Genoa, Portofino, Camogli

Portofino dope pranzo (after lunch)

Yesterday, we had a day in Genoa. It was Monday and much of Italy is closed on Mondays. We spent the morning at the Villa del Príncipe, the home built by Andrea Doria. I am not sure why his name is familiar but I learned that he was a very successful naval officer of fortune, working for the King of Spain and various Italian princes and kings. He made a lot of money, guaranteed Genoa’s safety (I’m not sure from whom) and then built his house. It was very grand, big as any royal palazzo but time has not been good to it. An elevated highway cut off part of the garden, the train station is next door and there is nothing but a traffic circle close to it. Still, it was open and we went. I didn’t realize it but most of the palazzos we’ve seen in Torino and Genova are publicly owned and thus have access to restoration funds. Good investments bringing in tourist euros. Andrea Doria’s house testifies to the value of a historic house being run publicly if family pockets are not deep enough. Although the Dorias have done some renovation (it is still owned by the family) much, much, much needs doing.

The ticket is not cheap. They hand us a very well worn, taped together printed guide which has pictures of the most restored rooms which are closed off for family use. I don’t begrudge the family well restored rooms, but why show them to us when the rooms on display are so far inferior. Windows are boarded, not shuttered, closed, there is inadequate lighting in the rooms, it is incredibly stuffy and most of the time it is impossible to make up what the guide is describing. Another time, I would have been pissed off. It was such a rip off, but yesterday, I was just sad. I could not imagine any worse circumstances for this house. No one would want to hold an event in the big halls. Walls are crumbling; frescos are disappearing; the ancient upholstery is thread bear to the extent that patterns are almost gone. Everything is dark and stuffy. If only windows were cleaned and opened (if that is possible) and lighting was excellent and the best rooms were shown off, perhaps those Dorias could plead for donations for restoration.

The icing on this moldy cake is an extra charge they ask if a visitor wants to take pictures inside the house. I didn’t take that bait and it would have been hard to find what to photograph without a flash (which is forbidden) and not sure what I would have shot anyway.

There is a garden, or a remaining part of one with two fountains. It is the prettiest part of the palazzo although it can use a loving gardener, lots of new plants and irrigation.

It is what can happen to anything not taken care of. I can’t imagine the cost of keeping a 15th century palazzo in tip top shape. It costs enough keeping up with my 80 year old house. I’m just trying to keep it livable but the Dorias have history to preserve and history can disappear in a few moments. And then it is gone forever.

Walking in Genova, I am finally recognizing how a few street connect in the old city. I could put away the map for the last 20 minutes of our walk home. We have not seen a lot of the city, but I can be comfort in a small part of it. We’ve walked past a small, very plain church a few times and this time we stopped in. Even the doors are plain. Actually, the doors are just large pieces of painted plywood. I didn’t expect much inside, but …. Yes, a lovely surprise of exquisite decoration. It made me smile and stare in wonder. Especially after the Andrea Doria house, it filled me with hope.

And then today! My gosh, this has been a most unusual day. I decided we’d spend the day out of the city and our hotelier suggested Portofino and Camogli. It’s hot and each had the possibility of swimming and both are beautiful–Portofino, very posh and full of foreigners, and Camogli, a resort town frequented mostly by Italians. Midweek I expected both to be a bit emptier than on the weekend.

We caught an early train to San Margharita, the first step to getting to Portofino, but missed our stop and wound up in Sestri Levante. The guy at the ticket office there did not make me buy another ticket. “Andiamo! Quick!” He said and waved us frantically to the train going back. We ran and caught it, being responsible for an Italian train being 3 minutes late today.

This time we got off at the right stop and went to find the bus to Portofino which according to my online guide is right down the street from the train station. It is, sort of–about a 12 minute walk, very quickly and with a left turn thrown in. If the bus had not been there, I don’t know if I would have found the stop. But again, we were on the bus, in the right direction.

There is only a tiny road clinging to the hills between the two towns and much of it too narrow for a bus and a car to pass each other. There was some backing up and honking, No one was concerned.

The last thing our hotelier advised was not to eat in Portofino because it is terribly overpriced. Of course, due to the train problems, we arrived just in time for lunch. Julia said her stomach was grumbling and I had read that our next stop, a rather pristine monastery had nothing to eat.

We found a pizza restaurant and had mussels steamed in wine and lemon juice and a vegetable decorated pizza. There is no such thing as pepperoni pizza in the north of Italy. Back in Torino, G explained that he thought that our pepperoni pizza was pizza with little, red peppers on it. He had heard about pepperoni watching American crime shows and wondered why peppers on pizza was such a big deal. There is spicy salami in Italy but it is not pepperoni and Julia turned her nose up when we had some. The absence of pepperoni has been a boon to us. Without pepperoni, Julia is happy to try other pizza toppings. Today, our pizza had ham, olives, artichokes and onions which pleases me so much more than pepperoni.

Anyway, we finished our lunch, walked around a bit, took pictures and then made our way to the ferry to San Fruttuoso which is described in the literature as “Secluded seashore monastery near Portofino in Liguria, accessed on foot or by boat.” Not a port or a resort, reviews state unequivocally. I was wondering if Julia would find it boring when we pulled into the harbor and faced a thriving beach concession. Julia said, “let’s swim” and I agreed.

The pebble beach is a bit rough on the feet, at least for those of us used to sand. The whole beach is smaller than a football field and each hour, swimmers must move over when the ferry comes in to deposit more sun worshippers. The water is cold and very blue and it tastes of salt but not of sea weed like the jersey shore. Julia gathered tiny pieces of green sea glass and I contemplated bringing home rocks for my Quest integration group. And no one here looks like they were looking for a monastery.

We spent a few hours on the beach before I decide we need to change and find the monastery. We did and we did. It was sweet and quiet, much like I expected. Julia is quickly bored and I promise to head quickly for the ferry. There is not much to see and it just us and a very few other people who go exploring.  I found a small garden with a wall and a rough gate and a short arbor with a bench.  I would have liked to sit for an hour or so.  The air was quiet and the ghosts of so much that had been experienced danced.  A space pregnant with possibility  a holy place.  Even with ferry loads of swimmers and sun worshippers just meters below.

We end the day in Camogli which has lovely beaches although I cannot convince Julia to put on her bathing suit again. We walk the promenade, stop for extravagant gelato creations and then a late supper. To start, Julia has spaghetti with clams, I have three variations on anchovies. Then we split a hunk of tuna encrusted with almonds and barely grilled. It is somewhere between sushi and cooked and very good.

We climb about a million stairs, that is, according to Julia, and find the train station and then find that the next train is in an hour. We will not be home until almost midnight but no matter, the night is pleasant, we have comfortable bench and home is very close to the train station once we get there

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