Thursday, 21 June 2012

Day 6: Thursday 14th June 2012 - Genova/Casella

Today was the last full day of our holiday, and we were to return to the large city of 780000 people that is Genova, the place where I considered undertaking my Masters studies in International Relations. Although the city is rather large, it does not feel overwhelming and is easy enough to get around on foot, although making use of the public transport system is a good experience in itself. Located as it is between the mountains and the sea, Genova makes innovative use of public transport, encompassing a mixture of metro, trolleybuses, lifts and funiculars.

The funiculars here are unlike any I have seen elsewhere, where they whisk you from the bottom to the top with no inbetween stops. The funicolars of Genova, in particular the one running from Zecca-Righi, has seven stops, with increasingly steep gradients and suitably rewarding views once you reach the final stop and alight. Furthermore, the ticket is included in the public transport day ticket and so does not cost extra as more tourist-oriented ones do. As such, it is worth making the trip to the top.

We started our exploration of the city by taking the mountainside railway from Piazza Manin in the north-east part of the city. This narrow gauge railway runs from the station here to the small mountain-side town/village of Casella, quickly working its way high above Genova before making a series of winding turns along the hillside, finally coming to a stop in Casella, where there is an outdoor swimming pool to welcome you in the summer months upon arrival. As we were short of time on this trip, we did not stop to look around Casella, and instead made the journey back to the Centre.

Having taken the bus by which we came back to the centre of the city, we began our exploration proper by exploring the old part of the city, which consists of long narrow streets with tall buildings on either side, resulting in it feeling rather like a maze, and quite dark in places. The area itself was interesting enough to explore, although inevitably some modern stores have creeped into the area, which somewhat detracts from the overall atmosphere. However, there are still some interesting places to be found, where it is possible to buy tasty and affordable Italian snacks.

Having worked our way out of the maze that is the old city, we found ourselves in one of the largest open squares of the city, which felt rather like a much less touristy version of Paris or Milan, and in my opinion far more majestic. Just off this large square was the main street of the city, which by definition was full of international chain stores and banks which were of little interest, but the real gem to be found was the large book store over two storeys, where I bought a terrifically colourful book all about the city of Genova - something I had been hoping to find since my arrival in Italy, so as to really get to grips with the history and culture behind the city in addition to my own explorations.

One of my other main aims during this trip was to find a book about the local Ligurian language spoken hereabouts by some residents in addition to Italian. The only book I could find was a small pocket-sized book that was nonetheless comprehensive, featuring a history of the language, a grammar and word lists and is an excellent starting point. As it turned out, courses in the language were difficult to come across and this was perhaps the best I would find, but the shop assistant in any case aided me in my search by telling me where to find the best-reputed book store in the city, which unfortunately was closed upon my arrival. Being as determined as I was, I made a point to get up early and come back the next day before the flight home.

Having failed in my quest to find a suitable book, we made our way towards the university district, where the longest funicular of the city exists. This was of course the Zecca-Righi funicular, which runs every 15 minutes and initially starts its ascent in a couple of drab tunnels, but as the ascent begins to steepen, the journey gets more exciting and within 10 minutes we are at the top, where a series of hiking trails open out across the country and are accessible from here - yet another reason to return here in the future. After a few photos, we returned to the bottom in search of something to eat for our last night, and found a pleasant place on the seafront, with a main course, dessert and drink all in for €10 - the so-called Menu Turistico, although the place was hardly teeming with tourists, which was very welcome. Having satisfied ourselves with a pleasant meal, we returned to the hotel to turn in for the night.

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