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5.10.2011

Il bel paese: PART 2--Lucca, Italy & Cinque Terre {travel log}

Bittersweet as it was to leave Venice, I was so excited to venture a bit farther southwest to the quaint walled city of Lucca. We opted to stay a mile and a half outside of the city walls (literally) of Lucca, at a bed and breakfast that promised whimsy and relaxation. So after arriving in Lucca by train (via Venice to Florence, then Florence to Lucca), we took a taxi to Corte Dei Foletti. And we were greeted by a man full of merriment and mischievousness himself, Maurizio. He was so welcoming, and right away, I knew I would LOVE it there. (Plus they have free wifi!!) Here are some pics of the B&B... it is decorated in a medieval-fantasy theme, and was positively delightful!

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So after freshening up, we decided to walk to the supermercado that was right up the road. Why? Because we needed water, and my lovely husband is infatuated with a few things in life...one is opening people's refrigerator doors and cupboards (seriously, he's not being rude, he just loves to see what people buy to eat) and the other is to see what different supermarkets are like. (No clue why…)

I did find their selection of mozzarella and the like to be overwhelming, yet amusing.
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We delivered our goods back in our room, and then we set off to the town’s main district. The ONLY negative thing to say about where we stayed is it was kind of a challenging walk--alongside rather busy streets and took about 20 minutes to get there. Now, mind you, we weren't staying in the boonies or anything. We were in what you would call an Italian suburb, but the gem of Lucca is actually within actual walls, a city dating back to 180 BC. In 1805, it was taken over by the dastardly man Napoleon, who then pawned it off on his sister Elisa.

Today it is some 85,000 citizens strong, and Neil read somewhere that the area within the walls has been tsk-ed by the Italian government because they have barred companies such as McDonalds and other corporate conglomerations from setting up shop amidst its Renaisssance-era cobble-stone streets and medieval facades. (I personally give that stubbornness a thumbs up!!)

Anyway, we were once again hungry, so we set off on foot again, excited to see what lay beyond the fortress-like barriers.

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I left my “real” camera in the room, at Neil’s request. But I only agreed to if I were able to use my iPhone.
As we walked through a small tunnel into the city behind the walls, I saw this makeshift closet in the wall, with a sign in it that I’m guessing was some transient’s imploring request that no one touch their things.

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gotta love hipstamatic
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Once again, we were met with the now-familiar problem of picking a place to eat. There are so many places, that we never wanted to commit…always thinking that around the next bend would be something even more quaint and even more delicious. I was starting to get cranky (which is very normal when I’m very hungry)…so we finally just said we’d go into the next place we saw. We ended up at Locanda di Bacco. (But without internet in the city, we weren't able to look it up beforehand.) The lady who greeted us indicated that we were way early for dinner (it was 7 p.m.) and that we might have to wait a bit to order. We were fine with that. She offered us a glass of refreshing wine, so we took it. As we’re looking over the menu, we both decided nothing sounded all that good because we were kind of sick of eating pasta at this point. We were just getting up the nerve to let the server know that we were going to dine elsewhere (after we’d settle our wine bill) when the Italian-only owner delivered a basket of bread. We felt kind of guilty at that point for bailing, so we swallowed our real desire and decided to make the best of it. Our server ended up being so wonderful. She was a beautiful woman, in maybe her late 30s or early 40s, named Gabriella. Her patience, graciousness and decent English proved to be what we needed to unwind and shelve our anxiety over our choice of where to eat. She brought us out something to put on our bread…(It started with an F)…and when I asked what it was, she just told me to try it. So we did. I wasn’t that much of a fan, but Neil liked it. Turns out, it was chicken liver pate. Blek. ;)

I ordered maltagliatti al sugo di coltellacci viareggini (homemade pasta with local shellfish) and Neil got tortelli di patate mugeliani con zabaione di pecorino di fossa (homemade potate pasta with eggflip of aged ship cheese). Both of us said it was our favorite meal yet (actually, it ended up being our piatto preferito in all of Italy!!) Especially thanks to the service there. The owner gave us a blown-out decorated egg in a handmade tiny basket as a gift to us (his wife makes them to sell around Easter) and then of course we had to top off the dinner with a chocolate mousse. DELICIOUS!!!!

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It was about dark by the time dinner was over, and our feet were tired. So we found a taxi stand, as well as a group of four Finnish people who were just as confused as we ended up being in trying to get a taxi to come to the taxi stand. We waited for nearly 45 minutes before we finally got through to the taxi service (it was one of those times where if we knew it was going to take that long, we’d have just walked, but then we kept waiting thinking SURELY this can’t take any longer…and then it did…)

The next morning, we visited a bit with Maurizio while we ate sugared croissants with nutella, and salami (isn’t that what everyone wants to eat for breakfast???no? ) and we learned he is an NFL fan… he knows all about the teams and even has a bumpersticker up from Neil’s and my favorite team…the Steelers! Maurizio admitted his absolute fave team was the Vikings…..with the “violet and yellow” colors.

Two new travelers checked in (there were already several staying there, none English) who ended up being from Wisconsin. Maurizio joked about keeping the Packers locked out for us Steeler fans. It was good to visit with people who knew our own country very well!!

We rented bikes from the B&B (and a shout out of thanks to Diana, who helped clean the B&B, because she dealt so well with my horrible Italian and I think was relieved when I turned to Google Translate to communicate with her –I just typed in what I wanted to say and let her read it. Worked so much better! Haha) and we set off to ride to town with the goal of cycling around on the pedestrian promenade, which is literally ON TOP of the wall. The 40-feet-high walls are so wide that there is plenty room for a roadway, greenery, some buildings, and even a sleeping man. (By the way, I think the bike ride was my most fave part of the trip just because it was so unique, such beautiful weather AND something so active!!!)

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The original walls had a moat encompassing them, but it has dried up for the most part though there are a few places where a stream runs. We made it all the way around the walls, about a 2.5 mile distance, and then opted to lock up our bikes near Piazza dell'Anfiteatro while we ate a pizza and rested our tired bums. (The bikes weren’t perfect in terms of fitting us, so our roosts suffered…and only got worse later as we continued to ride over bumpy-as-all-heck cobblestone streets and back to the inn.)

P.S. that is Vienna sausage/hot dogs on there! YUM!

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We looked around in the shops too. I want to go back to Italy with an empty suitcase because their clothing stores over there are 10x cooler than anything we have over here. But I knew I didn’t have the funding (nor the patience in my husband) to even START looking at clothes. I did buy a watch and a bracelet though!!!

The Santa Zita Festival was going on in the Anfiteatro, one of the main piazzas. I admit we had higher expectations for what is dubbed a ‘flower festival”….it just looked like a large farmer’s market, but instead of veggies, there were flowers. Don’t get me wrong, they were beautiful, but it was anticlimactic.

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And check this out... who needs bike alarms? :)
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We walked to the Guinigi Tower, paid $5 euros to climb to the top where there are a few trees (though that was hardly what impressed us…check out the view from about 131 feet in the air a few pics down!!!)

Two on the way up...
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Make that three (this one from the iphone:
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We rode our bikes home, freshened up and then took the sissy way back to town and hailed a taxi...
We dined at Baralla at the recommendation of Maurizio. I will say it was my 2nd least fave dining experience in Italy....(the worst one was a crappy panini on Burano Island)... it was OK food, but I got the tordelli, which is a Lucca specialty, just a pasta in a meat sauce. But at this place, it tasted like pumpkin pie...not sure why. And I'm not a fan of the stuff. haha

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The flower festival at dusk...
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We walked to the end of the city where it'd be easier for a taxi to pick us up...it was a pleasant stroll, and I was a tiny bit sad it'd be our last walk through this darling metropolis.
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From the iphone:
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Day 3, while staying in Lucca, we did a Day Trip to Cinque Terre. This is where I have to face one of the two things I regret...I don't regret going to 5 Terre. I regret not staying the night there. It was just too much of a hassle (and darn expensive after adding the insurance) to rent a car and drive into Riomagiorre, then park (also $$$$!) there but know the entire time we HAD to have our car out of the lot by 7 p.m.

So what is Cinque Terre? Just quickly, it's paradise. :) It's five villages along the sea, and its charm lies in the fact that the peasant farmers who first inhabited the area a thousand years ago cultivated the land and converted the steep cliffs into terraces where they now grown wonderful wine. You can hike between all villages, usually, though when we were there, a part of the path was closed due to recent landslides... or you can take a train or a ferry. After we parked the car, we meandered through the city in search of... first a restroom (we bought some focaccia at a small cafe and used their seatless toilet!!) and then a sign that would, we hoped, describe to us what we were supposed to do to get going. Instead of a sign, we found who we believed to be a high Californian who in between giggles, informed us that he'd recommend we take the train to Monterosso, the northwesternmost of the five villages, and then hike down and end up back where we started.

He said if we decided we couldn't hike anymore since we were not exactly the most fit individuals, we could stop in one of the villages and take a ferry or the train. So we purchased a train ticket and a path ticket all together for 10 Euros each ( I ended up losing mine in the middle of the path, so I had to pay another $5 euros to get back to Riomagiorre....GRRR!)...and rode the train up to Monterosso. Now, because we thought we'd be sort of rushed to get back to our car by 7 (it was about 1 p.m. by the time we got off the train), we didn't take any time to just sit in Monterosso to relax. REGRET!!! We got right on with it and hiked...thousands of stairs...and i tried to snap a few pics along the way.

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(I never thought I'd see a spaceship in Italy!! ;) )
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Check out the trek that we met with several times...(it was quite treacherous and I felt so bad because Neil is afraid of heights. He handled it like a champ though!!)
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We saw a tree growing sideways...and it had shoes draped over the end. Neil and I might have bickered over our own theories as to how the shoes got there. He thinks someone was brave/stupid enough to climb out on a limb, literally, and put them there. I think they were merely tossed, like people do in the "hoods" over powerlines. So if the original shoe owner ever reads this, please enlighten us!!!

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Here is a pic to show you how thin this path was at times, and sometimes, it was this thin with the steep cliff off to the right (I didn't feel comfy enough taking a pic at these times because the path was fairly heavily trafficked, and with a camera up to my face, I might have missed out on moving in time!!!)

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It was supposed to have taken 90 minutes, but it was more like 2 hours for us...and when we saw this sight, we were so thankful because on the way we had already determined that we were done hiking. (haha) We said we'd take the ferry in Vernazza to Manarola (the path between the 3rd town, Corniglia, and Manarola was closed anyway...)

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And this, my friends, is what a decadent authentic snack looks like:
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My 5D Mark II on the left...the iphone on the right
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We were worried about not getting dinner AND our car by 7 p.m., so we didn't rest for long in Vernazza. This is a view from the ferry of Manarola.
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I was mesmerized by the striations in the rocks there....and Manarola is known for having boats lining the streets. It is not known whether most of these boats ever get used. ;)
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We did think we were capable of taking the 20 min path (the Via dell' Amore) to Riomagiorre. It was a very scenic walk, and perhaps the one we should have stuck with (haha)... along the way we noticed all these little padlocks in random places put there by 'lovers"...yeah, we didn't know to bring ours. Oops.
one of maybe 30 clusters we saw:
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And another thing we saw at every turn...graffiti in the form of carvings into the botanical inhabitants...kinda odd:
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As we got into Riomagiorre, I saw this and it made me smile. A conked out dog. And his rubber chicken. The best of buddies.

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We ate a really good dinner of stuffed sardines and mussels, and spaghetti with clams at one of the only places open at 6 p.m. in Riomagiorre (remember, Italians eat really late!!!). I do so wish we could have stayed a bit longer...

On the way out... I did make Neil stop the car for a few more snaps.

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This is actually of La Spezia, a larger city, to the south east of 5 Terre.
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We were tuckered out times ten when we got back to Maurizio's welcoming inn. So we turned in rather early to shower and pack. I was definitely sad to be leaving Tuscany...
The next morning we got our Packer pals to take a pic of us with Maurizio! He just makes me smile. Such a jovial, warm man!!!

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I hate to say that the last part of our time in Lucca was not so wonderful... I'll suffice it to say the next morning, I had to use the restroom, but the train station's only options were the in-the-ground toilet bowls..which required restroom-users to squat and go. Because I was not exactly confident in my aim (hey, it had been decades since I'd "natured"...) i took off my pants completely. NOT A FUN EXPERIENCE!!! hahah

And on that note, I shall close... the last leg of our trip was in Rome, which started off better than expected and ended on a sour and expensive note.

Addio per ora!

(if you're interested in purchasing any prints...you can do so now that I have all the photos online.
Go here.
And use the discount code Italy11 in the next 30 days to get 15 percent off of your order! )

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