From the Alps to the coast

We woke up to bright sunlight and the anticipation of exploring our first new country for a while. The campsite at Vinadio charged extra for showers – €1.50. You put the token into a machine outside the two showers which backed onto each other. However, there was no guessing which shower would come on. So to make the most of my shower time, I tried to second guess and got undressed and ready to dive under the shower head in shower number one, with Adrian poised outside with the token. Yes, that’s right, of course the water started in shower number two and I had to run round the corner to it clutching my clothes and toiletries to my half-nakedness! Adrian assures me that this was really quite amusing.

From Vinadio we took the last few winding lanes in the mountains we could before heading across a plain towards the coast at the top front of the Italian boot. More verdant valleys greeted our lunch detour south of Mondovi. We picniced in a glade at the side of the road before getting lost trying to re-find our main route, which snaked through tunnels and over high bridges in the hills towards the coast at Savona. We were disappointed to find that our shiny new Michelin road atlas to Italy didn’t show many road numbers. Then we realised that the road signs, when there are any, don’t tend to show them either. Navigating this country is going to be challenging! We’d read that the coast west of Genoa is very developed and busy. It is the Italian Riviera and the grey sand and pebble beaches were crammed with bodies basking in the sun of the last weekend that could be considered summer. Although not our usual choice of environment, we were keen to visit Genoa and points on the coast east of the city. We’d avoided the French Riviera, so it was fascinating to see the Italians at leisure, and on the roads whizzing and weaving on mopeds, and in Apes and fast cars. One snag. Very few campsites that we could see – certainly not signed from the coast road. It was getting to be late afternoon as we got closer to Genoa, and it was obvious we’d have to go through the city and try our luck on the other side of it.

East of the city the road climbs up and around and down beautiful hillsides with cypresses, pink or yellow terracotta roofed houses with green shutters and stunning sea views. It all has a much plusher feel. There are several resorts where the rich people come. Lots of yachts. The evening light heightened the affect as the sun seemed to set all too quickly. And still no campsites. Then we ended up turning down two … a precarious choice given that we’d seen so few. But the price demanded and the standards on offer just didn’t match up. We were keen to find one within easy reach of public transport to the city. So getting quite anxious as the light was fading, we kept on going through town after town. Eventually tracking down an over-priced cat litter tray of a campsite by the sea but under the railway line at Chiavari, where we shoe-horned ourselves into the last pitch. Wine was opened and dinner cooked immediately and we started to feel a bit more relaxed!

I went to hand over our passports at reception (Italian campsites insist on this), and asked the manager/owner if there were any discounts available. No madame, it is already discounted … Are showers included? Oh no. You’ll need 50 cents for those. Somehow I managed to wangle a couple of 50 cent pieces from him, and was relieved to find that the token box was in each individual shower cubicle this time!

Deiva Marina and the cycle race
We were relieved to leave our cat litter tray and continue onwards along the coast road. Giving up the idea of being close to Genoa, we aimed to be closer to our other goal for this part of the trip, the Cinque Terre, of which more later, and a campsite at Deiva Marina. Thinking we were following the main trunk route along the coast, the SP1, we were actually on a smaller road which clung more closely to the sea’s edge when it wasn’t hurtling us through around 10 km of narrow tunnels on and off, thankfully traffic lighted. We came out of the last bit of tunnel at Deiva Marina only to find the road into the town closed for an event. No choice but to turn round and wait ten minutes for the next timed green light. Had there been a sign telling of this road closure earlier on? Don’t think so as we were far from being the only ones.

We then found the main road and headed towards Deiva Marina through the hills instead. We came across a traffic jam. It was another road closure still preventing us from reaching Deiva Marina. This time we could ask what was happening. It was a huge annual cycle race, the Granfondo de Cinque Terre, and the official said that the road would open in an hour’s time. A phalanx of about 100 cyclists came through shortly after this. We were then one of a handful of vehicles waved through and we headed down the steep windy hairpins towards town. The race was still continuing though and we were overtaken at every turn by more and more cyclists whizzing past. And at midday we managed to nab the last spot at the campsite. After some lunch, we strolled the 3 km into town to see what was happening. The place was heaving as the start and end point for the race, which covers 150 km with more than 3 km altitude difference and with up to 20% of gradient. Cyclists were continuing to pour in for the ‘ultimo chilometre’, while others were already packing up and heading home.

Genoa by train
We took the train from Deiva Marina into Genoa for the day. It took us two hours on the way in because the train we thought we were getting only ran on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and this was a Monday. Our train terminated at Sesto Levante and we had to wait half an hour for a connection. There are other trains that run on every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays and other such mischievous timetabling to fox the tourist. Also there was no information on the platform, or the train. One could assume that Italians must automatically know what’s happening, except that everyone was asking us!

We know that Monday is not the best day to visit a city. Some attractions are closed on a Monday. We took a chance, and well, Genoa was pretty much all closed on a Monday. That’s when we could find the tourist office, which was not at the main train station but deep in the heart of the city, and we had to get a map in Russian from a nearby hotel to find it. We found some nice streets and the cathedral, which was closed for lunch until 3pm, and another important church which was closed for lunch until 3.30pm. We looked in to the courtyards of several former palaces on Via Garibaldi, most now banks (or closed museums!). By this time we were slightly disappointed and frustrated… so we had lunch too, at a tiny crowded trattoria in one of the many dark narrow alleys near the port. We wandered around some more of Genoa’s very grubby streets until the cathedral opened. San Lorenzo was worth waiting for, as was the Gesu church, both of them crammed with paintings and frescoes, including a couple of Rubens.

The alley we took back to the station was vibrant with the city’s African population, the lilt of as many languages as there were grocery stores selling cassava and plantains, and it came closer to conjuring up the essence of this port city. More fun at the station trying to find our platform. It may be difficult to find out which train is going where, but they run exactly on time so that helps!

So unfortunately Genoa comes low down on our list of places to return to, it lacked the wow factor of so many of the other cities we’ve visited. Perhaps one day, Genoa and some other major European cities will decide to open on a Monday.

About EllieGee

Following the road...
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