20 Years of Travel #6: Lucca, Italy

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an obvious location, as it was our home for 3 years: Lucca, Italy (in the Tuscany region). This is actually a difficult post to write, because how can I put down into words how much Lucca has meant to us.

I’m going to start with the obvious….
Food/Wine

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My husband and I loved starting every day by going to our local cafes for our cappuccini

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and pastries…normally a cornetto or sfloglia. We would frequent Piccola Soave during the week and Da Sara on the weekends. It is worth mentioning that food shopping can be a bit different there. If you want the best vegetables, you go to the vegetable stands; for the best meat, you go to your local butcher (pictured on the right – preparing our turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration); and for the best “unsalted” bread, you go to your local bakery. The food there is so flavorful and fresh.

You can’t visit or especially live in Tuscany without having some wine! It is really hard to

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find bad wine there. Plus, for €3 you can get a great local wine that would cost 5x that in the USA. The nearby hill-town of Montecarlo has its own wine festival and is home to the well-known Fattoria di Fubbiano winery. However, the hills around Lucca provide some of the best wineries. We enjoyed our trip to Fattoria Sardi, but our ultimate favorite place for wine is the Fabbrica di San Martino. We’ve been there many times and never leave without cases of wine. Even my friend, who is not a wine drinker, found a wine she loves there.13055839_10153604589492986_7423048710852422585_o (1)

Favorite eatery options:

  • Risto-Bar il Caffe on Corso Garibaldi – was a favorite spot for lunch. I BIG hello to the owners: Roberto and Sabrina. I miss your food and company so much!!!
  • Trattoria da Ubaldo – it is possible that you may find a local comic book series that features the owner of this restaurant. He is an interesting character and a favorite with the locals.
  • Ammodonostro – provides a great sharing meal that includes bistecca alla fiorentina.
  • Osteria Miranda – located in Piazza Santa Maria is one of the few restaurants around that serves our favorite San Martino wine.
  • Trattoria da Leo – a favorite restaurant of the locals. Make sure to have the table wine and the after dinner refreshment of limoncello and grappa that is offered to you before you leave.
  • L’isola Che Non C’era – a great place to take a lunch break while your shopping on Via Fillungo.
  • Le Bonta – everyone in Lucca has their favorite gelateria (gelato stand) and this is ours. It is located right outside the Lucchesi walls.

Our second favorite thing about Lucca are the festivals, holidays and celebrations…

Festivals

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During the summer and fall, it feels like Lucca has a festival or celebration almost every day. Drums and flag throwing are included in many holiday festivities. These are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • Luminaria di Santa Croce – a candlelit procession takes place from the Church San Frediano to the Cathedral of San Martino (Duomo – pictured above). This processional represents the miracle of the Volto Santo (holy face crucifix) relocating 17011_10153061958712986_8573529136269828547_nfrom San Frediano to the Duomo.
  • Lucca Summer Festival – a large summer music festival that has brought many bands and musicians. During my time in Lucca, I got to see Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Eagles, Backstreet Boys, the Script, Gary Clark, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz (pictured on the right).
  • Effetto Cinema Notte – a celebration of cinema with musical performances all around the town from movies like Grease, Labyrinth, Chicago etc.
  • Verdemura Lucca – a portion of the Lucchesi wall is set up to sell plants and flowers and other organic products. It always made me wish I had more of a green thumb.
  • Lucca Film Festival – where directors are honored for their work and cinematic features. David Lynch and George Romero were previous honorees.
  • Il Desco – a market to sell local foods and wines.

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Favorite Highlights of Lucca

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So many wonderful things to see and do in Lucca. If you like churches, there are more than a hundred of those in this tiny walled-city. Here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lucca:

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  • The Lucchesi Walls – Lucca is a walled-city. These walls are more than 500 years old.13407250_10153717328072986_8324403784892229909_n The top of the walls have been converted into a park for pedestrians, runners and bikers to wander around the city. My husband and I use to walk the walls almost every night. My friends and I would also take a walk around the wall after enjoying a hearty lunch.
  • Cattedrale di San Martino (Duomo) – the main catthedral of Lucca. This is also where you can view the Volto Santo (mentioned above).10516688_10152228726137986_4388737566867241416_n
  • Home of Giacomo Puccini – Lucca is the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. Puccini created operas such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. I highly recommend seeing one of the daily Puccini performances. The singers are just amazing!
  • Museo di Arte Contemporanea Lu.C.C.A. – This is the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art. I got to see a display of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, who was a famous French photographer. The museum did a good job displaying such a large collection.
  • Villas & Palaces – Within the city center, you can visit Palazzo Pfanner and Palazzo13466250_10153717336682986_5258876858347279934_n Orsetti. Outside of the city center, you can visit popular villas, such as Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani.
  • Torre Guinigi (pictured on the right) – This is a tower in the center of Lucca that has a botanical garden on the top. It is a bit of a climb but worth it.
  • Lucca Italian School – When I first moved to Lucca, I decided to take a two-week Italian course at the Lucca Italian School. While I was nervous at how intense the classes were, because I didn’t know any Italian at all, I was blessed with a great class filled with wonderful people that I still communicate with on occasion. This course includes classroom work in the morning and then an afternoon excursion (field trip to nearby location) or event (cooking class, movies, etc.). It was a great experience, 1932335_10151990359127986_922716397_nand one I would recommend even if you are just coming to visit for a few weeks. This is the best way to immerse yourself in the town and Italian culture.
  • The Anfiteatro (pictured on the right)- a piazza completely surrounded by apartments and restaurants.
  • Shopping on Via Fillungo – there are many popular and also boutique shops on Fillungo. However, my favorite place to shop is a leather store called Officina della Pella, located right off of Piazzo San Francesco.
  • Chiesa San Michele (see picture below) – This ornate church is located on what used to be the town square. It is nice to just sit in one of the nearby cafes that overlook this church, but on a side note: you will pay for the view.

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If you are looking to explore Tuscany a bit, I highly recommend using Lucca as your main hub, as much of Tuscany is accessible via train from Lucca. It is hard to really describe how much our time in Lucca meant to us, and I hope this post does it justice.

For more information about things to do and places to see around Lucca (mostly day excursions we took), see the following posts:

Arrivederci 2014-Benvenuto 2015

Buon Anno!

This holiday season I decided to follow in my mother-in-law’s footsteps by not coming out with a Christmas message until after Christmas. She said that people don’t have a lot of time before Christmas to sit and read letters anyway, and I agree if for no other reason than the fact that I have been too busy to write my letter.

My husband and I have been very fortunate to spend the holidays in the United States with friends and family. It has been our first trip back since we moved to Italy a year and a half ago, and we have been having a wonderful time. Being back makes us realize some of the things that we have missed since moving to Italy. We have been eating lots of Mexican food, and I have definitely been taking advantage of the fact that I can wash and dry a whole load of laundry in less than two hours. We both also drove cars for the first time in a year and a half. Overall, we are just enjoying spending time with our parents, siblings, niece and nephew. We have had so much fun talking and laughing with family that I have lost my voice.

Soon we will be returning back to our home in Italy. It has been an interesting year living in Italy. It is a simpler lifestyle. The main focuses are family and food not work like in the United States. It is a slower lifestyle where you do actually take time to smell the flowers (and the pastries). Lucca is a walled city that has converted their ancient walls into a park that you can walk on. Sometimes I would walk on the walls and think to myself that no place is more amazing than Lucca. We feel so blessed to have this amazing opportunity living in Italy no matter what struggles we have been faced with.

My husband continues to amaze me. He has embraced living in Italy so much that it almost seems like he was always meant to live there. He speaks and understands Italian far better than I do and has also started dressing more like an Italian. He continues to create new masterpieces in the kitchen which recently included making pasta from scratch. We hosted Thanksgiving for the second year in Lucca, and the turkey came out even better than last year. My husband spent the whole day cooking the turkey and his toil was to our benefit as it was the best turkey I had ever had.

My husband continues to work full time at IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca. He has spent the last year continuing work on using complex network methods to understand innovation networks, with about ten people at his institute working with him on linking the patent data he’s worked with to other databases they have access to.  He has about five papers that are partially completed on a wide range of topics right now including geolocation (putting millions of pins on a map based on patent addresses), disambiguation (determining that “MIT” and “Mass. Inst. of Tech.” refer to the same institution), predicting collaboration between scientific authors, detecting structure in correlation networks, and understanding citations within or between firms.  This year has been very productive, and the fruit of all that labor will be seen in multiple publications next year!

While my husband is at work, I have been working from home on a project with a professor from Northeastern University. He is writing an Introduction to Network Science textbook. The online version is available here. The hard copy may or may not be coming out in 2015. It has been an enjoyable project.

At the beginning of 2014, I found a English book club in Lucca. Everyone that knows me knows that I love reading. When I lived in Washington, DC and then in Boston, I enjoyed participating in book clubs. I love having people to discuss books with. I find that I appreciate books more when I can discuss them and be faced with different viewpoints. The book club in Lucca has also helped me meet a few ex-pats that I can spend time with and share experiences beyond books .

We have enjoyed the company of many friends throughout 2014. We have shared Lucca, wine, and our home and loved every minute of it. We find that we explore more of our beautiful town and country when we have visitors. In 2014, we watched fireworks in Pisa for New Years, stood among a million people from all over the world in Rome for the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, wore masks through the streets of Venice for Carnivale, threw confetti for Carnivale in Viareggio, ate our way through Bologna, watched fishies at the aquarium in Genova, listened to the bells of the Duomo di Siena, relaxed along the waters of Cinque Terre, ate the worlds best gelato in San Gimignano, visited Saint Francis in Assisi, listened to multiple Puccini concerts in Lucca, and explored the surrounding areas of Lucca. Even with all of these adventures there is still much more of Italy to see. We look forward to seeing a bit more in 2015.

Other than exploring Italy, my husband and I had a few wonderful adventures outside of Italy as well. In January, we visited friends in Berlin, where we wore our heavy winter coats for the only time that season. In the summer, we joined my husband’s family for our annual trip that included a weekend in Istanbul, Turkey followed by a safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania to view the wildebeest migration. At the end of the summer, we visited friends in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia. In October, we traveled to the beaches of Normandy in France. I will continue to write more about all of these individual travel adventures on our Travel Page. As we continue to check off items on our travel bucket list, we also continue to add items. We have definitely learned this year that there is more to see and do in the world than we had ever imagined previously. We hope that 2015 will bring just as many travel adventures as 2014 did.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful 2014! May you all be blessed with love and joy throughout 2015!

My First Year in Italy

Wall 1I cannot believe that I have lived in Lucca, Italy for a year already. My first year in Italy was a very adventurous one. I’ve had so many experiences that I shall never forget. Moving to Italy was a very difficult decision to make, but it was the best decision. I will gladly suffer the constant mosquito bites and being allergic to everything if that means I can continue to enjoy all the amazing things that Lucca has to offer, including the Tuscan foods, the green grass (all year round), and the daily walks on the wall.

I would be lying if I said there wasn’t an adjustment period. I still don’t quite understand why Italians don’t use laundry dryers. I don’t necessarily have an issue with hanging my clothes outside, but there have been countless days when I have to sprint to get all my clothes inside before a storm hits and of course the clothes aren’t dry yet. During the winter months we have to convert a spare bedroom into a clothes drying room. I guess you just do what has to be done.

I have adjusted to the late nights. I now can’t remember what it was ever like to eat dinner before 8:30pm. I always know when it is Tuesday, because we hear the local drummers practicing on the Wall at 10:30pm. However, I still think it is odd to see people taking their kids for bike rides at 1am. I think I know why people need a siesta in the middle of the day.

While I can now run longer and further than I have been able to in years and walk or bike constantly, I still have gained weight since moving to Italy. I just can’t say “no” to a morning pastry and evening cup of gelato.

I am proud of the fact that I can find my way successfully through the city without getting lost. It took me about three months just to find the grocery store (that is inside the walls) on my own. I will say though that occasionally I still see something new that I haven’t seen before.

I have joined a local book club to satisfy my addiction to the written word. We meet once a month and always have great food, wine, and discussions.

Of all the items on our pro/con list that we made prior to deciding to move to Italy, these two items were very strong reasons for us to move:

  1. Convenient location for fulfilling desired travel destinations. We have certainly taken advantage of our new location by exploring 10 countries. (See our Travel Page for more in depth information on our adventures). We have had amazing experiences and look forward to many more.
  2. Being able to fully immerse ourselves in a different language and culture. While I feel very Lucchesi in specific daily routines (like consuming at least one cappuccino a day, getting fresh foods at local stands, etc.), I am very disappointed in myself for the lack of progress I have made in learning and communicating in Italian. I could blame the fact that the course I get through the city is not helpful enough, however, in the end I have plenty of materials to be able to learn on my own. I am 100% to blame for my lack of progress. I have failed at managing my time since I have been in Italy. However, that is going to end now. I have decided that every weekday afternoon from now through the foreseeable future will be dedicated to learning Italian. I’ll keep you up-to-date on my progress.Tuscan door

Overall, I feel very fortunate for this opportunity. I am very honored to call Lucca my home. Lucca is such a beautiful town. The colors are so vibrant. The weather is pleasant all-year. I feel safe wandering the streets at all times of the day. I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.