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!

Tuscan Wine Tour – July 2014

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LUCCA & MONTECARLO, TOSCANA

My husband and I were fortunate enough to have friends visit this summer, and what better thing to do with friends in Tuscany but go on a private wine tour for a day. I used a local tour group called Not Ordinary Ways. We partook in the Lucca Wine Tour. It is a little more expensive than other local wine tours, but it is a private tour and much better than the last wine tour I took that was less expensive.

We started by visiting a small boutique winery in the hills of Lucca called Fabbrica di San Martino. This is a family owned winery. One of the family members gave us an hour lecture on horticulture in the hot Italian sun. He was so enthusiastic about how they grow their grapesDSC_3196 and the advances that they have made, that no matter how hot we were getting, we would not interrupt him except if we had questions. From the vines, he took us on a tour of the villa that is part of the winery. The building is absolutely stunning (see image below). People can actually stay in this villa on vacation. There are numerous frescos and a piano that Puccini would occasionally play on. After the tour, we sat together and enjoyed many bottles of delicious wine. We enjoyed each type of wine so much that we all went home with bottles of our own.

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Our second stop was a larger winery called Fattoria di Fubbiano. Before touring the production center, we took in the amazing tuscan views surrounding the winery. Then we moved indoors to see the large wine barrels. This was a very different winery and visit from the first one and I liked that about this wine tour. It gave us two different perspectives. Fattoria di Fubbiano was less intimate than San Martino. I felt that the wine was a bit less enjoyable, but we did enjoy putting Acacia honey on all the snacks that they served with the wine.

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Overall it was a full day of beautiful sites, delicious wine and great company.

 

ADVENTURES IN ITALY 2014 (January-March)

PISA, TOSCANA

Pisa

My husband and I spent the New Year in Pisa. He picked a hotel that was right next to the Duomo. The best part of this hotel was its rooftop terrace. We had the best views of the Duomo at sunset and came back out at midnight to watch the fireworks that brought in the New Year. It was amazing!

VENICE, VENETO

Venice at Night

My husband and I decided to spend Valentine’s Day in one of the most romantic cities incostume Italy….Venice. It just so happens that Valentine’s Day weekend also is the beginning of the famous Venetian Carnivale. Venice is always pretty crowded, but you could feel an air of excitement at the beginning of Carnivale. Late in the day, people started promenading in their elaborate costumes. I heard from a local that some individuals spend all year preparing their costumes for Carnivale. Every costume we saw was amazing with a focus on dramatic headpieces covered in lace and sequence.

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VIAREGGIO, TOSCANA

Viareggio Carnivale

Viareggio also does a big celebration for Carnivale. We had heard about the giant parades, so we decided to check it out while we had a friend visiting. This parade had the most elaborate floats I had ever seen in my life (one such float is pictured here). Plus, I have never in my life had so much fun throwing confetti.

FLORENCE, TOSCANA

Overview of Florence

Florence is still my favorite place to visit in Italy. Last year I explored the Duomo, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, & Santa Croce. So far this year, I have also explored two additional museums: the Uffizi Galleria (home of many amazing Botticeli paintings including Venus di Milo) and the Galleria dell’Accademia (home of the original David statue by Michelangelo). I have also hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which displays the best views of Florence (pictured above). You can read more about things we do in Florence on the blog post America Day.

VINCI, TOSCANA

Vinci

Vinci, as you can tell by the name, is the town of Leonardo DaVinci’s birth. It is a very small town in the heart of Chianti land. There you see a large statue of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, a library dedicated to his studies and work, and the chapel where he was baptized. Nearby are many small boutique wineries that provide you with delicious Chianti wines and fresh olive oil.

LUCCA, TOSCANA

Villa T

Outside the center of Lucca, and not within walking distance, is the Villa Torrigiani. The grounds are extensive and manicured in the English garden style. While the family still occupies the upper floors of the villa, they allow visitors to tour the ground floor.

BORGO A MOZZANO, TOSCANA

Devil's Bridge

On our drive to visit Barga (just outside Lucca), we stopped to walk over Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) in Borgo a Mozzano on the Serchio River.

BARGA, TOSCANA

Barga

This tiny town is just a 30-minute drive from Lucca. You park as soon as you arrive in Barga. Inside the city center the streets are more like tiny alleyways that would not accommodate most vehicles. All houses are so compact. The Duomo in Barga is worth the climb if for no other reason than the extensive views of the mountains just to the north of Barga.

 

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.

Merry Christmas 2013

Buon Natale da Italia!

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Normally we would send Christmas letters to all friends and family around the holidays. However, when you live in Italy, it is a little harder to do that, so hopefully you all receive our love and blessings through this blog post instead.

2013 has been a year of big changes for us. My husband started off the beginning of the year by accepting a new job position. He is now the Assistant Professor of Statistical Physics with the Laboratory for Analysis of Complex Economic Systems at IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca in Italy. This was a big decision that we discussed constantly during long walks along the Boston Harbor until we came to the conclusion that this was a move that we just couldn’t pass up. We spent the first half of the year preparing for this. While we have become accustomed to moving, it is quite different when you are moving to another country. We are both very happy with this decision.

I was very fortunate to be able to visit with lots of family and friends before moving to Italy. My parents came to Boston for a nice visit in the Spring, which was followed by a vacation with my in-laws. Both my husband and I have been very blessed with wonderful families, and we miss them a lot, especially during the holidays.

My husband is thriving in his new job. At Harvard, he was working on understanding biological networks using simple physics models (well simple for him I guess) and is applying these same ideas to economic systems at IMT. He was invited to give a talk at the Signal Image Technology and Internet Based Systems 2013 Conference in Kyoto, Japan on the “Border Sensitive Centralities in Patent Citation Networks Using Asymmetric Random Walks.” He also recently attended meetings in Paris, France.

Since moving to Lucca, Italy, I continue to work part-time but have also kept busy learning Italian. I took a beginner course at the Lucca Italian School. It was quite intensive, but I enjoyed it. It was a great introduction to Italian and my classmates were the absolute best. My husband and I will occasionally list one or two of our extra bedrooms on Airbnb as well, which is a lot more work than originally expected. I was hoping to be able to say by this point that I am now a permanent resident of Italy, but my paperwork is still being processed. That has been quite the ordeal.

One of the huge positives to making this move to Italy was to have more opportunities to travel and explore places we haven’t been. For those that know us well, we love to travel. Since moving to Italy, we have been to Prague, Malta, Paris, and will be going to Barcelona immediately after Christmas. We have also explored a few places in Italy. You can read more about our travel adventures on my Travel Page.  (https://greatmorrisonmigration.wordpress.com/travel-3/)

Being in Lucca, Italy has allowed us to start new traditions. My husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. We enjoyed it immensely. The food and company was just fantastic, and we hope that we can make this an ongoing tradition during our time here. Christmastime is a bit different here than we are use to. It isn’t as commercialized as it is in the States. There are some outdoor markets, an ice skating rink, and light displays (as shown in the pictures I’ve attached to this blog). The Christmas season really doesn’t begin here until mid-December; whereas in the States, everything is Christmas now before Thanksgiving is over.

As my husband and I look back on 2013, we are very happy with the decisions we have made and look forward to the adventures that we will have in the upcoming years. I think if anyone would have told me 5 years ago that I would be living in Tuscany, I would have laughed and thought that was ridiculous. This seems like a dream, and I am very blessed to be sharing it with my best friend whom I love very much (Yes, husband, I am talking about you). I would like to thank him for being an amazing, patient, and loving husband. Next, I would like to thank a very important individual that I lost this year. My Grandma has been a very important friend and confidante in my life. She supported me and guided me throughout my entire life. I am grateful for every precious moment that we spent together. I think about her all the time and will always love her very much. Last, but not least, a big thank you to our family and friends who have been there for us. We miss you all and wish you a very blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!!

Christmas in Lucca 2

ITALY (2013)

Since I moved to Lucca, Italy in August, I have explored some areas of Italy. Here is a summary of some of the places I have gone in 2013.

LUCCA, TOSCANA

Lucca

As Lucca is now my hometown, I have explored most of it by this point. Some highlights would include the 500 year old walls that surround the city center, San Michele Cathedral, the Duomo, Tower Guinigi, and Piazza Napoleone. It was also the home of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini.

VIARREGIO, TOSCANA

Viarregio

For a brief reprieve in the summer months, many Italians in the Tuscany region go to the beach town of Viareggio. It is only a 30 minute bus ride from Lucca. There are free beaches, but my husband and I prefer one that we have to pay a fee for. It is an affordable fee and includes your own spot with umbrellas on the beach, a separate private pool, wi-fi, clean restrooms and will lock up your belongings while you swim. My husband and I found that if you go early in the morning, the beach is not crowded at all.

MONTECARLO, TOSCANA

Montecarlo

I visited Montecarlo for the wine festival in September. Montecarlo has some of the best wine in the region in my opinion.

PISTOIA, TOSCANA

Pistoia Piazza

I visited Pistoia in September when it was still tourist season in Lucca. I found Pistoia was similar to Lucca as it was another small Tuscan town. However, it was void of the crowds of tourists, so I enjoyed the peacefulness I found there.

PORTO VENERE, LIGURIA

portovenere

Porto Venere is located next to the popular coastal area of Cinque Terre. You can take a ferry from La Spezia to get to Porto Venere. The famous poet, Lord Byron, found this town inspirational. It is no wonder why. This town is very beautiful! We went in October. The weather was perfect!

FLORENCE, TOSCANA

Florence Duomo

As far as popular tourist cities in Italy, Florence (Firenze) is at the top of the list with Rome, Venice, and Pisa. I have been to all the other big cities in Italy but had never been to Florence. Florence is my favorite big city for sure. It is an hour and a half train ride from Lucca. Florence statueIn just one day, my husband and I were able to visit the Duomo, Bargello (Museo Nazionale – best known for housing Donatello’s “David” statue), Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio (famous bridge over the Arno River that survived World War II), San Lorenzo market, and Santa Croce (houses the tombs of famous Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, and more). You do not need reservations to see any of those sites. During tourist season you will have to make reservations to see Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Academia, which houses Michelangelo’s “David.” I haven’t seen either of those galleries yet but will make it there next year. Florence has provoked a delight in statues that I never had before.

Ponte Vecchio

First Time as an Airbnb Host

I had never heard of Airbnb until I moved to Lucca, Italy. I met individuals through an Italian class that were all going through Airbnb for their accommodations in Lucca. I didn’t think much of it after that point until someone recommended that my husband and I rent out our extra bedrooms for the Lucca Comics and Games weekend. Comics and Games is very comparable to Comic-Con in the United States. It was estimated that this event would bring approximately 250,000 people to Lucca from October 31-November 3. With that many people coming to this small town, housing was definitely going to be in high demand.

Comics and Games in Lucca, Italy

Comics and Games in Lucca, Italy

My husband, being the always laid back human being that he is, was in favor of doing Airbnb. I, however, had my reservations. I knew that this could be a lot of work. Besides getting us set up on Airbnb, there would be all the preparations for having people come and stay in our place. I also never feel quite right about sharing my home with strangers.

In the end, we decided to do this. I invested lots of time learning about Airbnb and setting up our posting (viewable here). We were newcomers to Airbnb and didn’t quite know what to expect or really what we were doing, so our asking price was low compared to other accommodations in Lucca. Within two weeks, we were completely booked up for Comics and Games. The unfortunate thing, when you are renting out by the room, was that we had multiple reservations. Every day we were expecting new people, which meant a lot of cleaning and changing linen and towels. Maybe in the future, we will try to just rent out the whole place to one individual or group.

We were as prepared as I think we could have been. The house was clean, the beds had clean linen on it, towels were set out, a hair dryer and items for breakfast were purchased, extra keys were made, maps of Lucca for the guests were set out, and house instructions were printed out for each guest in both English and Italian. It was time to welcome our guests.

We had one couple who were friendly and definitely enjoyed their time at the Comics and Games. A single guy came for a night just to enjoy the atmosphere and expressed regret in not being able to chat with us more. Two girls came for a few nights who were our only guests to fully do Comics and Games with costumes and everything.  We also had a woman who stayed for the entire event as she was running a booth at one of the tents. Overall, we survived without any large disasters, but there were a few instances that bugged me.

First, there was definitely an interesting night where the two girls spent about an hour in the bathroom just chatting with each other. One of the items on our instruction manual was to be respectful about bathroom usage and time as it is a shared bathroom. Clearly they didn’t read it. I cannot help but wonder exactly what they were doing in that tiny bathroom for an hour. Couldn’t they just have their girl talk in their private bedroom? It was strange. Second, the single lady requested that we allow her “brother” to sleep on the floor next to her bed one night. She seemed to be concerned that she could not manage her booth without extra help from him, and he would need a place to sleep. This is not typical, but we allowed it. Last of all, the only really big frustration I had, the process of arranging key pick up was challenging. The couple and the two girls were great at arranging times ahead of time to come and get the keys. I tried multiple times to contact the single guy to inform me when he would be by, and he never responded. The single lady responded but wanted to come and get the keys late at night when we wouldn’t be there, because that is dinner time. When I explained that it had to be before a certain hour, she still showed up on the late side. I think that is just disrespectful to assume that I will be around whenever you feel like stopping by to get the keys.

The single lady was the only one that has reviewed her Airbnb experience in our place so far. The public review was quite decent. However, she sent me a private email which rubbed me the wrong way. I am still working out how to respond to it, but meanwhile, I will rant about it here.

It would have been helpful if you would have showed me where the kitchen was.  – I fully admit that our kitchen is hidden. I did actually give a little tour to other Airbnb guests. However, she told me that she was coming by in the afternoon to pick up the keys. I waited and waited. Afternoon came and went, and she didn’t show up until my husband and I were heading out to meet friends for dinner around 8pm. When you show up late, you shouldn’t expect the host to give you the full hospitable tour. However, our Airbnb advertisement includes pictures and a floor plan which should make it easy to locate every room in the place.

I felt a bit indiscreet. I am hoping that that is not the word that she really wanted to use in expressing her feelings toward her stay in our place. In first meeting, I told her in Italian that I could not speak or understand much Italian and hoped that we could communicate via English. She could understand and speak decent English and still often tried to talk to me in Italian even when I told her that I did not understand. What do you want from me? I just moved here. Also, you want to talk about indiscreet, let us address the guest (brother?) that we allowed stay in your room for free even though he was not part of the reservation. The only time I saw him at all was when he came out of the shared bathroom wearing only a towel and it wasn’t a very big towel. That would be a very good example of indiscreet.

Despite the fact that this feedback rubbed me the wrong way, I do think some feedback is better than no feedback, so in the end I will probably thank her for her suggestions and move on with my life. It could have been a lot worse. As we consider the possibility of being an Airbnb host in the future, any suggestions or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

The Horror of Public Restrooms

I have known many individuals who refuse to use public restrooms, mostly for sanitary reasons. I can understand that completely, however, I use the bathroom when I have to….until now.

Public restrooms attached to restaurants and bars in the Lucca area are not the best bathrooms. We have found a couple that are perfectly fine, but most have just toilet bowls without seats and if you are really lucky you will find yourself looking at a floor with a drain hole as a toilet. Most are dark, dirty, and very tiny. Those are reasons enough to stay away from public restrooms here, but a girlfriend and I just had to find one more reason.

We were enjoying a night of socializing at a few of the local establishments, when the night took a drastic turn for the worst. As I was waiting for my friend to return from the bathroom, I kept busy checking my email on my phone, and I am really glad that I did. Normally when I go out, I have my phone in my purse and basically forget about it. Since I had it out at that moment, I actually saw that I was getting a phone call. I was confused by this. My husband couldn’t be calling me and the only other person to call me would be the person I was hanging out with that night. I rightfully decided to answer it though and realized that it was in fact my friend calling from the bathroom. She was frantically alerting me to the fact that she was stuck in the bathroom. The door would just not open.

At first I thought this would be no big deal. I would help get the door open from the other side and all would be fine. That was not going to happen. After realizing that the door was unlocked, working the handle on my side, and throwing my body against the door wasn’t working, I knew I would have to get some help. In broken Italian, I did my best to explain to the two employees attending this bar that my friend was stuck in the bathroom. I must have done a terrible job because I still had to demonstrate the fact that the door wouldn’t open and my friend was on the other side of it. One of the employees explained to me (quite a few times before I understood what she was saying) that my friend she try turning her door handle (duh). That was when I said,  “This?” and handed her the door handle that I am assuming belonged on the other side of the door. I am so happy that my friend could not see the horrified looks on the employees faces at that time. We continued to push at the door with all our strength. I tried not to think what would happen if the door actually did open. The toilet room was very small, and I was a little afraid the door would swing open and violently his my friend on the other side. In the end, the main priority was to get the door open. We even tried unscrewing the lock all together. Still, nothing was working, and my friend was starting to panic. She had been trapped in that tiny space for fifteen minutes at this point and now the light above her had gone out. I continued to working on the door and simultaneously trying to keep my friend calm by talking to her. I don’t know that I was doing much to help the situation at all. One of the employees had called the manager who was calling the fire department. They insisted that I step out of the bathroom area to talk to the manager who did speak English. She wasn’t telling me anything that would be helpful, and I was anxious to get back to my friend when I heard loud exclamations and realized that they had finally managed to open the door.

I can’t imagine how awful that had to have been for my friend. It was awful enough being on the other side of that door. While walking passed that area the next day, my friend was greeted by the employees there and was told that someone else had the same problem again that morning (about twelve hours after our traumatic incident there). What does it take to post an “Out-of-order” sign or fix the freaking door??!!! I guess a lot. Needless to say, I have not used a public restroom in Lucca since and don’t intend to for a very long time.

Link

Our Classic Lucchesi Home

Since my husband arrived in Lucca, Italy two and a half months before I came, he had the complicated responsibility to find us a home. Most women would not entrust this task onto a man. I am very fortunate to have married a guy who has similar priorities when looking for a place to live. He found us an amazing apartment. It is a large 3-bedroom place. Our favorite amenity is the balcony. We really wanted to have an outdoor space to sit and relax with a glass of wine. The view from the balcony is of an exquisite garden and an old church tower. Still, my favorite area of our apartment is what I call the parlor/library. It has floor to ceiling bookshelves and antique furniture that gives the room an old English feel. Let’s face it though, my favorite room is always going to be the room with all the books in it. Our place came completely furnished, but we are adding a few small personal touches.

The downside to this amazing and large space is the constant upkeep that is needed. My husband has done a fantastic job figuring out how things work. He successfully managed to turn the heat on recently. (It is more complicated than one might think.) I spend a majority of my time keeping the place clean. Our place is almost too big.

We decided that since we have extra bedrooms that are empty most of the time, that we would rent those out as much as we feel we can and when family and friends are not staying with us (hint…hint…come visit). We have heard a few good things from friends about Airbnb and have decided to try it out. Click on Our Classic Lucchesi Home above to view our Airbnb advertisement and see some photos of our place. If you know of anyone who may be planning a trip to Italy, please feel free to share this link with them as well.