Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Genoa

Our excursion for Tuesday took us to Genoa, which has had several "golden ages" in its long history. It was a shipping town, a banking town, and of course the home of Christopher Columbus. Today it has more than 600,000 residents -- and more than 100,000 motor scooters! We saw large parking lots filled with nothing but scooters. Our bus driver told us that he, like many local residents, doesn't own a car -- just a scooter.

One of the highlights of Genoa was a walk down the Via Garibaldi, a street of palazzi, or mansions, dating to the 1500s. Genoa is a very cramped city, being squeezed in between the mountains and the sea, so these are not mansions that sit on huge expanses of land. Instead the streets are narrow and you have to poke your head inside one of the entryways to see how ostentatious the buildings are. Here's a little section of one of the frescoes from the ceiling inside one of the homes on Via Garibaldi.

Another good photo op was the Church of San Lorenzo, which features a variety of architectural styles -- Romanesque, French Gothic, even Moorish. The main entrance features bas-relief sculptures and two big lion sculptures. Here's a shot of one of the portals.

We also went to the Diocesan Museum, where Cristina, one of our guides for the day, gave us a short slide show/lecture on Genoa. After lunch at a local restaurant, we made a short stop at the Palazzo Ducale, which was built in the Middle Ages. I didn't catch much of the detail about this one -- actually, I always find that it's hard to take pictures and pay attention to the guide at the same time. Given a choice, I tend to take pictures! I figure I'll catch about 20 percent of what's being said and get the rest from the other passengers or the guidebooks afterward. You might refer to this as the "Shoot first, ask questions later" approach to touring.

Anyway, we didn't spend long at the Palazzo Ducale, just long enough to wander by a big art installation having something to do with the famed Chinese terra-cotta army. When we were there, workers were unpacking dozens of huge crates, each crate containing a terra-cotta soldier. It made for an irresistible photo op.

After we headed back to our hotel in Sestri Levante, we had a reception sponsored by the Penn State Alumni Association -- a tradition on Alumni Association tours. A highlight was when two of the men in the group, who had never met each other before the trip, showed up in matching Penn State shirts:

Also at the reception, the 23 Penn State travelers were joined by five Penn State students who happen to be in Italy this semester on a Study Abroad program. The students took the train over from Florence, where they're based, and hung out with us for the evening. The travelers seemed to love meeting them -- in fact, within an hour, two Penn State couples told me that when they visit Florence on Saturday (our free day), some of the students have volunteered to show them around the city.

Originally the students were planning to just stay for the reception and then head back on the 8:45 p.m. train, but everyone was having such a great time that we invited them to stay for dinner, compliments of the Alumni Association (note to the folks back in the travel office: I made an executive decision on that -- hope you don't mind! :-)) and the students decided to go back on the midnight train. Umberto, our trip director, gave them directions to a local bar they could hang out in before heading to the train station. They weren't scheduled to get back to Florence until 5:00 a.m., but they didn't seem to mind at all -- just another of their adventures in Italy this semester.

The students seemed to enjoy the travelers just as much as the travelers enjoyed the students. One of the students told me afterward that it was the highlight of their semester to be able to talk to other Penn Staters -- "a taste of home," as they put it.

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