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:

ADVENTURES IN ITALY 2014 (July)

ASSISI, UMBRIA DSC_3145a Home of Saint Francis, Assisi is one of the most beautiful towns we have visited during our time in Italy. It is not a short trip from Lucca, Italy, but it is a scenic one by train. We only had the day, so we once again, as done on previous travels, relied on the free walking audio guide by Rick Steves to show us the highlights. To minimize travel time, we purchased bus tickets at the train station T stand in Assisi that took us directly into town. We started by walking around the old amphitheater and then went inside the Cathedral of Saint Rufino. From there we headed to the Basilica of Saint Clara. Unfortunately the Basilica of Saint Clara, which houses her and her sister Agnes’ remains, was closed at the moment of our visit but we took the time there to learn about the life of Saint Clara, who gave up wealth to become a follower of Saint Francis and devote her life to God. Then we continued on to the Piazza del Comune where we visited the Temple of Minerva. Following a brief lunch break, we finally came to the main highlight of the visit which was the Basilica of Saint Francis, which now holds his remains. Inside the Basilica are works of art relating the story of Saint Francis as well as many other Biblical scenes. Since the scenery surrounding Assisi boasts of stunning landscapes, we chose to take the approximately 30-minute walk, instead of the bus ride, to the train station to enjoy as much of the scenery as possible. I highly recommend the walk.

SIENA, TOSCANA

Il Duomo di SienaWhile Siena is accessible by train from Florence, my girlfriend and I decided that we would rather spend a little extra money and take a tour bus with a guided tour. We went with a company I had used before called Come and See Italy. This tour would take us from Lucca to Siena where we would have a guided walking tour and then some free time. The guided tour was decent as she talked a lot about the Siena neighborhoods that compete in the annual Il Palio di Siena. Il Palio is a horse race that occurs in Piazza del Campo every July 2 and August 16. The walking tour finished at the Duomo just as the magnificent church bells were starting. Since we had some free time, we decided to check out the inside of the Duomo. This is a must see as the inside of the Duomo boasts works of art by Michelangelo, Pisano, Donatello, and Bernini to name just a few. As we headed back to Piazza del Campo, we found a nice little spot for lunch called 4 Cantoni. Our Come and See Italy tour would conclude with a short stop in San Gimignano on the way back to Lucca.

SAN GIMIGNANO, TOSCANA

DSC_3386aThere are two things I love about San Gimignano: the views and the gelato. After spending the morning in Siena, we headed to San Gimignano, the final stop. Here there was no walking tour or guide. We were shown how to make our way into the town from the parking area and then left to our own devices. We wandered and found some amazing scenic overlooks, took lots of pictures, and then headed to our main San Gimignano target, which was the “World’s Best Gelato.” We knew that we had found the right spot, because there was a long line outside Gelateria Dondoli. This did not discourage us, and we were rewarded. The line moved fast. The clerks inside were almost too efficient. ThereDSC_3380a were dozens of flavors, and it was hard to pick what we wanted in a timely fashion, but I don’t think that either of us were disappointed by our choices. We sat in the shade with a beautiful view of the many towers that make up San Gimignano and savored every delicious moment. Afterwards we still had some time left before we had to head back down to our bus, so we wandered the streets some more and took in all the magnificent towers that have stood for hundreds of years. It is a stunning town.

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.

 

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

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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

The Biggest Move of My Life

In 15 years, I have moved 16 times. These moves include 8 cities and 4 states plus the District of Columbia. In this time frame, I also participated in classes in both Geneva, Switzerland and Belgrade, Serbia. However, none of those moves come remotely close to when my husband and I decided to move to Lucca, Italy.

Who doesn’t dream of living in the heart of Tuscany?

The dreaming part is amazing. The reality is something very different.

My husband had to start his job in Italy earlier than we were expecting, so we made a deal that I would settle our affairs in the U.S. while he found us a place to live in Italy. I thought it was a grand deal. I could handle the move, and my husband would find us a wonderful place. The month before he left, our apartment turned into multiple piles. One room had things we were selling, one room had things that were going into storage, and then there was a small area of things that we would be able to fit in our suitcases to take to Italy with us. Shipping our things was just not a financially reasonable option. He stayed long enough to help pack a pod that was going into storage with some family. I cannot express my gratitude at being able to store some of our precious belongings, that I just couldn’t part with, with family for the period of time that we are in Italy.

After my husband left, it was an emotional and stressful time for me. Moving has become like second nature to me but this was very very different. Instead of just updating our addresses on all accounts, I had to close some accounts. Instead of selling a few items, I was selling many items that included large furniture (see future post Moving – Lessons Learned). I was not coping well with the idea of having to sell furniture that I had had since I was a kid. Sometimes it really is hard to part with things. I had four weeks to sell everything, pack the remaining items up, and clean the entire place before our apartment lease was up. Many tears of anxiety were shed during those four weeks. At the end of the four weeks, I had accomplished a lot but not everything. I had hoped to only have one car load of my belongings left at that point. I had two.

Once I left the apartment, I spent two weeks with family in the area while I finished up at my job in Boston. In that two-week period, I was able to minimize my belongings to one car load and owe this to family and a best friend, whose assistance was desperately needed and appreciated.

My car load and I left Boston and eventually made it to my parents’ house, where the car would remain indefinitely. At this point, my car load would have to be diminished to 4 pieces of luggage (2 checked bags and 2 carry-ons). Meanwhile, I had issues booking my plane ticket to Italy and was concerned about steps that I would need to do to claim residency in Italy.

The two months that my husband and I were apart were some of the hardest days of my life. Yes, I missed him, but I also realized that while I did manage all this on my own, I never want to do this again. I barely had time to enjoy myself and truly say goodbye to the life I had made in Boston. In the future, because there will be more moves, I will not hesitate to be 100% honest with myself and others about how much I can handle. I will not do a move like this by myself EVER again.

It all worked out though. The move was successful (though I wish I had brought more than three pairs of shoes), and my husband did find us a wonderful home. Now we can start living the dream.

The Beginning of a New Adventure

While it makes sense for me to give a bit of a back story as to how I got to be an American living in the beautiful Tuscan city of Lucca, I prefer my first post to just jump right into the here and now.  I’ve been in Italy for two months now, and I have noticed some significant differences in the lifestyle here verses the United States.  This observation is to be known as….

How I Know I Am Living In Italy Not the USA

  1. Every other day seems to be a holiday or festival of some kind
  2. Where you park your bike often brings conflict with your neighbor
  3. You tell time by the church bells instead of clocks
  4. When a woman buys a razor to shave her legs, it also comes with a bikini trimmer attached to it
  5. People look at you funny if you show up to eat dinner before 2030 hours (8:30pm)
  6. Gelato stands are open as late as bars
  7. It is normal to see babies and small children still out with family after 2300 hours (11pm)
  8. While you have a washer for clothes, do not expect a dryer (you will miss having a dryer so so much)
  9. It is not uncommon to see a majority of the population around you smoking including pregnant ladies
  10. Do not plan your shopping trips between the hours of 1300 and 1600 (1-4pm) – most businesses are closed for siesta
  11. Do not expect services like home renovations or internet installation during the month of August – all Italians take vacation during the month of August
  12. Box springs for your bed do not exist
  13. If you hear a loud explosion that sounds like continuous cannon fire, that is just a thunderstorm

It is a whole new world full of interesting every day occurrences and challenges.  I think it might just be the most amazing adventure of my life yet.