The express train to Milan

The fast express train to Milan leaves Santa Margherita at 13.35, first stop Genova half an hour later. The local train, all stops, leaves from the same platform 7 minutes later at 14:02 arriving in no less than 10 minutes at Comogli. We planned to train to Comogli, do a circuit bush walk and bus back to Santa Marherita. It was our first day of inclement weather. Rain had well and truely set in.

To further set the scene for the events that unfolded, I should explain it is a given that the Swiss train system runs with clockwork precision. It is apparent that all station clocks across Switzerland are synchronous. When the station clock at Basle shows the time as 13:45 and 47 seconds, it will be 13:45 and 47 seconds in Geneva. When a Swiss train is scheduled to leave at 13:45 and 47 seconds, that Swiss train will indeed start to move at 13:45 and 47 seconds precisely.

The Italian train system, as I learnt, today, runs like pasta – it bends in hot water. At precisely 14:02 the train pulls into Santa Margherita station. It is surprisingly full, so much so that we are forced to stand in the aisle along with several other elderly Italians. We can cope as the next stop, Comogli is all of 12 minutes away. The train picks up speed and enters a long tunnel, we are in darkness for several minutes, then suddenly travelling at 100km/hr we shoot out the tunnel, to a vast expanse of the Ligurian sea on our left and the small station of Comogli on our right. The rush of the speeding train creates a violent vortex and like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, several seagulls, thousands of cigarette butts, and a baby’s pram on the Comogli platform, are sucked into a spiralling tornado. We had failed to realise that the intercity express to Milan was running exactly 27 minutes late. It sped along, seemingly out of control, to finally run of out puff and stop at Genova,the capital of the Ligurian provence. We alighted, considered our options, that as were here, set off to explore the city. It was worthwhile, despite the inclement weather. More aware of the vagaries of the Italian rail system, we more carefully researched the return journey.

Had a great final dinner at the Ristorante Pizzeria dal Baffo. Their pasta is made on the premises. The spinach ravioli in a walnut cream sauce then steamed fresh fish with mussels, pippins, prawns, octopus and calamari in a tomato sauce. Both sauces so spectacularly tasty that they begged to be mopped up with crusty bread. We shared a warm apple pie with vanilla gelato. Then, as the night was cool and it was still twilight, contentedly satiated, we sauntered down Via Garibaldi. Which reminds me, if you are bored at any time, search for “via Garibaldi” in Google Maps. The result will astound you – hundreds of thousands of such streets in every village, town and city of Italy and then some!

The view over Santa Margherita Harbour early morning


A couple of pictures of The San Giacomo di Corte Church part of the Villa Durazzo Centurione on a hill overlooking Santa Margherita




A few pictures of our unexpected day trip to Genova on a humid wet day! Street scenes and the inevitable cathedral.

The Ligurian Coast of Italy

After the week of cycling, I travelled to the town of Santa Margherita, in the smallest provence of Italy, namely Liguria, capital Genova. It’s a crescent shaped ribbon of land that has the Alps of Piedmontese to the north, falling down to the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean. The tourist pamphlet for Santa Margherita claims the area was founded in 262 BC. It further states “It has always been a fisher and sailor village, well known for handicrafts: laces made on lace-pillows and ropery”. I did a quick retake! Yes that’s “ropery”. As to sailors and lace pillows, nothing like a bit of petit-pointe to pass the tedious months sailing across the great oceans. Indeed some of the best cross stitching is attributed to Italian sailors in the 18th century

The most famous destination of this so called Italian Riviera is Portofino. It’s the iconic, picture post card Italian fishing village, now an expensive tourist magnet. The other attraction is the Cinque Terre, again five previous fishing villages that face the sea and now sustained by tourism. I undertook the obligatory day to meander around Portofino, mesmerised by the melanin enhanced middle aged women ( alliteration to simply mean that they were sunburnt unnaturally and uniformly all over). Then it was time to escape and walk over the promontory from Santa Margherita to the medieval monastery of San Fruttuoso. A strenuous climb equal to any of the cycle days. This part of the steep cliffs and hidden alcoves is a national park. The Abbey, almost 1200 years old is fascinating, but does not escape the Italian beach culture. A delightful day.

The Ligurian Coastal beaches are to put it bluntly, un-enticing. There is no sand as we in Australia know, but rather coarse stones and pebbles, that make getting to the surf a form of water torture. The sea is a grey green colour and pleasantly warm. There the attraction ends. There is the feeling that the water, at least in the inlets and alcoves which are inhabited, is not exactly pure or crystal clear. A thin oily film of almost certainly disesoleum, is broken by feathers, plastic and the discarded containers of a disposable society. Once clear of the populated bays and inlets, the sea returns to a more enticing and characteristic clean crystal blue.

There is hardly a part of these stone beaches that are not invaded by sun worshipping Italians. Most of them pay upwards of 12 to 15 euro to sit on row upon row of beach chairs and umbrellas, to hobble to the waters edge once or twice a day, then return and light up a cigarette. Even the scavenging sea gulls exhibit signs of nicotine addiction, from pecking at the butts. Cigarettes I mean.

In general there is much less obesity visible in the general population and the Italians do dress with flair and good taste. This is despite the wine, pasta and bread, my theory is that they do walk around a lot more and of course, smoking is a great way to keep weight down.

After the day walk to San Fruttuoso, the next day I took a ferry trip to the Cinque Terre, a rather choppy swell prevented landing at the smaller towns, so that we were only able to disembark at the largest village of Montarossa. My rather jaundiced and queezy opinion on the region and villages is that they are all becoming like Portofino. One arrives, admires the brightly painted buildings in ochre, yellows and tan brown, then joins a slow moving mass of visitors through narrow streets that were once charming, but now comprise outdoor eating, gelato parlours that all boast “artisan” or “home-made”, expensive clothing outlets and souvenir shops.

Our first night here I dined at one of the most renowned restaurants. This was not intentional, it was just around the corner from the hotel. The next night a great seafood establishment: seafood risotto and then last night a “local” cafe recommended by the girl at the tourist office. A large pork chop and creamy mash potatoes.

Finally as this is the last week, I travel to Milan tomorrow, I am in the process of discarding unwanted clothes and washing a couple of T shirts. I have clean socks and one pair of underpants!

Portofino – a postcard scene recognised the world over

Sunday service finishes the Cathedral of Santa Margherita.

The cliff top walk from Santa Magherita in the National Park