topics: Christopher Columbus, French and Italian Riviera, Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: May 29-30, 1998

Food of the Day: western Ligurian specialties

On the evening of our brief stay in San Remo (see the Rider Notes), we headed straight for a small pub-like restaurant to try some of the local sanremesi specialties. Welcomed with flair by a smiley man full of too many languages, we were seated at a table and treated to one of everything on the very short menu: zucchini squares fresh out of the oven, süpa dé sévüle (basically a French onion soup - the thick oniony broth with bread and melted cheese floating on top), ménéstrün áü péstü (minestrone soup with pesto, a creative combination of an Italian staple - minestrone - and a regional specialty - pesto), and stücafissu (a basic and delicious thick fish stew).

As we are discovering about foods found in areas close to cultural or political frontiers, they often reflect a mix of influences that we greatly appreciate. Thick like many French dishes but flavored like Italian cuisine, the foods of this meal were a treat.

Person of the Day: Christopher Columbus

Almost every American school child knows that in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And, in truth, on August 3 of that year, he took off under the patronage of the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, to find a westward route around the world to India. In three famous ships - the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María - he and his crew set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Spain, and two months later, on October 12, landed at Watling Island in what is now the Bahamas, thus marking the first European "discovery" of the Americas. Later on the same trip he moved forward to Cuba and Hispaniola (today's Haiti and Dominican Republic).

Known originally as Cristoforo Colombo (and Cristóbal Colón in Spanish), young Christopher was a native of Genova (born in 1451) and just as intrigued by the activity of the 15th century port as his peers. Given this and his captivation by the tales told in Marco Polo's "Book of Sir Marco Polo," it should come as no surprise that he went off to Portugal to become a master mariner. Upon returning to Genova and having the authorities there think his project to sail west too ambitious, he turned to the Spaniards who took the bait.

Over twelve years, Columbus made a total of four trips to the New World, making landings in the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela, and along the coast of Central America all the way to Colombia. Early in his career after his discoveries, he was made admiral and governor general of the new territories. However, in 1500 he was replaced as governor and sent back to Spain in chains to account for his abominable handling of the native peoples inhabiting the lands he found. He was eventually freed and made his last trip from 1502-4. He died in Spain in 1506 a bitter, neglected, and forgotten man who still had no idea that he had landed on a completely new continent. (He thought he had made it to Asia.)

While today many people celebrate him as a master navigator and a hero, his reputation as a harsh governor who treated non-colonists with a harsh and heavy hand has been brought to light again.

Place of the Day: Riviera dei Fiori

The Riviera is the famous and fashionable Mediterranean coast in southeastern France and northern Italy reputed for the quality of its sun, scenery, beaches and tourists. click to view a photograph The most famous stretches of the Riviera are those found in or near the resorts of Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez (along the French Côte d'Azur), Monte Carlo (in Monaco), and Rapallo, Portofino and San Remo (in Italy).

Unbeknownst to many people, certain stretches of coast are also known by other names. For example, the stretch of beach we have paralleled since Genova is called both the Riviera di Ponente and the Riviera dei Fiori. "Ponente" refers to the wind that, in its season, blows from the west (as opposed to the "levante" which blows from the Levant or the east); "fiori" is the Italian word for "flowers" and, indeed, the coast we saw was in full late-Spring bloom. click to view a photograph This area is also called the Riviera of Flowers because of the developed flower-growing industry that produce some of the most expensive bouquets in Europe!

This particular run of beaches first became famous in the 1800s when the English and Russian gentry made it their summering spot. Today it has retained much of its original flair but is much more modern in its appeal click to view a photograph and now appears to be more of a sabbatical land for an older community.

Tech Fact of the Day: Alfred Nobel's Italian hideaway

San Remo is where the Villa Nobel is located, once the home of Alfred Nobel, the famous Swedish chemist, inventor, and philanthropist.

Nobel, who lived from 1833 until 1896, is known today principally for two things: the invention of dynamite and the inspiration and endowment of the Nobel prizes. As an inventor whose work concentrated on the development and manufacture (and safety in the use of) explosives, he was the first to combine nitroglycerine with an inert filler, thus creating dynamite. However, as an avowed pacifist, he deeply regretted the violence brought about as a result of his discovery. As a result, he used the fortune he made to create an endowment for the delivery of annual financial awards - the Nobel prizes - for work done in the sciences, literature, and the promotion of peace.

The original Nobel Prizes focus on outstanding achievement in five fields: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. (The prize for economics was created later by a contribution from the Swedish national bank.) Each winner receives a gold medal and all or a share of a monetary award worth almost $1 million. The first awards were given in 1901.

Group Dispatch, May 29-30
picture of Ethan

We opened our eyes with serious misgivings. It had poured rain all day yesterday and predictions were for more of the same today. No one relished the idea of a long day beneath the clouds, but we knew we had no choice. So, when we pulled back the shutters, only half-hopeful, what greeted us? A heavy gray blanket staining the sky's natural blue (which we so longed to see) and the splash of chilly rain drops on the pavement. Ugh. Nevertheless, we had to move forward.

So we packed and prepared and delayed and delayed until finally there was a small enough break in the cloud cover to make us think we could escape being soaked. And, as it turned out, we were very, very lucky.

We did not know precisely where we were headed. All we knew was that in three days, we needed to cross the border with France and then get beyond Nice to a home stay with some friends. With that kind of flexibility, it turned out that we didn't have to go more than 80 or 90 km (50 or 56 mi) a day and so with that restraint in mind, we scoped out a comfortable-sounding city with affordable lodging. For our first day along the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente, also known as the Riviera dei Fiori (see the Place of the Day), Finale Ligure seemed like the perfect place to go (good beaches, a youth hostel, and plenty of choice for food).

Mounted and ready, we turned for one more passage down Genova's wide Via XX Settembre, paused at the Piazza de Ferrari click to view a photograph for a picture in front of the fountain click to view a photograph and very near to 16th-century Palazzo Ducale, former residence of the doges (see the history in yesterday's dispatch about Genova) and now the city's court of law, and then sped down to the harbor click to view a photograph for one more look at the shores whose 15th-century allure inspired a native Genovese, Christopher Columbus (our Person of the Day), to seek out a land whose "discovery" changed the world.

Not much looks like it used to - except a few buildings like the 14th-century Palazzo San Giorgio (built by the first Genovese doge, Simone Boccanegra and partially seen here on the right in the picture click to view a photograph) - but we tried to envision a bustling port full of seaworthy sailing ships and sailors.

Finally it was time to head out of town. Which, we discovered was no small task. There is today a waterfront industrial sprawl that carries on for kilometer after kilometer to the west of Genova. The tangle of roads and traffic and business made it slow going (we were hampered by a flat too) and we ended up eating a desultory lunch on what felt like the outskirts of the same town (so little had the "scenery" changed), but was really 20 km (12 mi) from the center of Genova.

When the urban feel finally gave way to more open and green views of the coast and our good neighbor the Mediterranean the clouds also began to break up and that bright fiery orb that we have missed so much lately took its place in the sky. Soon we had the makings of a very pleasant day. Of course, during the last eight months, we have become slightly jaded by good weather and stunning views of the water. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed this trip up a bit of the Riviera dei Fiori (Riviera of the Flowers) which passes from quaint beachfront tourist city to quaint beachfront tourist city, rarely changing in character from vista click to view a photograph to vista. click to view a photograph

In the late afternoon, Ethan and then Corinne and then Padraic and Anthony arrived at Finale Ligure. (Anthony and Padraic had lingered in the town of Celle Ligure to wait for the factory store of the Olmo bike manufacturers to open; both guys have been enjoying ogling and fantasizing about the custom-made and/or high-quality frames ridden by local cycling enthusiasts taking full advantage of local small specialty shops in the area.) A bitter climb up an impossibly steep hill left us all before the gates of an impressive castle-hostel click to view a photograph with magnificent views out over Finale Ligure and the surrounding area. click to view a photograph

A pre-dinner stroll through town revealed a long stretch of beach - used, it would seem for classical sunning purposes click to view a photograph - and a class of tourists slightly older and better financed than we are. Our sleuthing skills still succeeded in bringing us to an affordable restaurant where we enjoyed more trofie al pesto and some fine pizza. Capped with some yummy gelato, we had the energy to climb back up to our hostel-castle on the hill and collapse in bed.

The next day we set our sights on the resort town of San Remo, just a few kilometers from the French border. Once again, we didn't want to go too far since we had a meeting in the first town across the French border on the next morning, but we also didn't want to cut ourselves short.

The ride was very much like yesterday's. Long stretches of lovely coast and rolling coastal road. click to view a photograph We paused only once, in the city of Imperia, for a lunch on the beach. click to view a photograph It was an excellent rest click to view a photograph but we were probably all too excited about the sun which has, of late, become all too unfamiliar to us; we all came away somewhat burned.

Once again, by late afternoon, we had arrived at our destination: San Remo. click to view a photograph San Remo was first really considered as a resort when, in the late 19th century, stylish Brits and Russians came here. It has today lost some of its last-century, aristocratic air - the luxury hotels are all very modern - but there are still beautiful palm-lined avenues click to view a photograph, an elegant waterfront, and fine beaches. There is, of course, still the casino click to view a photograph and a surprising Russian Orthodox Church click to view a photograph, perhaps a reminder of the Russian community that came here following Empress Maria Alexandrovna, mother of Tsar Nicholas II. The church, we learned, was designed by the same architect who later made Lenin's tomb in Moscow. San Remo is also the site of the Villa Nobel, once home to Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and creator of the Nobel Prizes (see the Tech Fact of the Day).

Unfortunately, our time in San Remo was pretty short. We found a hotel, enjoyed the views from the balcony into this modern Riviera resort city click to view a photograph with a long history click to view a photograph, watched another day of the Giro d'Italia with the owner of the hotel (Dai, dai, Pantani!), worked on our dispatches, went for a dinner of typical sanremesi cuisine (see the Food of the Day), and only had energy left to pull back the covers on our beds.

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