‘Genoa’s a diamond in the rough’

After years sailing around on a cruise ship with her other half, Canadian Leah Armstrong decided it was time to finally lay anchor on Italy's shore. She speaks to The Local about the challenges - and rewards - of life in Genoa, in the northern region of Liguria.

'Genoa's a diamond in the rough'
Leah Armstrong and her husband Edoardo Beraldo. Photo: Leah Armstrong

How did you end up living in Genoa?

My Italian husband and I worked on cruise ships together for six years, but it was a lot of back and forth because it was difficult to get assigned to the same ship.

You reach a point in a relationship when you make or break it.

In 2007, I made a commitment live in Italy, on a three month visa, and in 2008 we got married. It took almost two years to get a visa after getting married!

Your blog has an interesting title – Help! I live with my Italian mother in law – is it really so bad?

For the last two years I’ve lived down the road from her; for the first three years I was living her – I finally lost my mind and had to get out!

But I realized that I was living in a protective bubble; when I got my first apartment I made some pretty big mistakes! The apartment had no proper heating system whatsoever and it was one of the coldest winters!

It’s trial and error; you learn a lot.

Have you faced any other challenges?

I’ve found it very difficult to learn Italian, which is at basic level, so most of my friends are expats.

The people in Genoa are not the friendliest and are very difficult to get to know. I’ve had some really nasty exchanges, especially on public transport. There are a lot of grumpy old people!

I’ve spent a lot of time in Tuscany and I really notice the difference, people smile more there.

Is there anything you miss about Canada?

I miss the snow! I didn’t love snow when I lived in Canada, but there’s a fresh crisp air that goes with it. When you step outside it’s so cold that you feel the cool area throughout your lungs; I miss that feeling.

How about the good points?

I found a job immediately, with no teaching experience. I got lucky. I got thrown in at the deep end at a private school and given a teachers’ handbook.

Genoa’s a diamond in the rough, you really have to take your time to explore its gems. It has its treasures but they’re not really on the map; I’ve been here for five years and I’m still discovering new places.

What would you recommend seeing?

The fountain in Piazza De Ferrari is impressive, I never get tired of walking past it with the waters changing colour.

Be adventurous! Go down a side road that you’re not sure of; Genoa’s incredibly small, you start walking around and you’re back where you started.

The San Lorenzo Cathedral has traditional black and white stripes, common to the Liguria region, and giant statues of lions.

A bus ride out of the city you find the Staglieno cemetery; it’s world famous and yet it was four years before I even went. It’s enormous; you need a map. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


First cruise ship sets sail from Italy since coronavirus shutdown

The first major cruise ship to resume tours of the Mediterranean since the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe set sail from the Italian city of Genoa on Sunday, as the industry tries to regain ground after a bruising hiatus.

First cruise ship sets sail from Italy since coronavirus shutdown
A photographer watches the MSC Grandiosa depart on Sunday August 16th, 2020, after more than six months of inactivity. Photo: AFP

The departure of the MSC Grandiosa from the northwestern port city at 1930 local time represents a high-stakes test for the global sector in the key Mediterranean market and beyond.

The international cruise industry has been battered not only by the ongoing health crisis which in March forced the worldwide grounding of its ships, but accusations of a botched handling of the epidemic in its early stages.

Cruise lines are hoping that new, tighter protocols will allow them to control the still-lingering threat of coronavirus aboard its ships while still offering travellers a cruise experience that does not disappoint.

Arriving passengers preparing to check in before taking a required coronavirus blood test inside the terminal told AFP they were not concerned about the virus. Some said they believed cruises were now safer than other vacation options.

“I couldn't miss the first cruise after Covid,” cruise blogger Rosalba Scarrone, 64, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Venice anti-cruise ship activists cheer temporary victory as liners pull out

“I've taken 87 cruises, can you imagine how much I've suffered not setting off from February until now?”

The Grandiosa is part of the fleet of privately-owned MSC Cruises, founded in Naples but now based in Geneva. The ship will travel to the ports of Civitavecchia near Rome, Naples, Palermo and Valletta, Malta during the seven-day cruise.

Competitor Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, has opted to delay the restart of its Mediterranean cruises until September, with departures from Trieste and Genoa for Italian-only clients. The company said the measure was designed to “guarantee the maximum security for guests, crew and local communities.”

Fewer passengers

Much is riding on the decision to restart cruises. Italy represents the bulk of Europe's cruise industry, reaping 14.5 billion euros of revenue per year and supporting nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The group estimated a potential economic loss from suspended cruises throughout Europe could amount to about 25.5 billion euros.

“The voyage … represents a tangible sign of comeback for one of the fundamental economic industries of our city,” said Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci.

Over 2 million cruise passengers departed from the city last year.

Last week, Italy's government, which is striving to revive the country's moribund economy after a more than two-month lockdown, gave cruise operators the green light to begin operating again as of August 15. 

MSC authorities said approximately 2,500 passengers would be on its debut cruise, limited to about 70 percent of normal capacity.

All eyes in the industry will be on the Grandiosa after a smaller cruise operator, Norway's Hurtigruten, was forced earlier this month to suspend its newly restarted service after dozens of passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19.

Global health authorities criticised the industry's slow response to the spread of the virus at the onset of the crisis earlier this year before ships were grounded in March, from lax monitoring of crew, to continued operation of self-service buffets and gyms, to lack of personal protective equipment.

Buffet is served

As of June 11, 3,047 people were infected and 73 people died aboard 48 cruise ships affiliated with trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), according to Johns Hopkins University data, provided by CLIA.

Health authorities say close living and working spaces for crew, along with partially enclosed environments contributed to greater risk of infection on cruises than other venues.

MSC has suspended the rest of its Mediterranean cruises until October save for an August 29 cruise departing from the southern Italian port of Bari.

The company said its new security protocol exceeds national and industry standards, including daily temperatures taken and escorted trips in controlled groups for excursions.

Food from the buffet, a highlight of the cruise experience, will be served at passengers' tables.