves on the insanely steep hill he lived on, but it was great. It was so, so weird, I didn't know what to do with my hands (do I hold the strange Italian man's shoulders or by my sides?) but even in its weirdness it was awesome. In conclusion: I need to learn how to ride a motorcycle and/or a Vespa.

We unpacked our stuff and got back on the scary bus to wander around Genoa. First thing I noticed which I would continue to notice throughout the trip: Italians have the cutest dogs. Gah, it was driving my crazy, I was a squealing like little girl the whole time. I miss my Oscar.

Piazza de Ferrari, the main square and the first of many, many Piazzas. 

Palazzo Ducale

I'm not going to lie, I completely forgot what church this was, where it was, and quite frankly I forgot we even went into it. It was a nice church though. 

Remember what I said about the Vespas?

And...the Vespas

We had a semi-tradition: when we saw a hole, we took a picture in it

On our second day we learned you can climb up these towers for a few euros, pictures in the next section

Not sure what the deal with this car is, but a lot of post cards had it on them so I assume it's important

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo - Duomo di Genova

After walking for a few hours we found the Old Port, which was one of the more beautiful areas of the city

Apparently in Italy there are special "stores" entirely for vending machines. I'm surprised the U.S. doesn't have this. 

I finally learned how to use one of these, and
they actually make really good coffee. I sort
of want to buy one now...
After coming home we cooked dinner and Chelsea, still a student with a deadline, had to work on her thesis (which was due a week into our trip), while I tried to plan day two. We also both took a moment to learn how to say a few basic things in Italian. My mind is now the proud owner of  "let's go!," "where is" "left" "right" and "straight" in Italian.

Day 2:
I'm a huge fan of day trips and more generally anything that gets you out of the city, so I was excited about our plans to walk to Boccadasse, an old mariners' neighborhood, the next morning. Of course we got quite lost, as we had a tendency to do throughout the whole trip. We walked down a hill, we walked back up the hill, we turned left, we turned back around, then we finally found someone and bravely asked, in our lovely Italian, "dove Boccadasse?" We finally found it after an hour or so of wandering, saw the beautiful view of the sea, then promptly started walking in the wrong direction (of course, because we were nothing if inefficient).

"Hmm...Chelsea I think the pretty stuff if the other way, want to go back?"

Boccadasse: first view
So, with a sigh we turned back around, (but not before I managed to trip into the sea and soak my shoes. Well... I didn't trip so much as decide to feel how cold the it was, and somehow I ended up up to my ankles in water. It wasn't the last time in our trip my feet would be cold and soaked.)

It was worth the trip back, it was an adorable little town where we had some insanely good coffee-flavored gelato. Around noon we caught a bus back to Genoa, where we got lost again and found ourselves walking next to industrial buildings on one side and a freeway on the other. Not quite the Genoan view I was hoping for.

Inappropriate sign on a bathroom door 

We finally made it downtown, back to the Old Port near the water, where we sat down for a while. Throughout our trip Chelsea and I went back and forth between English and French, and at this point we were in French mode. Suddenly a man sitting close to us turned around "ah bonjour, vous etes francaises?"

"Eh, non, en fait moi je suis australianne et elle est americaine."

"Vous parlez francais en Australie?"

"Non, anglais."

The man looked at us, confused, then why are you struggling to speak French to each other? I could see him thinking. We explained what we were doing in Italy which led us to explain what we were doing in France. He told that he was from Senegal, had lived in France for a while and then moved to Italy. After talking for a while, my creeper alert wasn't going off and I decided he wasn't a threat, I think he just missed French.

"If you want I can show you around a little. I'm waiting for my cousin and I have two hours to kill."

Chelsea and I looked at each other, testing our telepathy skills; does he look like a murderer to you? No, you? "yeah sure, that would be great" I said after an awkwardly long pause, assuming Chelsea felt the same way I did.

So we ended up walking around Genoa for a couple hours with a Senegalese stranger whose name we never learned. that I think about it, none of us ever introduced ourselves, we just sort of walked around together. It was very strange, but just as interesting. We had spent the previous day getting lost and not knowing what we were looking at, so it was nice to have someone take us directly to the cool things. We walked through Via Garibaldi, the semi-impressive "street of palaces," and he showed us the house where Christopher Columbus allegedly lived. At this point he had been with us for two hours and it was getting a tad awkward, so we said our goodbyes and we went into the house, and then we climbed up a couple towers that are right behind for a view of the city.

"Christopher C's" boat

Add caption

House of Christopher Columbus 

Climbing up the towers

View from the top

Climbed in a hole

The equivalent of a train station for ferries. What are those called, boat stations?
After walking around forever, I looked up and saw a cool-looking thing on a hill. "That's a cool-looking thing, want to go up?"

"I'm not fussed," which was Chelsea's go-to phrase which, I later learned, is Australian for anything from "yeah sure that's fine" to "I want to kill you right now" depending on the intonation and subtle hints of passive-aggressiveness. I'm pretty sure in this case it meant "if you make me climb stairs I'll kill you" but I wasn't in the mood for guessing feelings, so I decided we would go up the hill. The cool thing turned out to be the museum of world cultures (although I don't think that was the official name). We didn't go in, but we got a nice view and the park surrounding the museum was pretty.

Getting back was a bit of a fail. We walked all the way down the hill, and confused by the mess of a public transportation system, we accidentally ended up taking the bus all the way back up. Wrong way. When we finally got back home we were tired and a bit sick of getting lost, happy to be back we stuck our key in the door, ready for dinner and sleep and... nothing. Our key didn't work. I tried. She tried. I tried again. We pushed the door, we kicked it, we tried to be nice to it. Nope, nothing. We had to call the Airbnb guy to come over (it was a strange situation, I don't think anyone actually lived in the apartment). So we sat down on the floor outside and ate apples, a very, very pathetic scene.

And then we finally got in!

Conclusions on Genoa: It was okay. It didn't blow me out of the water, but there were some pretty sights and I got to ride a Vespa. 

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