Observations from the saddle of a bike: Italy’s Genova and San Remo and Lugano Switzerland

POST 11 OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE 2016.


Genova is what I call a ‘Sardine City’, a city where its inhabitants literally live on top of each other because suitable land for multi story building is in short supply. In an attempt to gain more living space some houses and apartments actually hang from cliffs  defying gravity. One reference I came across suggested Genova was an ‘experiment in verticality’, which I suppose is an apt description.

The waterfront and part of the ‘sardine city’ of Genova.

Sardine apartments along the Entella River which runs through Genova.

The Entella River is not permanent and I would imagine that when it flows it is a major event for the local residents. According to one local it is unwise to walk along the riverbed as wild boars have made it their home.

A not-so-well used tricolor staircase into the residential area of Genova.

There is a wide promenade, a pedestrian/cycle path, running some kilometres along the waterfront and to one side is the Ligurian Sea and on the other a cliff face from which houses and churches hang precariously. The houses along the boulevard are the homes of the wealthy. I will take you there first then into the back streets where the not so affluent live.

One of the cliffhangers. Desperate for space an apartment building claims air space.

The steep set of steps would be a discouragement for some to attend church.

A villa for the affluent along the promenade from the city to the old fishing village of Boccadasse.

Intricate brickwork producing an imposing façade.

Million dollar apartments in the Boccadasse district .

Close view of the historic mariners’ district of Boccadasse. No reverse cycle air conditioning units, solar hot water systems or TV antennas to mar its quaintness.

Little boats covered for the coming winter.

Private sunbathing bays. Note the girl about to go over the handrail. Is she a Parkour expert? More likely to be doing some form of exercise.

Immaculately tidy private beach. Seats awaiting the sun worshippers and playground equipment awaiting the children.

Before leaving the waterfront there is a story relating to a cruise ship disaster that the reader might remember. The Italian cruise ship Costa-Concordia in January 2012 with 3206 passengers and 1023 crew on board struck a reef to the south of Genova. The ship had just begun a seven-day cruise around the Mediterranean when the disaster happened. The following photograph shows the Costa-Concordia prior to the accident.

Cruise ship Costa-Concordia prior to the encounter with the reef. Image credit: In the public domain thanks to Jean-Philippe Boulet and Wikipedia.

Grounded Costa-Concordia. Image credit: In the public domain thanks to Rvongher and Wikipedia

The link with Genova and the Costa-Concordia is that Genova was its home port. The insurance company that insured the ship declared it a ‘constructive total loss’, which is a term used where the cost of repair is more than the current value. The next two images show the damage to the cruise liner.

A boulder lodged in the Costa-Concordia hull. Image credit: In the public domain thanks to Rvongher and Wikipedia.

The damaged port side of the Costa-Concordia following the ship being righted using the parbuckling salvage method. Image credit: In the public domain thanks to Rvongher and Wikipedia.

In light of the number of passengers and crew on board it was a miracle that only 32 people lost their lives, however reports suggest there could have been more as there were a number of unticketed people on board. The salvage of the ship was the biggest operation of its type ever carried out in the world.

Ship salvage using the parbuckling method was something I knew nothing about so I set to informing myself and found that by the use of caissons, levers and brute force a ship can be righted.

Parbuckling set-up. Image credit: Wikipedia.

1) An underwater platform is built to support the ship. Metal boxes (caissons) are attached to the side of the ship.        2) Cables attached to the platform and land roll the ship upright helped by the caissons.        3) More caissons are fixed to the sides.                                              4) Air inside the caissons lift the ship and it is towed away.

The Costa-Concordia was towed 320 kilometres to its home port of Genova for scrapping, which finished a few months before Bev and I rode the waterfront.

Most cities in Europe have an old quarter and the old quarter of Genova is a gem. The gem is in the Caruggi district where alleyways as narrow as a saw cut pass at angles every which way creating enticing and quirky alleys waiting to be explored. Bev and I sat in an open-air café within the old quarter and watched the workings of this ancient location. If you closed your eyes, listened and breathed the air the sounds and smells would be the same as to those of centuries before.

Bev walking her bike through one of the narrow streets of the Caruggi district. What tales the walls would tell if they could talk!

Saw-cut wide alleyways in the old quarter.

The Caruggi district is grimy but this is what makes it attractive to the traveller. There are few souvenir shops and other attractions for the tourist. Graffiti on the shop front walls express in many cases the dissatisfaction of some of its residents. I’m guessing that a number of people living in the old quarter are waiting the outcome of their very tenuous visa applications or biding time before moving on to northern Europe.

A clear, although not complete, message to passersby.

Graffiti-covered shop front.

Lunch stop. The blue graffiti translates as ‘occupy the houses’.

    The washing, the flag of Ecuador and an ill-adjusted blind, a few of the many signatures of the Caruggi district .

A no frills eatery.

Down to earth food.

A lost soul on the steps of a church in the Caruggi district.

The amusing aspect about the above image is the quilted festoon window space to the left of the door and the lack of a window on the right. It seems money was in short supply when the church was built and the windows were put on hold. On the other hand, there seemed to be no expense spared on the tympanum over the door.

Money was not spared when the doorway was created.

No expense spared when it came to building Genova’s St Lawrence Cathedral.

My research indicates that the black stone used in the church above is one of the following: black marble, black basalt, serpentine, black dolerite, limestone or travertine. No one seems to know.

The work put into the entrance of the cathedral was a labour of love.

Bev and I visited the Caruggi district on a number of occasions and we both felt time was well spent, however we did wonder about the hardships endured and the anxiety experienced by the mass of people living in Italy with no nationality status. Europe is changing and it’s the new arrivals from North Africa and western Asia that are affecting the changes. Governments lost control of their borders during the Arab Spring rebellions, which started in Tunisia and Libya in 2011. By the end of August 2011 48 000 immigrants had arrived in Italy from Tunisia and Libya. To date it is estimated that around 150 000 arrive in Italy annually, a great burden according to the locals on the failing Italian economy.

From Genova we moved on to San Remo as we had read there was a bike path worthy of a visit running along the foreshores. Unfortunately we arrived on a weekend and the bikes were handlebar to handlebar.

Part of the coastal ride. San Remo is on the peninsula in the distance.

Sunday riders out for a spin about to enter one of a number of disused railway tunnels.

The rider of a complex water-powered apparatus.

The complex apparatus explained.

A high-pressure pump in the personal watercraft was connected by a pipeline providing the high-pressure water blast that kept the rider airborne. It would take a lot of skill to remain upright and a fall from on high could be disastrous.

When taking an afternoon rest at our hotel we discussed where to go next. We had vague plans to revisit France but our itinerary was not set in concrete. After some thought and discussion we asked each other ‘why are we here?’ and when a traveller asks such a question it is time to call an end to travelling and go home. Why were we thinking that way? Basically, we had had enough of the crowds and the general changes Europe-wide related to the mass influx of refugees and tourists.

The decision was made to return to Zurich via Lugano in the south of Switzerland, change our air tickets home and head back to the land of wide open spaces, expecting to be back in Australia by December, three months before our anticipated return in February 2018, a choice which came easily.

Before leaving San Remo I would like to share a few images of where we stayed. The view from our hotel room was worthy of mention. The Hotel Riviera San Remo was set on a hillside and it was a 300 watt grade to its front door.

Hotel Riviera San Remo was set in a similar juxtaposition of buildings such as shown in the above image.

The view from our hotel window. Hundreds of years of building evolution, stone and stuccoed walls, shutters and windows, twisted downpipes and chimneys, all work and toil.

Close up of the evolution. Sealed windows, doorways and room extensions. Look closely at the projections from the old stonewall to understand what I mean.

A narrow shower recess in the hotel bathroom.

Bev mentioned to the owners of the hotel that it was difficult to squeeze into the shower recess and it was necessary to turn sideways to fit. They sympathised, indicated it was like that when they bought the hotel and that a new shower was on their building agenda. I dare say the size of the person determines who is booked into the room.

It was difficult to get a train out of San Remo on which we could wheel the bikes. The train company would only accept folded bikes so we attached our skateboard wheels and pulled them like a wheeled suitcase. It was a 1.4 kilometres walk from the entrance of the station to the departure platform, too far to carry our bikes so my wheel attachments came in handy.

At Lugano (Switzerland) the hostel was on the top of a hill, however we made it easily with the little motors and the following day we went exploring the town. It is situated in the Italian speaking canton of Ticino. Most of the town is centred around the lake and somehow we felt at home: we were back in Switzerland, the air was fresh, the town was clean, there were no high rise buildings and it was peaceful.

There is a scenic path around a big proportion of the lake, great for riding and walking. The footpath from Lugano to the village of Gandria, the Sentiero di Gandria (Gandria Trail), is benched out of the cliff face and some way along the path the bike riding came to an abrupt halt and from then on it was walking only. The following images show the ride/walk.

A hazy day on the Sentiero di Gandria path on the edge of Lake Lugano.

Before the start of the path there are houses overlooking the lake. The real estate adage, ‘location, location’, comes to mind when I look at these houses, they must be in the ultimate location. The style of fences and gates installed at the entrances exhibit their affluence. Following is an example of a very creative fence, although expensive in terms of a carbon footprint.

Money to burn: steel fence and stainless steel sculpture at the front entrance to one of the lake houses.

A fence of steel box section. At first I thought the fence was made from steel section offcuts, but the extent was far greater than a few waste pieces of steel.

From my observations people believe that their fence is a status symbol, it’s a matter of outdoing the neighbour. This would be a nightmare of a fence to paint!

The Sentiero di Gandria (Gandria Trail) is benched out of the cliff face, a remarkable effort and probably done with pick and shovel.

Part of the village of Gandria at the end of the footpath. It is the last Swiss village before the Italian border.  It’s easy to understand why the latter stages of the path were walking only.

Gandria was once an isolated fishing village.

View from the edge of Lake Lugano.

Along the lake.

Scenic riding around Lake Lugano.

There is an element of relaxation around the lake and the following two park sculptures are an example of a casual laidback lifestyle.

Taking it easy.

Socrates the philosopher at the end of the day.

This manicured tree with a volcanic intrusion in the background took Bev’s fancy.

The Italian influence in Lugano, an old pollarded olive tree.

Waiting at Lugano station for the train back to Zurich, a simple and uncomplicated event.

Our travelling rig at the end of our Odyssey#5, Observations from the Saddle of a Bike.

Any readers planning a foldup bike trip through Europe might be interested in a few details relating to our rig. Approximate weight of luggage is 13kg and that includes three cameras, two Mac Air laptops, one iPad, battery chargers, external hard drive, wet weather gear (in the blue bag at the front of my bike), one change of clothes (Fred, Bev had a few more items), art gear, a lightweight fly under which to shelter when it rains, skateboard wheels for when we need to convert our bikes to a wheelie suit case, tools (yellow bag under Bev’s bike seat), gas stove, pots, bowls, first aid kit and emergency food.

That’s the end of this post. The next section of Observations from the Saddle of a Bike will take us onto the Eurovelo 6 (velo is French for bike) which runs from town of Nantes (west coast of France) near the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea in Romania, a distance of approximately 3 653 kilometres.   Bev and I completed a section from Basel (Switzerland) to Besancon in France, a distance of about two hundred kilometres. It was a great experience and I think it is one of the most enjoyable bike rides we have done.

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About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey #5 2017: Cycling in Europe. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Observations from the saddle of a bike: Italy’s Genova and San Remo and Lugano Switzerland

  1. marie zepaj says:

    hope you had a good rest at home, sweet home! I’ll be glad to follow your new adventures

  2. Kevin and Sue Dewar says:

    Loved the post and the photos, what beautiful places to visit while deciding that it was time to come home.
    Welcome back, will see you soon.
    Love Kev and Sue

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