Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Italy - Tuscany Region

September 24 (Wednesday) Today, we took a high-speed train from Venice to Florence. Why is it called a high-speed train? Because it travels at a higher speed than the regular trains and arrives ten minutes earlier. The bathroom on the train was high tech. I was challenged to find a way to flush the toilet, dispense the soap, turn on the water and the hand dryer.

The toilet on the high-speed train wasn’t my only challenge. On the train to Lucca, I got stuck between two cars and couldn't figure out how to open door. I frantically pounded on the door and, luckily, Ken heard me and told me to push a button. Whew!

Even with the GPS on Ken’s phone, we took the long way from the train station into the city of Lucca. Ken wanted to go through the medieval wall surrounding the city, but I took him up and over. This wouldn’t have been so bad except Ken had to lift and carry the two large, heavy suitcases. He was not a happy Italian tourist!

A portion of the Lucca wall

Our apartment was on the fourth floor. To get to it, we took the elevator to the third floor, walked up ½ a flight of steps and had to go through a gate and then go up the last ½ flight. There were many security measures to get in and out. On our first time trying to get out, we forgot how to open the gate so we could go downstairs to the elevator. Fortunately, some other guests were coming up and showed us.

The view from our apartment

September 25 (Thursday) – The bakery chimney was only 50 feet away from the apartment. We could look out our kitchen window and see the smoke. But best of all, we could smell the bread baking. Yummy!

The bakery is making bread!

Narrow roads provided a maze throughout the old city, shared by cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycle riders. It could get a little tight sometimes but everybody seemed to make it through – or did they? We heard the ambulance and police sirens all day long and often wondered if some cyclist got side-swiped. (Click here to play sound). They were the same everywhere. They made me think of the Keystone Cops.

A street in Lucca

September 26 (Friday) – The top of the wall surrounding Lucca was a beautiful relaxing place to walk, bike, or sit and enjoy the views. On one of our walks, we stopped half way around and exited back down into the city to enjoy lunch at the #2 place on TripAdvisor in Lucca, La Tana del Boia. At the shop owner’s suggestion we tried a fresh raw pork sausage with smoked ricotta sandwich. It was different and we did not get sick! I would not try this in the US.

A portion of the path atop the wall
La Tana del Boia

September 27 (Saturday) – Sometimes an organized tour is the best way to go. We opted for one to visit Cinque Terre (five lands) where all towns slope down to sea-level except for one. Rio Maggiore was first, the southern-most of the five towns. Our van let us out at the top of town and we meandered down the steep hill, stopping for a coffee so we could utilize the free toilette. From here, we boarded a ferry to our next stops. Of the five villages, we were only able to visit four. Corniglia was perched on top of a tall cliff, not accessible by ferry.

Rio Maggiore

Manarola was the smallest village and had only one street. The street was lined with boats, at least on the lower part of it. I would hate to have to move those boats up and down the street to the sea and back.


Vernazza was also a one-street town with a church by the water, remains of the old wall which protected them from pirates, and a castle.

Monterosso al Mare was the most northern village and was actually two towns, an old town and a newer one, connected by a short road tunnel, for pedestrians only. This town was not as steep as the others. Because of their close proximity to the sea, fresh anchovies were a must to eat! For lunch, we enjoyed anchovies Laguria style with tomato sauce and anchovies marinated in lemon. This was also white wine country and they grew lemons and small black olives used for olive oil.

Lunch of anchovies & wine in Monterosso al Mare

September 29 (Monday) - To get to Siena we had to change trains in Pisa & Empoli. Less English was spoken here than Venice. When Ken asked a girl if this was the Pisa stop, she said yes. It was one of them but not the one we wanted. Luckily, we were able to get on the next train to Pisa Centrale and then to Empoli and then to Siena.

A view of the countryside surrounding Siena

The heart of Siena was its central piazza, Il Campo, where a Roman forum used to be. Il Campo is known worldwide for the famous Palio run, a horse race run around the piazza twice every summer. Watch the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, to see Siena and the Palio.

Il Campo in Siena
Siena's Duomo (Cathedral)

Siena is said to have been founded by Senius, son of Remus, one of the two legendary founders of Rome. You could see Siena’s emblem, the she-wolf suckling Remus and Romulus, throughout the city.

Siena's emblem

September 30 (Tuesday) – Venturing outside the walled city of Lucca, we walked around. That evening, back inside the walls, we had dinner at Trattoria Ubaldo, a funky place to eat. This was our first non-pasta, pizza, or antipasto meal. Walking home after dinner, we stopped at the store and bought food and wine for Wednesday. It was predicted to be a rainy day and we wanted to be prepared.

Piazza Anfiteatro at dusk

October 1 (Wednesday) – Sure enough, we awoke to thunder, lightning and rain. This was a stay-in day. I read and got two loads of laundry washed. Ken had cabin fever by the afternoon so he went out and got a haircut.

Thursday was another day of rest.

October 3 (Friday) - Today we visited Florence. Because Florence is a large city with so many historical sites, we opted for a walking tour. Our guide was great. She was young and definitely knew her history. She spoke excellent English (she grew up in FL). When not leading tours, she did some acting and this just added to the flair of her tour presentation. After the tour, we found the central market and walked around. It was similar to others we had visited in Latin American countries, but it was much cleaner. We walked along the Arno River and crossed the Ponte Vecchio. There was so much art outside that we did not have to venture into museums and pay the high admission fees.

There are many scooters in Florence!
One of the many statues in Florence
The magnificent Florence Duomo
Florence's Ponte Vecchio (old bridge)

October 4 (Saturday) – Today was a beautiful day. We took a morning walk to the Lucca Wednesday/Saturday market for photos and bought a roasted chicken and potatoes for dinner. Then we walked again in the afternoon before coming home for dinner. Ken was able to get the TN/FL football game on his tablet.

October 5 (Sunday) - I washed a load of clothes in the morning and we went out for a walk. We bought a sandwich and took it to the top of the wall for a picnic. We had dinner at Restaurante Antica Drogheria, well-known for their pizza.

October 6 (Monday) – It was almost time to leave this wonderful area of Tuscany, and we still had more to see. We took the train to Pisa which was not very crowded at all. It seemed we took a zillion photos of the leaning tower. It leaned in all of them.

Pisa's Duomo and leaning tower
The Arno river in Pisa

Having had a good dinner at Ubaldo's in Lucca, we decided to dine there again. Yummy!

October 7 (Tuesday) – How many people get to go to Italy and celebrate their birthday? I did! Today was my birthday. We began the day packing because we were moving on tomorrow. During our Italian language classes prior to our trip, our instructor had mentioned a must-have steak while in Tuscany. This is what I chose for us to eat for my birthday. Every picture we saw and every description we had read described the Bisteca alla Fiorentina as being a 3-inch thick T-bone steak served rare and ordered by weight. Sharing was a must! We found a restaurant, Baralla, that served it. These steaks must come from the Chianina or Maremmana cattle raised in the Tuscany area. We ordered 800kg, the minimum weight, which, according to our waitress, would be enough to share. What a disappointing meal after all the hype. When we were served, the steak was thin, rare at the bone and medium toward the outside. But my birthday was still a happy one.

Happy birthday, Jamey!

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