A little bit of Milan as well (less than 24 hours in this city)
Photo: Milan and Genoa (on this trip)
My Blog My Opinion
I’m stuck in my hotel room in Genoa today (Wednesday) due to severe thunderstorms (I love them, but they never happened). I shouldn’t say “stuck” because I’m in a very pleasant hotel in the oldest part of Genoa and my room is quite comfortable. I love reading; watching films can be relaxing, but writing takes me to my happy place. I have been travelling quite a bit and I thought some travel tips might be useful to some of you.
These days, I mainly travel for two reasons: 1)to try food in different parts of the world, 2)to experience change. I’ve noticed great things happen in my life when I shake things up a bit. In the process of shaking, I like to minimize things that could go wrong.
Deciding on Where to Go
I’ve written this before, but it’s worth repeating: the older I get, the less I want to leave the comforts of home. I love my life in Faro and I miss it when I am away. Then why do I do it? It’s a complicated answer, however, I’ll give it a try: I travel because I think I should. Lame answer isn’t it, but it’s true. I believe that I grow as a person when I travel. I know I grow physically from all of the eating I do (another blog).
When experiencing different cultures, you are able to broaden your thinking about the human condition. Of course you can experience differences in your own backyard, but it’s not the same when you’re surrounded by people who look different, sound different, behave differently, and interact with you differently — and that’s all good.
I’ll use my current situation as an example. I am in the Old Town.
“The historical centre, also known as old town, of Genoa is one of the largest and most-densely populated in Europe. Part of it was also inscribed on the World Heritage List (UNESCO) in 2006 as Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli.” Wikipedia
As I dragged my suitcase through the narrow, hilly, horribly humid streets I noticed two things: First, there are prostitutes everywhere. They don’t seem to be hiding at all. Second, the area is ethnically diverse. I know that neither of these things is atypical to Genoa, but they stand out here. Where do my thoughts go? Well, I’m certainly happy to see so much diversity. To me that always means more food options and a city that is welcoming immigrants. The prostitutes? I’m not so sure how I feel. I guess if it’s legal and I don’t know the answer to whether or not it is, then I would think there would be regulations around health and safety matters — I’m speculating. Prostitution doesn’t directly impact me personally; however, in my mind, where there are prostitutes, there are illegal drugs and other crimes. This way of thinking stems from my early years in certain parts of Manhattan (remember when Times Square was a hell hole?). Right or wrong, these impressions are part of a history I cannot erase. The prejudice around the selling of one’s body is also deeply embedded.
So as I walk around the Old Town and take it all in, I don’t judge the people I see, but I do wonder how and why it is accepted here and not in other places. We humans are complicated; my prejudices and thoughts are not something I am ashamed of, but the more I learn, the more I understand, and therefore, the less prejudiced I become.
Back to deciding where I want to travel. My first priority is to choose a place that I haven’t been to, where I can fly direct. I hate changing planes. Most of my travel woes occured when I missed my connection or had delays on my first flight which caused me a great deal of anxiety — then and now. There are times when a connection cannot be avoided, but I try to minimize the frequency.
On this trip, I flew directly into Milan. I’ve been to Milan many times because of my position at the French Culinary Institute. I had no desire to spend time in MIlan. Genoa is only 90 minutes away by train and I have always wanted to experience Genoa. Seemed like a no brainer and so far, it’s working. I take the train back to Milan tomorrow and I get to visit with a friend. the next time I’ll go north to Lake Como.
I try to choose places where I can experience dining at ethnically diverse eateries. The cuisine is excellent in Faro, however, it is not diverse enough for me. I had Korean food my first night in Milan. This made me very happy.
Update on prostitutes: The Old Town was swarming with police at noonish today (Thursday); I don’t think it’s legal. I didn’t see a single prostitute.
How to Get Where I’m Going
I love trains and I hate buses. Even though there are usually less delays with buses (in Europe), I hate them so much. Sometimes I have a choice and sometimes I’m forced to take a bus. For example, Sevilla is a couple of hours away, but you cannot get there by train from Faro. Then of course there is flying — terrible for the environment, I know. I prefer to fly out of Faro because I live 10 minutes from the airport and that is a big reason why I chose Faro. Faro has several budget airlines (EasyJet, RyanAir, Jet2, Air Transat, and a couple of others). I can book these airlines inexpensively and fly direct to many cities; then if I need to I can add on a train trip (Genoa where I am now for example). These airlines are all about loading them up and shipping them out, making their on-time-record pretty decent.
There are times when I am forced to take the train to Lisbon because I cannot fly direct to my final destination. I will occasionally add on a Faro to Lisbon leg, but only if the connection is less than three hours. The train is just a little over three hours, therefore, it doesn’t always pay to fly. I normally add an overnight stay in Lisbon; it’s a beautiful city with lots to see and do.
How Long to Stay and Where to Stay (and cruise bookings)
For certain destinations, there are sometimes flights only once a week in and out of Faro. For these trips the decision has been made for me. If there are a couple of flights a week, I will take a three or four night trip, depending on how close or far away the city is. If it is a trip to France and it’s a little over two hours in the air, three nights is sufficient for me. If I’m flying to the States or any place where I’m flying over seven hours, I will go for a week or more. My problem has always been that I miss being home after a few days. This includes times when I am having a great time. I know, I am a complicated fella.
I love using Hotels.com to book. After 10 nights, I get one free night (it depends on the per night costs for the 10 stays — it’s a average cost for the free night. There are times when I have to pay a little bit more for the free night. How is it free then? Who knows.). I have achieved a certain status due to frequency of use, so sometimes I am upgraded to a nicer room or they might leave me a bottle of wine or even include breakfast — as long I don’t end up with twin beds, I’m happy. Happiness being relative. I love when a good breakfast is included. It means I eat more than usual, but I’m learning to be more selective about my choices (i.e., granola rather than three croissants). Booking.com sometimes has more choices, however, I’ve noticed the deals are not as good. It’s good to compare. I think most of these booking platforms are similar. VRBO is good for long stays in homes or apartments. For booking flights, I love Skyscanner.com. I have gotten some great deals on this site and they send alerts.
I use Airbnb a lot when I’m staying more than two or three nights. I like that I can cook my own food and I love the often, not always, homey feel. People can be very generous and creative — I have stayed at amazing Airbnbs at bargain per night rates. Look closely at the cleaning fee, service fees, taxes, and the cancellation policy. When COVID hit us and flights and trips were being cancelled, I did lose some money. Now I mainly book hotels or Airbnbs with generous cancellation policies (some even the day before travel). I only bother with travel insurance if I’m taking a cruise. I think most have restrictions and do not pay out. For cruise bookings I use Ryan Holland at Vacationstogo. He’s a true pro and gets what I like. It’s all about customer service and knowing the customer. I usually book my own excursions, but not always. Sometimes the cruise lines give you credits and then it might be a good deal. Again, do the research and fine the best deal for you.
For me, finding a bargain is a great deal of fun. There is nothing better than planning a trip to a great city for a song. I look at it this way, the less I spend on airfare and hotel, the more money I have for dining out. As you already know, I live to eat. If you are one of these people who eat to live, I am so sorry for you.
How Much Do I want to Spend?
My budget is always different depending on the following: If it’s a quick weekend away, it’s a tight budget. A longer trip requires more comfort and therefore, a bigger budget. I trip I have waited a lifetime to take (Asia 2023) will mean a greater budget. I don’t love spending money on high-end hotels (although the Sofitel in Havana almost changed my mind; it was fabulous). Sometimes I book a really inexpensive vacation and then I upgrade right before I leave. You know, if I find money in my dirty laundry or a great aunt dies (never going to happen). If you’re travelling with a friend or partner, budget must be discussed and agreed upon.
Tipping: know the tipping practices of the country you are in. Whenever staff go above and beyond, I reward them generously. As a person who worked for gratuities for many years, I know how it feels to be snubbed or rewarded.
What to Do Once I Get There
If I’m traveling to a different time zone or after a long journey, I plan a nap. If I know I’m arriving early (most U.S. east coast flights arrive in Europe in the morning), I write to the hotel and let them know my flight time. I usually write something very humble, such as: “I know this may not be possible, but if you have a room available by 10:00 a.m. I would be very grateful. I will be arriving after a very long flight and I will need to rest and freshen-up.” It doesn’t always work, but I sure am happy when it does. I have learned that when travelling, being nice goes a long way. Should be the way we live, but it’s difficult sometimes because people (hospitality people specifically, aren’t always nice. I have noticed that if you are super nice to angry staff, they sometimes chill out. I live in a fantasy world most of the time.
When planning your first day, keep it light; pace yourself. I always say that if I fail to see or do something and I really like a city or place, not seeing or doing everything will give me a good reason to return.
What if Something Goes Wrong? Stop laughing!
What is that saying? “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Pessimistic at best. Considering the amount of travelling I do, I’d have to say I have very few problems when I travel. Here are some of the things that I do to avoid problems:
- Do your homework and keep your documents in two places: in your phone doc file and print out paper copies. If something happens to your phone, you’ll be glad you had your docs with you.
- Always keep your passport and visa in the same place. I pack mine days before a trip and I keep it in a deep pocket of my carry on (and I keep a 20 note folded up in my passport case in case of an emergency). Note the expiration date of your passport and visas on a digital calendar months before the expiration date. Pop-up reminders are very helpful and will prevent you from paying expediting fees. I know too many people who have had to postpone a trip because their passports were either expired or the new one did not arrive on time. Make sure you don’t need a visa to go wherever you’re going. Travel agents are useful for this sort of thing. The travel agent I used for my Cuba trip did everything and it was worth the extra money I paid for the trip.
- Order a taxi or transfer the day before an early flight. You cannot count on Uber at 4:00 a.m. (Maybe in big cities, but not in Faro). You’ll pay a bit more, but you’ll make your flight. Today, my taxi driver wanted 30 euros for a six minute ride to the airport. I bargained him down to 25; still too much. The world has become a greedier place.
- Arrive earlier than you think you should for your flight. Getting through security and passport control can take longer than you think. Download a movie or bring a good book. Most airports have free wifi. Having time to spare is so much better than begging people to let you in front of them — some people are gracious and kind; others are bitter. Some people will hold you accountable for every bad thing that ever happened to them. That horrible person may be the reason you miss your flight. I can recall a moment in the Miami airport when I came close to crying. A stranger took tapped my shoulder and led me to the front of the line without even asking anyone; he’ll forever be my hero. I wasn’t blessed with balls that big. Strangers can surprise you and restore your faith in humanity.
- When you travel to a country with a different currency, either get some at your bank before you leave or keep some from a previous trip. Not all taxis take cards. And what if you haven’t eaten for a few hours? Even in the digital automated world we currently live in, sometimes you have to have cash.
- Pack light. I usually try to book an Airbnb with a washer. If that’s not possible, I wash by hand. If you’re going somewhere for more than four nights, you do not need underwear or pants for every day you will be away. Most items of clothing will dry overnight. In an emergency, you can always buy a few things.
- Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, your phone charger, a pair of underwear, and any other essential item, in your carry on bag. If your luggage gets lost, you’ll get by for 24 hours. If the airline does lose your luggage, ask for a clothing allowance. My favorite pair of shorts were purchased in Seattle when my luggage remained at JFK.
- If you have an early flight, stay very close to your hotel — it will reduce your stress. As I type this I am in a hotel room 10 minutes from Malpensa Airport in Milan. I have a 6:00 a.m. flight (not by choice) and I’ll need to wake early. Sidenote: I did not sleep well thinking I’d sleep through a call and my phone alarm. It doesn’t matter that this would never happen.
- Try not to plan your travel back-to-back. I’m sort of in that situation now and it’s not good. This was all due to COVID disruption, rescheduling of cancelled flights, etc. A day of getting to the airport, security lines, Ubers, trains, and buses, can zap you of all the energy you have. Your body needs time to recover.
- Try not to stay with friends and/or family for more than three nights. Having guests isn’t easy; after a while you’ll start to get on each other’s nerves and it can ruin a good vacation. If you can afford it, find your own place to stay. I stayed with a friend for over two weeks once and I still feel bad about it.
- Bring a small pillow or one of those neck thingies. My pillow has a 100% soft cotton case and it helps me to sleep better on trains, planes, and buses.
- Lastly, don’t let the details bog you down. Remember, being organized is supposed to make life easier and help to avoid headaches and disasters. Keep telling yourself how much fun you’re having.
Cop-out I know, but true: as I get older I will be taking shorter, easier, higher end trips. Possibly one long journey a year, to places I have never been . . . I think, perhaps, maybe? I can talk myself into just about anything. Remember not to take your health for granted — there may come a time when travel is not possible. I’m a realist . . . except when it comes to eating great food. I think I’ll eat well until the clock stops ticking.
Toronto, Denver, & Detroit, coming up on the 14th, Northern European cruise in early October, Lyon with friends in November (what was a three night trip has become a seven night trip due to a flight cancellation — more wineries and more French food), Florida with friends in March, back to Liverpool in April so I can spend time with a friend, and a big trip to five Asian countries in November (with same friend — no not that kind of friend). I haven’t planned all of 2023, but I know I will spend more time at home in Faro.
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Restaurant Tips and Pics of Genoa
Alla Lunga Restaurante in the Old Town, Genoa is superb. Local ingredients, excellent service, great atmosphere, and not pricey.
Locanda Spinola, Old Town, homemade pasta and fresh fish. Not a bargain, but excellent traditional Genova cuisine.
Il Mannarino, if you love meat you will love this restaurant. My friend Valentino took me there because my father was born in Bari (outside of the city in Bisceglie) and the owners of this restaurant are from there. I had an outstanding lunch. I did not have steak, but no doubt it would be good here. Beautiful memories.
There is a lot to see and do in Genoa (Genova here). I mostly ate at reasonable restaurants on side streets. After years of travel I can recognize and smell the tourist traps. The food where I dined was good and the service was excellent; however, I only note when they are exceptional. When visiting Italy, I eat pasta daily; it’s my birthright.