Up at 7:00 am. Margaret decided to stay in and not go on the 8 hour trip to Genoa but would call me at 3:00 and maybe meet me in town. Today we anchored and took a 15 minute tender ride to the quaint town of Portofino. Then, we caught a ferry ride (people only) to Santa Margarita, which is the next cove over and took about 15 minutes. We then walked to a bus and drove about 45 minutes to the famous city of Genoa. Buses can’t go directly to Portofino because the roads are very narrow and windy and, well, they just can’t make it there. In fact, getting out of Santa Margarita is no piece of cake. The bus had to stop and back up a bit a couple times to get around some of the corners and you’d swear that the mirrors were going to hit some of the buildings. Great fun!
The driver showed us how rocky and steep the hills are surrounding these seaside villages. In fact, these mountains, which are the end of the French Alps, extend 1200 miles. I was surprised at how many houses, some rather large, are built into the rocky hillsides and how terraced they are, with dry stack stones, so that people could grow grapes but mostly olive trees. The olives that are grown in this part of France produce the mildest olive oil in France. After parking the bus our tour guide walked us to a part of town called Strada Nuova.
Charles Dickens gave a suggestive description of Strada Nuova in his travelogue Pictures from Italy: …When shall I forget the Streets of Palaces: the Strada Nuova and the Strada Balbi! or how the former looked one summer day, when I first saw it underneath the brightest and most intensely blue of summer skies: which its narrow perspective of immense mansions, reduced to a tapering and most precious strip of brightness, looking down upon the heavy shade below! The endless details of these rich Palaces: the walls of some of them, within, alive with masterpieces by Vandyke! The great, heavy, stone balconies, one above another, and tier over tier: with here and there, one larger than the rest, towering high up—a huge marble platform; the doorless vestibules, massively barred lower windows, immense public staircases, thick marble pillars, strong dungeon-like arches, and dreary, dreaming, echoing vaulted chambers: among which the eye wanders again, and again, and again, as every palace is succeeded by another- the terrace gardens between house and house, with green arches of the vine, and groves of orange-trees, and blushing oleander in full bloom, twenty, thirty, forty feet above the street—the painted halls, mouldering, and blotting, and rotting in the damp corners, and still shining out in beautiful colours and voluptuous designs… I couldn’t have said it better myself! If only Dickens would go on all of my tours I wouldn’t have to do so much writing.
This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 1600’s this street was populated with poor people, brothels and the like. A developer came up with the idea to raise the street and built palaces and it caught on. The wealthy families in Genoa built very large multi-story mansions in about 4 years and then spent the next 20-30 years finishing them off with elaborate ceilings with plaster reliefs and frescoes and having famous painters of the era paint huge paintings to hang on the walls.
Two of those palaces, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Blanco were donated to the city of Genoa by a wealthy family when they didn’t have any heirs and they were dedicated to becoming museums, complete with paintings by Van Dyke and Reubens among many other famous painters. There is even a self portrait of Reubens. I put it first in the artwork gallery (see below). It’s the one with Lots of them! The ceilings were art themselves, as good as any that I have seen in Rome or Russia. Incredible structures and incredible art makes this a worthwhile visit.
I split all of my artwork (including frescoes and paintings) into a separate gallery in a separate blog post so that the posts would continue to load fast rather than deleting them since they were so beautiful. You can click here to see them.
We went into another mansion only to view a very famous violin that was made by a master violin maker. While it was interesting I’m not sure it was worth the people in wheel chairs having to deal with elevators up and down and all that goes with that in old buildings. But, I am VERY impressed with the perseverance of these people and you always have to remember that one day it will likely be you in that situation. More power to them!
There were over 40 of these mansions in this area with 12 of them being on this one street. Lots of competition to out-do your neighbors. Then, these palaces were put on a Palazzi dei Rossi or list of palaces for visiting dignitaries to stay in when visiting Genoa.
After the tour guide turned us loose at an incredible cathedral I walked around town, had lunch at a trattoria located in a very narrow and dark passageway. Obviously a popular place with locals, it had arched brick ceilings and was, let’s say, cozy. We were told that we must have the local linguini with pesto and fresh bread as well as the local red wine. OK, it wasn’t gluten free but hey, give me a break! I’m in Genoa. Then, I walked around a bit more and got a gelato and went through an ancient part of town where the original walled city was and found the remains of Christopher Columbus’ house. Right in the middle of a high end shopping area. Then, the few blocks back to Ferarri Square where the bus picked us up. The ride back to the port was reverse of our trip out. I emailed Margaret to meet me at 4 pm if she could at the ferry dock and she said that she’d try to be there.
While we were waiting for the ferry to take us from Santa Margarita to Portofino we had a half hour to do some sightseeing. I went into a cathedral in the middle of town and it was pretty incredible. Very ornate inside with a beautiful turret on the top with beautiful stained glass around it. They didn’t want us to take pictures inside so you won’t be seeing it.
This day is continued in the next post.