Dinner in a vineyard!

Ilene and Gary were invited to a dinner in a vineyard and asked if would like to come along. Of course! The winery is located outside San Miniato, a small town about an hour from Lucca, so we decided to spend the night there so that we could enjoy the dinner without the concerns of a longish drive home. The town is long, narrow, and perched on a hill. We enjoyed lunch then wandered through the town. I usually research towns before heading there, but I focused mostly on the winery, so was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful seminary, cathedral, and tower. And the views of the Tuscan landscape!

The seminary was started in 1650 and continually expanded until 1713. The exterior has beautiful fresco, including 30 sets of religious “mottos” (not quite scripture quotes). I was particularly pleased to find a sign that had the translations of these mottos in four languages, including English. I can imagine that the students spent time outside memorizing each and contemplating the meaning of them.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio required quite a climb, but was well worth it. The exterior is quite plain but the interior art, architecture, and marble are beautiful – and the ceiling is gorgeous! While inside the Cathedral, we realized that the walls were fake marble (or should I say “Faux Finish”) but while reading about the Cathedral I learned that the columns are also fake. I also read “On the 22 July 1944, an artillery shell from the United States military went through the church via the rose window on the southern side of the transept, and exploded in the right aisle, killing 55 people. The cathedral was full of citizens who had been gathered in the churchyard by the Germans.” So sad! Next time, I’ll remember to research the towns properly BEFORE heading there…

The Cathedral was quite a climb, so I skipped the next climb up to the Rocca di Federico II. Jim took my camera with him and took some beautiful pictures of the tower and the countryside. This tower served as a lookout to watch those moving between Florence and Pisa. During World War II German soldiers detonated charges inside and it was destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1958.

Time for the dinner that we had traveled here for! The vineyard is called Pietro Beconcini Agricola. They grow several types of traditional Tuscan grapes but also Tempranillo, a Spanish grape. After owning the property for about 7 years, the owner still couldn’t identify some of the grapes on his property. A DNA analysis showed that it was Tempranillo. The thinking is that a pilgrim from Spain left some seeds on the property as they traveled the nearby via Francigena path. Because the grapes were growing nicely on his property, he decided to plant additional Tempranillo vines. They now sell three wines made from Tempranillo – Fresco Di Nero (an Early Harvest wine), IXE (their mid-priced wine) and Vigna Le Nicchie (their Prephylloxera wine). Jim is always hunting for Prephylloxera wine, so this made him very happy!

The Festa Del Tempranillo was held for three nights, with some of the tables set up within the vineyards. We each received a glass of the three Tempranillo wines and typical Tuscan food, including some some slices of Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The wine, food, live music and beautiful setting made for an exceptional evening.

Special thanks to Jim and Ilene Modica for sharing some of their pictures with me for this blog post. I suggest that you check out Ilene and Gary’s blog at Our Italian Journey. She’ll be posting about our trip to San Miniato and the dinner… and I’m sure that you’d enjoy reading a different version of the same story!

Fields of flowers – or not!!!

Tuscan summers are a bit too hot for me but for a field of flowers, I will grab my camera gear and face the fiercest summer sun. They always seem to lead to adventures as well…

Update on 1 August 2021 – Ilene has posted about flowers in Tuscany with pictures from our joint trips. Be sure to check out her blog called “Our Italian Journey” and the posting about the flowers. If you’ve ever considered an extended trip to Italy, you could learn a lot from Gary and Ilene!

Massarosa – lotuses and lavender

This small town is about 30 minutes from Lucca and has several farms that grow flowers commercially. Visitors are encouraged to discover these locations, take photos, and enjoy the spectacular scenes. Jim and I set off one Saturday morning for Massarosa to find lotuses, lavender, and sunflowers. I was very pleasantly surprised when this gorgeous lotus field was less than five minutes down a paved path from the parking lot!

Then we head off to find sunflowers using their published map. We found two fields, but we were toooo early and none of the sunflowers were blooming yet.

Next stop… lavenders. Well, this also proved to be a bit difficult. But after driving down impossibly narrow streets and across fields (that I THINK that we were allowed to drive through), we discovered a most wonderful field of lavender.

I was so excited about our new discoveries that I returned with Ilene, a friend from Lucca, just a few days later. She was wowed by the lotuses, then we set off to find the lavender again. This time, I would turn before “those greenhouses” that Jim and I saw and he was certain that we would easily find the lavender farm again. We wandered through even more backroads and across another field, had a few close calls with parked and moving cars until I declared “There will be no lavender today!” When I returned home, Jim informed me that I should have turned AFTER “those greenhouses”. Perhaps we will try again…

Castelluccio di Norcia

Ilene’s landlord told her about this very small town in Umbria that also has fields of flowers. I was blown away at the pictures posted on this town’s website. I left one picture on the screen and Jim thought that it was a painting, not a photograph.

I recognized that these are professional pictures, most likely taken during the very best year from the best vantage points at the best time of the day. But if I could see these fields and get a few pictures – even if they weren’t quite a beautiful as the published pictures then I would be very happy. (To be clear, I did NOT take the pictures above. They are from https://www.castellucciodinorcia.it/fioritura-castelluccio-di-norcia/)

So plans were made to travel to Umbria with Ilene and Gary. The drive would be about four hours and we would stay at a town nearby for one night. The first afternoon/evening we would find the fields of flowers and enjoy the flowers with the afternoon/evening light. The second morning, we would return to the fields of flowers to see them again in the morning light. And of course, we planned to stop at a few quaint towns for our lunches.

We set off on Wednesday morning on time. The ride was pleasant, driving through Tuscany and into Umbria. We stopped in Montefalco, a small town that specializes in a wine called Sagrantino. We wandered through the town, ate pizza and sipped on Sagrantino. Along the way I spotted a field of sunflowers, Jim stopped, and Ilene and I popped out of the car to snap a few photos. I finally got my sunflowers!

We arrived in Norcia, the nearby “larger” town, where we would be staying for the night. We drove to the hotel using Google Maps, only to learn that the check in was at a different location and our rooms were at a third location. The town was small, so it was just a small annoyance. We checked in, relaxed for just a few minutes, then we were heading to these picturesque fields of flowers. I knew that the drive would take about 30 minutes and we would be going through mountains. It was quite a challenging drive, but Jim seems to take the crazy driving in stride. We saw many beautiful scenes, but no where to stop along the narrow roads. At this point, I was hoping that the drive was worth it!

We finally arrived and Ilene declare “This can’t be it!”. We got down into the valley, near where the other visitors parked and walked into the field. Here’s one of my first pictures:

Yep… a few poppies and a few purple flowers and lots of brown/yellow/greenish grass. We wandered around a bit and found some nicer areas, but we were all disappointed. We chatted with an English-speaking visitor and she confirmed that this year was just not as beautiful as other years. I tried to stay positive that it would be prettier in the morning light.

So, we returned the next morning and the light was better. We walked to a few different areas and saw a bit of the beauty that we were expecting.

We also enjoyed watching a shepherd command his sheepdog to move the sheep across the road. Once the dog got started, it took only a few minutes to move the entire herd. Fun to see in “real life” – not an exhibition or show, really moving sheep around!

Mandatory selfie in field by Ilene… We had a lot of fun!

Norcia, as described by Jim

When JoAn told me that we were going to visit Norcia in Umbria, it did not register that this was the one of the cities that was almost complete destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. I remember seeing the devastation in the news and thinking how can they recover?

On arriving in Norcia, we were following JoAn’s directions (with the aid of Google Maps) and we ended up driving through the city looking for our hotel. Not thinking about the earthquake, I was surprised by all the new construction work going on. Later as we walk around the town the realization that we are walking on streets that were completely filled with rubble five years ago started to set in. There are still many buildings boarded up and reinforced. There are parts of town that are fenced off. Outside of town there many temporary buildings for shops, restaurants and homes. In town we see the remains of the cathedral where restoration is years away from completion.

But to my surprise, I did not sense despair. The atmosphere is one of survival and hope. Even with COVID, the resiliency of the people is evident. Many shops and restaurants have reopened in the city. There are streets where the restoration is completed. In the main piazza next to the ruins of the Cathedral there was a big screen setup to watch the Euro 2020 soccer tournament.

When we see news stories of similar destruction around the world it often seems far away. But this visit brought the reality of physical and human impacts into focus. I would like to visit Norcia again to see the progress and support the people in a small way.

Rome – without the hordes of people!

The thought of visiting Rome without the hordes of people became our compelling reason to visit Rome. We headed to Rome on Monday, May 31st on a train and returned Friday afternoon via train. We were a little wary about traveling via train because of COVID, but we took our wipes and kept our masks on. I’m fully vaccinated, but Jim just had his Johnson & Johnson (one and done!) vaccine this week. The train personnel were very diligent about everyone following the COVID precautions, so we were able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery through Tuscany and Lazio. They even handout out packets with masks, antiseptic gel and some weird thing to go into your nose.

I hope that you enjoy reading about our short visit to Rome, including the current state of sightseeing with the decrease in COVID restrictions.

Day 1: Pantheon, nearby church (a hidden gem!), and the Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon is one of my favorite spots in Rome. At first glance it may look somewhat simple and plain, but when you consider when it was built and its current condition, it is astonishing! This church was built around 125 AD (yep, that’s almost 2000 years ago) and was made out of an early form of concrete. It is a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder. The oculus, the only source of natural light in the Pantheon, is a round opening in the center of the dome. When it rains, the water freely falls into the Pantheon and quickly drains away.

During the medieval ages, the Romans stopped making concrete – they lost the recipe! 1500 years later our modern method of making concrete was discovered but some say the Roman approach was better. Until the 20th century, the Pantheon was the largest concrete structure in the world. Michelangelo studied this dome before starting work on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Oh, and Raphael is buried here. Wow!

The picture taken from outside the Pantheon was from a restaurant where we ate our first lunch. No lines, no wait. They were clearly anxious to have tourists return. We noticed that their coperto was quite high and so hesitated. The coperto is the cover charge that is for each person and is sometimes used to run up tourists’ bills unexpectedly. A euro or two is to be expected, but I think that this was 5€ each. They assured us that there would be no coperto (desperate times!) and we enjoyed a lovely lunch looking at this beautiful site. We finished our lunch and checked our bill carefully. No coperto but the small water bottle was 5€. SMH.

One block behind the Pantheon is the Church Santa Maria sopra Minerva. I had never heard of it before, but I discovered that there was a Michelangelo sculpture in it and I wanted to see it. We found the church and outside was an obelisk standing on an elephant. Very odd, so I read more about it. It turns out that there are more ancient obelisks in Rome than in any other place in the world – 8 Egyptian and 5 Roman. The elephant was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1667. Bernini created the Baroque style of sculpture; he was also an architect, city planner, and painter. He was considered the most important artist in Rome during his lifetime. If you are wondering why I had time to research all of this on the streets of Rome, it is because the church has very odd hours – 5pm to 6:45pm most days. I had forgotten this, but we arrived about 4:45pm, so we didn’t need to wait long.

Inside the church, there was a riot of colors, shapes, and smells. Got to love these Gothic churches! And next to the very busy altar stood Michelangelo’s Christ the Redeemer or Christ Carrying the Cross. The experts say that it is one of his lesser works, but a “lesser Michelangelo” is still a masterpiece! And from Wikipedia “Christ is shown by Michelangelo unclothed in a standing pose. Christ’s sexual organs are exposed in order to show that his sexuality is uncorrupted by lust and completely controlled by his will, so that in his resurrected body he shows his triumph over both sin and death. During the Baroque period a bronze floating loincloth was added.”

The Trevi Fountain was nearby so we headed there next. The last time we were in Rome, we enjoyed the fountain at night so an afternoon visit would give us a different look. There were quite a few people around the fountain, but most were trying to keep their distance from other groups. We found a bench and were able to enjoy the fountain and this classic tourist destination.

Day 2 – The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

We had visited the Vatican in 2014 and were astonished at the beautiful art that fills every inch of the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We took an organized tour, which was the only way for us to reasonably get a ticket. The “tour” of the Museums consisted of walking down long hallways hearing about beautiful treasures but not really stopping to see it. (at least according to my memory) Then the real point of the tour… the Sistine Chapel. They gave us a description before entering because they are not allowed to do so inside of the chapel. We entered and it was literally wall-to-wall people. We had 5 to 7 minutes before we needed to meet our tour group outside. Next stop was St. Peter’s Basilica. We had a decent tour of this huge church and were left on our own in the church. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the church, including going up to the dome and onto the roof. I realized that there was so much more to see and experience that I wanted to return “someday”.

So with the Vatican re-opened but tourists at a minimum, we headed back to the Vatican. We purchased the tickets to the Museums & Sistine Chapel online directly from the Vatican at a low fee. We spent hours wandering through the museum and enjoyed the beautiful art that surrounded us. Then it was time to enter the Sistine Chapel. We spent more than 30 minutes in this rather small space, listening to an audio guide and just gazing at this masterpiece. You aren’t supposed to take pictures, but I took one photo of the crowd to include in this blog post:

I took lots of pictures in the museum but I’ll just share a few from portions that I particularly enjoyed. The Vatican has a “Gallery of Maps” which consists of 40 frescoes of maps, detailing the Italian regions and papal properties that existed around 1580. The Pope had these designed so that he could understand his properties without having to leave his home. The maps were accurate for the most part. It was especially fun to look for “our” map (the region of Etruria or Tuscany as it is known now) and we even found the town of Lucca on it. Oh… and check out those ceilings! The paintings show scenes about the regions of the maps that they are close to.

On this visit, we learned about “porphyry” a kind of purple granite. The word “porphyry” comes from the Latin word for purple, which was the color of nobility to the Romans.  Porphyry was Imperial Rome’s most prestigious stone for columns, vases, alters, busts and other objects.  Imperial porphyry had only one source, a desert in Egypt, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Today it is quarried from many locations and isn’t considered quite as prestigious. It is even used for paving stones in some places now!

One more picture of the Vatican… an external view of St. Peter’s Basilica and the beautiful St. Peter’s Square. Yep… that’s an ancient Egyptian obelisk!

We planned to enjoy the church next, but we had spent too much time in the Vatican Museums and we had plans to meet a friend who lives in Rome. We decided that we would return later in the week for the Basilica. We visited Angelo, an Italian friend that we met in Virginia at Pazzo Pomodoro, our favorite restaurant. He and his family had returned to Rome during 2019 to be closer to their extended families and raise their girls in Italy. It was great to spend time with Angelo, to hear about his journey home, learn about Roman Pinsa (yummm!), and get his approval on my much improved Italian speaking skills. He had served as one of my first Italian tutors… every Friday night stretching me a bit further in my speaking skills. We look forward to seeing him again in Rome or for his family to visit us in Lucca!

Day 3 – Villa Borghese

The villa was the summer and party residence of the noble Borghese family, built in the early 1600’s. Today it is a rather small museum filled with wonderful sculptures and paintings. The museum is most famous for its collection of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio’s paintings. The villa itself is also concerned a masterpiece. They normally allow 360 people to visit for a two hour window; with COVID they limited the group to 100 people. As with the other sites that we visited, there was plenty of space. And two hours seemed just the right amount of time.

The Villa is set inside a beautiful park that is often compared to New York’s Central Park. The day that we visited was a holiday and it was filled with families enjoying the beautiful day. We bought some sandwiches from a vendor by the zoo (not recommended!) and ate them on a park bench (recommended!), watching people walking, riding bicycles, 4 wheeled buggies, and lots of other vehicles.

Day 4 – St. Peter’s Basilica and the giant white building

We returned to the Vatican in the morning to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. There was literally no one in line. And when we entered, we saw that there were few visitors. I estimate 100 people – in the world’s largest church. My hope was to see Michelangelo’s Pietà in relative peace. When I had seen it before, there were crowds of people waiting their turn for a few minutes viewing time. This day, it was just me and the Pietà. Magical!

Since my first visit to Rome, I’m been wondering about the giant white building with huge sculptures on top. What is it??? Actually, it goes by several names: “Victor Emmanuel II National Monument”, “Altar of the Fatherland” and “Vittoriano” – but many people just call it the “Wedding Cake”.

Victor Emmanuel II was the first king of the unified Italy in 1861. The building is intended to commemorate him. There is a HUGE statue of a horseman in the center of the building that represents him. It also has a collection of museums relating to the unification, the Italian language and recent military history, the altar of the fatherland and the tomb of the unknown soldier.  There is a viewing platform near the top that is accessible by an elevator, AFTER walking up about a million steps. The view of ancient Rome (Coliseum, Forum, Circus Maximus (race course)) was spectacular.

Mostly everything about this monument is huge. Many Italians do not like the monument because it is too big, doesn’t fit into the architecture of the rest of Rome and many historically important buildings were destroyed to build in.

Piazza Navona – every day!

The last evening of our first visit to Rome in 2014, we were looking for a place to eat dinner and wandered into Piazza Navona. We were pleasantly surprised to find this gorgeous and huge piazza. We got a table on the piazza, ate a lovely dinner, and enjoyed looking at the beauty of the piazza, the people and the street performers. It set the standard for wonderful experiences for our last evening of our vacations to Italy. I don’t think that any others quite were up to this level.

Since hotels were plentiful and inexpensive for this trip, we decided to stay near Piazza Navona. I selected a Bed & Breakfast that ended up to be right around the corner from the piazza. We paid €68 for our room that normally costs up to €268 per night. The room was small but nice. The location was fantastic! The entry to the B&B was part of a Roman ruin and our curiosity grew. We found the entrance and learned about the history of the Piazza – it was a stadium that held races during the Roman times. We enjoyed visiting the Piazza during different times of the day and enjoyed two dinners and some gelato there. And yes, that it yet another ancient Egyptian obelisk in the piazza.

We also discovered a neighborhood market. I loved the the fruits and vegies, especially the Roman artichokes – a local specialty. They even had a statue of Darth Vader???

The more I see of Rome, the more I realize that I have so much more to see.

Mini-vacation to Florence

With the Covid pandemic coming under control, the Government has relaxed some of the restrictions. We wanted to visit Florence for several reasons, so we decided to head there for Saturday and Sunday (May 8 & 9, 2021).

After our first trip to Italy, Mike M. asked me if I had been to Piazzale Michelangelo. It sounded so wonderful, but no… we hadn’t visited it. I vowed that I would visit it in the future and we have now done so many times now. On Saturday, it was our first stop of our mini-vacation. From this grand piazza, you can see all of the gorgeous city of Florence. And we even listened some live blues music while enjoying the view.

I had read that the Irises were in bloom and so we searched for this special garden and found it (along with a lot of other people). The Irises were spectacular!

We enjoyed a nice lunch at the restaurant right next to Chiesa Santa Croce (with brown umbrellas in photo below). This is one of our favorite piazzas in Florence, so it was nice to return. We’ve been trying hummus whenever we see it on the menu and especially appreciated all of the fresh vegies as dippers. Although hummus isn’t considered a traditional Italian dish, chickpeas are used in many different dishes here. My favorite is cecina.

We walked around some of the main sights of Florence and were pleased to see that there were more people now on the streets and around these sights. Here’s a few pics of the unique and beautiful Florence duomo. Gotta love that dome – no one still knows for sure how it was built and why it is still standing!

I wanted to spend some looking at and reading about the sculptures in the Loggia dei Lanzi so was a bit disappointed that people are still being kept from this open air exhibit. I suppose too many people could gather in the area… It was built between 1376 and 1382 and the various sculptures have been exhibited in the space since then. I like the two lions on the steps: the one on the right dates from Roman times, the other on the left was sculpted by Flaminio Vacca in 1598 and was originally placed in the Villa Medici in Rome before being moved to the Loggia in 1789. The history here is mind boggling!

For dinner we ate at Cantinetta Antinori, our favorite restaurant in Florence. Antinori is one of the biggest wine producers in Italy and the restaurant is located in the family’s Palazzo. Because the COVID rules allow only outdoor dining, everyone was sitting in the Palazzo’s courtyard. It was a delightful setting, great food, and tastes of many of their less well-known wines.

Apparently I was tired of taking pictures, because I have none for Sunday! But it was a lovely day… We went to Mosaico, an English-speaking church that we’ve visited before. Then visited a friend that has recently opened a store/bistro that sells Italian and French (yep, French!) cheese and wine. We enjoyed visiting with Rebecca, savoring many new and interesting cheeses and buy several items from the shop. When you next visit Florence, be sure to stop in at Formaggioteca Terroir.

Coronavirus Update

Tourists are now allowed back into Italy! Yay! We are still waiting for some of the specific rules, but generally tourists will need to prove that they don’t have COVID before entering. We are still wearing masks in public (inside and outside) and haven’t heard much discussion of the relaxation of these rules. Restaurants are opened for outdoor dining but starting June 1st, we can eat inside, at least for lunch. This is important because we’ve been having lots of rain, so the restaurants have hustled to get tables available outdoors with umbrellas.

Italy got a slow start in distributing the vaccines, but the pace is definitely increasing. I have received two doses of Pfizer and Jim is scheduled for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on June 7th.

Despite the improvements, we have a conservative travel plan for 2021. We plan on exploring various parts of Italy in 2021 and then to visit other European countries in 2022.

If you are planning to visit Italy, please let us know. Lucca is a great city to visit and to use as a base for many days of exploring Tuscany (Florence, Siena, wineries, hilltop towns, beaches, etc.) as well as Cinque Terre. If you can’t make it to Lucca but will be spending some time in Florence, we can come for a drink or a meal. Italy is looking forward to the return of the tourists! We are looking forward to visitors too!

Two quiet months but more freedom now!

It’s been about two months since my last blog post. I’ve thought about writing, but not much has happened for the last two months. The coronavirus restrictions have varied between very strict and strict, so our activities have been greatly limited. But there are a few updates to share.

One year anniversary of living in Italy: We arrived in Lucca on March 9th one year ago, excited to start this new chapter of our lives. COVID and coronavirus were new words/ideas for us, but so was so much around us. The excitement of retiring and moving to Italy sustained us for most of the year and we treasured our opportunity to spend so much time in Lucca and wander around Tuscany occasionally. As we passed a year, I found myself grumbling… second Easter in lockdown, second time we’ve celebrated Jim’s birthday in lockdown, second time for this and second time for that. But I know that we have been so greatly blessed to pass the pandemic here and (being retired) were not greatly impacted financially. I still need to remind myself of this every few days…

Medical care: we now have full access to the Italian medical system. For our first year in Italy, we delayed most medical activities and only dealt with issues that needed to be handled – because of the pandemic and our medical insurance only covered larger issues.  We now have a general physician, are catching on preventive medical activities, and addressing issues that we have ignored.

Eye surgery for Jim: The biggest medical issues was that Jim needed outpatient surgery on his left eye – Epiretinal Membrane (ERM) Surgery. This is not a typical / routine surgery so we had the condition and recommendation confirmed by two doctors in Italy and more confirmation from Jim’s doctor and ophthalmologist in Virginia. After waiting for a few months, he was scheduled for outpatient surgery last week. Everything went smoothly during the hour-long surgery and all indications are that the problem will be fully resolved. The recovery has been a bit more involved than we expected with three different eye drops four times daily AND he needs to keep his head down as much as possible. We have been very impressed with the medical care, with multiple follow-up visits. No cost for the surgery and the eye drops cost about €12 each.

Language study: Jim and I are continuing to study with online tutors. As part of our Integration Agreement with the Italian Government, we need to achieve a competency level of A2 within two years of arriving. Because I started studying the language a few years before we moved here, I was ready and took my A2 test on April 15th and should hear the results soon. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m fluent or anywhere close. That became clear to me after a very confusing episode at a medical clinic when I went for my appointment at 14:00 on April 8th rather than 8am on April 14th. Oh well… 

Driver’s license: I am now turning my attention to studying for the driver’s license test. The test is a challenge even for Italians and is in Italian only. The test has 40 true/false questions drawn from a known set of 7000 possible questions. You can get a maximum of four wrong in order to pass. I can drive with my US driver’s license and an international driver’s permit until January 2022. There is a lot of new vocabulary to learn, including 100 new verbs: to tail, move away, support, take advantage of, compress; squeeze, flow out, avoid, brake, throw/jettison, crack/deteriorate, …

Time with friends: We have been fortunate that we’ve been able to continue meeting with friends, including having two people (and their children) to our house at a time. We’ve continuing meeting with Brian and Victoria for Bible studies and enjoyed Easter with them and their two daughters. We’ve had Pasquale (an Italian friend) for dinner weekly, had a few cooking lessons from Evelin (Pasquale’s chef), enjoyed a brunch at Sharri and Jedd’s house, and visited with Nicola and Rebecca when Vinarkia was opened for takeout. And I have certainly appreciated staying in contact with family and friends through social media and phone calls.

Here are two pictures that I’ve took one evening from our apartment:

A quiet evening in Lucca
Moon rising over San Francesca

San Frediano, a nearby church replaced a bell in its tower and installed a new system that allows their bells to be played by electric motors or moved by string. The changes were announced in the local newspaper and we enjoyed a mini concert from our apartment on Sunday. I’ve included a bit of the audio and a picture.

Church bells from San Frediano
San Frediano, ready to share her new bell with the community

Starting today the coronavirus restrictions have been eased. We now have a Yellow status, meaning that we can travel within Tuscany and other Yellow regions, restaurants are opened for outdoor dining and there are plans in place to start opening museums and cinemas. And talk of opening up Italy for tourist in the months to come! Will we see you in Italy this year?

I am so ready for this!