ARRIVING by luxury cruise liner in Genoa, Italyâ€™s major port and one of the biggest and busiest on the Mediterranean, several of us thought, briefly, the ancient city had been taken over by skin-head English soccer fans, or latter-day retired Colonel Mustard-types of the sort who subscribe to This England and The Countryman.
For the flag of Genoa is identical to the red-cross-on-a-white background St Georgeâ€™s cross flag of England and flies, often in pride of place, atop scores if not hundreds of Genoese buildings, along with the flag of Liguria (the region of which Genoa is the capital), the Italian flag and that of the European Union.
(Incidentally, web-surfing looking for something completely different, I noticed a story about a Wiltshire driver who draped an English flag across his parcel shelf to hide state-of-the-art audio speakers from thieving eyes. He was warned by PC Plod to remove it, pronto, as it might offend ethnic minorities â€” or face a Â£30 fine!Â Howâ€™s that for political correctness?)
Coming from a bit of Africa where very few structures are a century old, ancient buildings in a place like Genoa are eye-openers. Streets are narrow; many cobbled, steep and often dark, but even the meanest thoroughfare is worth probing as countless medieval churches, marble palaces and historic university buildings can be found hidden among twisting alleys leading from sea to the Ligurian Hills.
I had just over 26 hours to look around. Had I flown out to London the day the ship docked (for reasons probably not unconnected with the fact nearly 1 000 passengers needed to move on or get back to home countries, I guess) the flight from Genoa to Gatwick was 139 euros dearer than a day later.
I reasoned that if a stay in Genoa cost no more than 139 euros I would at least break even on the deal, add another city to the list of world metropolises Iâ€™d mooched around, stared at and slept in. I was torn between it keeping me away from my diaspora-based family an extra day and the fact it would mean
that much longer in the relative warmth of the Med, versus the comparative cold of Scotlandâ€™s north-east coast.
Although my ship, the MV Melodyâ€™s owners were based in Genoa and presumably most of the crew lived there, they had no hints on suitable accommodation; no literature was available; I refused to go â€œon-lineâ€, consulting Professor Google or Dr Yahoo, on the subject (at US$30 an hour).
If the shipâ€™s crew wasnâ€™t helpful, a young shore steward, sorting out the chaos of disembarkation, was exactly opposite. Asking for a reasonably priced hotel, either close to the harbour or near the airport to reduce cab fares, he guided me and a New Zealand couple in similar straits to a complimentary cab to the train station, saying the hotel opposite had a deal with the cruise line. Three-stars, b&b would be 70 to 80 euros. It was also next to a shuttle bus stop to the airport and the transfer cost only four euros. Good, oh!
A heart-stopping minute, when we accidentally booked into an obviously drippingly plush 5-star plus operation. Led to deep comfortable leather banquettes in reception and offered tea, coffee, hot chocolate, mineral water or freshly squeezed juice, with a tray of delicious sweets, chocolates or biscuits; as international newspapers were proffered and we were invited to use a complimentary internet, I muttered to the Kiwis:
â€œThis isnâ€™t kosher, cobbers. Thereâ€™s no way this larney joint is only 70 or 80 euros!â€
And it wasnâ€™t! Even with the shipping line passengersâ€™ discount it was 180 euros. I would already be 41 euros out of pocket. We hurriedly withdrew and, thanks to a smattering of schoolboy Italian, relocated precisely 50 metres away from the first hotel, into another run by the same group, which was three-stars (possibly plus) and did cost 80 euros, bed and one of the finest breakfasts Iâ€™ve ever tasted.
The lift must have been of venerable age when Mussolini made his political debut, but rooms
were modern and on the comfy side of adequate; its central position was superb for economical sightseeing.
As soon as I dumped my gear, it was back to the docks on foot to see what damage the pirate attack off the Seychelles had caused the hull. Maybe two hours had passed between disembarking and returning and as the aft plating was being spray-painted from a tender-boat and a banner warned no one (for security reasons) to approach within 50 metres of the craft without permission, I assumed artisans had worked like Trojans.
The ship was leaving on an eight-day cruise to Tunisia, via Western Mediterranean ports and some islands, within four hours; hustle and bustle was impressive.
I passed a statue to Christopher Columbus en route. A local lad when Genoa was a city state, he (arguably) discovered America for the Spanish royal family in 1492.
Snivelling around the harbour, near one of the worldâ€™s greatest aquariums, close-by the stunning Museum of the Sea, I came across an apparently ancient galleon in immaculate nick.
Assuming it was either Columbusâ€™s La Pinta,Â La NiÃ±a or La Santa Maria, I proceeded to photograph it from all angles, only to finally spot a plaque saying in Italian it was the principal â€œpropertyâ€ of a Roman Polanski spoof film, Pirates, which â€” on Googling it â€” sounded like a less-successful prototype (1986) of the hugely popular recent Pirates of the Caribbean series!
(Final episode in Sundayâ€™s Standard)
BY DUSTY MILLER