Adventures in Italy: Exploring Genoa, Portofino, & Cinque Terre
It all started with a phone call from my friend Jeff Greif of Travel Squire. He was speaking on a panel at the Travel Blogger Elevator, aka TBE12, in Genoa, Italy, and he wanted some company. Who am I to say no when a friend is in need? I picked up the phone and called American Express to book a flight for my 13-year-old daughter Emma and me.
I figured it was time. Emma is 13 and needs to experience some international travel. She was beside her self with excitement and began packing almost immediately. We had a couple of days before our trip so I made sure to prepare her for the TSA, Customs, and Immigration procedures. She didn’t care; she just wanted her passport stamped.
Buongiorno and buonasera were the first words I made sure Emma could say, then grazie, prego and per favore. I figured if she could say hello, thank you, and please she would be good to go and not feel insecure while traveling through Italy.
We were staying at the boutique hotel, Locanda di Palazzo Cicala (Hotel de Charme). I was not aware at the time, but our hotel was in San Lorenzo Square. This might not seem important, but it was to my family. You see, my maiden name is Di Lorenzo. So my Italian Aunt Carlotta (the nun) was very happy we were staying somewhere under the watchful eye of our family’s patron saint. “Oy veh,” my Jewish mother would have said as she rolled her eyes.
Emma and I had three fun-filled days of adventure and exploring ahead of us before TBE12 began, and we tried to pack in as much as possible.
Our first day was spent exploring the San Lorenzo Cathedral, walking the Old Port, and hiking through all the different alleyways full of shops and food. We were able to quickly get a grasp of the city and navigate our way through from any starting point. At one point I thought Emma was going to fall over from exhaustion and jetlag, but we stopped for a well-deserved plate of spaghetti and a Coke, and she was ready to go again. We saw some great things, including Christopher Columbus’ childhood home, ancient city walls that seemed to just appear with their turrets in the middle of the busy city, and deliciously smelling bakeries full of sweets and breads. And do I really need to describe the gelato we ate? OK, I will: it was deep, dark fudge-like chocolate that was so smooth and rich I almost couldn’t eat it all. Complete decadence.
Around 4 p.m. or so it was obvious Emma’s energy level was crashing so we headed back to the hotel and napped for a bit. Our hotel made dinner reservations for us just 500 feet from our front door, and we entered into a great little underground restaurant lit mostly by the reflection of the light off wine bottles stacked in racks on the walls. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of where we dined, but just ask about it at the Palazzo Cicala front desk. You wont be disappointed.
The next day it was rainy and cold, but we forged on since Portofino was our destination for the day. We headed to the train station, bought our tickets, and were on our way to Santa Margherita to catch the bus to Portofino. I had made sure Emma was packed for every weather condition that could have happened, but of course forgot to pack my own raincoat. So, 250 Euro later, we were at last walking through the picturesque streets of Portofino. This is a summertime hotspot so we were surprised by the amount of crazy people such as ourselves who were visiting in the rain.
Portofino is adorable and has the most romantic little marina full of small fishing boats and sailboats. The brightly colored houses on the hillside and outdoor cafes were exactly as I had pictured them to be. We climbed the hillside to Castello Brown, which overlooks the marina and main area of Portofino. The structure was originally built as a fortress to protect that part of the coastline from intruders in the 1400s. Although then it was just a platform and tower, it has since been transformed into the castle that stands on alert atop the hill over Portofino. Inside the castle are pictures of celebrities past and present, presidents, and royals of every decade who had visited or stayed there.
Late afternoon came quickly, and we needed to catch our 3 p.m. bus to make the train at 4:20 p.m. We boarded our bus and headed off back to Santa Margherita—then a funny thing happened. Riding backwards on a bus makes one’s sense of direction a bit swayed, and I made Emma get off the bus with me a few stops too soon. We were now marooned in the rain on the side of the road. My very smart and detail-oriented child kept telling me that it was the wrong stop and not to get off the bus, but what did she know? Everything, apparently. Now we were cold, wet, and stranded for an hour until the next bus showed up. Needless to say, she was mad and very unhappy with me. I could only laugh because now look, I have a story to tell.
Day three of our adventures began with Jeff coming into town and catching up with us. This was his only day to explore the Liguria region before TBE12 so we decided to go to the Cinque Terre to see the gorgeous villages along the coastline. The Cinque Terre means “The Five Lands,” a group of villages connected to one another by trails. Theoretically, a person can walk from village to village and enjoy the sites. It’s an entire day’s trip to do this so if you decide to go make sure you check the weather and plan accordingly. We were very lucky and had an absolutely gorgeous sunny day. It wasn’t too hot, but it was warm enough that we didn’t need a jacket all day, and the light on the villages was breathtaking.
We chose to visit the furthest village first and work our way back up so the train ride home would be shorter. Some people do it the other direction, but after a long day of climbing stairs and walking, I wanted to be back at the hotel as soon as possible.
It’s difficult to write about each individual village without sounding repetitive so, to summarize, they are gorgeous and have a distinct character all their own. Some are more flat than others and some had stairs and hills to climb to reach the churches and vista points, but I think the favorite was the last village, Monterosso. It was less village-like and had more of a beach town feel, not venturing far back into the valley and carrying most of its charm on the waterfront with open bars and restaurants and a long stretch of beach to walk along. It was a welcome change from the massive amounts of stairs we climbed in the other villages, though we had tons of fun in them all.
The next day…TBE12 here we come!