Our plan was to see as much as we could in Italy, even if that meant not seeing things in great depth. To that end, our horrible experience in Hotel Valley would only last the one night and we would get up early to get to the train station and get down the coast to Genoa. We had planned for a 7am wake-up. Unfortunately, the best laid plans…
See, Italy is an hour behind Lithuania so when Rasa’s 7am alarm went off, we discovered she had not actually changed the time on her phone and it was, in reality, 6am. We decided to take advantage of this and got out of the hotel early. There was no one at the desk so we left the key and skedaddled. Didn’t even shower since the bathroom where the bath was smelled horrible. We headed to the train station and after a quick coffee (Rasa had wanted tea, but evidently in my bad Italian accent, “Hot Tea” sounds like “Latte”) and brioche (Italian for croissant which is French for breakfast roll) we discovered our plans for trains were going to be a bit obsolete. Not only were we early, but the prices had changed. This would be a running theme over the next few days – we had to be ready to roll with it.
We ended up on a nice train and made it down to Genoa. Along the way, we discovered Italian trains have a thing for tunnels. Most of that particular journey was spent in the dark under a mountain or hill. Just as we’d get excited about seeing something in the landscape, boom, tunnel. It got to be a bit silly after a while, but that’s part of what makes travel fun, so…
Once we got to Genoa (Genova for those of you looking to book train tickets – You definitely need the Italian names for cities, even when reading the ticket system in English) it was raining and a bit windy. Okay, “a bit” may not be exactly accurate. It was so blustery Winnie the Pooh would have said “fuck it, I’m staying home.” As we got out of the train station, our old friends the selfie-stick salesmen had switched over (market demands, don’t ya know) and were now selling umbrellas. Ah ha! We were actually prepared and had brought our own from home.
Which lasted all of 5 minutes in the wind. Well, one of them at least. So we found one of these guys and bought an umbrella. It was cheap and not well constructed, constantly turning inside out, but at least it kept me mostly dry (I had given mine, that worked, to Rasa). As we normally do in new towns, we found the Tourist Information Office, grabbed a map and asked what we should see. A few things were pointed out, but specifically an elevator which led to a tower overlooking the town. We decided that would be our first stop. Now, Rasa is slightly afraid of heights so going up in tower is a big thing. As it turned out, though, this tower was actually part of the public transportation system (with commensurate ticket) and at the top, three sides did indeed look out on the town while the fourth side opened onto the hill where there was a nice neighborhood and people lived.
From the top of the tower, we saw the harbor (Genoa is a port city) and a lot of the old town (which, really, is the interesting part) and made a plan of what we wanted to see before heading back to the train station. Our plan for today was to spend the morning here, the afternoon in Pisa and then onto Florence (Firenze) for the night. Our first stop once we made it back to ground level was Piazza Ferrari.
The thing about Ferraris is Rasa. She loves them. So we went and took a picture and then headed towards the harbor. On the way, we discovered (okay, we discovered since it had actually been there for centuries) an amazing black and white church, the St. Lawrence Cathedral. The interior was gorgeous but there was something about the lions guarding the outside which really struck me. In fact, I would say the lion was, for me, the symbol of this whole trip (never mind that it’s the symbol of Venice).
The harbor was our next stop, the final arc of a circle which would take us right back to the trains. One of the things we noticed along the way, though, was the number of umbrella parts poking out of public trash cans. It made sense with the wind, but it still seemed rather excessive.
Until we actually got to the harbor.
We tried to look at things, like the tropical rain forest bio-dome and the pirate ship available for tours and parties but it was hard to do while remaining dry. Our street bought umbrella was more a detriment than anything else and I spent an inordinate amount of time in the vain attempt at keeping it dome shaped and funneling rain water off my head. Then the final gust came and my €5 umbrella became a casualty of nature and a permanent resident of Genoa, a citizen of the umbrella graveyard which, to this moment, haunts the sunny days of that beautiful city.
Luckily, we were close to the station so I didn’t get too wet as we made our way back. There was a few minutes to wait for our train so a sandwich and tea in a little stand in the parking lot took kept us dry until we could board. The route the train took to our next destination was coastal, traveling along the Tyrrhenian Sea and into Central Italy.
There weren’t as many tunnels but the rain continued so when we disembarked in Pisa we succumbed again and bought another umbrella. We had much better luck with this one, as it ended up lasting us the rest of the trip (It might have also been the lack of Genoan storms). In Pisa, while it’s got a varied and storied history, really there’s one thing to see, and that’s the bell tower of the Cathedral. The peculiar thing about this particular bell tower (and almost all Cathedrals have them) is this one has a foundational problem and it, well, it leans. It leans at an angle of about 4 degrees so the top is displaced almost 13 feet from true. The Tower, and this I didn’t know, is part of a whole complex, the Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral and several other buildings. The whole thing is operated by a charity foundation and, knowing a good thing when they’ve got, they charge a completely separate fee to climb the Tower than to see the rest of
the sites included within the medieval walls. A fee more than seeing everything else put together. Now, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass, so I decided to climb the 270 or so steps (seriously climbed a lot of steps this trip) to see the top. Rasa, citing that pesky fear of heights, declined. The view from the top was inspiring and the climb was weird, since you were walking a spiral at an incline. There were times you were stepping up but feeling like you were walking down. It was an Escher painting come to life… sort of.
The area was also hosting an exhibit of “Angels and Miracles” with some of the “fallen angel” sculptures from Polish artist Igor Mitoraj on display. I really enjoyed these pieces and hope they find a permanent home somewhere. After spending a bit of time wandering the area, and yes, taking the prerequisite photos, it looked like there might be a small break in the rain so we took the opportunity to head back to the station and get to Florence, on a train much earlier than we had originally intended.
In Florence, finding the hotel wasn’t hard. The address was close to the train station (we tried to find places as close to the station as possible since we were on foot and this seemed the most prudent course of action). So getting to the place wasn’t hard but then… there was no answer. Now, areas near the station in most towns are not the best, we know that. But once inside a hotel, the thinking goes, it should be okay. Here, though, we were outside in a sketchy area, with no visible signage for the place we were headed. The door wasn’t latched so we went into the building and found a brass plaque naming the Ninna Nanna B&B attached to another door with the name of a doctor on it. Okay.
We knocked, we buzzed, we asked other residents of the building (it seemed like an apartment building) and no one knew anything. Finally, a nice woman indicated that the B&B door belonged to a woman (whose name was on the second plaque) and there was a phone number, so we should call. We did. The conversation didn’t go well. Not that there were harsh words spoken or anything like that, no, it was more that we couldn’t understand each other and the connection was bad besides. After a few minutes of trying, the connection ended. We went back outside and decided to try and find another place to sleep for the night.
As we were walking away, my phone rang. It was the B&B calling back. The woman directed us to where the key was hidden and we were instructed to just let ourselves in and room #1 was our assigned place for the night. We found our room, which was incredibly cold, and the bathroom across the hall, and decided to go find a place for dinner. A text message let us know the proprietor would be there shortly so we locked up behind us and went for a nice Italian meal, complete with red and white checkerboard tablecloths.
Upon returning, there actually was someone there. Seems that since I had sent an email saying we might need a late check in, they didn’t think they needed to be there, especially since, as it turned out, we were the only ones staying the night. The woman turned on the heat (which never really got the place warm), warned us we had to let the water run for it to get hot then left again.
Ultimately, it was a nice place but it certainly started with a weird vibe. And hey, we were in Florence.