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Christina Witt

Rome – The Eternal City

By Hospitality in Genoa

Day 11:  

In this blog, I will only cover one day – our day in Rome. I’ve been to Rome before, but it has been over 20 years ago! What has changed? The ancient sites remain the same, but there are a LOT more tourists visiting now. Locals will tell you that during Covid lockdowns things were quiet, but since re-opening, there is never really an off-season.

After a quick breakfast, I took off on my own again. Many of the other students were there for the first time, and wanted to do certain main sites. I really wanted to have a different experience, and to have the freedom to explore. 

On my way to St. Peter’s Basilica, I:

  • Stopped by the Trevi Fountain, enjoyed this magnificent carving, and took some photos
  • Toured the Pantheon, this time, particularly looking for the resting place of the painter Raphael. 
  • Wandered small cobbled paths with antique stores, and small piazzas
  • Grabbed my morning macchiato at a coffee bar, next to Italian businessmen on their way to work
  • Upon arriving at the river, I was happy to see the Castel Sant’Angelo. The last time I was here I didn’t even see it. I would tour this later.

St. Peter’s Basilica:

I had enjoyed this magnificent site years ago, including climbing up the dome to the top viewpoint. This time, I planned to go inside and spend more time looking at the Pieta and other works. When I arrived, however, it was a made house. There were police and military guards everywhere, and i couldn’t figure out why. Maybe this is just the new way things are, post covid? I was turned away from one entry point, and tried another. Then I went through a metal detector security stop. Weird. 

Well, the mystery was solved when I saw, through the crowds, that the Pope was there! Each week he gives a blessing and greeting to all in attendance in the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s. I knew this was a thing, but didn’t realize that it was every Wednesday. So I joined the crowd to watch, and wave and take videos of the Pope as he waved goodbye and drove away.

After St. Peter’s, I walked back to Castel Sant’Angelo and toured this massive fortress. Originally built as a tomb from the Emperor Hadrian in the first century, it was made a fort in later years, then papal rooms were added on top. If you can imagine, it is like the levels of a three-tiered wedding cake. Anyway, it was incredible! I spent over two hours there.

Then I joined the massive crowed crossing the bridge, going towards the Colosseum. I took a detour to the Jewish Ghetto, visited a church, found a different Roman amphitheater, saw the Mouth of Truth, the Circus Maximus site, and walked all the way around Palestine Hill. My last and final stop was the Arch of Titus, the Forum, and the Colosseum. It was crazy busy there, so I just took new photos and got out of there. 

On the walk back to the hotel, I tried to take in the experience of my last moments in Rome, noticing the people, the shops – life, as I walked through normal, residential areas. I treated myself to a gelato, and heard a choral performance emanating from the open doors of a beautiful cathedral. 

Rome is a mix of dirt and grime, but also amazing Roman-era ruins tucked in practically at every turn, stunning palaces, many religious sites, and street after cobbled street of restaurants, cafes, shops, and piazzas. It is a crumbling, but vibrant city – a true joy for the lover of history.

On a Road Trip

By Hospitality in Genoa

Day 9: Pisa/Lucca/Florence

Today was the beginning of a three day trip to several major Italian tourist sites. Our plans: train travel to Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Rome. We would spend two nights away from our apartments in Genoa, and stay at hotels. 

I was so incredibly excited, that I had a hard time sleeping the night before. I’ve previously visited Rome, but had never gone to the other cities. 

In Pisa, we took the obligatory photos with the tower, but the most incredible part were the other buildings nearby – the church, baptistery, and cemetery. I highly recommend spending the majority of your time there, and enjoying these lesser appreciated sites.

Our second stop of the day was Lucca, a town with medieval walls that can be walked or biked. The students split up into various groups, each with their own agenda, or lack thereof. Another girl and I decided to stick together, and had a leisurely great meal of risotto and pizza in the main town square, a circle-shaped former Roman-era amphitheater. It was wonderful to get off of our feet and to relax a bit. Later we climbed a tower and enjoyed an incredible view of not only the city and the walls, but also the green hills surrounding Lucca, and beyond that – stunning mountains. 

Back onto the train, we packed into seats and made our way to Florence. This was the city I was most excited about! After quickly checking into our hotel, and getting ready for dinner, we would go onto have a traditional Florentine meal. I had an asparagus cream soup, and the beef steak, which I was told should be ordered rare. It was charred on the outside, and soft on the inside. Very good. Our meal lasted for 3 1/2 hours! Finally, tired and full, we made our way back to the hotel for a great night’s sleep.

Day 10: Florence

The weather was not cooperating with my plans. I’d envisioned a sunny day in Florence, perfect for looking up and appreciating the famous cathedral and other buildings. Yet, it started to rain, and was quite cold. 

After a nice hotel breakfast, we did an orientation tour of the city’s main buildings and piazzas. During free time, I took off on my own. I visited the Santa Croce church, which was an impressive structure, with a chapel and outdoor cloisters and garden space. The church housed the remains of the poet/philosopher Dante, the scientist Galileo, and Niccolo Machiavelli – the infamous political influencer of the Renaissance. The tomb of Michelangelo is there, but is supposedly not where his bones actually lie. I enjoyed a side chapel painted by Giotto, and paintings by Donatello. It was magnificent!

Then I visited a leather school, which actually created their own leather products by hand in a small school behind a beautiful church. I was able to watch some adjustments being made for clients, and purchased a nice leather wallet as a gift, with initials embossed with gold foil. One of the leather workers told me he had worked there for 21 years, and was trained by the original owner, who is now passed away. It is nice to support a local business like his, and to know that this is not a fake product from China. 

I wanted past the Galileo museum, the river Argo and the famous bridge, past the Ufizzi (I didn’t pre-buy tickets) and to Palazzo Vecchio. I didn’t pay to tour the entire building, but did enjoy the open access courtyard and atrium, which stunning architecture and paintings from the reign of the Hapsburg, who deposed the reign of the Medici. This city is an outdoor museum, really. Thankfully, the rain had dissipated and it was easier to appreciate what I was seeing. I did a lot of wandering, appreciated the Duomo and Baptistry from outside, and toured a beautiful perfumery that dates back to the 1200s (Franciscan monks, who practiced apothecary).

Finally, after grabbing some food and drinks at a shop, and eating in a piazza, I went to go see David. Tickets are incredibly hard to get, so I paid extra for a guided tour. It was worth it! So may people crowded into the Academia, but turning the corner and catching my first glimpse of David practically took my breath away. I won’t spoil it for the readers here by explaining too much…but I would say, if you appreciate art – go see it in person!

I practically ran to meet the group, grab my bag, and take the brisk walk back to the train state – destination: Rome.

A Hard Hike & A Day of Rest

By Hospitality in Genoa

Day 7: Cinque Terre

Today we woke up bright and early and took the train south for 1 1/2 hrs to the Cinque Terre area. This is a popular spot of Instagram influencers, promoting its startling turquoise-blue waters and five charming fishing villages. A network of hiking trails connect the villages, as well as a ferry boat and a regional train. Our group would arrive in Monterosso, then hike to the next town, Vernazza. The climb became challenging almost immediately, with the entry to the national park trails leading us up to steep & irregular stone stairs. The hike was beautiful. Better than I could have imagined, and more beautiful than photos could ever capture.

My favorite part of my time in the villages, was sitting on large rocks in the harbor of Vernazza and plunging my sore feet into the icy turquoise waters. I enjoyed a small pesto pizza and a coke that I’d bought to go from a restaurant, and people watched for an hour or so. The rest of the afternoon I spent checking out the other villages and taking the trains in between. The weather turned cold and rainy at the end of our day, so I took the train directly back to Genova at the end of the day without stopping. It was good to get back to the flat after our long day out again, and I slept wonderfully!

Day 8: A Day of Rest

Today was the first day of the trip with no set plans on the calendar. It is Sunday and so I was inclined to rest and not run around the city too much. After sleeping in and starting some laundry, I wanted around one of the piazzas where I found another FIU student sitting on the church steps. We wanted around town together, finding yummy pastries to try, and just noticing how different streets look on different days. Sometimes squares are dead, and at other times they are brimming with life, with people gathering around over food, or chatting with merchants at  vending booths. We lingered over old books and prints for sale at a flea market, wishing we could by them all, though we don’t read Italian!

On my way back to my flat, I did a little grocery shopping. I bought a pack of freshly sliced salami, cheese, a pack of marinated fresh olives, yogurts, cream (for my coffee), and a large multivitamin fruit juice – all for under 10 euros! Tonight I am packing for a 3 day outing to Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Rome – so I will enjoy my simple feast at “home” and get to bed early.

Now, I’m in the Piazza de Ferrari people-watching on this Sunday evening, and catching up on this blog. I love seeing people out and about. The endless parade of characters pass by, like actors on a stage.

I love Italy!

Historic Palaces & Fine Food

By Hospitality in Genoa

Day 5: Palazzi & Cooking Class

After our long trip to Turin & Lavazza coffee and a late night returning to Genoa, today would be a less scheduled and allow for more free time and rest. I was excited to learn more of the history of Genoa and to visit sights in the city. Since no one else seemed interested in this, I went alone. I took the public inter-city metro a few stops down, then started to walk up a big hill to a castle. Up, up, and up it went. Buses whizzed past me, and I wished I had figured out an easier way to get to the top of the hillside. Then I reached a series of stairs. It looked like it was hardly used by foot traffic anymore, and had green weeds sprouting in every crack. Up, up, and up. I would reach the top, I was determined at this point to not give up!

Finally I reached the top and found the castle surrounded by a beautiful treed park that was open to the public. Locals walked their dogs and greeted one another. An elementary school group passed me, boisterous and happy to be on an outing with their classmates. The park also featured a wonderful view of Genoa and the port. 

This castle – Castello d’Albertis – is a “new” one – only from the late 1800s. It was built as the home of an eclectic sea captain, who after traveling the world, decided to settle down and make a home for himself. In it, he incorporates treasures from his travel, a Moorish design, a library, and a nod to Christopher Columbus in a lovely statue overlooking the port of Genova, and also in mural paintings.

I found by talking to some British tourists that there is an easier way to get up that hill – to take the mountain lift! Our host professor had taken us to one, but I thought that was the only one in the city! Now I knew that there are several. I took this lift down and over to a location closer to the city center. Then I proceeded to walk down the street “via Balbi” – which is lined with palazzi (palaces) of the Renaissance time period. I toured the ocean-facing Palazzo de Reale, with magnificent marble terraces boasting a gorgeous view of the water and ships. There was also a lovely small garden with a fountain, lily pads and flowers, red roses, statues, and a river-rock pathway with figures of horses, men, palaces, and more.

That evening I joined some other students and we had a cooking class, learning to make Ligurian cuisine. Our chef Francesco had us making focaccia, a vegetable pie with a delicate pastry crust, gnocchi, pesto, and tiramisu. We were all able to be hands on and I really enjoyed making the pie pastry crust, with olive oil instead of butter. Olive oil is in everything! I also liked how simple the focaccia was, and the special liquid blend to finish it off at the end gives it a crunchy finish, but keeps it soft inside.

After eating the food we cooked, we enjoyed a downhill walk back towards our flats, and working off a bit of all the carbs we ate! We eat bread, pasta, pastries every day, but I’m actually feeling healthier and think I’ve lost a few pounds on the trip with all the walking we’ve been doing.

Day 6:  Piedmont – a “Slow Food” Experience

A private charter bus took us from Piazza de Ferrari back to the Piedmont region, but this time, to the countryside. We made our way through the forested hills until we reached the wine county, dotted with farms and vineyards. A brief stop at a small village gave us lovely panoramic views of the area. Even a rainy day could not ruin the charm of such a beautiful area of the country. 

Our main stop was to be at a vineyard, which we toured and learned about the wine-making process. The cellars were very interesting. Then we enjoyed a meal of “slow food” – good, regional foods, well-prepared, and each course paired with a wine. This meal would last for a few hours. 

The 4-course Piemontese menu:

  • Girello cotto al rosa e la salsa tonnata (veal with tuna-mayonnaise sauce, stupendous classic)
  • Agnolotto alle tre carni secondo la tradizione Piemontese (ravioli with meat sauce)
  • Faraona “Le Camille”, fegati e salsiccia (Guinea fowl with livers and sausage)
  • Brioche e gelato alla nocciola Tonda Gentile (brioche with hazelnut ice cream)
  • Dessert served with Coffee

While the other students and I all had our own opinions of each dish, we all agreed that it was a unique experience and that the meal was relaxing. My favorite place was a tie between the “Agnolotto alle tre carni” or the “Faraona “Le Camille”, fegati e salsiccia.”

What I particularly enjoyed was the slow service of each course, and the attentive staff. Overall, this was a dining experience that I will not forget!

Sunny Beaches & Cool Coffee

By Hospitality in Genoa

Day 3: The Seaside 

To further enjoy the Liguria coastline, today we took a train south about 35 minutes from Genoa to Santa Margareta de Liguria. 

Our group was planning to meet at the central train station, which was a 15-20 minute walk. I relied on Google maps to show me the way – which did not work out very well. I ended up taking a longer route, and it was a little over 20 minutes from my apartment. Thankfully, I had a few minutes to grab a cappuccino from the bar at the train station, which was very convenient.

Upon arrival in this charming historic resort town, I enjoyed a bit of free time wandering down the main walking street and sitting in the warm morning sun and eating a small fruit tart for breakfast. I also popped into the church that dominated the town square, and admired the stained glass windows.

The rest of the day was just fantastic. Our boat took us to Portofino, then to San Frutuosso, then to Camogli.

Being out on the water gave a lovely 360 degree view of green forested hills/mountains and we could see villas spread across the hillsides in between towns. Thankfully, we had blue, sunny skies to enjoy.

Portofino used to be an unknown fishing village, but was discovered and turned into a popular high-end stop. The harbor leads into the small town square, looking very much like the town of Portorosso in the Disney animated film, “Luca.” Climbing the hillside to the right of the marina gives excellent views of the harbor and town. What was the most breathtaking, however, was the cemetery behind the hilltop church. Sitting on top of this seaside promontory, individuals have been laid to rest by their families in a place that is serene and beautiful. Plaques on gravestones show that many are familial, and dated back from the 1800s. A small outlook at the back of the cemetery provides a priceless view of the rugged coastline and turquoise waters crashing below.

The next boat took us to San Fruttuoso, the site of a former monastery, which is inaccessible by car. This secluded cove was a spectacular combination of turquoise, green, and blue, with the gothic arches of the stone monastery facade standing watch over the small harbor. Small jellyfish were spotted floating alongside the boat. Some of our group went to have lunch in the small restaurants tucked in and around the cove. Others, including myself, took a small trail behind the monastery and around the hill to a tiny, rocky beach. The water was cold, but the enticing color and the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean was enough to drive me to go in. After some time in the water, I enjoyed lounging in the sun with other students, just delighting in the beauty of this unique place. I definitely will come back here.

Our next and final stop was the town of Camogli. The skies had gotten overcast and by this time it was late afternoon. I grabbed a piece of pizza (pizza Al taglia) from a shop for a light lunch, then enjoyed a gelato as we wandered around the church and fort on the hill. A train ride back to Genoa completed our travels for the day.

I am just so impressed with the lovely pastel hues of the Genoa area coastline. It is a perfect vacation spot to relax and enjoy some fun on the coast.

Day 4:  Turin

This morning we got an early start down at the train station, and we embarked on a 2 1/2 train ride to the northern city of Turin (Turino). This city had a prominent role as a local hovering seat of aristocratic rule of the region, as well as having been the first capital of a united Italy. 

Having heard that Turin was famous for their chocolate, I took a few free moments upon arrival to run over to a chocolatier shop. The sweet lady working in the shop spoke English, and was able to give me a brief history of the company (founded in late 1800s), along with showing me a picture book of the process of making chocolates by hand. Their chief boast is the high concentration of hazelnuts to chocolate, making a delicious and creamy combination.

Rejoining the group, we made our way over to the taxi stand, where we took five taxis to the edge of town to the Lavazza coffee company’s factory and Training & Innovation center. After being served a welcome coffee of choice, our group took turns going through the factory and seeing the process from beginning to end. We also saw the training facilities which they use to train baristas around the world to make their coffee properly and provide a standardized experience. Our Lavazza host, the senior coffee trainer, was enthusiastic in his presentation, and a great representative for the company’s mission.

After this we had lunch at the company cafeteria, then toured the Lavazza museum. 

Then we finally had some free time in the city center. I happily went to the Palazzo Reale, and toured the palace of the Savoys, including the family rooms, the throne room, dining rooms, an amazing armory, and extensive art and sculpture collections.

Only having a few minutes to spare, and knowing I wouldn’t have time for a sit down meal, I grabbed a piece of pizza and bottle of water from a shop in the main square. Despite its great location, the price was only 2 euros for the pizza! I chose one with olives and something like thinly sliced zucchini on it, and they warmed it up for me. It was perfect! I ate it as I leaned against a tall sting column and people watched. A couple of pigeons saw me eating, and started watching me, eagerly waiting for me to drop something.

On the way back to meet up with the group, I enjoyed seeing more piazzas with bronze statues and the wide boulevards with fine shops lining both sides. Turin has definitely piqued my interest, and I would love to come back for a longer visit.

Genova: First Impressions

By Hospitality in Genoa


Genoa trip

Day 1: First Impressions

2:20pm: Milano

Wow, today has been a long day so far.

I’ve been awake for 24 hours now, having flown out of Florida on Saturday morning. My connecting flight in Atlanta was delayed by over 2 hours, in addition to the 4 hour layover.

On the flight, I was able to catch a bit of sleep, which I credit not to the spaciousness of my seat, but to the awesome inflatable travel pillow that I purchased. So happy I brought that!

Feeling like a zombie, I wondered off the plane in Milan’s Malpensa airport, through passport control, and towards the bus. I planned to take the bus, but couldn’t figure it out, so I bought a ticket for the Airport Express train into the city.

Trying to speak Italian when jet lagged is hard. I understand a lot and can read signs, so that is helpful.

I saw bell towers in villages, and bright red poppies decorating the gravel around the train tracks.

After struggling to stay awake on the train, I exited at the main train station and quickly found a train leaving for Genoa shortly. I purchased my ticket on the Tranitalia app – extremely easy. Once I boarded and the train started, I could self-check-in on the app. All I had to do was show this to the train employee when he came though to check tickets.

The architecture of the homes and apartments that I see from the window remind me a lot of Germany/Austria, except with orange tile roofs.

Genova: 3:40pm

The 1 1/2 hour train ride went by quickly and as we needed Genova it looked beautiful against the hills. Hailing a taxi was quite simple, and thankfully I had some cash to pay – his credit card reader was broken. The ride reminded me of an old Disneyland ride called °Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” but it wasn’t too bad. No one died at the end. It was easy to meet up with the housing agent and I was surprised with how close my apartment was to the main squares of the city.

Honestly, the first walk around the city was a blur, as I was so tired. Beautiful old buildings, a lovely view overlooking the city, tunnels, hills, a port with boats, and a million places to eat.

We ended our evening with a lovely dinner at a local trattoria, where I tried a pasta dish of vegetable stuffed ravioli with a delicate walnut cream sauce, stuffed and fried anchovies and eggplant, and tiramisu for dessert. The rustic atmosphere of the trattoria had a classic, old world charm, and you could tell that it was a favorite with local families.

Day 2:

Monday morning found us with plans to meet up with Professor Rice at 10am in the Piazza de Ferrari.

As I was still recovering from jet lag, I took the opportunity of a late start to find a cafe and order my first coffee in Italy.

I had read that the locals often drink their coffee “at the bar” standing, that that there are two different prices – one for sitting, once for standing. So I walked in and ordered my cappuccino in Italian “al banco” and had it standing. Afterwards, I people watched in the Piazzo Matteotti, and browsed a used book sale. I wanted to buy everything, but then I remembered I have no luggage space, nor do I read much Italian!

Our tour with Rice was fast paced, taking us to old Renaissance buildings, including a repurposed one that is now a bank. We meandered through many different alleyways, which I will never remember how to return to…maybe I should have left a breadcrumb trail

ended up at the port of Genoa, which is a lovely area with wide walking space and many shops and restaurants.

After a visit to the Genova market, we made our way down to the train station and took the train 4 stops down to Genova Nervi. My first impression was that this area is a lovely break from the hubbub of the city center. The seaside is right there, but there is also a large park with gardens and a seaside promenade that connects you to the small fishing village. The turquoise waters splashing on the jagged rocks reminds me of La Jolla beach in California (near San Diego), but with calmer waters along the Italian coast.

Being a coastal town means that seafood is everywhere! I tried a codfish and potato piatti primi for lunch today, as we enjoyed escaping the hot sun on the promenade.

My evening included joining another student for an aperitivo, wandering by the port, and also doing a little grocery shopping at a little market near my flat.

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