Italy – Part 1: Genova, Pisa/Lucca, Florence

Genoa

In Genova I found a beautiful city full of character and intrigue – far more interesting than I ever expected.  I also came across a man of exactly the same!

Genova was to be our first Air BnB experience.  I was happy to say goodbye to camping though I have to say it turned out to be far more enjoyable than I thought from our dubious start! That said, I was looking forward to a) not having to drive anymore and b) sleeping in a real bed!  Many people had told me about Air BnB and after the prices of hotels seemed extortionate after the cheapness of campsites, I thought we’d give it a go.  If you’re not familiar with Air BnB it is a booking system where (mostly) people who have spare rooms in their own home put you up and it is much cheaper and often gives a more authentic experience of the town or city where you’re staying too.    So we had booked to stay with Lucia in her apartment just 5 minutes walk from Genova Brignole station which greatly appealed as I knew I’d have my very heavy backpack and that Bear Cub would be tired.

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Dropping the rental car back at Nice station had been very stressful (I’ll spare you the details) but thankfully getting the train to Ventimiglia first and then Genova was straightforward.

Lucia’s directions were great and it really was just 5 minutes from the station.  I immediately loved the apartment when I saw the lift!  It was one of those old fashioned ones you see in movies with the metal cage outer door you open first and then 2 wooden wardrobe like doors behind that with a wooden fold down seat inside.  Her apartment was on the 6th floor, old and full of character.  It had a really lovely and peaceful vibe as did she.  Our room was very large with the most wonderful and huge round bed! I was honestly more excited about this than Bear Cub was.  Lucia showed us the bathroom and explained that one of the guys staying with her had his friends visiting so we needed to use just one of the two bathrooms that night and not the shower room.  It was at this point that I heard Bear Cub jabbering on in the hallway to someone enjoying a conversation and that is when I saw him.  He’d overheard Bear Cub ask me what the lady had said in Italian and I explained my Italian was much worse than my very poor French.  And he (understanding me) offered to help with any translation I needed – I later found out he spoke 5 languages!  I asked him where he was from and he hesitated then said, ‘Actually I am Mexican and German!’  I’ve never yet met a sexy German so I am going to call him ‘The Mexican.’  I didn’t know it at that point, except for he was extremely warm and kind and had a wonderful vibe about him, but The Mexican was going to teach me a lot about myself and relationships within just 24 hours – less in real time! (see separate post on my here).

Everything about The Mexican was ‘cool’ and not in a trendy cool way but it a real meaning of the word cool way – effortless, genuine, kind, authentic, interesting, interested, intelligent, deep, laid-back, comfortable in his own skin and just really, really ‘nice’.  Again not in the flimsy, mediocre, sickly meaning of the word but the original, complimentary definition of ‘nice’.  At this point in my head I just thought, ‘What a nice man.  He seems really nice’.  Then he asked Bear Cub if he wanted to see a wolf!  Now there are not many people who know me who don’t know my loves in life other than music and chocolate (and red wine and cake) are dogs!  Big dogs!  Well The Mexican had the coolest dog I have ever seen.  Also mixed race – he was a Husky and German Shepherd mix and absolutely gorgeous!  Now I firmly believe you can tell a lot about a man from his dog.  Indeed you can tell a lot about a person if they do or don’t like dogs.  Again this dog had not been chosen for image or status, it had been chosen for challenge and experience. The Mexican didn’t make decisions for them to be easy or convenient he made them to prove people wrong and to live life to the full and have experiences.  All this was shown to me through his choice of dog! And furthermore, he was travelling with said massive, intimidating, gorgeous dog.  This was only as mad as a woman travelling on her own with a 4 year old!!  I immediately knew we’d be good friends 🙂

On the roof, where the Wolf was kept, I met The Mexican’s friends who had just been cycling in The Alps! You can also tell a lot about a person by their friends (as well as their dog) and they were as lovely and crazy-adventurous (I mean cycling in The Alps??) as he was.  Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more in the last 2 days so he really enjoyed having some ‘man time’ with them and they were all great playing with him and chatting to him.  It felt great being at Lucia’s place.  I exhaled and relaxed there.  It felt safe and in some strange sense I knew I was in exactly the right place in the right time in my life.

We were tired so Bear Cub and I made some pasta and had the most wonderful hot shower (it felt so good to be in a clean bathroom) and fell asleep in the fantastic round bed! Despite it being huge, Bear Cub managed to star fish in the middle of it and hog most of the space all night though!

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The next day we set out to explore Genova. One of my favourite experiences was sitting outside a cafe, drinking proper Italian coffee, in one of the lovely Piazza’s opposite a huge church watching a talented violinist play some wonderful pieces.  Suddenly I felt like I was truly in Italy and I knew it was going to be good.

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I was very aware that the first half of our Italy leg was going to be lots of sight-seeing and Cities and potentially boring and tiring for Bear Cub so I was really pleased  to discover that Genova had a lot on offer for children.  We visited La citta dei bambini a place roughly translated as ‘Kids City’ which was a little like a cross between the London Science Museum and a soft play centre.  And we visited yet another aquarium!

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All this and walking in the intense heat meant Bear Cub was exhausted by the evening.  We bought some fish from the market to cook for dinner to save money and headed back to the apartment.  After Bear Cub was tucked up in the huge, round bed I got chatting to The Mexican, over a bottle of wine until 2.30am!  It is both amazing and frustrating that you need to go to another country to meet someone you really connect with but then as the Erykah Badu song says, ‘I guess I’ll meet you next lifetime!’ I have some wonderful memories of Genova 🙂

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Pisa/Lucca

The next day we were off to Pisa but ended up going for a stroll to the beach and getting a much later train than planned.  It only took an hour and a half on the fast train though so we still managed to visit the leaning tower when we arrived before a late dinner.

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Again we’d booked through Air BnB and it was just ten minutes walk from the tower.  The place was clean and a great location but lacked the soul and character of Lucia’s place in Genova.  I’d been to Pisa before years ago and as I remembered it is a bit of a dump in places, however, I also remembered the beautiful little town of Lucca that was just a short way away.

The next morning at Breakfast we got chatting to a young couple from Spain (and Croatia) who mentioned they were driving to Lucca that morning and so offered us a lift.  I like to think Bear Cub was a good contraceptive to many young couples we met along our trip as I could see in their eyes that unspoken exchange of looks between them that said ‘Let’s wait a few more years for kids eh?’ as Bear Cub questioned them, threatened to ‘blow them up’ repeatedly and generally acted weird in their faces! Anyway, we had a lovely day in Lucca.  We actually hired some bikes from right outside the station and I was so glad Bear Cub had learned to ride his bike without stabilisers not long before we left for the trip.  Lucca is the most gorgeous, little walled village and you can actually ride all the way  around on the walls of the village in just 20-30 minutes at a leisurely pace.  We stopped at a play park and bought some fresh cherries and then once we’d been round the whole village we went in and explored the lovely little streets and shops within Lucca.  We found a lovely little coffee shop and enjoyed some pastries and then climbed to the top of Lucca’s own tower which amazingly has a tree growing at the top.  The view was stunning.  We had some lunch at the cheap cafe we’d found and then returned our bikes before getting the train back to Pisa which only took 30 minutes.

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After a shower we went to explore the leaning tower a bit more and did plan to climb up until we found it was 18 Euros.  Bear Cub was really disappointed until I found out you had to be 8 years old anyway to climb up so he wouldn’t have been allowed even if I had thought it worth the money.  We went to the Duomo instead and this was where I caught one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip.  I was just looking at something and turned around to find Bear Cub praying, unprompted and out loud.  It was the cutest prayer about life and love and asking God to not let any aeroplanes crash! He’d been winding me up so much but my heart melted seeing him talking to God so earnestly.  He then asked me to pray with him – so we did! 🙂

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Florence

Bear Cub and I had been winding each other up more and more over the last few days and it hit fever pitch when we got to Florence.  I don’t know if it was the heat or the tiredness of the sheer amount of intense time we’d had together but, Bear Cub’s behaviour had gotten notably worse and brattish and my patience and tolerance had grown dangerously thin!  We basically needed a break from each other.  And so it was a complete God-send when we arrived at our new Air BnB place in Florence to discover that the room we’d booked was still occupied so they upgraded us to their ‘Attic’ room which turned out to be a lovely little self-contained flat complete with its own kitchen, bathroom and balcony.  It looked brand new and was lovely and just what we needed.  It meant we had our own private space to chill out in, unwind and have a bit of space.  It was perfect!  We ventured out for some ice-cream from a real Gelateria and popped to the supermarket which was literally 4 minutes from the apartment and stocked up on food for lunches and dinners for the next 2 days.

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The next day was a Sunday and I woke to stomach cramps (which explained why my tolerance was wearing so thin) and Bear Cub was just not interested in going anywhere, so although we were in lovely Florence, we ended up spending most of the day in the flat and it was just what we both needed! It seemed like a shame in some ways but was absolutely what was required for the sake of both our sanity! We did go into the centre late afternoon and visited the Cathedral which even just from the outside was breathtakingly imposing, and we also found a play park for Bear Cub to let off some steam.

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Our time in Florence ended up being the most uneventful of the trip so far, but we were both too tired to be bored or disappointed.  It certainly worked to renew our strength and we could set off for Rome feeling relaxed.

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