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Prelude to the Debut of the Seabourn Ovation: From Southern Asia to Dubai to Genoa, Italy – Thought Provoking! Oh, and Yeah: An Italian Culinary Adventure!

I wasn’t going to write this article.  I mean all I was going to do is stay in a Genovese four star hotel (which in Italy the scoring requires you delete a star), see my friend of years ago and relax for two days. I mean I was just killing time in Genoa, Italy before boarding the brand new Seabourn Ovation to sail her out of the Fincantieri shipyard for her five night Shakedown Cruise after my eighteen night Asian Adventure of the Azamara Journey.

But it’s me and, well, I just go so inspired and excited by things and then I start to reflect and think…and, well, travel should make you think. And when I think I tend to write.  So here I go!

Two days ago I disembarked the Azamara Journey and spent the day at the Park Hyatt Dubai on the Creek before flying out to Genoa via Frankfurt.  The hotel was very nice, the staff wonderful and my room was very comfortable with an awesome bathroom and lunch with the Associate Director of Sales was delicious.  If you are looking for a reasonably priced resort or want easy access to Dubai’s best golfing, the Park Hyatt Dubai is a solid choice.

The Dubai skyline from my room at the Park Hyatt Dubai

And then there was the Dubai skyline.  I have never been a big fan of Dubai because, to me, it is so artificial…huge man made structures with hardly any men (or women or children) living in them.  Dependent on who you listen to only 10%-20% of the total population of Dubai is Emirati. Love it or not, Dubai makes a statement.

After my flights (with, of course, and as per usual, a very large man sitting next to me on my seven hour flight from Dubai to Frankfurt…who was extremely nice, was heading home from Afghanistan, and extremely muscular, so I couldn’t say anything when he filled a quarter of my seat)…I hopped, or shall I say the taxi driver grabbed my bags and threw them, into a taxi.  And I instantly knew I was in Italy…and a scam was happening!

The meter said 18 Euros in extras and was turning over very, and I mean very, fast.  Humm, do I say something and possibly wind up on the side of the road?  Nope, I’m letting him think I am sucked in.  And then he pulled the wrong turn to run the meter up even more scheme.  So when I arrived at my hotel he demanded 41 euros for my 15 minute ride while waiving a blank receipt in my face.  Knowing that the Guardia de Financia frown upon fake receipts (an ever-present attempt to curb money laundering) and the Policia don’t take kindly to scamming tourists, I made sure my bags were out of the taxi and then told my taxi driver in my best (terrible) Italian “Venti euros o Policia“.

Twenty euros later I checked into my hotel, the NH Genova Centro with my room having a wonderful view.  And, if you are looking for inexpensive and in a convenient, relatively quiet, location in Genoa, this is it.  (Just let the hot water run for a bit to get the rust out of the pipe and it is BBC news or nothing if you want English speaking television!)  I chose it because it is walking distance to my friend’s office and only a few minutes from the hotel where Seabourn will have a hospitality room for us before heading over to the Fincantieri shipyard and clearing security.

The view of a Genovese Park
from my NH Genova Centro Hotel room

After checking in and sorting myself out, I was off to visit with Giando; a fellow attorney who worked on some crazy Italian yacht litigation with me.  As it was a sunny Friday afternoon and the streets were fairly quiet as I wandered about before meeting him.

What struck me is that Genoa had cleaned itself up.  In the past years it was a fairly depressing wannabe small city back closer, but now it is heading back to be a city of grandeur it once was.  I was amazed and inspired.  And as I walked and started to look at the architecture, the details, the enormity of the artistry and design I first thought of Dubai and its focus on “bigger is better”, “simply striking” and over-the-top approach to itself and better understanding why it just doesn’t do anything for me.

One of more than a dozen spectacular
Genovese churches

And then I thought of the slums of Mumbai that I had visited earlier this very week and the backwaters of Cochin just two days before that.  Wooden and corrugated metal shacks to glass skyscrapers to indescribably beautiful ancient stone buildings; once impossible distances between them, and now within reach of each other…but still worlds apart.

I thought of not how fortunate I am to have done this, but of the humanity of some of it and the cold starkness of other aspects.  Of people “living” (not surviving) with almost nothing of material value, others with unimaginable wealth of material things but with a starkness of not really knowing what “living” is, and yet others who lived in the past with artistry and beauty being integral to their daily lives…and how that was neglected, but is now seeing a rebirth.

I’m still working on getting my head around all that!  It has been, in a way, a bit overwhelming.  But it is also a blessing.  My two days in Genoa could have been wasted, or could have been seen as meaningless, but instead have been incredibly inspirational and thought provoking.  But my time has not all be deep in thought, but in appreciation of this little Italian city.

Getting back to my lunch with Giando – He wins for the most spectacular office entry.  (And his offices ain’t bad either, but I will keep that beauty private!)  Giando’s office used to be near Christopher Columbus’ childhood home, but is now on Garibaldi; a UNESCO Heritage site.  In short:  You can keep the Burj Khalifa!

The Garden Entrance to Giando’s office

We went for a local’s lunch. I had been waiting for this lunch.  It’s not that reminiscing with Giando wasn’t great, but I craved my favorite pasta dish:  Trofie with Pesto Genovese!  It is made with durum wheat semolina flour and water; no eggs…both of which makes it special in flavor and texture and is particular to this region, Ligure, of Italy.

Trofie with pesto Genovese = Perfection!

After a few glasses of wine it was time for a coffee; Italian style…which takes about 10 seconds. BUT I saw an incredible looking chocolate cannoli, so it took me a bit longer.

As Italians tend to start late, have a late lunch and then work late…and then not (if ever) work on the weekends, Giando had to get back to work.  And I had to take a bit more of a wander before finally calling it a day.

The cruise industry has helped revitalize Genoa
(See the two MSC cruise ships in the background?) 

I awoke early, but thought a Saturday in Genoa would be quiet.  Boy was I wrong…and the reason became obvious:  Cruise ships!  MSC had a couple in town and the streets were flooded with cruise tourists.  Some roads were closed with artists lining the streets and the waterfront filled with vendors selling pretty much everything from under tents.  Yikes!

Only in Italy: 
A street filled with prostitutes (who work days)
under siege by a pack of unknowing tourists
and their children!

I decided to do my best not to be a tourist, so I wandered the the backstreets and found a shop crammed with locals which sold everything delicious; including trofie.  The number on the counter said “60” and pulled my ticket: “74”.  This could take a while and, honestly, I’m glad it did.  It reminded me that I needed to be “Italian”.

So I waited and watched, and smelled, and listened and I enjoyed every second of my wait.  And then it was my turn…and there was no chance of anyone speaking English.  But I knew enough, “Due kilo trofie” “Uno kilo trofie di casagne” (trofie with chestnuts…a Ligurian specialty)!

Eagle-eyed I spotted trofie!

This is only part of the Italian cheeses for sale

After wandering Genoa looking like a local (in my dreams!) carrying my bag of pasta rather than a backpack I headed back to my hotel until later in the afternoon when the cruise ship folks would be gone.  It worked.  It was actually amazing the difference.  The streets were quiet and I could enjoy Genoa as it lives its days when the cruise ships aren’t there.  And that made me think back to Genoa before the cruise ships, when Costa had a ship or two a week cruise out of nearby Savona and Genoa was depressed.  Nothing is perfect, but this is definitely better than it was!

It was time for me to continue my being Italian and find the right place for lunch.  To be sure there were still tourists around and, not surprisingly, the restaurants with the sandwich signs and posters were filled with them.  But that was never where I was going to be.

Somehow I saw a very small sign on the side of an alley and I thought New Jersey.  Seriously.  It said “Soul Kitchen 30 metres” and I thought of Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey which he established for homeless people to learn restaurant trades.

I walked 30 meters and nothing.  I walked a bit further:  Nothing.  So I started to wander back and looked down a very narrow, dank and dark alley…and there is was:  Soul Kitchen; a tiny restaurant with two bright red tables outside and about six crowded tables inside.  Al fresco dining in a dark, dank, alley was all me!  Trust me the waitstaff, the chef and the food brightened things up.  And I found my place to be Italian for a couple of hours.

Soul Kitchen, Genoa, Italy

Octopus with a ultra creamy potato and basil sauce followed by gnocchi with tomatoes and basil.  (It sounds so much better in Italian:  Polpo alla piastra, crema di patate, salsa al-basilico and gnocchi pomodoro e basilico) along with local white wine and delicious bread.

My last evening in Genoa had only one thing on the agenda:  Pizza.  Why?  Because it is impossible to get a great pizza in Lake Tahoe, California or, probably the entire state of California and definitely Nevada.

In the afternoon I was on a mission to find a great pizza place that would open in the evening and I thought I found it.  I walked down the hill on this narrow street, found a table and was promptly told that since I was only one person and did not have a reservation I was not welcome.  Ouch!  But I understood.  Once you sit down it is your table for the evening, so they would be losing money on a Saturday night. (Their pizza probably wasn’t any good anyway, right?)

So I wandered around, was about to give up and there it was Osteria Sivori.  Now there was a bit of a compromise in that it served pinsa, which is an ancient Roman dish similar to, but a bit different from, pizza.  But when I saw the crust on some other tables I was in.

Tomorrow is the day we have been waiting for:  Boarding the brand new Seabourn Ovation!

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