Having checked in, after wondering why there were three police vans with armed riot officers standing alongside waiting outside the railway station, I went for a walk.
I do enjoy these odd arrivals into towns. Bergamo greeted me with sirens and two helicopters overhead. I never did find out what that was about.
I had booked a food tour for the following day and, as well as just generally meandering I wanted to get my bearings and find out where the meeting point was.
“You’ll meet your guide by the ‘Neptune’ (the pirate ship),” said the woman from the company. “You can’t miss it.”
She was not wrong.
It’s a shame the iceberg missed it as well.
Apparently the ‘Neptune’ is a replica of a 17th-century Spanish galleon. The ship was built in 1985 for Roman Polanski’s film ‘Pirates’, where she portrayed a Spanish ship of the same name. (How true her performance was does not appear to have been commented upon). It’s a accurate replica above the waterline, but also has a partial steel hull, that is planked in timber (preaumably for the underwater shots) and two main engines (more convenient than sails for quickly getting her into shot).
After wandering along the marina, I made my way up into town. Here, you’re either walking uphill or downhill: there is rarely any inbetween.
Away from the harbour, the streets are a rabbit warren. Urban planning? Design? You are joking. “Just stick it there, lads.” I thought I’d wandered into a ropey end of town but looking at the store brands… I hadn’t. I can see why Ferrara’s town planning was such a big deal in the 16th Century though Genova was not dealing with a nice flat landscape.
Further up the slopes from the water’s edge, there are far grander 18th and 19th Century buildings, wider roads and porticos and a triumphal arch. (Are we betting Napoleon may be involved perhaps?) While less twisting and less narrow, the architects and builders were dealing with Genoa’s geography. Tunnels have been blasted or chiselled through the hillsides and cobbled streets snake at hairpin angles around buildings.
It’s a fascinating place to walk around.
And today’s walking tour outlined some of the reasons behind Genova’s quirky architecture and street layout, which is also interlinked with its food.
“Everybody has invaded us,” said Marina our guide from Do Eat Better Experience – yes having sampled the Turin offer, I was trying the Genovese version. “That’s why Genova looks the way it does and we eat the way we do.”
Between mountains and sea, there is not a lot of room for large livestock or farming crops. The Genovese diet started out light – meat from rabbits, and a diet heavily supplemented with herbs. Invaders brought their own tastes with them and the Genovese absorbed and developed the recipes.
We were back into the narrow streets… where all the best food is… the traditional eateries, sometimes no more than a window opening on to a square but serving the best home cooked food. The squares appear from nowhere after wandering through the narrow alleys.
These dark and twisty streets are a result of several factors: lack of space between the sea and the mountains; total lack of any regulation or planning for centuries – if you have the money, just build it; and a cunning defensive ruse by the Genovese… any invading general was going to think twice before sending the army into the town in single file where they were likely to be stabbed by the owners of three houses simultaneously.
No good for plague prevention, but hey, some priorities were more pressing than others at different times.
Much of the food we sampled today was from establishments that have been operating for decades and selling hearty food (focaccia and stews or lasagne) but also offering delicacies such a filo pastry parcels filled with soft cheeses and chard. Some of the most popular spots are those selling “the food your grandma would serve you when she thinks you need feeding up”.
We made our way through several savoury courses to the desserts… the first dessert offered in compensation for having to wait for a table.
As ever, I think a food tour is a great way to learn about and try to understand a city. So much of the history is told through the food that people eat – related to tradition or ceremony, but also the way that families and workers have lived their lives for generations. It probably helps that Genova has quite a story.