March 2014 – There’s a section of Italy I wanted to visit. I wanted warm weather and sunshine, and I had three weeks of vacation from work scheduled from March 31st through April 24th. I decided to start in Rome, and work my way north to Nice, visiting small towns along the way. Some of the areas I wanted to visit are well-trodden by the tourists, but I was hoping I’d be at the leading edge of the annual wave. I had returned from a great motorcycle ride with Kurt and Marv Wednesday afternoon, and left for Italy two days later.
After arriving in Rome on Saturday morning around 10 am, I caught the train to Rome Termini, and walked to the Hotel Canada for a four-night recuperative stay. I always walk a lot in Rome. The best way for me to adjust to a big time-change is to do it slowly, so I usually take a day or two to just walk, get fresh air, and sleep. It’s a week-long transition, but that gets the worst of it over with.
Sunday morning, I walked through the touristy areas around the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and on to Vatican City to hear and see Pope Francis. I had lunch at my favorite restaurant in the world, Il Marghutta, a medium-fancy vegetarian restaurant near Piazza del Popolo. They bill themselves as a “ristorarte,” because they have a lot of fine modern art on the walls.
Monday, I walked to Villa Farensini and had dinner at my other favorite restaurant, Aruncia Blu’. I took some photos of Piazza del Popolo at night. Walking through Rome at night is the best way to experience it. The ancient ruins, flood-lit and spectacular, make it feel warm and sleepy. More than any other city I’ve ever been to, Rome manages to keep it’s ancient magnificence and modern vibrancy simultaneously. It’s both modernly fashionable, and rustic, and pulls it off like no place else.
Tuesday, I walked around Rome some more, and made it out to the Baths of Caracalla. It’s a huge piece of ruins from the ancient city, and stunning in it’s magnificence. Most of the ruins of Rome have been stripped of their marble over the centuries. The churches, villas, and all sorts of buildings are built of the marble stripped from the ancient ruins.
On Wednesday, I took a train to the medieval town of Lucca, Tuscany. In medieval times, Lucca, with its huge wall, was a rival to nearby Pisa and Florence. Most of the wall and it’s fortifications are still there. The fortifications are riddled with tunnels which now lead from the medieval ancient city center to the newer parts of the city which surround it. The huge wall is a favorite walking and bicycling area for tourists and locals alike.
From Lucca, I made a day trip to Pisa where I wanted to visit the thousand-year-old cathedral. It’s one of the most beautiful, and most-visited sites in Italy. There were plenty of tourists when I was there, even though the tourist season hadn’t yet really kicked off. Still, it draws the millions of tourists because of its magnificence. The Piazza dei Miracoli is home to the cathedral, the baptistry, and the leaning tower. It’s a beautiful setting, and many people come to sit out on the lawn in the warm sunshine.
My plan was to spend four nights in Lucca. There was a notice posted in the train station that there was to be a strike by the Trenitalia workers from Saturday night at 9 pm, to Sunday night at 9 pm. That was going to throw a monkey wrench in my plans, because I had planned to catch a train Sunday morning to my next destination, Santa Margherita Ligure. I did a quick scramble with a couple of phone calls. I called my next hotel, and asked if I could get my room a day early for a five-night stay. They were able to accommodate, so I cancelled my last night in Lucca, and moved on.
Santa Margherita Ligure is a beautiful oceanside town on the Italian Riviera, centrally located between many points of interest. It’s a short train ride to the Cinque Terra, and a pleasant walk to Portofino. All around this region of Italy are old, quaint towns that seem to hold their quality in spite of being on the tourist beat. I chose Santa Margherita because it’s a little less known, and still very central to interesting areas.
On Sunday I walked from Santa Margherita along the 3.5 mile coastal path to Portofino.
On Monday, I took the train to Rapallo. It’s a similar town to Santa Margherita, although less frequented for it’s beach than for its shopping.
On Tuesday, I took a train to visit the Cinque Terra. The popular tourist destination is a small region of five towns, famous because they are close in proximity, yet have unique traditions. They are encompassed in a national park. I visited Corniglia way up on a hill, Vernazza in a small cove on the beach, and Monterosso with its long waterfront. It’s very popular to hike between the five towns of the Cinque Terra, but I didn’t want to spend the day hiking with a heavy camera in tow, so I caught the train between three of the towns, and left the last two towns for perhaps a future visit.
After five days surrounded by the sleepy beauty of Santa Margherita and the areas visited by the tour groups, I was ready for a gritty city, full of things to see and do. Genoa is all of that, and even a bit exotic. It reminded me a lot of Naples.
Genoa has a UNESCO site, Via Garibaldi, which is where all of the wealthy bankers and dynastic families had their palazzos. I spent four days wandering the streets. In its time, the city was a world power, and the remnants of that wealth are apparent.
I made a day-trip out of Genoa to visit the suburb area of Nervi, and walked along the Passeggiata Anita Garibald. It’s was another scenic walk along the coast.
The food everywhere in Italy is very good. Italians consider food and meals as central to their culture and daily lives. They take great care with food – not fast food, but slow food. The region of Ligure, and Genoa in particular, is where pesto originated. There are some foods that are so good, I think I could eat them every day. Fettuccine in Pesto sauce is one of those foods.
The last town visited this trip is Nice. I took a train from Genoa to Nice, a really nice ride along the coast. Nice is the third-largest city in France and, as might be expected, very touristy. But like so many of the regions of Italy, it’s touristy for very good reason. The beach and town are legendary for their beauty.
I made two day-trips from Nice; the first was to Monaco. From the time I got off the train, I was surrounded by expensive high-rise apartments, a harbour full of multi-million-dollar yachts, and very expensive Italian sports cars. I felt like a puny peasant. I like to think that there is ultimately justice in life (or death) but, surrounded by people who are so affluent, and so privileged, I somehow doubt it.
My second day-trip from Nice was to Cap Ferrat and the museum of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a villa-turned-museum atop a promontory on a small spit of land with sweeping views to the bays on both the left and right sides. The villa and its gardens are very tastefully ornate.
I spent my last night in Nice, ready to return home to my normal routine. It had been a good trip.