Week 5: Part 1: Day 29 – Day 32
10th January, 2017 – 13th January, 2017
This morning meant an early start as we packed last minute items to leave the bosom and warmth of our country hosts, heading again to the brighter city lights. This time through Paris, via Lyon to Genoa.
As had happened when we arrived, again when we had experienced a car breakdown this week – the curse of the Chatellerault train station was ahead. We arrived to find the ticket window closed unusually on this one occasion, the ticket machine was out of order (of course) and here we were about to board a TGV without a ticket. The internet screamed at us that this was a really bad idea with predictions of irate French train conductors and huge fines, but this was the only train that would get us to our one possible transfer. So with us, children, Grandmother, luggage and little choice we stepped aboard.
As it turns out, luck was on our side after all. As we waited in the baggage area, Graham was prompt to approach a conductor and explain our situation, we showed him phone photo’s of the closed ticket booth and the out of order machine. He told us to wait and soon returned with an English speaking conductor in tow. After a pleasant, polite exchange we had our tickets to Paris.
A speedy dash across the metro network to Gare d’Lyon, led mostly by the boys – now veterans of Paris – and we settled in First Class on the TGV. By some accident of the French ticketing system, first class was cheaper than our usual Second Class, and who were we to argue?
Our journey took us down through the cold but sunlit east of France, through Lyon, and south and east further still. Soon the skies greyed over as we ascended the Alps, glimpsing snow-covered villages and frosty forests. Flurries of snow dusted the train stations, and passengers hurried off to warm destinations, met by thickly-clothed friends and family.
At last the station signs changed from French to Italian, and we disembarked in the busy hub of Turin. A genial Trenitalia customer service team sorted some tickets to Genoa, and we sat in a little station bar to wait for our connection.
Instantly we were in another world: here a fierce barista exactingly prepared hot chocolates while a queue of espresso orders built up behind her, there an immaculately tailored Officer of the Alpini Mountain infantry, with feathered cap and greatcoat talked into his phone. There were cheap football magazines and piles of sweets stuffed into glass cabinets, and travellers drawing out aperitifs and glancing at the station clock: this is Italy.
Eventually our train arrived, we stepped off the windswept platform and into the stuffy fug of the train, finding a compartment for the last leg of a long trip. Night closed in, and we rumbled south toward Genoa.
After a long day and a taxi ride we were rewarded with the smiling welcome of our student couchsurfing host Estefania. We settled into our room in their share apartment for a well earned rest.
Sadly, rest is not what we received. Here starts the gory tale of gastro which was to plague the boys for a few nights and meant much cleaning and mopping of floors. I will spare you the details…
By late afternoon of the next day we managed to haul ourselves out of bed and into the cold sunshine to admire the magnificent view and walk into town with Estefania and her brother for supplies and a coffee. A long wait in a phone shop eventually yielded an Italian SIM card, before we ascended the Ascensore di Castelletto (public transport elevator) and climbed back up the step laneways to our ‘couch’.
All the students, their partners and a few friends appeared for a simple home-cooked meal made by Pamela and we enjoyed eating in shifts in the tiny kitchen with the local gang.
The next day we were finally ready for a full day of exploring. We walked down the steps, stopped to admire the view at the famous lift, through the magnificent old town with it’s charming winding alleyways, to the harbour.
We boarded a local ferry to see a better view of the landmark of Genoa – “Laterna”. It is the worlds third oldest lighthouse and it is still being used. Originally built in 1128 it was replaced in 1543 by the current structure and has been operating for almost nine centuries.
On our return our crew had different pursuits. Graham and Pamela took in the delights of the Museo del Mare…
…while Prunella and the boys headed for science adventure at the La città dei bambini e dei ragazzi.
Then we splashed out on a lovely meal to mark our last evening in wonderful Genoa before heading happily but wearily home.