Grunge and glam

Covering as much ground as I have been, sometimes far too quickly, trying to document it all becomes impossible. I’ve visited many places that I’ve not written about, Firenze being the most glaring (hint: it wasn’t my favorite).

With a few days to fill between leaving the Dolomites and meeting my sister back in Milano, I started looking around for options. Having already spent two weeks in Milano, and with a couple of days coming up there with Liz, I ruled it out. But I needed to be close enough to make getting there on her arrival date not a hassle.

Eventually, I settled on Genova, in large part because it was the place with the cheapest accommodations. When you think of Italy, Genova definitely isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Likely, it’s not even the 10th place that comes to mind, so my expectations were fairly low. I certainly wasn’t thinking I’d want to write about it. Yet here I am.

The journey from Bolzano to Genova was straightforward enough, three trains with two transfers. But with extremely tight transfers, anxiety ran high. As with all things in life, it worked out and I found myself arriving in the early evening.

One quick note about the journey itself. May this serve as a reminder to us all when we travel.

The final leg of the trip was a local train from Milano Lambrate to Genova Brignole. The local trains make frequent stops at all the small stations along the route.

At one such station, a couple of guys got on and came into my carriage. One of them threw his backpack in the overhead. The carriage I was in was an assigned seat carriage, and they were sort of just looking for two random, empty seats. This was a bit odd, but the assigned seating isn’t always followed. Sometimes it’s easier to grab any seat rather than ask someone to move, so I didn’t think much of it. I actually moved over a spot so the two of them could sit together.

At the next stop, which was maybe 15 minutes down the line, they got up and exited the train … again, I thought nothing of it.

After the next stop, we were only two stops away from reaching Brignole. Because the trains only pause for a minute or two at most stops, it’s customary for people to get up, get their bags, and queue close to the doors before arrival. At this point, I rarely pay attention to this but there seemed to be more commotion than usual this time.

I paused my music but kept my headphone in so I could try to eavesdrop on what was happening. A gentleman was frantically looking for his bag in the overhead area. The person in the seat next to him and a couple of girls in the seats across the aisle were speaking fairly animatedly. I tried to understand what was happening, but I just don’t know enough Italian yet. But as things went on, I started to piece the puzzle together. When the train inspector showed up I had a good idea of what had happened.

The two guys from earlier in the ride were thieves and had pulled a classic switch-a-roo. As mentioned, when they got on, one guy threw his backpack up above before sitting down. I realized his bag was still there, and he had switched it with this other man’s bag. They had created a diversion by making a spectacle out of finding seats together. And when they got up and left one stop later, he simply grabbed the other man’s bag. By the time this poor guy realized what had happened, we were two stops down the line, and I’m sure the thieves were already back at the start, ready to do it again.

I tell this story, as a reminder to everyone, myself included, to always keep track of your stuff. Much like my situation back in Madrid, this man had made the mistake of thinking everything was chill and wasn’t paying enough attention.

Anyways, welcome to Genova. On arrival, I made my way from the train station to my hostel. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was a brand-new place, having only opened in June. It has a bar/cafe in the lobby which was quite busy when I got there.

After a quick minute to settle and change shoes, I headed out into the city to find some grub. At this point, it was prime dinner hour, so everywhere was full. I ended up down an alley having the first burger on my travels. I capped the night off with a Negroni back at the hostel before calling it an early night.

With no expectations and no plans, I did what I always do and spent the next two days just wandering the city. With every step and every passing minute, I became more enamored with Genova. The city is a living contradiction. It’s a grimy, dingy industrial port city, yet full of beautiful architecture and unexpected welcoming vibrance. The old town is famous for its caruggi (mazey narrow streets), which lend a hand in getting you lost … in a romantic way.

piazza de ferrari

Palm trees abound and the sunsets are epic, both reminders that you’re on the Mediterranean. The entire city is crushed ever so tightly between the coastal mountains and the sea. This lends itself to some astonishing feats of engineering. It's an intricate symphony of tunnels, bridges and roads. You’re never quite sure if you’re on ground level or above another part of the city you just can’t see.

On my second evening, I took an elevator next to my hostel up 3 stories, and exited into a whole new city! The complexity and layers of this city were something to behold. It’s certainly I place I’d like to return to and spend more time getting to know on a deeper level.

And let’s not forget the food … oh the food! Liguria, of which Genova is the capital, is the gastronomic home of Focaccia and Pesto. The myriad choices of focaccia alone were bewildering. Focaccia has stolen my heart, and I could eat it every day.

Not to be outdone, on my final evening, I went to dinner with a couple of people from my hostel. Eschewing the more traditional places, we found a sleek, modern restaurant, in a charming piazza. We were seeking another Ligurian favorite, Ravioli alla Genovese. Pair with a wonderful bottle of Nero, we dined and drank the night away, before grabbing a nightcap back at the hostel.

The next morning I departed early to make it back to Milano before my sister and her boyfriend arrived.

Genova has moved right to the top of my list of places to return to someday. It deserves a deeper dive and a proper run of days to discover everything it has to offer.