Sunday, May 1, 2011

Italy: Spring 2011: Day 5: Sunday, May 1: Prato to Genova

Today is the first of May….a big holiday in Italy.  We are concerned that there may not too many places open for breakfast and, in fact, the town is closed up tight……but the Cafe Buonamici, where we went a few days ago, is open and there is no problem.

While packing up and getting ready to leave, we hear a lot of noise outside and the sound of horns practicing which makes us curious about what’s going on.  I walk over to bring the car to the Residence to pack it up.  As we pull around the corner, we find the street blocked with marchers 
and musicians in Renaissance costumes ready to start a procession.

We quickly figure out that the ceremony for the display of the Sacred Girdle is going to take place now and not at 6 pm as the lady at the tourist office had told me yesterday.  Since we are off to meet our friend Maddie in 30 minutes and given the potential difficulty of finding a place to park and getting back to the Piazza del Duomo in time, we give up on the idea of seeing the ceremony this time.  But we do spend a few minutes grumbling about the ineptitude of the tourist office staff.

On the way to Poggio a Caiano to have coffee with Maddie (also a colleague of mine in the travel business), we drive through one of the industrial areas of Prato where dozens of textile establishments line the road….almost all of them have signs in both Italian and Chinese.


Maddie (along with her husband Marcello) take us to a nearby town–Quarrata (once described to us as the ugliest town in Tuscany)–to have coffee on the piazza.   (It doesn’t seem to be ugly at all, just modern – certainly not the main piazza.)  We encounter a big May 1 labor demonstration going on complete with a cavalcade of tractors which makes our get- together a bit noisy but we have a nice chat (business and personal) before we head off to Genova.

The drive to Genova takes just over 2 hours on the autostrada with a quick stop for lunch at an Autogrill.  Our GPS is right on target and we find the hotel with no problems.  (On our previous trips to Genova–pre-GPS–we had a great deal of difficulty navigating the city.  This time it is easier, thanks also to it being a Sunday and holiday.)

The Hotel Plaza is a modern business hotel…the first room they gave us was very small and the desk clerk thought long and hard before giving us a slightly larger one next door.  But the room is bright and modern and comfortable….the biggest downside is that internet is very expensive.  Hopefully it will be fast and reliable for the price…..

After getting settled, we head out to explore the city.  The day has turned warm and sunny and we head toward the main square (Piazza de Ferrari) walking down the Via Roma which is lined with fancy shops like Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton.  The Piazza de Ferrari is huge with a spectacular fountain in the middle and people are hanging out in the piazza enjoying the holiday.


It is a far cry from our initial impressions of Genova on our previous visit where we got lost trying to find a laundromat down in the old city’s warren of alleys. 

We walk through an antique show/flea market being held in the Palazzo Ducale and spilling out into the piazza below.  I ask at the tourist office about laundromats and they mark out three places for me on the map–two in the old city and one which you can drive to…this is the most likely candidate.

We continue our stroll down Via Garibaldi, the street of grand palazzos from the 16th century when Genova was a world naval and commercial power.   The buildings are massive and are decorated with statues, carvings, frescoes, trompe-l’oeil, etc.



Now some of the buildings have been turned into museums while others are still banks and insurance companies.   

Since it is May 1 and a Sunday, many restaurants are closed and I make another exploratory walk to find a place for dinner tonight.  Not far from the hotel, I find a place that is open (I am not even sure what the name is)…it is a very stylish place and has an extensive antipasto bar and lots of people drinking.  I make a reservation for later without seeing the menu…I am told that it is recited by the server and he isn’t at work yet.  So tonight we are living dangerously and spontaneously…..

All ends well….dinner is actually mostly very good. The server recites the menu in rapid fire Italian and we make our choices from the dishes we recognize.  Only later do we learn that the waiter indeed does speak English….:)

Diana has a sformato (flan) of asparagus that is very nice and a less successful dish of gnocchi with asparagus and shrimp, while I have very tasty oysters wrapped in bacon (not what I think of as Italian) and a delicious plate of lasagnetta (flat wide noodles) with pesto.  The wine is a ribolla giallo from Friuli–he first offered one for Euro 40.00 but we asked for a less expensive bottle and got one that was fine.

When I get back to the hotel and look at the recent NY Times Travel article “36 Hours in Genoa”, I find that Mua’ is listed as the best new restaurant in town and the place where the beautiful people in Genova hang out.  :)


It’s a short, pleasant, mostly level walk back to the hotel…..unusual in this very hilly city.

Tomorrow we plan a day trip to Camogli, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino.

Jim and Diana

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