01 June 2008

Gelato Everywhere!

Well, now I've eaten gelato in Milan and Verona (in November), Pisa, Chiavari, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso, and Genoa. And this is only the halfway point of my Italian vacation!

The past few days, I’ve visited several little towns and one city. Friday, it was yet again raining, so I decided not to go to Florence. Instead, I went briefly to Santa Margherita, which is a little town by Portofino, which is a slightly bigger little town. Both are really touristy, so I didn’t want to stay long. I walked around Santa Margherita for about half an hour, admiring the colorful buildings, numerous statues of Columbus (the whole region is very proud of him) and shops that I don’t have enough money to even contemplate going in.
Here’s a picture of the sea. I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean.

Then I went back to Chiavari to change into beachier clothing, since it had gone quickly from “chilly and rainy” to “hot and sunny.” I took the train to Monterosso, the fifth of the five Cinque Terre villages. Naturally, as soon as I arrived, the clouds and rain came back. I decided to have lunch while waiting for the good weather to come back, and picked a small restaurant along the coast. However, it was really disappointing... I ordered lasagne ragu, which is hard to mess up. I’d had the same thing in Chiavari for about half the price, and it was wonderful. Here, it was just about the worst lasagne I’d ever eaten. It was worse than the store brand microwaveable lasagne I buy in France. I also got mushroom soup, which was virtually flavorless, and easily the worst mushroom soup I’d ever had. Luckily the place was cheap!
Walking in the rain is warmer than not walking in the rain, so I ignored the drizzles and went to get gelato. That, at least, was excellent as usual! When the rain slowed down, I walked around the beach and looked at stones. Monterosso has a sandy beach, but there are tons of stones of all sizes, colors, and shapes. What intrigued me most, however, was the large quantity of ceramic fragments, mostly terra cotta type tiles like the ones used for roofs and construction in this part of the continent. Some were as large as a deck of cards, some were barely large enough to tell if they were man-made. I kept one fragment that has two green stripes on it, and a few little pieces of sea glass. I was very tempted by a chunk of mosaic (just white stones in cement like an Italian sidewalk, nothing interesting) but I can’t justify bringing back rocks that weigh about five pounds. I do like rocks though, so walking along the beach was fun.
Saturday, I went to Genoa, which is called Genova in Italian. It’s the hometown of Christopher Columbus, and is a big port town. It has a large historic district (i.e. small streets and old buildings district), Europe’s largest aquarium, and is close to Chiavari. I brought, but didn’t even open, the Italy guide book I borrowed from the library. Genoa’s architecture is pretty neat:

My wandering talents are fairly impressive, since I managed to find the sea and the aquarium, the two things I really wanted to see. I ate lunch at a little restaurant by the waterfront, figuring that it would be a good place to get seafood. I ordered pesto lasagne (pesto was born in Genoa) and calamari, and both were superb. I do prefer meat lasagne, but the pesto was really good.
The coolest outdoor thing I saw in Genoa was a life-size ship, I’m assuming of the style used by Columbus. However, I can’t imagine the explorers needing this many cannon, so I’m guessing it wasn’t a replica of the Santa Maria!

The aquarium was really neat. Smaller than the Shedd, but it had a lot of neat things. It did cost a lot, so I read every single sign to get as much information for my money as possible! I learned that there’s a fish in the antarctic that doesn’t have any hemoglobin in its blood, that aquariums get their sea turtles when they’re confiscated from tourists who illegally exported them, that Nile crocodiles can grow to more than 20 feet long, that Mediterranean crabs have really long legs to allow them to walk in the sand and muck, and that morays are only poisonous if you eat their meat raw. Like all aquariums in the post-Nemo era, any time you see an anemone, you hear a child say, “Look, it’s Nemo’s house!” The Genoa Aquarium had an interesting response though... they had clown fish in other places, but they also had a tank of only fish found in Finding Nemo. It was easily the most crowded area in the place.
Here he is, the movie star himself... sort of...

This sign made me laugh out loud, which I usually try not to do when alone in public in foreign countries. I admire their desire to protect aquatic turtles, but their method seems a bit gruesome... I’d prefer if they returned the turtles to the environment in one piece. (Click on the picture to enlarge it and read the explanation of their methods.)

Amphibian exhibits are always fun, because they’re like playing Where’s Waldo. Find the chameleon in this picture:

They have a tank of sting rays to look at, and a tank of nice rays to... pet! I pet a guitar fish and one particularly friendly ray. Most of them were really antisocial, but one swam back and forth at the edge of the tank for quite a while. Rays’ wings feel strange... the five year old in me says “slimy,” but the geek in me says, “almost like their skin is frictionless.” However, their spine is rough and very solid. Once you pet a ray, you want to stick around to pet it again, because the sensation is so strange.

On the top floor, they have a neat set-up: you can walk over the tops of the tanks, so you can see the seals, dolphins, and sharks from above. I got there just in time to watch the dolphins be fed, do a few tricks, and then have play time. There was one dolphin who liked to punt the ball as high as possible, one who just pushed around a ball, and one who had figured out the most fun way to play: grab the volleyball in mouth, swim down twenty feet of so, then let go and swim up to the surface to watch it rocket out of the water. I do the same thing at the pool, although I usually hold the ball in my hands and don’t swim down more than six feet...
After leaving the aquarium, I looked for the center of the historical center. However, I wasn’t really in the mood for more museums and churches, and all the interesting stuff was at the top of a hill. Yuck. So I just got my day’s gelato, headed back to Chiavari (via Zoagli, by accident... I just climbed around the rocks on the coast while I waited for the next train), and lay on the beach while the sun began to set. I like Italy.
Today (Sunday) I went to Mass, and it was somewhat strange... it was the fastest Mass I’ve ever been to. There was very little music, and the priest and the congregation seemed to be having some sort of competition to see who could get through the prayers first. Instead of getting out, “Let us pray in the words our Savior gave us...” the priest would manage, “Let us pray in the words our Sa...” before the congregation cut in with the Lord’s Prayer. Odd. The Mass was over in forty five minutes.

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