I spent a few nights in Genoa or Genova (they’re the same thing and very confusing) on the tail end of my holiday. While here, I found that Italy is nothing like France and why people travel here for the food.
On our way from Nice to Genoa, Caroline had her bag stolen at the train station we were waiting at on the boarder of the two countries. She didn’t lose anything valuable, but the experience crushed our false sense of security. Immediately after she noticed it was gone, I knew we’d been the perfect targets because we’d all be zoning out on our phones while we ate lunch. It wasn’t a great situation, but it served as an important reminder for the young travelers it happened to: this happens to everyone and you always need to be aware.
When we got to Genoa, we were greeted by a sweet family at our 4 story Airbnb. They welcomed us into the beautiful home with fresh focaccia bread, which was mouthwateringly delicious after hours on a train, and all the tips and tricks to experiencing the area.
We headed out to find a fresh pizza and explore the area before it began getting too late. Genoa is a large city, meaning there are multiple parts of the city that are spread out. We were in a more residential/local area of Genoa, which was about a 10 minute train ride from the Genoa city center. I liked the residential area because we were completely immersed in the culture that we’d traveled to. Shop owners tried their best to understand my hand singles because I don’t speak a lick of Italian and laughed when we finally figured it out. The entire experience was an ode to humanity.
The next morning was the best part of the trip. I toured a few different cafes in the area because americanos tend to be sold for about a euro in Genoa, which makes for the perfect coffee tour.
We went to Botega Cafe Cacao first. One of the baristas spoke a little bit of English and seemed to be pleased by the opportunity to practice it on me. I ordered an americano and received a small cup of espresso with a tin full of hot water next to it. I’ve never tried an americano like it, but it might be my new favorite way to drink one. I went to this cafe two more times that day, once to get fresh squeezed orange/grapefruit juice, then again in the evening to try their signature “cafe cacao.” I think there’s something really special about a place that can make you feel at home when you’re so far away from your own.
We then went to a big, green dome for a cappuccino. Everyone should try an Italian cappuccino because they are the best, even if you’re not a cappuccino lover. They are foamy and warm, which was perfect for the rainy day I was drinking mine on.
We found that the train systems are fairly easy to figure out, but it’s helpful to ask an attendant rather than go to a kiosk because so many of the names sound similar to a foreign ear. I was turned away a few times because the attendant didn’t speak English, so obtaining information was a test in patience, but again, such a good lesson to learn as a young traveler. As a United States citizen, I’m so used to being catered to and people making things easier for me. I think it’s easy to live rather arrogantly because I was born in an influential nation. I’m grateful that the Italians brought me back to Earth and forced me to see the world through their lens. I’d never truly felt like a “foreigner” until I visited Italy. In France, I was a wanderer; and Ireland made me a traveler because I wasn’t completely uncomfortable. Here, I felt out of place and a little bit inconvenient to the locals bustling around me. The attitude of those around you makes a huge difference in what space you occupy when you’re in a new place. It wasn’t that I was unwelcome, just that I didn’t innately fit because I was so unfamiliar with the culture. I felt naive for not researching further and wished I had tried a little harder before I arrived in Italy. That feeling will stay with me forever, in welcoming newcomers into my home country and working harder to adapt to the countries that I travel through.
Once in Genoa’s city center, we walked… and walked …. and walked. It was absolutely beautiful. The city is on the water, so we gasped at the beautifully colored houses. We wound our way through alleys and thrift shops, and walked up and down the shops on the Main Street. Genoa has a series of squares that you’ll find yourself walking through as you walk further from the train station. They are all beautiful, but look very similar.
The best part of our day was our late lunch. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Locanda Tortuga. They are famous for their focaccia, which I wish I would have tried. I had the seafood ravioli. If my tastebuds could marry a taste, they would have married this one. It wasn’t just the pasta stuffing that made each bite better than the next, but the lightness of the marinara sauce that coated each noodle. It was like tomato was whispering hello while the rest of the ravioli melted in my mouth. We were all flabbergasted at how delicious this meal was.
The restaurant made the meal even better because it was so cozy. The walls were stone with some wood decorations. The only other table occupied next to us was filled with middle-aged American tourists who were teaching their Italian guide about baseball. They smiled at us when they left and told us to have a great meal. Their excitement to see the city was reassuring and contagious. I couldn’t help but think that that’s who I want to be one day. I want my white head to bend over different foods in faraway places and to smile at people I’ve just met who love to travel as much as I do.
We wove our way back to the Airbnb when we were finished eating. Our evening was spent in a cafe that was close to our place. They played Pitbull on repeat, which was an interesting end to a fantastically long day. We then pooled our coins because it was our last day and went to find some focaccia and brie to eat on our terrace.
A kilo of focaccia and quarter of brie later, we happily sipped our much needed glasses of water and laughed about stories we hadn’t told each other yet.
The next morning, we called a taxi and headed for the airport. Getting a taxi had been difficult the night before because we were hung up on due to the language barrier many times. Finally, someone said to call Radio Taxi in the morning, and sure enough, we were picked up and whisked away within five minutes.
Italy was the most trying part of my holiday by far. Maybe it was this way because I was tired after almost a week in France. It was most surely because of my lack of preparation before visiting. Whatever the challenge was, it was the best way to learn. People were patient and taught me patience. Experiences were human and put me in touch with my own sense of humanity. I am so grateful for the country that taught me to do my homework, and be aware, and eat all of the food that my stomach can hold because flavors like that don’t just escape the memory.
Italy, thank you for putting up with my lack of knowledge and showing me such kindness in every interaction. I’ll do better next time.