During our time staying at Trisobbio, we took a few trips away to explore nearby centres in Piedmont and neighbouring Liguria. We were very lucky to have Rob and Yvette to drive us around and to share the wonderful experiences.
Genoa (11th April 2017)
We took the train from Ovada down to Genoa for the day. The trip only takes around 45 minutes on a comfortable local train, all of which seem to leave exactly on time, quite unlike our previous experiences with Italian trains. Genoa has a population of around a million people across the wider metropolitan area. It is one of the main economic centres in Italy and a very busy port. Its maritime origins go back to medieval times when it was a major trading nation and held considerable naval power over large areas of the Mediterranean.
We explored the maritime history of Genoa with a visit to the Museum de Mare down at the old port. We toured five floors of exhibits, the best of which was a full sized reproduction of a Genovese Galley from the 16th Century that we could walk around in. The size was impressive but the conditions for the mainly slave crew of rowers must have been horrific. Another excellent exhibit was one featuring Genoa’s role as a point of embarkation for departing immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The exhibit was presented as the insides of a steamer, with all the walls being made of steel (complete with lots of rivets), sounds of the ship at work and the steady hum of the steam driven engines producing a very life-like feel. We wandered around in the cramped dormitories, stood on the bridge and watched as the crowds lined up at the immigration authorities in their new lands. Well worth the visit.
The best part of Genoa is just walking the streets. This is so often the case in European cities, where there is ample opportunity to simply soak up the atmosphere. We wandered the length of the beautiful Via XX Settembre, stopping mid-way at the fresh produce markets to soak up the incredible display of fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese and pasta. Meat was also on sale but displays of meat in Italy have failed to impress, with very few good cuts on display. We had an excellent lunch at a sidewalk cafe on the Via Garibaldi, choosing from an appetising selection of sandwiches with a choice of three Italian breads and sides washed down with a lovely beer. The owner proved to be French rather than Italian and very chatty and jovial. The port area also had many attractions and we enjoyed simply wandering the docks and admiring the boats, as we always do. There were cruising yachts from all parts of the World making me yearn to have the courage to cross oceans and explore the seas. Christine just said an emphatic “No!”
Turin (14-17 April 2017)
The four of us spent the Easter weekend in Turin, Italy’s 6th largest city and situated around 150kms to the north-west of Trisobbio. Italy’s excellent system of high speed autostradas made the trip quick but did feature some delightful piazzas and walking streets, But then, it seems everywhere in Italy is full of great townscapes. Turin, however, exceeds all others that we have seen so far and rivals many of the great cities of Europe. A direct comparison with Paris is obviously impossible but Turin is a true showcase of Italian and French architecture. The city was captured by Napoleon in 1800 and held for the next 14 years, during which time he redesigned the layout, knocking down the old city walls and replacing them with a series of wide avenues lined with elegant colonnaded buildings and graceful bridges, flanked by majestic statues.
We had a magnificent apartment through AirBnB right in the heart of the city, overlooking a small piazza. Unfortunately, there was no parking attached and it took a bit of work to find a place, eventually leaving the car some 2.5kms away where street parking was free. Since we did not have need of the car during our stay and it came to no harm, the move proved a success. The car was definitely not needed, with the city well serviced by trams, busses and a metro system.
During the day, we tended to go our own ways and explore the wonders of the city. Christine and I had a fabulous trip up a local mountain on a special tram, driven by a rack and pinion system, that rose 450m in a 3.5km journey from Sassi to Superga, where an excellent view of the city below was to be had. We had hoped for great views of the snow covered Alps in the distance but the visibility was poor and a cloud bank covered the mountains. However, the following day, we climbed (on foot) another local hill to a large church and were rewarded with incredible views of the mountains and snow beyond.
At night we came together to find somewhere to eat. One meal was at a local Pizzareia, where we had the most amazing standard of food and service at amazingly low prices. Christine and I shared a pizza, Rob had a pizza while Yvette ordered a seafood spaghetti. We all eyed off Yvette’s dish, as she scoffed down lashings of prawns, squid and the like.
We expected the city to be mostly in shut-down mode due to the Easter weekend but, surprisingly, Good Friday is not a holiday in Italy, at least not in Northern Italy. Things certainly got quiet on Easter Sunday and the piazzas and walking streets of Turin filled with family groups, making the most of the fine and warm weather.
Unfortunately, there was a pall cast on the trip to Turin. One night, Rob and Yvette went out to meet the owner of the house they will rent in Nova Levante. During a meal together, Yvette had her bag stolen, despite taking precautions to safe guard it. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching is a big problem in Italy, particularly in Rome and Naples but we didn’t quite expect it in Turin. She lost a few Euros, her prescription sunglasses and her mobile phone. The good news was that she didn’t have her passport or credit cards with her. However, Rob and Yvette had to make a couple of trips to the police station to make a report and get the necessary police report to make an insurance claim.
Cinque Terre and La Spezia (19-20 April 2017)
The Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Cornigilia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, set along the Italian Riveria, south of Genoa. Each one clings precariously to the cliffs surrounding a tiny bay or landing point, except for Cornigula, which is set higher on the hills away from the sea. The stretch of coastline is a declared UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts huge crowds of tourists every year.
The drive from Trisobbio was along the Autostrada, a rather unpleasant trip in heavy traffic. From Genoa south, most of the road was down to two lanes, with trucks occupying the slow lane. The fast lane was a nominal 130km/hr but most cars were sitting on around 110. However, a few were doing 150 or so and this meant a constant swapping of lanes to get behind trucks then pass them and so on. Once near Monterosso, we left the Autostrada to sit on a narrow twisting winding road to the tiny port. We were very happy to get out of the car. Poor Rob bore the brunt of it, having suffered about two hours of total concentration.
To be honest, Monterosso was a bit of a disappointment initially. I felt it was just a bit of a seaside village and didn’t quite fit my visions of quaint little stone houses. Later, however, our impressions rose somewhat after we had explored the charming alleys and backstreets, and it was easy to see why it had such a seductive charm.
From Monterosso, we got on a ferry to hop from one village to another. This is the best way to view the villages because the sight of each one from the sea is quite stunning and certainly justifies all the postcard pictures. Venazzo from the sea was simply perfect. A restaurant carved out of a towering cliff sported a balcony hanging out over the water with a handful of tables set with white linen. The ferry nosed in to the rocky pier, rising and falling gently in the low swells and exchanged passengers before setting off to the next village. We got off at the last village, Riomaggiore, to start our exploration by land. Rob and Yvette went their own way, having made several previous trips to the Cinque Terre and having a couple of places and walks (more like climbs) they wanted to check out.
Walking around the villages is more a case of climbing around. Steps are everywhere and forming even regular sized steps has never been a priority. Christine’s short legs were a distinct disadvantage. Beautiful alleyways, corners, cafes and balconies create perfect scenes. The crowds were bigger than any we have so far encountered and I shuddered to think what it would be like here in June or July.
To get back to Monterosso, we bought an all day rail pass. The train line from Genoa to La Spezia hugs the coastline, spending around 70% of the time going through tunnels, so it provides a service to the four coastal villages. Before the rail line was built, the villages relied totally on small boat access. Unfortunately, the day we were there the train service proved unreliable and the advertised every 30 minutes proved to be an hour long wait for the first train to access Manarola.
Our clear favourite was Venazzo, mainly because it clung so beautifully to the cliffs. The walk down from the train station to the water’s edge was a picture. We chatted to another Australian couple who were staying in Venazzo for four days and loving it, although they did comment how expensive things were. We stopped for a wine and tapas and paid 12€ when it would have cost 7€ elsewhere. Monterosso was a lot cheaper. At one place we ordered a pot of tea for two but the woman came out with two pots of tea. We drank several cups each and when I went to pay, she asked for 2€ total.
Eventually, the day ran out and we caught up with Rob and Yvette back at Monterosso. From there, we drove to La Spezia, a large town south of the Cinque Terre, where we had organised an AirBnB apartment for the night. Rob phoned ahead to say we were on our way but was horrified to find that we were actually booked for the next night, all our mistake. We had come to the Cinque Terre on the wrong day. Fortunately, the host was very helpful and the apartment was available. We could have been liable for a financial penalty but all was sorted without loss.
La Spezia is a naval town with a large naval base still in use. A surprising number of warships were in evidence, as well as extensive marina complexes, container freight facilities and passenger liner port. While not as pretty as many other places, the city was pleasant enough and certainly provided an interesting stroll along the waterfront. Rob was keen to take us out of town and up the hills to a favourite restaurant called Il Paradiso del Golfo. Unfortunately, on arrival we found it closed, due to their irregular hours over the Easter break. However, the view was worth the drive. The restaurant was set high on a hill overlooking the whole bay with a glorious backdrop of snow covered mountains. The snow was on the melt, but there was still plenty on the far peaks and in the steeper valleys.
We found a pizzareia close to the apartment and had excellent pizzas at very cheap prices. The place had a healthy crowd of local diners, attracted by the prospect of watching the soccer on their big screen. It was fun.
On our way out of town, we stopped at a tiny seaside hamlet called Le Grazie before climbing back into the hills to Il Paradiso del Golfo again. This time, it was open. We were not disappointed. For 10€ a head, we enjoyed a six course seafood extravaganza, with a wonderful fish fillet in oil, an amazing octopus salad, some kind of prawn dish with a fantastic sauce served up in a scallop shell, battered fish , smoked salmon crepes and a dish featuring spelt in squid ink. There wasn’t one thing that wasn’t perfection. This would be the best value meal ever, especially considering the amazing view one could have while dining.
The drive back north to Trisobbio was better with the traffic generally lighter but it was still nice to drive around the bend and see our little village of Trisobbio on the hill with its castle nestled on top. It really has come to feel like home. Our return from the Cinque Terre marked the end of our stay with the Piscicellis, baring a couple of days to catch up on washing etc. From here we head off to Milan and then to Germany for a while. Unfortunately, the wonderful spring weather that we have been enjoying is destined to come to an end, with heavy snow forecast for Munich and Passau. It will be an adventure, but not too much of a drama I hope.