Many Goodbyes

For the past 3 days we have been soaking in the remains of Spring….literally! Storms of a rarely-seen magnitude descended over the entire valley and lashed the land with rain, wind and lightning.  The clouds that sometimes hang over the valley below, crept up and engulfed us in a white haze for days, blocking out the light except for the sudden bright flashes of lightning that struck a little too close to home on occasion.  The thunder was deafening and seemed to shake the house with its booming, made louder by the echoes off the mountains.  One storm went for 5 hours, then subsided only to recommence a couple of hours later at the same amplitude.  It was pretty cool actually.  On one occasion, all of the lights in the house suddenly flashed brightly (none were turned on at the time) and I thought they must all be damaged, but they’re fine.  Of course we lost power too, for 11 hours in fact!  Despite the inconvenience, the storms provided much-needed water for the gardens and a nice break from the heat of early summer.

The past weeks have been very busy, filled with home schooling and many social occasions.  We have been catching the boys up with English, in preparation for school in Tassie.  I have enjoyed doing lesson plans, assigning them work and teaching them everything from maths, story writing, history, geography…to lessons on social etiquette.  Every little boy needs lessons on that!  We’ve also been taken out to lunch many times. It’s been both joyous and sad to catch up with our friends.  It’s hard to say goodbye, but we know it’s not forever and the internet has made parting so much easier. Of course I have photos……..

We were invited to a "picnic" style lunch one Sunday above Filattiera. It was held in a beautiful forest setting with a little hall. Trestle tables and chairs were set up all around the lawns and the food was brought out, course after course: pasta, cold meats, sausage, roast meat, gelati, coffee and much vino! It was a really lovely atmosphere with kids running around playing near the stream and much laughter and conversation. A beautiful afternoon! These were the ladies in the kitchen who were preparing all the delicious food.

Laughing with the ladies at the picnic

The men's table at the picnic

The boys making friends (with girls!) at the picnic

The lovely Sheila of the Ciao Lunigiana blog was very sweet to invite us all up to lunch at her beautiful house in Malgrate. She and her husband, Guy, had prepared some delicious lunch treats which we enjoyed on their terrace (with amazing views of the valley below!). It was a delightful afternoon and we very much enjoyed meeting them both in person. Thanks Sheila! xx

With Sheila and Guy outside their home in Malgrate

The annual walk for peace from Bagnone to Villafranca was a great night. Here we are with Giusi at the start of the walk wearing our bandanas.

Balin was chosen to carry the torch for the first part of the walk. He was very proud! So were we 🙂

The boys of Bagnone! Some of Balin and Denver's school friends all dressed up in traditional costume at the Festa.

Giusi and Gianfranco (Mayor of Bagnone) with a group of Nigerian refugees currently staying in Bagnone. Giusi has taken on the role of their "Mother", teaching them Italian and helping them to adjust. We often see them around the village.

Riding a 4 person bike along the wall of Lucca. It was great fun (even if a little sweaty!). Photo taken by Balin from the back seat.

We went to Christina and Enrico's house in Lucca for the last time to say goodbye. We bought her a gift while we were in Venice: a cat mask to go with the rest of her cat things. Where on earth will she fit it??

The kids bookfair at Pontremoli. Balin and Denver sitting on Lucia's lap in the VIP row. It was a very interesting event to watch, with a panel of kids on the stage judging books and finding a winner. This is part of the lead-up to the main book festival of Pontremoli (which is nationally famous) called "Bancarella" in July.

My Uncle and Aunt: Leigh and Jan. They came to visit this area for a couple of weeks and just relax. It was nice to see relatives!

A couple from South Australia: Wayne and Helen, who paid us a surprise visit one night.

Curry night at the Shann house! Trevor cooking his famous curry. Nice to see a man in the kitchen. The food was great by the way 🙂

Curry night. Patiently waiting for the delicious smelling food!

Exploring the caves at Equi Terme.

Another dinner in Filattiera we were invited to. It struck me as odd that it consisted mostly of men, but the food was great and the company was fun.

We went for a drive one day and stopped off in a little mountain village called Terenzano. As we were wandering around, I saw this faded drawing of a Nazi soldier that had been done on an old wall. It looked as if it had been drawn using some sort of tar. I don't know the significance, except that it was very likely that village was occupied at some time during the war. We found it interesting enough to take this photo.

Bugs! So many bugs! Every night Chris goes around with the "wicky wacker" (a name coined by Denver when he was younger) and kills any bugs he finds inside. Mozzies, scorpions, spiders, ticks and anything else that has found its way in our house is quickly killed. Check out the size of this bug! The only thing that is spared is the AMAZING lightning bug, which comes out in the garden at around 10pm. Awesome bright bobbing lights floating through the air and in the bushes like christmas lights. Next blog I promise to have a photo of them!!

Mange cat......yes he's still alive. We almost put him out of his misery with the car a few days ago, but couldn't bring ourselves to do it. Still, the look on his face just screams "PLEASE kill me!"

Afternoon tea at our place. Just a few friends and neighbours sitting around enjoying home baked goodies and a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The Shanns and us. From left: me, Mary, Trevor, Laura and Chris.

One morning we awoke to the very loud noise of farm machinery. We went outside to find this "lawn mower" accompanied by some neighbours (including Franco). The lawnmower at our house is broken, so we had mentioned to Gabriella that we needed to hire someone. She arranged for the ultimate ride-on! That thing whipped around the yard quickly, cutting the lawn nice and short. Good money for the Uni student driver and a good solution for the ever-growing lawn.

At the post office in Villafranca, sending back big boxes to Australia. We've sent 2 pretty big ones which cost a small fortune in shipping. Just hoping they actually make it to Australia now! (I was not reassured by the laughter of the post office worker when I enquired as to the time it would take to arrive)

Many of these types of fields can be seen around Lunigiana at the moment. The rolls of hay look quite sculptural.

Denver's clay animals. I think one of them is supposed to be a kangaroo.

Amazing feat of engineering. The autostrada spanning the Valle di Verde near Pontremoli. It's sooooo tall!

Balin's butterfly friend. Can anyone name that species?

Castelnuovo di Magra has one of the last castles for us to see in this area. It is mostly a ruin now, but still a very impressive and beautiful structure. The images Chris got are AMAZING! Some of the best castle images I've ever seen (will be in the book)

Castelnuovo di Magra (and Balin!)

Food
I seem to have many food shots this time, so I thought I’d group them all together.  Want to know what we’ve been eating here lately and why we’ve all put on weight?

Antipasto! Our friend Manuela Dviri took us out to lunch before her return to Israel a couple of weeks ago. We went to a delicious Trattoria right on the piazza next to the Villafranca Post Office. The food was amazing! This antipasto plate was something else, with lots of fried goodies, some with chestnut flour.

Fried sage from the antipasto platter. It was moreishly addictive!!

Manuela's meal. Steak with a creamy sauce. Tender and juicy. I also had a steak which was one of the best I've ever eaten....anywhere!

Ravioli. Balin's favourite dinner.

Desert: Chocolate torte. Yum!

Torte di Mela (apple cake)

Giacomo Pinelli and wife outside their family Trattoria in Montelungo. We went there for lunch to eat al fresco one lovely afternoon.

Part of the antipasto at Pinelli's, a soft cheese with chestnut honey on top. Interesting taste!

Main course at Pinelli's: I admit that this does not photograph very well, it doesn't look particularly appetizing.....but...it was amazing! Succulent pork with such a delicious flavour, we made real pigs of ourselves 😉

This was lunch at Christina's. The meat is "arristi" which is a type of pork and the veges were roasted in herbs and olive oil. Delicious!!

Focaccia at Bagnone Bakery. Oily, salty, crispy, chewy....carb heaven!

Testarolo, the local specialty of Lunigiana. It's a cross between pasta and a pancake. It's usually served cut up into squares or strips with pesto. I don't mind it, but Chris is not keen at all!

We taught our final class of English in Aulla to the Italian school teachers. As it was a special occasion, they brought in "party food". Lovely little Italian cakes, all exquisitely made and very tasty.

I made these! Finger buns and butterfly cakes for the afternoon tea at our house. I also made chocolate cake and cookies. They tasted great and were very popular, even with the Italians 🙂

A gelati sundae from Iceberg cafe. This was for Chris.

Creamy gelati frappe (milkshakes) at Iceberg cafe with our favourite waitress: Giusi

Co-owner of Iceberg Cafe, Sonia, serving me the BEST cappuccino in all of Italy

 

 

Some of you may already know that Tuscan Tales is going to be the basis for our new book.  Our intention has always been to publish a coffee table photo book about this gorgeous region of Lunigiana, but it has evolved to include more of our personal experiences and anecdotes of daily life here.  The popularity of this blog has helped to shape the direction of the book, so I want to say a big THANK YOU to my subscribers and everyone who reads this blog! I’m very excited to be working on the book over the next 6 months in time for it’s release next year, just in time for “Premio Bancarella” – the Pontremoli book festival.   It will have many more of Chris’s beautiful images (never before seen) as well as stories, maps and information.  I can’t tell you more than that….you’ll have to wait and see!

Ciao
xx

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Scenes from an Italian life – part II

I feel it’s time for another blog post containing only photos and captions again. We travel a lot, but this little place in Groppo we have called home this past year truly has the best sights and characters of all.  We will really miss our Italian home!

Every afternoon in the piazza at Pieve, just up the hill from us, the local ladies meet. They sit on the benches in the shade; some with their walking sticks, some with their cushions, and talk about the daily life of a rural tuscan village. They're not solving world peace, but such companionship in this close-knit supportive community must be contributing in some way to a better world. We occasionally spend time chatting with these ladies (who I suspect find us even more curious than we find them!)

The ladies of Pieve

Our backyard. Look at how beautifully mowed the lawn is! Well done Chris

One morning there was a knock on the door. Chris and I were being lazy and hadn't got out of bed yet, so the boys answered. It was Nino (our neighbour and Gabriella's husband) with a beautifully wrapped freshly-baked Crostata for our enjoyment. This was a completely unexpected suprise! It tasted delicous 🙂

Mia Nonna! Chris gets cozy on Gabriella's lap. We've adopted her (or she's adopted us?) and are trying to convince her to come to Australia.

We call him "Mange Cat". This poor old moggy limps around Groppo and appears to be at death's door. I think he's hoping to be run over one day.

You might remember the tick post from a couple of weeks ago: Denver had been bitten by a tick in his belly button. We extracted it successfully, but less than a week later it became red. We panicked and took him to Pontremoli hospital where he was put on antibiotics and given a cream. I'm happy to report he's OK now. I HATE ticks!!

This was the night of the hospital visit in Pontremoli. Afterwards, we had to go and get the local Pharmacist to give us the antibiotics (after hours). Our friend Lucia was very helpful this night!

Guess who just won the Pontremoli election and is now Mayor? Lucia! The campaign poster you see there was photographed by Chris and designed by me.

I fear we may have been ruined for Australian coffee. The coffee here is so good: not "overdone", creamy, smooth and just the right temperature. I don't know how I will go back to Australian coffee. Maybe that's a good thing though?

I figured out why there are geraniums planted everywhere around Bagnone. It's to keep the mozzies away! Here are some planted on the bridge over the Torrent in Bagnone.

We took a wander around the Bagnone Castello village the other day. It's the typical labyrinth of stone tunnels, random doorways, steep stairs and little piazzas. The route through the houses takes you down to the main part of Bagnone eventually. The walk down has spectacular views and is dizzyingly high above the torrent.

The view on the way down from the Castello in Bagnone

Behind the castle in Bagnone. It's fun on the way down....

The boys on the path behind the castle in Bagnone. Such a gorgeous setting (if it wasn't for the ticks lurking in the grass!)

The boys at the Festa dei Bimbi in Bagnone. A fun jigsaw puzzle!

Denver at Festa dei Bimbi with his best friend Ali

A lovely spring scene in the mountains somewhere near Montereggio

FANTASTIC lasagne in Montereggio. We also ate the yummiest antipasto platters, the fiori fritters were outstanding and just like Grandma used to make.

On the way from Montereggio to Calice, the views are amazing!

The castle at Calice. The juxtaposition of the old and the new, they're building a new playground which is still wrapped in bubble-wrap.

The castle at Calice. Don't ask me why the turf there is bright neon green. I think maybe it's better not to know.

Balin looking out over the valley from the castle door at Calice

A window inside the castle at Calice. Nice thick walls.

Cinghiale! Otherwise known as wild boar. I've enjoyed him in stew in Pisa. This shot reminds me of an album we used to own in the 80s called "Full Boar"

This is a Statue Stele. These are thousands of years old and are found all around Lunigiana. They represent male and female divinity. This one was in the museum at Calice, but Pontremoli castle has many more of them (if we ever find it open!)

Cows! Bulls too. We had to navigate our way through these rather unfriendly animals whilst out on a Sunday drive. As if the road wasn't scary enough!

How Italian is this? At the traffic lights in Villafranca behind a Fiat, washing hanging out of someone's window above and the mountains in the distance.

Stairs in the village of Ameglia

Marco the bus driver. Chris and I decided to catch the bus with the kids one morning just to experience the ride. We got dropped off at school with the rest of the kids and then walked back home by ourselves. It was fun.

The kids at school, waiting for the teachers.

One of those photos that looks like a painting. The soccer field near the school in Bagnone and "our" mountains wearing their fluffy cloud hats.

Walking up the road from Bagnone to Groppo

Evening over the valley as seen from our backyard. At night time the lights twinkle below to remind you that, despite the isolation of our house, there are other people out there.

If I seem sentimental in this post, it’s because I’m aware of how little time we have left here in Italy. We are going home in the middle of next month. It is an earlier exit than we had originally planned, but we have some business in Australia which requires our presence and, in the end, there was no way for us to be able to stay for the complete year. As much as I love Australia and can’t wait to see my family and friends again, I know that I will miss this place and the people who have become our friends.

Ciao
xx

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The Great Train Journey: Rome and Venice

I’m sure I’ve made myself quite clear by now that I don’t like tourist spots. I’m not a fan of big crowds and I prefer to experience the more “authentic” lifestyle of the place I’m visiting.  Besides, I don’t like walking around with a big dollar (or euro) sign on my head as a “cash cow” tourist, just asking to be ripped off and given bad food in restaurants.  Having said all that, why did we go to Rome and Venice last week? Well, I don’t think you can come to Italy and NOT visit those places, and of course there are worthwhile things to be seen there: historical structures, famous archeological sites, food exclusive to the region….and scenes from favourite movies!

Our journey began at the Villafranca-Bagnone railway station very early on Monday morning. This being our first real train experience, we had no idea which side of the tracks to stand and a last-minute dash to the other side really got the blood pumping.  Trains in Italy run EXACTLY on time and are clean, fast and relatively cheap. We had no problems at all making all of our connections and enjoyed the freedom of being able to look at the passing countryside without worrying about crazy drivers or where to park the car. The bullet train from La Spezia to Rome was very fast and smooth, with the added bonus of being beggar-free, and we arrived around lunch time. Most of our time in Rome was spent wandering around on foot, with some time on the open-top city tour bus to get to destinations further afield.  Highlights included: the Colosseum, Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Vatican, Trevi fountain and various archeological dig sites scattered around the city.  Overall, I found Rome to be very interesting from a historical perspective but it was expensive, full of tourists (like us!) and uncomfortably hot.  Enjoy the pictures!

At the train station on the WRONG side of the tracks! Clueless tourists 🙂

Guess where we are?

I like this shot of the Colosseum...it looks empty

The Colosseum. The ruins themselves were impressive, but then you imagine what this place would have looked like "back in the day" with it's Carrara marble, beautiful statues and sculptures, gilt decorated halls.....and thousands of people cheering!

Inside the Colosseum. Many many tourists.

Getting arty in the Colosseum

This photo has special meaning for us. The block of stone that Chris is sitting on has "LOSEC" carved into it. This is the name of the drug that Chris used to have to take daily before his reflux operation.

One of the archeological sites just outside the Colosseum. I really loved these places around Rome because they indicate the continuing discovery of artifacts and, in some cases, give a good impression of what life in ancient Rome was like.

Aussies!! Hi Tess and Jess! We met these lovely ladies on the tour bus. So nice to hear the accent again 🙂

A beggar on the street outside the Colosseum. The ones on the trains have business cards.

We were SUCH tourists 🙂

I loved this place! It's the Victor Emmanuel monument, otherwise known as the "wedding cake". A very elaborate structure which gives great views from the roof (we had lunch up there). Not everyone agrees that it's aesthetically pleasing, but it appealed to me.

On top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument

A very friendly seagull on top of the Victor Emmanuel monument

A street in Rome (Victor Emmanuel monument in far background)

St Peter's square, Vatican city

The Egyptian obelisk in St Peter's square. 3000 years old...very impressive!

Breaking the rules in the Sistine Chapel. No photography allowed. Oops!

Statues inside the Vatican. I was suprised to see they had painted eyes, but apparently many statues were painted originally.

Having a rest. Walking around the Vatican is very tiring, it's so huge.

Gorgeous stained glass window in the Vatican museum. I love the faces, very serene and regal (even for a baby!)

Inside St Peter's Basilica. A very ornate place.

I took this shot of Chris in the beautiful late afternoon light, the shadows were really interesting. Soon after, every tourist within 100metres was taking the same shot!

Well, it looked "holy" with that light, so I just went with it 🙂

Denver, trying to imitate the Swiss Guard soldier in the background

The Trevi Fountain. Thanks to the nice young US college girl who took this photo for us! It does appear as if there are no tourists, but trust me that place was jammed tight with them.

The Spanish Steps. At the risk of sounding spoiled, I was unimpressed with this place. Just some big stairs with lots of people sitting on them. Meh. There are much nicer places to be seen in Rome.

Venice

As touristy as it is (I know, enough already about the tourists!) I rather liked Venice. It’s a beautiful city with a very unique layout and many historical buildings.  I also like the fact that it’s a walking city with no cars in it, this makes it seem like one big pedestrian mall and you don’t get the added pollution and noise of cars.  Our hotel was very central and we ventured out on many excursions through the maze of streets in Venice. It’s easy to get lost, even with a map, but when you get lost you can sometimes stumble on really cool areas which you might not have otherwise found. We did the usual tourist things like take a Gondola ride and eat dinner next to the Grand Canal, but we spent a lot of time just wandering around and browsing the many interesting shops. Amongst the items to buy: Murano glass, elaborate masks, puppets, jewellery, antiques and artworks.

As beautiful as Venice is, its location comes at a price: mosquitoes and stench.  The mozzies feasted on the boys, with poor Denver winning the bite tally with 11 big ones. As for the stench, it is something you’d have to get used to with so much water and pollution in one place. Occasionally, as you wander the streets and cross one of the many hundreds of little bridges, you get a waft of putrid funk to singe your nose hairs. I’m sure many people in Venice get away with breaking wind in public by placing the blame elsewhere!   These things can’t really be helped and don’t detract from the unique beauty of Venice, but……1,50 euros to use a toilet??  That’s right, 1,50 euros per person to take a leak.  I mean it’s not like it’s optional, especially for little boys! For a family of 4, that’s 6 euros (about AU$8) which adds up if you’re out all day over several days.  The only other option is to go to a cafe or restaurant (first check if they let you use their toilet!) and buy food/drink.  I think charging for public toilets like this only encourages public urination (ewwww!) and leaves a bad taste in the tourist mouth, not to mention a bad smell in public places.   Still, Venice is lovely and Chris got some great shots.  I’ve only posted a very small selection which should tell you just how many he actually took!

Taking a ride on a Gondola, the Grand Canal behind

Balin took this shot of us on the Gondola. Good job Bay!

Our Gondola guy, Alessandro. Great timing with the head-ducking under those bridges.

Denver with a VERY swollen eye from a mozzie bite

The Rialto Bridge. Shops, shops and more shops (yes, and tourists everywhere!)

Denver next to a lion statue at San Marco Square

From the cloisters of St Mark's Basilica, looking out to the Campanile. San Marco square is such a feast for the eyes, you could sit on a chair in the middle of the square and only need to rotate it 90 degrees every 2 hours or so....there is just so much to look at!

Balin staring at one of the ornate doors to St Mark's Basilica. SUCH a gorgeous building, an amazing work of art!

A boat going up one of the small canals in Venice

Venice

Yes, it's Venice

A random bridge in Venice

A not-so random bridge in Venice. There is a photograph of Chris when he was little on a bridge in Venice. We walked around looking for that bridge. Given there are over 400 of such bridges in Venice, Chris thought that this one was a pretty close match. We shall say that this is a recreation of that historical photograph 🙂

Chris and the boys on the Scalzi Bridge

Another typical Venetian scene

Panoramic view of a canal in Venice

The little men in Venice

Getting lost in Venice can sometimes show you some really great scenes

A selection of some of the beautiful masks available in Venice

Water doors in Venice

A Gondola on the Grand Canal (shot from our Gondola!)

Yep...Venice 🙂

From San Marco square, looking across to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the late afternoon.

Chris got up very early one morning to get some images of Venice waking up. This is my favourite.

This is a bit of an in-joke with us. I am (apparently) Marie Antoinette and this doll is (apparently) me. It's a very long story, stemming from people that we've met here assuming that I'm french which I won't go into here. Just thought I should explain the picture of the doll. They're nice dolls though aren't they?

Typical Venetian architecture

Dinner on the Grand Canal and some well-fed mozzies (I'm sure they're somewhere in that picture!)

A type of torte only made in Venice. It contains pistacchios, sultanas and other nuts. It was soooo delicious!

On the train on the way home

We made it! Home at last 🙂

Ciao
xx

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Lucca, Carrara, Bibola, Lerici and other goings on

This year, we enjoyed Easter celebrations at Christina and Enrico’s house in Lucca.   We drove down in time for lunch and enjoyed a delightful pre-dinner Prosecco in the garden before sitting down to an enormous lunch. It was not quite as huge as Christmas, but course after course came out and by the end of it we were all quite well stuffed.  Amongst the extended family in attendance, was Enrico’s 90 year old Nonna who had an amazing memory.  We enquired about San Concordio which is the birthplace of Chris’ Dad (Bob) and she recalled a Puccetti family living on a street called “Via Formica”. Finally, something to put into the GPS!!  We left after a lovely afternoon with the relatives and drove over to San Condordio in search of the house where Bob was born.  Of course we didn’t know which one, but we found a house that looked about the right age and took a photo of it anyway.  Next, we went in search of the Lucca Cemetary to see more Puccettis.  After much driving around in circles, distant sightings of the cemetary, vague instructions from locals (who seemed to agree on how hard it was to reach) and some fun “going down one-way streets in the wrong direction” incidents…..we finally found it!  But it was closed. On the most likely day that you would be visiting a cemetary (ie a religious public holiday) they decided to lock the gates.  I guess that’s a trip for next time, if we can ever find our way back there again!

In Christina and Enrico's garden at the their home in Lucca for Easter Sunday

A dish only found in Lucca, pasta sheets with spinach, ricotta and olive oil. It's hard to convey from this photo just how delicious this tasted!

Stuffed full after a HUGE Easter lunch (Balin in the background literally inhaling an easter egg)

San Concordio in Lucca, Bob's birthplace.

Let's just call this "Dad's house". We imagined that this would be the most likely candidate on Via Formica in San Concordio

Carrara

Our good friend Lucia (who I often write about here) knows pretty much everyone in Italy. It’s a good thing too, as she’s running for Mayor of Pontremoli. We’ve been doing quite a few favours for her campaign, such as photography and design of her brochures and campaign posters, and in return she organised a VIP tour of the Carrara Marble mines.  Lucia knows the big boss, so we were driven around and given access to some pretty cool sites. The marble mountains can be recognised from a distance by their pointy and jagged shape (I call them “the pointies”) and this is because the marble has been mined from them since Roman times and actually changed the shape of the mountains.  It struck me as both beautiful and terribly sad at the same time.  This is a resource that won’t last forever, yet nobody I asked seemed at all concerned about that.  We finished our tour with a lovely lunch at a restaurant that you’d only know about if you were a local.  The food was wonderful, we even ate tripe!

Big chunks of marble piled up like toy blocks

Sitting on the marble blocks at Carrara

One of the many trucks that constantly drive up and down the hill carrying massive blocks of marble. The village in the background is the ancient Roman vilage of Colonnata, famous for Lardo

Lardo being made in Colonnata. It is fat with rosemary, cured in marble and then cut very thinly to eat on bread. It actually tastes OK, and was used to fortify the Romans in the early days of mining.

Wanna buy some Lardo? Outside one of the lardo shops in Colonnata

The marble mines at Carrara. The different colour of the marble is caused by the way it is cut

Balin (with Alice, me and Denver in the background) inside the marble cave. So much marble!

Yes, this is a solid marble 1952 Cadillac. It took 15 years to sculpt and weighs 16 tonnes, but it sits in an old shed gathering dust.

This is Carrara's version of Lasagne. Oh my goodness, it was so delicious!!

The restaurant owner in Carrara holding a tray of the local desert: a type of custard cake (a bit like creme caramel) which was very yummy indeed

Bibola, Lerici and other goings on

After we had all recovered from our nasty head colds of last week, the gorgeous spring weather enticed us out of the house for another touring adventure. Our map of the area is quickly filling up with highlighted roads with very few places left to see.  We drove up to Bibola first which is known as the “verandah of Lunigiana”, being so high up and having an incredible 360 view of the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys.  Not only does it have a fine view, but an equally cool castle ruin.  It was built precariously on top of a peak and is only accessible up a ladder.  The boys enjoyed climbing around the ruins and exploring the inside of the only intact tower there.    Next, we drove on to another castle ruin at Ponzanello, which is quite close to Fosdinovo.  The ruin there takes some climbing too, but with very little time left until pranzo stopped being served (priorities!!) we left Chris to do the exploring before we all drove on to Sarzana for lunch.  We eventually ended up in Lerici late in the afternoon.  Lerici is one of those touristy seaside towns with markets, gelati shops aplenty and a lovely big castle on the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean.  We went up the steep steps of the cliff to the castle and admired the view across the bay to Portovenere.  It was such a gorgeous day to explore Lerici and we ambled around at our leisure taking in the sights, sounds (and gelati) of the town.

Bibola from a distance (OK, I admit to saying "Bibola Bibola, that's all folks!" more than once)

Chris poking his head out from inside the tower ruin at Bibola

You two be careful up there!!!

Inside the tower at the castle ruins at Bibola. Dark scary hole in foreground that little boys can not resist throwing rocks down!

All that's left of the grand entrance to the castle ruins at Ponzanello. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Lerici and the view of the castle on the cliff

The VERY cool castle at Lerici (closed that day of course!!)

Little Denver watching the boats in the bay at Lerici

The boys gazing at the lovely blue Mediterranean

As usual, I’ll leave you with a selection of photos from other goings on these past few days. Most notable was Denver’s tick, the third one he’s had and in a very inconvenient location too.  Also, the incident with the sports equipment in the tree: a morning of throwing an assortment of projectiles, just to get one little baseball down.  Enjoy!

Aaaah! It's a tick!! Yes, it's in Denver's belly button this time. The age-old Italian remedy of olive oil worked a treat this time and successful extraction was achieved with the special tick tool (once the tick had become more agreeable from the oil)

So this is what the little bastards look like BEFORE their blood feast (we caught this one while waiting for the bus)

The tick after we removed it from Denver's belly. Note how full of blood he is. Don't worry, he paid dearly for his crime!

Crisis over and Denver is happy once more (gratuitous shower scene)

It started with a baseball, then a baseball bat, then a soccer ball. It ended with several rocks and Chris finally up the tree for the last item.

After telling me it's too dangerous to climb up the tree, who do I find up there??

It was Manuel's birthday party last Saturday

When you're upset and need sorting out, who better to talk to than your stand-in Italian Nonno? Franco to the rescue again!

....and speaking of Franco, here's one I forgot to put in last time (photo by Drew Lenman)

We found this little guy sunning himself on the patio. Isn't he gorgeous? (I mean the lizard....)

errr...no...clearly not dried fruit. In fact those are corn chips in there. Alright then.

Banks here have these cool little Tardis-like security cubicles that you have to go through to get into the bank. They trap you in there while they scan you for weapons. Apparently there's a very low incidence of bank robberies now!

A 500 euro note. Don't get to see them much. This one was mine only very fleetingly before I had to hand it over (along with its friends) for the gas bill 😦

Darling little Bay-Bay x

The boys enjoying the sunset in the back yard

Sometimes you just don't want to have your photo taken anymore....

The best for last. A lone chapel atop a hill somewhere near Cirone on the border of Lunigiana. Just beautiful!

Ciao
xx

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Nice and other stuff

Last week (just a few days after our return from Paris), we drove up to Nice to swap our car over.  Due to a bit of a contract mix-up, it turned out that we were supposed to return it on the 10th, which would have been good if we’d known as we were near Nice at that time. Instead, we were driving an unregistered car for a few days until we could get up to Nice on the 14th.  Long story short, the company in Australia who organizes our car needs made it all OK in the end. Thanks UK and Europe Travel! If you’re looking for a long term lease in Europe, then they’re your guys 🙂   Anyway….we made it to Nice OK, but then spent an hour driving around looking for the car place.  The GPS did a good job getting us there, but it turned out that the car place was in the middle of an industrial complex and not obvious from any of the roads.  After asking some French locals, we got the car to the correct office and then went to the airport to get a rental car until our new lease was ready the next day.  It turns out that there are school holidays in Nice and there were NO cars to rent.  The only car available was a BMW and at an outrageous rate!  Once again, thanks UK and Europe travel 🙂

We had a great time in Nice, despite me having a very bad head cold the whole time. One thing that is good about France is the availability and low cost of drugs. We went to the Pharmacy there and stocked up on good pain killers (no “pissing in the wind” Panadol!) and Vitamin C.  We did a fair bit of walking around the city as driving is suicide there. We also drove to Cannes and Monaco for a bit of sight seeing.  We left France with our new car (another Citroen) and went back home to Italy. Chris deserves 100 driving points for some of the most difficult driving situations we’ve experienced so far.

Looking out of the window in the hotel in Nice.

Nice: Chris in the BMW we had to rent. He didnt mind too much....

Parking the car, Nice style! Observe the huge scrapes along the side of the car where the pole wouldnt get out of the way while the driver "jammed" it into the parking spot. We witnessed drivers pushing other cars out of the way with their car so that they could fit into a park. The driving on the roads was just as bad.

The view of the Côte dAzur from the main promenade in Nice. Ah the French Riviera!

OK, Ill admit that I shot this out of the car window on the way up to Monaco, but check out the colours of the water!! So thats why its called the Azure coast.

Stopped off on the way up to Monaco. Fantastic coast line and spectacular views. I was sick as a dog 😦

This week, we had a lovely visit from some South Australian friends: Drew and Caroline Lenman.  Drew is a photographer (www.orangelane.com.au), like Chris, so there was much “shop talk” and excursions out and about with the cameras.  It was so nice to have them around for a couple of days and we showed them some of our favourite spots.  I have permission to post some of Drew’s shots, and I’ve marked them as such in the following images.

Chris and Drew in Pontremoli

Hanging out with the Lenmans in Pontremoli (well, Caroline anyway!). Photo by Drew Lenman

Chris taking a photo of me outside that awful Nazi door in Ponticello. Photo by Drew Lenman

Resulting pic of me

The boys playing table soccer in Filattiera. Photo by me using Drews camera.

Old lady on the street in Mocrone, where we had dinner

Having an afternoon aperitif with Gabriella and husband (Drew and Caroline were there also). Photo by Drew Lenman

The Groppo Gang! There arent many people in Groppo, let alone kids, so our boys hang out with Matteo quite often - he lives just down the road.

Right before the Lenmans left, we discovered we had no photo of all of us together! So this was a self-timer job, early in the morning. It was great to see you guys xx

With Easter upon us, we have been sharing some of our Easter traditions with the locals. Our good friend Lucia (who is also the school principal, and now running for Mayor of Pontremoli) was interested in hearing about the Easter Egg hunts in Australia.  She organised to have one at the school and the kids had an absolute ball running around the park finding the eggs we’d hidden for them.  I hope they will continue the tradition next year. Who knows?  I have also been telling Alice/Italian-Melanie about Hot Cross Buns.  She has never heard of such things, so I’m going to make some and let them experience the yumminess for themselves!

Easter egg hunt with Denvers class

Easter egg hunt with Balins class

Denver and the teachers who kiss and hug him OFTEN! They are nice ladies 🙂

The kids are on school holidays now and we are heading up to Lucca on Easter Sunday to spend some time with Christina and Enrico.  Unfortunately, poor Balin has my head cold now so he’s spending the start of the holidays convalescing.

Some more random photos:

It was Denvers birthday last week. We took him into our favourite Gelateria (Iceberg) and Lucca, the owner, gave him this for his birthday. Denver was wide-eyed with delight!

My little man is 7 now! Such a sweet little boy in this candid shot.

My handsome boy 🙂 xx

Chris and Denver at Lucias Mayoral speech in Pontremoli

The boys in Zeri (the mountains above Pontremoli)

The autostrada, looming over a country road just outside of Pontremoli

The handy thing about having a photographer visit you is that you dont need self-timer for family portraits! Thanks for this great shot Drew.

Bouna Pasqua tutti!!

Ciao
xx

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I love Paris in the Springtime

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here almost 6 months already, how time flies! We knew at this point that we’d have to go to France to swap the car over, so we thought we’d make a vacation of it and do the Disneyland thing at the same time.

Como
Our route to Paris took us through Northern Italy and Switzerland. Como seemed a logical place to stop on the first day, and I’ve always wanted to see where George Clooney lives! The highway coming in to Como gives a spectacular view of the town. Surrounding a central lake, there are gorgeous old buildings and magnificent mansions dotted amongst the hills that rise above the town. Once you descend and drive along the lake’s edge, you can see that the town is truly a playground for the wealthy. There is a marina with water planes taking off frequently and the town has many expensive designer boutiques. The restaurants and cafes are very fashionable and we even drove past a lovely old building which was just for personal banking. Nice. We parked and walked around the town for a while, admiring the architecture and the spectacular cathedral that dominates the piazza. We didn’t see George, but then again we hadn’t called ahead to announce our arrival 🙂

Enjoying the glamour of Como

I bet George Clooney WISHES he was this good looking!!

 

Lucerne
Upon leaving Como, you must go through the Swiss border. Nothing much happens there, except the signs all change to German and an official-looking Swiss man looks at you briefly and waves you through.  The countryside through Switzerland is spectacular! Huge mountains rise up all around, some with waterfalls cascading down the sides. The grass is practically glowing with green and the trees and flowers are lush with Springtime colour. There are lakes and little Swiss villages surrounding them, the buildings looking like something out of a story book. It’s so interesting how the architecture changes in just a couple of kms from the Italian style villas to the little Swiss chalets.  After a large amount of tunnels (and an equally large amount of flatulence from the back seat!), we arrived at the St.Gotthard Tunnel. Before entering, we were pulled over by the Swiss police who asked to see our “highway pass”.  We did the dumb tourist routine (the guy spoke English though…dam!) and asked what it was and where to get it.  Turns out its 40 swiss francs and you need to have one in order to drive on the roads there. They can be purchased from any service station. We drove on, giving an assurance that we’d get one*, and entered the 16km long tunnel. What a fantastic feat of engineering! The tunnel runs through the mountain, cutting much time off the journey if you had to go over it and is quite a smooth drive, even if you feel you’ll never see daylight again.  We emerged on the other side, got the GPS signal back, and continued on to Lucerne.  After finding our hotel (we only got lost once and had to ask a policeman), we went for a walk around the city. Lucerne is a very beautiful place, full of history and gorgeous architecture.  It is situated around the Reuss River and has the inspiring backdrop of mountains that you’d expect from a Swiss city. There is a very cool covered bridge that spans the river diagonally: The Chapel Bridge. Built in 1333, the bridge is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe and you could spend hours just looking at the different paintings on each section. It’s a work of art! We crossed to the other side, the Old Town, and sat outside Starbucks where we met a nice Swiss man who told us a little about living there and answered all of Chris’ nosy questions. He was very nice and spoke such good English. The day was sunny and warm even in the late afternoon, and we strolled along the river listening to the bells, the buskers and the general bustle of a lazy Sunday.  Lucerne is definitely somewhere we’d consider living and we plan on returning one day.

(*we never did get that pass! Ooops!)

St Gotthard tunnel, pretty boring to look at it....you just had to be there

Lucerne! So beautiful, the perfect city. This is the view from the Chapel Bridge

Still on the Chapel Bridge, looking out the other side

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

I don't know how Chris always manages to cut out the tourists from these pictures! Trust me, there were plenty around.

Lucerne has such a nice setting: water, mountains, historic buildings...what more could you want? Swans too!

 

Disneyland
After the best breakfast we’ve had so far in Europe (Swiss food is excellent!), we embarked on the loooooong drive to Paris/Disneyland.  The roads were very good, but you travel at such high speeds and for such a long time that it becomes hard to concentrate.  Chris did an amazing job at getting us there safely! Along the way there were many castles and Chateaus to be seen off the highway (after the French border) and the countryside was all rolling hills, little french villages and cows in the fields. Not a lot to do except listen to the songs on the USB stick, play DS and pay the numerous road tolls as they came up.  Coming into Paris though, things start to get interesting. Such a lot of traffic and so many lanes of it going every which way! We were trying to skirt around Paris to get to Disneyland and I still can’t believe we managed it.  Instead of the insane speed-freaks you get in Italy, the French are rude and cut you off at every opportunity.  Nevertheless, we felt like the Griswalds when we finally arrived at Wally World Disneyland and checked in to our Disney hotel.  Our package allowed us to visit Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios whenever we wanted for the 5 days we were there, so we headed straight over to Disneyland for a couple of hours before closing time so we could get our bearings for the days ahead.  We went on a few rides and walked around the park, the kids were very excited to be there. Afterwards, we walked back through Disney Village (just shops and restaurants) to our hotel. I have to give Disney credit, they do a very good theme park and the grounds are immaculate. There is no rubbish lying around and the gardens are perfect; almost fake looking. Beyond our hotel was an artificial lake which made for a lovely stroll on the way to the parks, then we were funneled through Disney Village and eventually to the park entrance.  This is all good, except when you have been walking all day and your feet are like hamburger patties. You can hear them slapping on the pavement and every step is sharp agony. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of shuttle? There is….but it’s not free (in fact 8 euros for the 4 of us one way).  This is where the nickle and dime fest begins.  Everything is extra! There is only Wi-Fi available on some floors of the hotel and then it’s 10 euros a day. The towels for the pool must be hired at 2 euros. Really? You can go swimming but drying off afterwards is not included? The breakfast is very basic and does not include anything cooked (eggs are an extra 7 euros each) and you are not allowed to take a croissant “to go” because of “hygiene reasons”. Yeah right! It’s because of “we want you to pay through the nose for a hotdog in the park” reasons.   Bags are checked on entry to the parks, although nobody says why. I think they’re checking for outside food actually, but I never brought any in to check my theory.  Of course I expected all of this going in, I have been to Disney in the US after all and it’s the same deal.  We sucked it up and paid the big bucks anyway, but I must say I’m getting a little bit annoyed at the blatant money-grabbing philosophy of Disney.  There is a fine line between giving your customers value for money and making a big profit.  I believe that both are possible when the balance is right, but Disney are tipped too far towards the profit side and are only pissing people off in the process.  Here’s an idea Disney: make the Hotel a little more expensive (it’s already outrageous…but hear me out), and then include EVERYTHING else for free.  This would make people think they were getting value, yet you’re still looking after your bottom line.  Happy customers, happy bank balance.  Just a thought… All whinging aside (and the rash that Balin got from the bed linen), we had a good time at Disneyland. I preferred the rides at Disney studios which were a bit more “adult” and thrilling, but there’s something for everyone at both parks. I particularly liked the main street facades and would like to do something like that in the gardens of our property in Tassie.  Sort of like a “fantasy village” to enjoy at home. I realize I’m eccentric, but it’s good to have a hobby!

Disneyland! That's our hotel in the background, the lake in front and the fake lighthouse.

The obligatory Disney character photo. Instead of waiting in the huge lines for the photo opportunity, the kids accosted Pluto in the hallway of the hotel. Go boys!

The Haunted Mansion ride. I actually really like the house design!

The teacup ride

The boys on Adventure Island

Balin enjoying the car ride!

Denver enjoying the rocket ride

Arriving early at Disneyland for the 2 hour hotel guests only session. Less people in the cues, but only some of the park is open. Not sure if it was worth the red eyes

Oh God, make it stop!!! The Small World ride, the most annoying ride of them all. The song repeats over and over and all the while there is a ticking clock which "tick-tock"s away your life. The ride attendants must have a high rate of suicide!

The stunning gardens of Disneyland. Check out those blossoms!

The entrance to Disney Village with the hot air balloon ride over the lake.

Walt Disney Studios

 

Paris
There is a train station right in the Disney grounds, and you can get tickets to go into Paris for the day very easily.  We got an early train and enjoyed an interesting ride into the city, complete with beggars (handing out business cards! They have cards now?) and annoying buskers ON the train.  We emerged from the subway onto the Champs-Élysées with the Arc de Triomphe right in front of us! What a great first impression of beautiful Paris.  It was such a lovely day, we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower.  We walked through the busy streets (it’s Mansard roof heaven!!) and met a nice American man who lives in Paris.  He told us the “inside” information on Paris and showed us a shortcut to the tower.  We ended up on the plaza of the Place du Trocadero and took the obligatory photos amongst the annoying street vendors selling little models of the Eiffel tower and all manner of other cheap souvenirs.  The tower is much bigger than I thought it would be, and actually quite pretty.  The kids called it “the black pole” from a distance, but it’s so nice up close.  We sat under it and had a snack. We didn’t climb up as the crowds were too large and the kids wouldn’t have endured the wait, but we took photos and walked all around it.  By the time we jumped on the “open tour” bus, we’d had enough of the tower and were happy to continue on around the city. The photos will show you some of what we saw, but most memorable was Notre Dame (I had a 10 euro cappuccino at the cafe across from it) and the Louvre.   The Mona Lisa was much smaller than I imagined, and it was very hard to take in all of the famous art in that place.  We walked through room after room of incredible pieces and it became like “oh, there’s a famous artwork. There’s another famous artwork. Look, more famous artworks”.  Visual overload, but such a privilege to behold.   Funny story: as we were crossing the Pont Neuf (right after I had yelled at a beggar….another funny story), I heard someone say “Rini?”.  I looked up and it was Manuela! I mean what are the chances?? Manuela is a friend of ours who lives a couple of villages over in Virgoletta, she was in Paris interviewing some famous model for the magazine she works for, and we happened to be on the same bridge at the same time. In a city of 2.2 million people it was such a fluke! Our long and tiring day ended with dinner at a little outdoor cafe on the Champs-Élysées.  I don’t remember the meal really, it was just so cool to be there!

The subway in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe

Chris and Denver on the Arc de Triomphe

Underneath the Arc de Triomphe

Classic Paris! The Eiffel Tower (and me)

The boys playing with the pigeons under the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower...again

The Eiffel Tower....yet again

The little boys in Paris

Notre Dame. Pretty impressive, but I still think the Italians do a better cathedral

Chris in front of Notre Dame

The interior of Notre Dame

Having a 10 euro cappuccino in front of Notre Dame. Oh it's just hilarious to pay so much for a coffee!!

Now that's a nice dome! Les Invalides (it's a museum). Napoleon's tomb is in there.

Chris on the Pont Neuf

One of my favourite buildings in all of Paris: the Hotel de Ville (once the town hall). Such gorgeous architecture!

A chance meeting! Manuela spots us in Paris

Balin and I in the courtyard of the Louvre

But she's so small!! The Mona Lisa gets mobbed every day

Look! It's the Mona Lisa! (weird shot of me....sorry about that)

One of the enormous paintings in the Louvre. Where would you find the wall space?

We completely exhausted the kids. Denver wanted to sleep on the floor in one of the galleries at the Louvre

Exhausted! Thank goodness for seats in the Louvre

Another courtyard at the Louvre

 

Versailles
On the last day in Paris, we took a trip out to see the Palace of Versailles. It’s was less than an hour there, and quite easy to find as you can see the enormous Palace from the highway! Once there though, it’s not so easy to get in (with a “no entry” sign on the carpark entrance can you blame us for missing it?).  In fact, we found this particular tourist spot one of the most “user un-friendly”. Tickets are purchased in a different area to where the entrance is and not much English is spoken amongst the staff there. Making it inside is well worth it though, and once again we were awed by the visual overload of such opulence. There were some rooms where not a single centimetre was left unadorned with decoration.  So many beautiful things to look at: tapestries, paintings, sculptures, wallpaper, furniture.  I found Marie Antoinette’s bedroom to be the most interesting.  The Hall of Mirrors was also quite dazzling, although full of tourists.  The crowds were very annoying, but to be expected in such a place. After our tour, we went outside to explore the vast gardens and opted to take a tour on a golf buggy around the grounds.  It was great fun driving around the little pathways past the fountains and manicured avenues. We met another Australian family driving a golf buggy too (Hi Sydneysiders!!) and it was kinda cool to hear an Australian accent after so many months here.   We finished the day with dinner at a Restaurant in the gardens, again a wonderful setting to eat and memorable for the filet mignon (unfortunately not a good memory….as it caused some trouble for both Chris and I the next day in a gastric sense).

The boys at the golden gates to the Palace of Versailles (aren't those gates bright shiny gold?)

We made it! Out the front of the Palace

What an awesome staircase! It was so cool how the stone steps had been worn away on one side where people had walked over the centuries

I love a good pillar-statue combination!

Denver amusing himself with mimicking the poses of the statues lining the hallway

The hall of mirrors (again, trust me when I say there were many tourists there!)

Nothing about the palace is understated! Can you imagine cleaning it?

There is a cafe in the Palace and they make a scrumptuous selection of fine pastries and cakes

Outside the palace in the extensive gardens. My Mum would like this place!

At the back of the palace

Outside the palace

The suspect Filet Mignon. Perhaps it was just all the rich French food we'd been eating?

 

Lyon
We left Paris and Disneyland early in the hopes of beating the weekend traffic out of the city.  The roads were OK actually, and we made it to Lyon without any major hassles.  The city of Lyon proved to be an unexpected pleasure. It’s a very nice city with lots of those lovely old french buildings and has TWO rivers running through it. Two rivers makes for lovely arched bridges and there were plenty of those.  Our hotel was right in the action and we walked through the busy streets amongst people enjoying the warm day: shopping, eating and just hanging out.  We went into the “old town” where there were shops and restaurants galore as well as tourist attractions such as a small version of Notre Dame and a pretty impressive Basilica up on the hill above the city.  We had dinner at a cafe on the street there and people-watched for a while.   The next morning, we were delighted to discover markets all along the rivers.  We walked through an amazing food market full of cheese, vegetables, fruits, roasting meets, olives, wines, juices, pastries and breads.  The quality of the produce was top notch and it was tempting to buy everything in sight.  I would have liked to have gone through the other art markets too, but we were out of time and had a long drive ahead of us back home that day.  We did have some trouble getting out of Lyon actually, as is the case with cities full of one way streets, but soon were on our way through France again heading back towards the Italian border.  The tolls bled us dry all the way home, and in the end I was happy to see signs in Italian again and happy to arrive back in little ol’ Groppo!

The mini Notre Dame in Lyon, the interior was pretty much an exact replica (but smaller)

Dinner on the street in Lyon

One of the many bridges in Lyon

It turns out, we have to go to France again (Nice) this Thursday to get our car, so there’ll be Nice pictures later in the weekend…..and they’ll be nice too 😉 I was determined to have Crêpe Suzette in France and didn’t get the chance last week, so maybe I’ll get to do that this time around.  I will be sure to get a photo of it.

Ciao
xx

PS: Happy Birthday Ken and Andrew!! We miss you guys ♥

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View from the Wall

NOTE: If you are one of my subscribers and you get this blog post as an email, please click through to the original entry on the website instead of just viewing it in your email. The photos look MUCH better on the site (although this post is not really a “photo” post, it’s good to get into the habit now). Thanks! x


Lucca is one of those cities in Italy that I feel very familiar with. Even though I’ve only been there three times, I could lead you to just about any section of the city. Furthermore, if you plonked me down in the centre somewhere, I could easily find my way to any of the gates. This is unusual for ME as I often get lost in restaurants and can’t find my way back to my table after visiting the bathroom! Maybe it’s because I love Lucca so much? It’s definitely not due to any logical grid Adelaide-like design, as Lucca has the typical narrow winding streets of a medieval Italian town. Anyway, we paid this lovely place another visit this week.

We chose a gorgeous day, amongst all the gorgeous Spring days we are enjoying right now, and planned to walk the entire circumference of the city along the top of the wall. Since the kids were in school, we decided to arrive early in Lucca so that we had enough time to get back home before “il pulmino”. We parked inside the walls this time and headed for a quick coffee and brioche before commencing the walk. On that day, the city was full of tourists. I suppose the warmer weather is coming and we are seeing the start of tourist season, as we saw many group tours wandering the streets. Funny how we no longer feel like tourists! We ascended to the top of the wall on the East side and began our stroll.

The wall was built in the 15th to 17th centuries and was for the defense of Lucca against “the old enemy” Florence. Lucca was never attacked, but these walls would have withstood a serious beating I’m sure! The walls are formed by eleven ramparts joined by curtain walls for a length of 4.2 km. The ramparts were constructed in different shapes and are now lovely parks with trees, grass, flowers and benches. The view from the wall on either side is lovely and you get a birds-eye view of different parts of Lucca as you progress. At about the half way mark, we came upon a most impressive Palazzo with many old stone statues arranged throughout its impressive gardens. As we stood looking, a nice man sitting on a nearby bench explained to us that it is the Palazzo Pfanner and a very old and important building of Lucca. We decided to stop for lunch and check it out. The Palazzo is accessed off the street through two huge doors and, as we wandered around the imposing entrance foyer, we could not find anybody around. All having pranzo perhaps? We took a self-tour anyway and enjoyed the beautiful gardens and ornate ceilings and stone-work inside. After a nice lunch we resumed our walk from the west side. There were many people riding bikes along the wall, mainly loud teenagers racing each other. Next time we come to Lucca we will do the same as I’m sure the boys would love a bike ride in such a picturesque location (so would we!). Before we knew it, we were back on the east side and our circuit was complete. Please enjoy the pictures:

The streets of Lucca

Poverina grazie! A begger on the streets of Lucca

Through the window of a typical bakery. This place was packed! Obviously the best foccacia in Lucca

The commune building in Lucca. Love the courtyard! Great architecture.

Truly artistic easter eggs! The detail on these was incredible.

Typical shop front in Lucca. One can really give the ol' credit card a severe beating here!

If you have a hot sports car, what better place to park it?

On the wall

One of the ramparts on the wall, now a lovely park

View from the wall above the north gate into Lucca. This is the gate we always enter.

View of the Palazzo Pfanner from the western wall

Chris enjoying the gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner

Me, pretending I live in a palazzo (check out the ceilings!)

Looking from a "casermetta", one of the little buildings along the wall for the guards

Lunch time! Lasagne, salad and scallopine funghi (not shown). The group behind us was a choir group from England. One of them got me to help him say "Australia" like an Aussie would 🙂

Just a few more photos before I say goodbye for a week or so (or should that be adieu since we will be in France? Did I mention we are going to PARIS??! I thought since we are going to PARIS that I should probably say so. I wouldn’t want anyone to worry about us not being in touch because we are in PARIS. I mean, I will not be able to write much while we are in PARIS. I expect PARIS will have internet though. OK….I’ll shut up now…..)

I made cinnamon buns and, yes, they turned out pretty darn scrumptuous! Mmmm....cinnamon...

A very civilized English-style tea party in Catherine's garden (she's the lady on the far right). Mary and Trevor are also pictured.

Another flower question. Is this a gerbera? We saw it on the side of the road in Darbia, it was the only one and all by itself there. Mum? Stuart? Leave a comment if you know what it is! (it was a far more pleasant discovery than the snake we stumbled across just minutes later...)

Ciao
xx

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