The fine art of finding a hostel: II - Genoa, Italy
Russell Degnan

Genoa has been on my mind of late and, inspired by the map making abilities of a friend of mine, it seemed an appropriate place to renew a series badly in need of more than one post. [1]

Genoa is a delightful city, slowly emerging from a reputation as a miserable and dirty port city, into a new role as a miserable and dirty tourist hot-spot. Quite possibly, after Venice, the most important city for the early development of commerce in the Western world, Genoa is close to being the most under-rated place to visit in Italy. Not for too much longer. An outstanding collection of baroque architecture and painting, delightful narrow streets and a spectacular setting nestled where the alps flow into the sea can't stay hidden forever.

I arrived at the Stazione Principe in Genoa relatively early in the morning. The train ride along the coast from Nice is lovely, especially with the sun shining off that very Mediterranean blue. This left me several hours until the reception would open at the hostel, and feeling fit, and somewhat overly energetic (a new country will do that to you), I decided to walk to it, relying only on the hostel map and my wits.

A more formidable challenge than the interpretation of a hostel map, a traveller shall not find. It, or rather, the newer, in fact, worse version of it lies to the right. Note the size of the hostel and the confusing road network. None of this is close to reality, and would be better served by a giant question mark. It does however, have the decency to orientate itself northwards, and while the scale is a little odd, some major landmarks are prominent, such as the station, and the funicular railway.

Hostels are traditionally located on the top of a hill, at the edge of town. Genoa is no exception, though it was sheer luck that it was on the top of the ridge, and not over several ridges. As the day wore on I became less certain that that wasn't the case. The guide says 3km, it means by car, the walk is much less. Though it also says it is north of the city centre, when it is actually north-west. However, the map accurately depicts the hostel as north from the station, so it has that in its favour.

Getting there by bus is quite simple. You get on the bus, follow it to the end, then get off. You don't even need the local bus patrons to direct you to your stop, as no less than five of them did when I was in Marseille (friendly town). Walking though, is a little more complex. I had assumed, that if all I did was continue walking northwards, and upwards, that eventually I would find the Via Costanzi. This assumption was not entirely accurate.

The mistake I made, I made very early. Having found my way along the mostly flat section near the station I decided I didn't particularly want to walk up the winding streets when there were such conveniently placed stairs available. The Unfortunately taking them also took me off bus route 40; hitherto my only guide to general direction. It was not much of a mistake, and if I'd known where I was going, I am sure I could have found my way to the hostel without an issue. But a mistake it was. I got very lost.

On the Via Sant'Ugo one comes across a church. The hostel lies at the top of the gully this church lies near the bottom of. If you take the stairs from the church a series of staircases, one after the other, with just a few walks between takes you right to the hostel. I took the other set of stairs, to the right, then, in a series of misguided turns, somehow ended up on the other side of the spur, and hence nowhere near where I wanted to be.

I am not sure how many stairs I climbed in those few hours, but I learnt some words. "Salita" means stair-case, that was easy enough. "Non-passegio" means that you'll have to climb a couple of hundred stairs, to find someone's front door and a barking dog, then take an equally long climb down. I was very fit then. I was very very fit by the time I got to the top.

Climbing, and more climbing. Once I sought directions without success, but never once did I find any street marked on the ridiculous hostel map. They may exist, but they may as well have not been marked. If you keep going up for long enough though, you'll reach the top of the ridge. The view is quite spectacular.

By this stage, having drifted north-east, I was quite close to the funicular, or the top of it anyway. This was good, it meant two things, that the hostel was somewhere to my left, and the road to it, somewhere in the general vicinity. But where? And would I find a map in the ostensibly tourist orientated cable car service? No idea, and no.

The street the hostel lies on, Via Costanzi is quite near there, but has not one, but two (!) name changes before it becomes the street you want. Now somewhat tired, at the top of the hill, but otherwise short of ideas, I was still milling about the funicular plotting my next move when a man with family in tow, asked if I was looking for the hostel.

Of course I was. Why else would I be lugging 30kg of backpack to the top of the hill? I was only about 500 metres from where I needed to be, but help is help. The man from Blackburn became as indispensible as the Mexican chap who helped in Luxembourg, and all's well that ends well.

But back to the church. There is another interesting fact about this route, and that is if you wait for the bus to pass you, then run up the stairs, it will go past you again at the top. It will do it again after the next stair-case, and the next, all the way to the hostel. Shirkers need not read further. There are just under one thousand steps from the railway station to the hostel entrance, the major, prettily landcaped ones are shown at right -- the final one is particularly difficult. If you are feeling energetic I highly recommend the race, it is good fun, and when you reach the top you can pant out to the bemused hostel staff:

Hi... *puff* ... I ... *puff* ... one sec ... *puff* ... need ... *puff* ... the key ... *puff* ... to ... *puff* ... my ... *puff* ... room..

A hostel worth going to for the view alone. The first photo shows why. Note the railway is at sea level.

[1] Though not near so much as this one!

Days Spent Away 14th August, 2006 23:26:13   [#] 


Photo painting comparison
Cool Russ, will try to go to Genoa in a month...
BridgeGirl  15th August, 2006 10:03:53