Monday, October 10, 2011

La Dolce Vita

Sun. Good Food. Hospitality. Passion. The Sweet Life.

I Love Tuscany and I'm pretty sure it defines "la dolce vita."

Columbus Day weekend = "96" = Time to indulge in the sweet life!

James' cousin and his wife are in Italy for vacation so we planned to meet them on their most free day, Sunday, in Florence. Since we had three other days to spare that weekend, we decided to spend time in Lucca, which is an hour and 20 minutes away from Florence.

FYI- Tuscany is not a city. Lucca and Florence (among other cities) are IN the state of Tuscany. I didn't know that until I moved here, and I've learned I'm not alone, so I thought I'd share...

Day One

If you know anything about Italian transportation it's this - they are always late. Oh wait, that is just Italians in general. So, we got to Lucca (via train) a few hours later than planned. By the time we arrived we were worn out and hungry. Conveniently (or unfortunately) there was a McDonald's next to our hotel (Eurostars Toscana Lucca), so we checked in, got some McNuggets and french fries (just enough to hold us over until dinner) and brought them back to the room, where we relaxed for an hour or two.

Once we were reenergized, we walked to the city. Our hotel was a 10-15 minute easy walk from the city walls. And by walls, I mean old school city-wall walls. So cool. We had all the major sites planned out for the next day, so that night was all about walking around and just experiencing the city. It is the cutest little city (only 2.5 miles around), and very close to the "Italy" I would picture before moving here and having the Naples experience. It is quite an experience... Back to My Italy - old beautiful structures, clock towers, churches with bell towers, piazzas, few cars, lots of people on bikes, and lots of loud, happy people.

Oh Italia. I've found you at last!

That night we walked down random streets and stopped in cute stores along the way until finally picking our spot for dinner. James had Roast Beef with Potatoes and I had the Lucchesi specialty of Tordelli (homemade raviolli stuffed with meat and covered in a meat sauce). To start us off they brought out Tuscan bread, which is bread with a hint of breadstick-ish flavor and texture without the loads of butter. Delicious!

On our walk back to the hotel we decided that we were already in love with Lucca.

Day two (Part one)

We walked to the city walls:

...and immediately found a bike rental shop.
Biking is a big thing here. People bike everywhere, and tourists rent bikes to ride around the wall, and/or in the city (if they're feeling risky- the city is small with lots of people walking around).

We decided to rent a Tandam bike!
Just kidding...
I wanted to have fun, not irritate my husband!
Believe it or not, this was James' idea.
Oh and my steering wheel was fake. I think James might have worked something out with the bike rental guy...

The wall was awesome.See it behind us?

The wall is really thick (to stop intruders, cannon balls, etc) with great views on top (to see attackers coming in the distance). And there were no railings or gates, so it was a bit of a thrill to walk on the edge of the wall- Which we stopped and did every fews minutes, hah!

Yet another beautiful site (looking into the city):

This is what the path looked like most of the ride:
And we were biking on top of the wall, so that shows you how wide the wall is!

People walking in and out of one of the entrances.
You can get an idea of how tall the wall is too.

For lunch we stopped at a cafe where we had caprese sandwiches (buffalo mozzarella, tomato and arugula) and cappuccinos.

I can't get enough of these:
Cappuccinos definitely deserve their own picture.

On to the site seeing!

First we climbed the clock tower:

207 steps of pure... well, I'll let James show you how it was:

But the view didn't dissappoint!

View of Guinigi Tower with the roof top garden- that's our next stop:

This clock tower has been around since the 1700s- with the original wood stairs...
You could feel the wood shift under your feet... let's get outta here!

Phew! Back on the solid streets.

As if 207 steps weren't enough, we went on to climb Guinigi Tower's 227...

Again, wonderful views.
Apparently this little cloud didn't get the memo...

View of Piazza Anfiteatro.
There was once a Roman Amphitheater and when it was out of use and torn down, they kept the round shape that once was. They also kept the arches where you would enter the amphitheater, only now you enter a cute little piazza through those arches.

Us at the top of the tower:

One side of San Martino Cathedral:
I thought it was beautiful and picture-worthy...

Us in the front of the church.
This one was very different from most that we've seen with all those different pillars.

Neat labyrinth on a piller in the front of the church:

It represents the struggle and challenge our souls face in finding salvation.

And that was all for our Lucca visit...
We'll miss you Lucca!

Day Two (Part Two!)
Cinque Terra

Our friend Shelly from back home has an internship in Germany for the next few months and earlier that week she told us that she would be in Cinque Terra (CT) for the weekend. So since we were finished in Lucca early, we hopped on the next train CT bound!
Graffiti is huge here. From what I've been told, kids (not hoodlums or gangsters) see it in American movies... and well, this is what happens.

A few hours later- paradise!
Hello Italian Riviera...

Oh, Hello Shelly...

We walked up and down Monterosso (one of the five cities of CT)...

Found some fun...

... and a cool (I guess?) statue...

...then had dinner and headed back to Lucca.

Or so we thought.

There aren't very many trains from Monterosso to Lucca so we were trying our luck on the very last one.

Bad idea.

We were waiting at platform 1, when 10 minutes early the train pulls up on the platform (3) that we were supposed to catch our train on. After no more than one minute the train workers blew the whistle, which means they are about to leave. The doors shut just as James and I are running up, so he releases the door and lets us on.

Phew! We thought it was crazy that it came and left early because that never happens in Italy, but were just glad we caught it. Until about 3 stops later when we realized...


We were on a train bound for Parma. Yeah. That's not by Lucca. At all.

So we hopped off and planned to catch the next train going back two stops to La Spezia, the stop just outside of CT- this would allow us to get back on track (track. hah...). At this point it was 10:45pm and the next train was coming in 45 minutes. Doesn't sound too bad, except when I tell you we were dressed for 65 degree weather waiting outside at a stop where we could see our breath. It was not 65 degrees. 45 minutes.

Once thawed off on the train and back on track in La Spezia, we learned that the next train getting us closer to Lucca was at 1:27am AND that would only take us to Pisa. From Pisa we would have to take another train that would depart at 6am. So, basically we would be awake and waiting in train stations all night.


We considered a taxi - 240 Euro.

We considered local hotels - 100 - 140 Euro.

And we considered going to Pisa, then taking a taxi, but that was more of a risk than I was willing to take because Pisa train station is 30km from our hotel. It was kind of the half way point from La Spezia, so I just halved the taxi price we were given in La Spezia- I didn't like that number.

All the meanwhile our luggage was all cozy in our hotel room and my phone on the verge of death.

Fortunately, we met a really nice hotel concierge who took pity on us and let us sleep on the couches in the internet den.
Doesn't he just look so comfy and cozy!


Day three
La Spezia, Lucca, Florence...

Five hours later we got up, headed for the train and got to Lucca. That part was smooth. Thankfully!

Once back to our hotel (7am), we showered, relaxed, ate breakfast, drank a latte AND a cappuccino (each) and then headed back to the train station to Florence to hang out with our cousins for the day!

That morning was really working with us as that ride went smooth and we were with Kevin and Emily enjoying Florence at 11am.
Us at the Duomo.

The whole day was pretty relaxed. We walked around the town taking in the beautiful buildings and enjoying bella Firenze.

I had really been wanting a new leather purse lately, so that was pretty much the mission of my day. There were two "leather market" spots, and once I found the purse I wanted, we set out to find the best price!

Kevin and Emily were key in this. They play the bargain game well and keep their game faces on- something I'm not good at. We got my purse down to E35 from E55- and I just love it!

At Ponte Vecchio:
This is probably my favorite area in Florence, it's just so cute!

All of us on "old bridge:"

After a few hours, we were back on our way to Naples.

Our train was exactly on time to Naples. Impressive.

It was a great trip- FULL of madness, but I wouldn't take it back!
And we will ride on the train again. Even with all it's flaws and our errors- it's just too convenient!

Amo Toscana!


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