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Rediscovering my World in Columbus' Town (Genoa, Italy)


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(Part 1 of the Genoa Series)

Christopher Columbus discovered America when he was seeking a westward route to India. To his dying day, the master mariner and navigator believed he had achieved his quest, and denied discovering a new continent. While Columbus was not the first European to encounter America, he did achieve what no known previous explorer had: he sailed directly across the uncharted sea, without staying in sight of land, navigating by the stars. - Melissa Snell, “Christopher Columbus”

I. Getting out of bed

As the train zoomed through one of the many Ligurian tunnels tracing the western border of this region north of Italy, a burst of sea and sun startled my sleepy senses. I realized then that I was already far from my cold, lazy bed at our student residence in the middle of the Tuscan hills south of Florence. I was on my way to Genoa.

I wanted to jump into the water, breaking through the glass window that gave the view a slightly blurry effect, it being riddled by scratches and whatnot that is characteristic of many “regionali” trains. Or at least, breathe in the smell of salt. It had been a long while since the last time I saw the sea.

Photos of Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy 1/1 by Unshod Rover

Nothing much had prepared me for my short, surprise weekend trip to this part of the Mediterranean where Christopher Columbus grew up and, I could just imagine, dreamed of braving the oceans and going places. In fact, I was a bit confused about finding myself traveling with a Genoese classmate and newfound friend. At first sight, he seemed to be at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as a lot of things were concerned, world views and sports choices including. He, being at home in Italy, and I, being a stranger. I, being comfortable with fellow foreigners, and he, feeling “foreign” among strangers. But after a quick visit to McDonald's and enough Coca-Cola, I sensed some semblance of kinship. A few more minutes and we were already people-watching, sharing our opinions on the “youth of today” and the everyday Genoese passing by as we waited for our ride.

What greater splash into Columbus' town than an “extraordinary voyage of discovery across the seas” at the Acquario di Genova. Built in 1992, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World, the aquarium is among the biggest in the world. “Anchored in the heart of the city and stretching out towards the open sea,” the aquarium by the old port of Genoa definitely brings to mind Columbus' great, even ruthless, thirst for what is beyond.

Photos of Aquarium of Genoa, Ponte Spinola, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy 1/3 by Unshod Rover
Photos of Aquarium of Genoa, Ponte Spinola, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy 2/3 by Unshod Rover
Photos of Aquarium of Genoa, Ponte Spinola, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy 3/3 by Unshod Rover

And there we were, my friend and I, two kids exploring the world by marveling at around 600 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds and invertebrates from the forests of Madagascar to the jungles of the Amazon and the coastal waters of tropical seas. Around two hours of reminding ourselves that there remains a lot of beauty and serenity in the world, and that there's much more to discover and rediscover.

After the aquarium, we walked through the port and passed by an area of the city where, according to my friend, “no Italian was being spoken.” And he was right, there among the stalls of seafood and stores selling winter clothes, a “foreign” atmosphere popped up like a neon post-it with the variety of people speaking not in Italian. Again, a note on how a universe of differences finds a home in every corner of the globe.

Going home for the night and staying faithful to our Columbian theme for the weekend trip, my friend brought me to the house of Columbus, a very small structure, almost insignificant compared to the explorer's fame and achievements. As I sat there by the doorstep, just a few steps away, the Porta Soprana, that used to be Genoa's main entrance during medieval times, towered over me and Columbus' house like two eager giants.

Photos of Casa de Cristóbal Colón, Via di Porta Soprana, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy 1/1 by Unshod Rover

I sat there, as the stars started to come out after a day of rain, and thought of all the trips I've made in my whole life and how they have all led me to that very moment by the doorstep of Columbus' house. What if Columbus did not discover America. What if he never had the faintest desire to come out of his bed and take the first step to a journey of a thousand miles? What if I did not leave Florence, or my country, or my island, or my house, or my room?

I continued pondering on these questions as my friend dozed off aboard the tram. We missed our stop. And while my friend started to lament as we tried to compensate for the few meters we had to recover to reach his house, I thought that missing a bus stop, going out of route, or even getting totally lost, is not necessarily a bad thing. //


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