Up, down and around

Our last full day in Genoa.  A Monday which was to have some bearing on activities.  Firstly we found the breakfast buffet much less crowded. There is a super choice available, even bacon and eggs for the diehards, or die youngs!

Once out and about it was to the Porte Soprano to gaze at one of the old gates of the city.  Beyond the two turrets a tiny and delicate cloister and below the purported house of Christopher Columbus.  Lou was more interested in a car park stuffed with scooters! 🙂

The museum and the apparent entrance to the only remaining part of the city walls was closed….on Mondays.  We walked along its supposed route hoping to catch a glimpse of it but no.

However, there was a church I was keen to see and so began the frustrating task of matching map to the reality around one.  Lou sat on a wall while I checked out likely candidates. Genoa seems to have a church on every corner.  Walking together up a side street we found the end of that wall, open to all and sundry.  Tant pis!

Another bout of map reading and we plunged back into the alleyways.  Suddenly pretty ceramic plaques began to appear and the search became much easier.  In the nick of time too as Lou was beginning to lose his sense of humour.  The church was tucked up a steep and twisty street and was magnificent inside.

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As I wandered about inside a guide approached me and offered an English tour and access to the treasures.  My ‘treasure’ would have combusted at the idea of a long wait and, to be honest, charming as the lady was, standing next to her was like being beside an overloaded dirty ashtray.  But she was keen to share her knowledge and when I remarked how amazed I always was that the church paintings etc survived the many upheavals over time eg the last war, she pounced and told me the French bombardment in 1684 was the worst and then later Napoleon turning everywhere republican.  Note to self, brush up on European history!  Also, she continued, the Genoa museum covets the paintings and she pointed to one painted by a student of Caravaggio.  As I left she switched on a chapel light and persuaded me to look at a retable painted by a young man of 21 in the mid 1400s.  There is a legend that, annoyed at not being paid for his work, he painted six toes on one of the saints.  I counted, there were six!

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As I took the above photo she told me about another church that has chapels devoted to the workmen. Guilds? I asked. Ah, yes, she replied, ‘i am Russian and I learnt my English many years ago’.  I left her lighting up a fag outside.

Rejoining Lou, we walked down to the harbour side and along to the very old arcades known as sopporive and had coffee outside one of the tiny bars.   We discussed how so many buildings in Genoa have been built on the remains of much earlier ones rather than knocking everything flat and starting  again.

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We decided to look for a trattoria for our evening meal that I had looked up online as we were close-ish to it.  Crossing piazza banchi a blonde woman was playing what sounded like a south American flute.  As we approached she started to sing.  A beautiful contralto voice and one of my favourite pieces of music, ‘summertime’.  A moment to pause awhile.

At the trattoria the lovely owner was very sorry but they were closed that evening and only opened at lunch as they were celebrating her daughter’s birthday that afternoon.  She dashed inside and came back with a recommendation of another place but was concerned it, too, would be shut.  I googled it later and it was! Monday strikes again.

Back to base to rest the feet and Google nearby eateries.  A trattoria came up in the next street so off we went.  A very humble and higgledy piggledy place.  We sat at a long table and struggled with a handwritten menu with no translation.  But it was fine, stuffed anchovies, his with chips, mine with aubergine, plus beer and Fanta, 14 euros the lot.  A busy place with the locals and popular.  Not surprising.

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After the debacle of the funicular, I had identified an art deco elevator in the guide book that promised an interesting view of rooftops.  Quite near the hotel and close to another possible evening meal location. (That was closed for holidays).  The elevator was nothing special but the floor was pretty.

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The view was ok and the area more upmarket than below.  The other lift was closed but we decided to walk down.  The street was steep and paved with narrow bricks that reminded me of the bricks used for houses in Tarn and Garonne.  At the sides there were shallow steps which made the vertiginous hill easier to negotiate.  The houses were burnt orange and yellow ochre with doors and windows grills painted in dark glossy green.  Quite a change from below.

As we stumbled off the hill we found ourselves on via Garibaldi and opposite the ice cream shop.  We thought we were wise to this now and ordered small cones.  Alas, huge again.  Lou stopped her adding more ice-cream halfway!  As we finished I realised we weren’t far from the church the guide lady had mentioned.  With a long suffering sigh Lou agreed to help me find it.  We took an alleyway from the posh, UNESCO museums area and walked into a narrow, gloomy and scruffy netherworld.  I began to notice women sitting on doorsteps and realized we were in the red light district.  Ladies with everything on offer who met your glance with defiant glares. I wondered if the city licences them as they seemed quite open as they stood on alley corners and chatted to one another.  In the midst of the nastiest, narrowest, darkest alley a stone wall and archway appeared and there was the church.  Large outside and monumental inside, ornately decorated on every available surface.  While I was gawping a chap gave Lou a leaflet in English explaining the history of the place.  So many big churches down tiny alleyways.  Rich and poor cheek by jowl.

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Exhausted by now it was back to the hotel and then down to Delle Erbe for pizza.  Home to pack for Bologna

 

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Meier and market magic

Sunday morning was Vivian Meier morning but as we walked through the Palazzo Ducale (it has become my favourite space in Genoa) we found lots of antique stalls and more outside on the piazza. Bliss!

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The exhibition was just opening so we spent a very tranquil time in front of her photos with only a handful we had seen before. From there it was on to Elliot Erwitt, a photographer of whom i hadn’t heard but Lou had. In colour so a good contrast with Vivian.

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After that it was defo time for coffee so my first proper Italian cappuccino.

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And some people watching, bien sur!

Then back to those stalls. Some amazing things for sale, real antiques and collectibles eg Barbie dolls. 🙂 Inside I thought I had finally found the book style photo frame I’ve been searching for but it was too tatty.  Lots of jewellery and amongst it some unusual earrings. 10 euros and they were mine!

It was back to piazza del erbe for lunch to try the other cafe whose menu I fancied.  We both had fish dishes, beautifully cooked and presented, a light lunch before the walk to find the funicular.

Now, I had researched Genoa and had an article I had pulled out of the Sunday times of how to spend a weekend in the city. I quote ‘from there it is a short stroll to the first fort’. This being from Righi, the place at the top of said funicular. Finding the bottom was challenging enough! We had walked right along the port with a lot of people out and about enjoying a Sunday in the sun. The funicular station was tucked away behind a set of stone steps. A nice young man helped us buy automatic tickets and off we went. Our experience of funiculars is limited but exotic. This was not open and leafy – Budapest or open and dizzying height – Hong Kong but dark and mostly in a tunnel. My claustrophobia started to kick in. We were distracted by the poor young mum opposite whose gorgeous baby girl had just leaked poo all over her!

At the top Lou asked which way and I had no idea. No signs and our map didn’t go out that far.  So we started walking up the hill hoping a viewpoint would appear.  One did but a bit hindered by nearby buildings.  Meanwhile some couples and several cars were passing us in the same direction so we pushed on up the now wooded road but only tiny glimpses of Genoa and the med far below. There had been a sign for a cafe so I hoped we’d find that. We did and grabbed the last empty table on the shady terrace.  The decision was made that we cut our losses and go back down to the old town. I was bursting for a pee but on finding the loo was hectored by an Italian lady I didn’t understand. A young girl explained the toilet was being cleaned. Shall I come back in five minutes I asked. Ten was the reply. As I left I heard the girl behind the counter say bravo. Charming! I was a legit customer.

So, back down the hill and, after a quick look at the viewpoint above the station, back down on the funicular. Ice cream, I decided, preferably a gelatina with a loo.

We found both in a very clean place on via Garibaldi. We also found that medium means HUGE. We slurped our way through a large quantity of the cold stuff and made good use of the facilities.

IMG_20170904_153846177meandering along we came to the tourist office. I went in hoping for a bigger map of Genoa.  The lady was very helpful but apologetic that there was no map.  However, she came up with a leaflet about the forts and a walkers map of the immediate area around them.  Then she suddenly became animated and told us it was free entrance all day, first Sunday in the month, to the national gallery.  Another map and scribbles to help us find it. We did, more by luck than judgement, and explored all its floors.  Well, I did. Around the third floor Lou had had enough of painted ceilings and gold plasterwork so disappeared downstairs.  I continued up to the attics and enjoyed the ceramics and fabrics.

I was ready for a cup of tea and kicking off my shoes back at the hotel but Lou had seen a shoulder bag dirt cheap and fancied buying it.  Back to the main tourist street to find it, back through the Palazzo Ducale and home for that cuppa.

Later, we returned to our morning coffee stop to eat ‘typical’ Genovese food or so we were told.  Lou had pasta with tomato and chilli sauce and I had minestrone that was so thick with veg I was surprised the spoon didn’t stand up in it. Primi platti but still substantial. I followed with polpettoni as the ricotta and spinach pie had finished and Lou had salad. All very filling and eaten in a busy alleyway. Brill.

 

 

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G for Genoa, GPS and gin!

Another sunny drive from Arles after a much better breakfast buffet than the ibis budget in the same building! The coast road is a series of tunnels and viaducts with views of the sea and deep valleys, cluttered with those mysterious greenhouses, once past the Italian border.

The GPS had said our route choice was not possible but still took us to a tiny street and announced we had arrived at our destination. We clearly hadn’t!  Then followed a frustrating half hour while we tried various streets none of which ‘she’ recognised. Parking up I rang the hotel for advice. The road I was given as not pedestrianised was ‘unknown’ by the GPS. Finding a piazza that was, we parked up and then spotted on the screen the unknown road appearing nearby! Gross mots were uttered!

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Proceeding on foot we found the hotel and asked how to get the car to it!  Not easy, we would never have made it ourselves.

Once settled in, a room with a typical Italian view, we forgot our frustrations by doing some exploring.

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Being a port city there are similarities to Naples with the very tall buildings in the old town but the alleyways are narrower and glimpses into entrances reveal glossy interiors that contrast sharply with the graffitied facades. We strolled down to the dockside which we had driven along earlier cursing and gave ourselves better memories!

Wandering back through the alleys we found a piazza full of tables and decided to eat there later.

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There was a marked contrast as we walked back across the main piazza del Ferreira to find the hotel. Sumptuous buildings and pretty marble underfoot.

Later we took advantage of the aperitivo, a local custom, and ate well and cheaply.  On the way back we walked through the Palazzo Ducale, a magnificent building that nowadays is accessed by all and sundry. Its ancient owners must be positively spinning in their graves.

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Ateliers in Arles

A different route to Arles as, after two aller retours this year, we fancied a change. The GPS hiccuped in Aurillac which was annoying but once on the road towards the gorges du lot and the three es, entraygues, estaing and espalion, we bowled along in the sunshine and without much traffic. The gorges are rocky, forested and windy. I had a dyslexic moment when we passed a hydroelectric dam and, for me, the water was the ‘wrong’ side. Then I realised that we were travelling south whereas the Lot travels north at that point.

Montpellier was easy with no jams which was good as we were expecting some it being Friday afternoon.  Safely arrived in Arles, the styles ibis for a change but still no tea or coffee in the room, we did a quick turnaround for the walk to les ateliers for the Annie Leibowitz exhibition, part of Les Rencontres festival.  The old SNCF workshops had undergone some very adventurous restoration since we were there three years ago and included a very tall, very twisted structure whose purpose we couldn’t devine.

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The photos recalled our early years of marriage, very apposite this holiday, showing politicians and musicians from the 70s. Elton John looked such a baby, not to mention Keith Richards!

A wander around the beautiful centre ville and back to the hotel to change. Another walk back into town to eat at le geuele de loup, a restaurant we had fond memories of from last may.

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Scrumptious food again with interesting combinations of flavours.  And they remembered us from last time. Peacock is a rare name we were told. 🙂

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fifty years on….

On Saturday, 9th September 1967 we got married in my village church and left the next day from Victoria station to travel to Italy by train. (my fear of flying is longlived).  We went courtesy of Swan tours and were booked to stay in the Hotel du Lac at Bellagio on Lake Como.  My first foreign holiday since school trips to the South of France some years earlier.  Lou was an old hand at foreign travel as he regularly visited Switzerland to stay with his big sister in Geneva.  This friday we leave for Italy again.  Fifty years on.  This time by car (I still don’t fly) and we are planning to stay in some other cities before our sentimental visit to the same hotel in Bellagio.  I note it is still run by the same family.  Our golden wedding celebration.  Some couples do it surrounded by family and friends but that has never been our style and our preferred time for a summer break has always been around our anniversary and, since retirement, it has been possible.  The ruby wedding one saw us go by train to China via Russia and Mongolia.  That was before the financial ‘crise’ and was the culmination of many daydreams.  This is a nostalgic return to a beautiful place with lovely memories.  Looking at the old slides that have survived several house moves and one emigration we look ridiculously young and naively optimistic.

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Reading the scrapbook I made afterwards (paper and pen being the forerunner of the blog) I was reminded amongst other things of our fellow British holiday makers, all of a certain age, (ours now!) who sat at breakfast with their English marmalade and at dinner with their English mustard. Does their like exist anymore? Maybe. Perhaps we shall see…

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down memory lane…

earlier in the year lou started to reminisce about the few days we spent in the cevennes the summer we bought the camper.  discussing it we realised that was more than twenty years ago!  our combined memories were a tad hazy.  i remembered the river by the campsite and having dinner in the pretty courtyard garden of an auberge in aveze whereas lou only recalled the drive away from wherever it was we stayed with its wonderful views and many campsites.  so i started to research once i had established the approximate area we had visited, the herault valley above le vigan.

as usual i took account of various reviews and google earth street view to decide whether a place would suit.  boring for some but half the fun for me! 🙂

finally le mouretou at valleraugue at the foot of mont aigoual seemed a good place to base ourselves.  so that’s where we went.  a five hour drive taking in the millau viaduct and a sarnie stop next to a cornfield full of poppies.

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passing through le vigan we didn’t recognise it at all but the scenery was living up to our expectations.

the campsite was easily found and seemed empty at first sight.  we picked a lovely big pitch with lots of shade and great views of the surrounding hills.

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behind us was the camp pool of which i quickly made use once the tent was up.  an hour and a half saw everything in place by which time i really needed to cool off! i explored the site too, discovering that the river, vaunted as a good place for kids to mess about, was actually a bit gloomy as the far bank hung over the shallow water which was splashing over large rocks.  a lady was sitting in midstream on a green plastic chair reading a book.  i decided i preferred the pool.  the rest of the site was rather gloomy too with a lot of undergrowth and trees shading every pitch, good in the summer heat but made me feel a bit claustrophobic.

early to bed and i slept like a log until the cacophony of the dawn chorus woke me up at five thirty.  so snug in my cosy bed i just rolled over and slept another couple of hours.

our plan had been to try and walk some of the 4000 steps walk which is a ‘boucle’ of 25km taking in the top of mont aigoual.  with very high temperatures lou suggested driving to the top and walking there where the heat wouldn’t be such a problem.  so armed with the makings of a picnic we took the beautiful drive upwards,

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the road was very twisty and it was a while before we found l’esperou and the higher ski station of prat peyrot.  arriving at the summit we were suprised by the strength of the wind.  an extra layer of clothing was required!  we climbed up to the table d’orientation because it was there and to try and see the mediterranean.  we couldn’t.  too hazy.

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we found the cafe/restaurant and had coffee before going off to explore the various walks.  the wind calmed a bit as we went down into the trees.  the wealth of flowers and butterflies was amazing.  i was interested to note that the type of butterfly changed as we went under the trees.

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the brown ones were replaced by much darker ones.  the distances you can see from up there are truly amazing but, sadly, the heat haze prevented us seeing the quarter of france written about in the brochure.  after an hour of strolling around and taking photos we climbed back up to the top and took lunch in the restaurant.  salad with local goat cheese, pelardon, followed by bilberry tart.

after lunch we went to visit the meteo station and its museum.  there was a lot of informative stuff but the extreme weather statistics for the mont itself were the most interesting.  apparently the winter of 1995/96 had the highest snowfall.

a long brouse in the shop and then we tried to find another route down the mountain but had to double back.  l’esperou seemed shut when we reached it so i couldn’t find any info about winter raquette walking.  we stopped at the observation point seen on the way up and discovered it was intended for trying to see the mouflon who roam the moutain side.  the last time we had read about them was on corsica.  as in corsica, we didn’t spot any this time either.

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back to the campsite for a snooze and a swim before another lazy evening enjoying the peace and beauty of the campsite views.  having chosen the campsite for its restaurant it turned out not to be open when we were there.  so it was back to the stock of tinned suppers and spag bol!

the second night i didn’t sleep as well, probably due to sleeping so long the night before.  i still managed to sleep through lou getting up for a call of nature and to miss most of the dawn chorus.

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a leisurely start to the day as we slowly packed up and sorted stuff back into the car working on the basis it all came out so must all go back in!  a couple across from us stopped by to chat, he was french, she was a kiwi so english was mostly spoken.  camping tips were swapped and a good suggestion given of where to do raquette walking in the jura.

before we left the area we drove through le vigan, still not recognising where we cycled last time and then found aveze where i spotted the campsite, river and pretty auberge.   we’ll be back when the weather isn’t so hot and we can do some proper walking.

 

 

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last gasp

tuesday 2nd may 2017

we had eaten in the ibis styles restaurant on monday evening overlooking the swimming pool and the pink evening sky.   alas, the sky at night may have been a shepherd’s delight but the morning was grey and damp when we woke up.  months before i had seen an article on the french lunchtime news about a bird park in the camargue where the birds were so used to visitors that it was possible to get photos of the usually timid flamingoes.  i had been online and found that it was only a half hour drive to the south of arles.  despite the rain in the air when we checked out lou primed the gps and off we went, me hoping nothing had been left behind!

as we drove closer and closer to pont de gau it became clear that the rain was getting heavier rather than lessening.   even so i was able to spot white horses standing in the damp undergrowth, waterfowl pecking in the rice paddies and a great yellow sweep of flag iris along both sides of one of the many canals.  no flamingoes though.

at pont de gau we decided against the visit.  sitting in wet coats and shoes for the five hours it would take to drive home afterwards was an uninviting prospect.   so we turned for home and the waiting cats.

the idea of meeting in arles and watching the fete des gardians together had been mooted by viv when she was planning her month in europe.  it appealed to me as i love arles and the fete was new to me.  i am so glad we went despite the rain and so a big thank you to viv for her suggestion, to alan for getting her there and charm just for being charm!  🙂

 

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