Day 10 – Genoa, then through Milan and into the mountains

La Spezia – Genova – Milano – Tirano

I suppose it’s a little odd that I’ve never been to Genoa before. My dad lived and worked here for a time a few years before I was born so it is quite possibly the first city outside the UK that I’d heard of. That said it’s not got a huge reputation as a tourist destination so it was always going to be a “when I get around to it” kind of a place.

Today turned out to be that day. My original plans for yesterday would have brought me here overnight, but my last minute decision to stay further south and visit Cinque Terre saw to that. I then found myself awake at 6:30am and after consulting the timetable realised I could spend a few hours there after all.

I was at La Spezia station to catch the 07:50. My route took me up the coast and the Cinque Terre once more, but annoyingly the train had evidently not been cleaned, so I saw very little of it.

Vernazza – through a very dirty train window

We were due into Genoa around 9:30 but the train was stopped for a while by what was either animals or trespassers on the line so I finally arrived around 10. I dropped my bag off in the left luggage and went for a wander. What immediately struck me was it was a more attractive and interesting town than its reputation suggests. There are lots of lovely buildings and I was particularly taken by the very narrow alleyways that ran down the hill to the harbour.

I found my way down to the harbour, which I’d been told was worth seeing, by both my mum and sister (I’m the last of my family to visit this city, by a very long way!) Part of it has been reinvented as a tourist attraction, with fun elements like the galleon, the aquarium and the “Bigo” crane which lifts viewers high into the air. There is also a conference centre, constructed inside the warehouses, and a set of super yacht berths. I noticed all the shoes left on the quay, clearly nothing more than socks are allowed on board. Teams of workmen were fettling and polishing everything that couple possibly be reached, including half way up the mast of one of them.

It is still a very busy commercial port but all that activity has moved away from the town to the other side of the harbour.

While I’d been walking earlier, I’d spotted a window full of old photos, one of which showed a funicular railway. A quick online search told me it still existed so I went for a look. Amazingly it is free to use, the fare having only recently been removed. It is primarily a service for locals who live in the hills that surround this coastal city and the line, and they turned up in their numbers.

Note: Later on I discovered that there is a second line, though that is a rack railway. More info on them both here.

The line has 7 stations, but they are unevenly spaced, meaning that the trains need to stop twice in tunnels on each passage so that one or other of the balanced cars can access the station. To go from one end to the other takes around 12 minutes and they run on the quarter hour. The line itself is quite amazing, multiple bends, especially in the tunnel at the bottom, and it is incredibly steep at the top. I walked a short way at the summit, to get a view down to the city. If I had more time I would have spent longer up there (there is a proper viewpoint) but I needed to get back to the station and on my way again.

I have to say that Genoa was a complete revelation to me. I was expecting a grey industrial city, with not a lot going for it, but it is actually quite charming. Not touristy in the conventional sense but certainly with enough to be worth spending more time in. My favourite new word of the day is Focacceria. Why do we not have shops in the UK that just sell a dozen different types of Focaccia, as they do all over this part of Italy?!

I can’t say anything at all about the journey from Genoa to Milan. The train I got onto was completely plastic wrapped in an advert for the Giro d’Italia and it was so badly done that you couldn’t see anything more than blurred shapes from the inside. I passed the time reading and updating this diary.

It was lovely to arrive in Milan by train. Along with Berlin and St Pancras, it has to be the most spectacular of stations. Sadly I didn’t have long here, but I did grab a few photos before getting onto the train to Tirano. As we pulled out I spotted the spectacular signal box that spans the tracks.

The line to Tirano quickly becomes interesting. The hills give way to mountains but in typical Italian style they build on them anyway. The line passes Lake Como and it was a shame that the late afternoon sun was in exactly the wrong place to get the photos it clearly deserves. I managed to grab a couple anyway.

Tirano is the end of the line for standard gauge track. Next door to the station is the terminus of the metre gauge Bernina Railway, and that is where I’ll be heading next.

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  1. Celia Lyon

    That signal box looks great. Lake Como is definitely on my To Do list

    • Mine too! Possibly even later this year, as I’m hoping to get to some gigs in northern Italy in the summer.

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