Spring flowers & shopping for food

Friday morning, May 15th, Jim was in the altana and he called for me to come upstairs quickly. I panicked and rushed upstairs, ready for any kind of emergency, and he pointed to this beautiful double rainbow. The lower one ended on the Lucca wall. How beautiful is that!

The beauty of LuccaSpring Flowers!

undefinedWe’ve been allowed to walk on the walls of Lucca since May 4th, so we’ve had a chance to enjoy the spring flowers across town. Before May 4th, my goal was to get in at least 3000 steps per day; now, most days go well over 10000 steps.

I’ve been enjoying taking pictures, so this blog post will be a lot of pictures with a description for each.

These decorated balconies are in the Anfiteatro, one of the famous piazzas of Lucca. And you can also see a few signs that say “Andrà tutto bene!” meaning “Everything will be all right!”. Very encouraging during these days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Another decorated balcony; this one on Piazza San Michele. Soon the businesses on the ground floor will be open and the piazza will come back to life!
Beautiful roses next to one of the many old churches.
Horse chestnut trees are clustered in several locations around Lucca’s wall. This picture was taken on Festa della Mamà (Mother’s Day) with many families enjoying their time on the wall.
Palazzo Pfanner “is a palace and a garden in Lucca, Italy, now converted into a museum of art and artifacts. The building dates to 1667, and is notable mainly for its fine garden.” This wide view is from Lucca’s wall and I especially like the large tree on the right side; I think that it is a Stone Pine tree. The benches on the wall near Palazzo Pfanner are highly sought after!
And here is a closeup of Palazzo Pfanner’s fountain surrounded by statues, lemon trees in big pots, and lots of other flowers. You can also see the Guinigi Tower with its oak trees planted on top of the tower!
From the wall, we can also see Lucca’s Botantical Garden, including this pond with lots of water lilies. One of their prized specimens is a Cypress tree from Florida. There are about a zillion of these near my son’s house. Nice to see one here!
And a closer picture of some of the flowers in the Botanical Gardens.
This view from the Walls show one of the Liberty-style homes that are commonly found right outside of Lucca’s walls. This picture was taken near one of the gates which has lovely pink roses lining the road.
Beautiful flower garden on the wall
This is the back of Palazzo that we live in. It has a small garden with beautiful white roses. You can’t see our apartment from this view.
Behind our Palazzo’s garden and parking lot is this carriage house. It used to be horse stables but now is one or maybe two beautiful large apartments. I love all of the flowers on the windows. You can walk or drive through the brown doors to get to our parking lot. And the whitish tower with windows (next to the green tree on the right) is our apartment.

In past years, there have been several flower festivals/events. I’m disappointed that they weren’t held this year, but am looking forward to them in the future. And are enjoying all of the signs of Spring throughout Lucca.

Everyday life in Lucca… shopping for food

Everyday life in Lucca is different than in the United States. Some things are much better (plentiful fresh food available daily), some are worse (the bureaucracy!) and some are just different. Part of the reason that we moved to Italy was to experience these differences… In this and upcoming blog posts, I’ll talk about some of these differences. Last month I talked about the trash and recycling; this month, it’s shopping for food.

In Virginia, Jim and I had adopted some Italian food shopping habits. We went almost day to get food and purchased mostly fresh and unprocessed food (fruits, vegetables, meat, cheeses, etc.). We typically went to Harris Teeter with an occasional trip to one of the other nice supermarkets – Wegman’s, Giant, or Balducci’s when we wanted something special. We especially appreciated that many of the stores were open 24 hours and usually at least one open on holidays. It’s different in Lucca.

Some larger cities in Italy have everyday markets, such as the Central Market of Florence or the smaller and more authentic Sant’Ambrogio. Lucca has several weekly markets, but most of them haven’t been active during the coronavirus restrictions and aren’t very convenient to where we live. So we have found a set of small markets that we frequent regularly. On a given day, we may go to a few of these shops. Not very efficient, but the food we buy is local, fresh and delicious!

Coronavirus Update

The coronavirus infection rates have been under control and reducing for
several weeks. On May 4th some of the restrictions were lifted and more changes are expected on May 18th. At times it can be confusing to understand the rules and how they all interact. There are decrees set at the country level (i.e., for all of Italy), rules at the regional level (i.e., for all of Tuscany) and further clarifications and interpretations at the commune level (i.e., for
Lucca). Oh, and they keep changing… I belong to several Facebook groups for English speakers in Lucca and we all try to hash out what this all means for us. So here’s my summary of past and upcoming changes:

·        Never closed: food stores, pharmacy stores, gas stations, and other stores that sell true essentials (like wine stores!)

·       May 4th: parks opened, restaurants could begin carry out and delivery (including gelato and coffee!)

·        May 18th: most other stores that sell merchandise can open

·        June 1st: restaurants for dine in, hairdressers, barber shops, etc.

Breaking news! the June 1st openings have now been moved to May 18th. Not sure what I’m looking forward to most – dinner out or a haircut! And we can finally start decorating our apartment. 

Jim and I remain healthy and are vigilant every time we go out. 

Coronavirus update, Lucca walls and the trash

Coronavirus update

Several people have recently asked me about the status of the coronavirus emergency here. The worst is over now for Italy and the restrictions are slowly being lifted. A few examples:

  • Restaurants have been allowed to deliver food to your house. Starting today, we can pick up food at the restaurant but need to pre-order and they will tell us when to pick it up so no crowds form. Rumors are that we’ll be able to go to a restaurant starting May 18, but all tables need to be at least 2 meters apart. Traditionally they are only inches apart, so the restaurant capacities will be far decreased.
  • Food stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other true essentials have never closed and we are experiencing very few shortages. Starting this week, book stores, stationary stores and children clothing/shoe stores could open. Apparently, the kids are running out of clothes that fit and supplies needed for online school! Rumors are that most other stores will be opened by May 11th. Yesterday I saw many storekeepers preparing their stores for reopening.
  • Moving about is quite restricted today. When we leave our house, we need to fill out a form stating where we are coming from, where we are going, and why. Police can stop anyone to check the paperwork and we see police patrolling every time we go out. Legitimate reasons include going to work, shopping for necessities, health care, and taking trash out (see below!). We can now take walks with a dog, small child, or by yourself, but need to stay within 200 meters of our house. Fortunately, the area around our apartment is gorgeous and I have enjoyed these walks. I expect that these restrictions will be relaxed over the next several weeks. One rumor is that we’ll be able to travel freely within our region starting May 4th. That would mean all of Tuscany is open to us… but I’m not counting on that!

We get daily updates of the number of people infected, in intensive care, recovered, and deaths – for all of Italy, the region of Tuscany, the province that we live in and the city we live in. In the city that we live in (Lucca, population 88,000 in the city and surrounding areas), there have been 202 people diagnosed with the virus, 13 are currently in the hospital and 14 have died.

So, it is around us but not too bad. Neither Jim nor I have been sick since we arrived. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we didn’t get it, so we wear masks when we go out in case we are carriers and don’t realize it. And masks are now required for anyone outside of their homes.

The Beauty of Lucca… its walls!

Lucca is one of the many “walled” cities of Tuscany. The walls were built to defend the city from warring parties, generally other cities such as Florence and Pisa, and occasionally other countries. Since the days before the Roman Empire, Lucca has had multiple walls to address the city’s expansion and changing threats. This aerial map shows how Lucca expanded since the Roman Empire days:

Lucca Expansion since the Roman Empire

The reddish square represents the Roman town of Lucca, laid out in a very orderly grid fashion. The Roman wall was about 7 meters high and 2.5 meters wide. There are few traces remaining of the Roman wall; only one portion is available to see above ground.                              

The greenish area was surrounded by a wall during the medieval period, which was finished around 1270. This wall originally had several gates, two remain today. Porta dei Borghi is close to our apartment, so I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of it on walks and from our apartment. Wouldn’t it be cool to live above the gate?

Porta San Gervasio originally had a drawbridge and moat, but both are gone today. Fortunately the starry design underneath the archway and some of the artwork remain. I took this picture in 2019 during one of our visits. It feels odd to be walking through the town and see a gate in the middle of the city!

Porta San Gervasio at dusk
Porta San Gervasio at dusk

The yellowish area of the map represents the expansion of Lucca during the Renaissance era. The walls built during this era still go completely around the historic district of Lucca today. They are 4.2 km around, 30 meters wide at its base, 18 meters at the top, 7 meters in height, and were completed in 1650, after over 100 years of constructions. These walls are so wide because they needed to be wider than a cannon ball could be launched. Fortunately, the walls were transformed into a public park in the late 1800s. Today, the Lucchese people and tourists walk, bicycle, picnic, exercise, and relax on the wall. As I mentioned in my last post, the walls are now closed because of the coronavirus. Too many people were gathering on the walls as they have done since the 1800’s. These walls are one of the biggest attractions in Lucca. I’m sure that future posts will include lots of pictures taken from these walls.

Everyday life in Lucca… the trash and recycling

Everyday life in Lucca is different than in the United States. Some things are much better (plentiful fresh food available daily), some are worse (the bureaucracy!) and some are just different. Part of the reason that we moved to Italy was to experience these differences… In this and upcoming blog posts, I’ll talk about some of these differences.

Where we lived in Virginia, we kept 2 very large bins in our garage. Twice a week, the garbage truck came to pick up trash from one of the bins and once a week, they picked up the recycling in the other bin. It’s different in Lucca.

They are very serious about recycling and we need to separate all recycling into four categories: paper, multi material (including plastic and metal), glass, and organics. Because there are no garbage disposals here, any wasted food goes into “organics”. This can get smelly quickly! There are long lists that tell you exactly where to put every kind of waste. Whatever remains goes into the non-recyclable.

When we first arrived, the apartment had a container for organics, but we just used separate bags for each. Last week, we purchased our very own fine recycling bin for the kitchen. Much better now!

There are sets of recycling bins on the street that match these categories. The openings are quite small, so trash and recycling goes out daily. To open the bin, you need a card that is registered to us. Our realtor spent weeks working to get our card for us (and lent us one in the meantime). You need to use your card each time you open each bin, so that they can track exactly who is using which bins! I just read that “the citizens will pay for the actual amount of unsorted waste produced and conferred to the islands.” How is that for being serious about recycling???

I plan to continue posting to my blog every few weeks, highlighting something that I find beautiful, a bit about how everyday life is different than in the United States, and some personal updates. Let me know if there are topics you want me to write about!

San Frediano and the coronavirus

We are starting to settle into our new home in Lucca Italy. I’ve even had some time to relax, gaze out of the windows, take a few pictures and start identifying the town birds.

San Frediano church. There are three great churches in Lucca; two are very orate and are in the Pisan style; and the third is San Frediano, a typical Romanesque church – solid, severe and simple. Except for that amazing frontal mosaic! The mosaic was added in the later 1200’s as the town’s main cathedral was getting a new facade and the caretakers of San Frediano wanted their own facade update but one that would be different from the ornate cathedral.

The church is one of the most striking buildings that we can see from our altana. The altana is a delightful square room in our apartment that rises above the rest of the building. It has windows on all four sides with remarkable views from each. The sun sets next to San Frediano so I started my Lucca photography journey focused on it, and included a few pictures from other times of the day.

“The [mosaic] work shows the Ascension of Christ in a mandorla held by two angels. Below are the twelve Apostles, looking up at the miraculous event. The writing makes clear the context: ‘Why do the Galileans look towards the sky?’ This, Galileans, is the son of God rising above.’” (from The Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca by Lindquist.)

Construction of the church itself was mostly completed by 1147, although many modifications, enhancements, and improvements have been made in the centuries since. During my May 2019 visit to Lucca, I went inside. Lots of beautiful artwork and I look forward to returning once we can freely move around and public buildings are re-opened. I may include some interior pictures on a blog post in the future.

“These days”. That’s the phrase that many are using to refer to this time with the coronavirus pandemic underway and many restrictions in place to force “social distancing”. Italy was hit hard and early by the coronavirus and has taken many measures to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus infections. Our day-to-day life is a lot different than it will be later. But we’ve accepted it and are doing our best at minimizing our risk and those around us, while slowly getting our apartment set up. Jim is doing most of the shopping as I have Crohn’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. He is becoming familiar with some of the people in our building and shops that he visits. Eventually we hope to get to know all of them. Having this as a shared experience may be valuable in deepening our relationships with the Lucchesi people.

One of the special aspects of Lucca is the wide Renaissance walls that go all around Lucca. The walls serve as the town’s main park. People walk, run, picnic, bicycle, etc. on it. About a week ago, a decision was made to shut it down completely, as too many people were bending the rules and using it as a gathering spot. Below are pictures of the empty wall – a situation that I’ll likely never see after these restrictions are lifted.

The empty walls of Lucca

Residency status. The visa that we were so anxious to receive is only the first step in obtaining permanent residency. Upon arrival, we had 8 working days to submit our application for the permesso di soggiorno, or permission to live here. Given all the restrictions, the deadline was relaxed so we had plenty of time. But we realized that we had no document that showed that we were residents and were uncomfortable with that situation. We decided to see how far through the process we could get. The first step is to go the Post Office, which is typically a lengthy and confusing experience. I walked in and there were three windows open with two customers. I explained what I needed in my lousy Italian and left within minutes with the forms that we needed. What??? Something simpler because of the coronavirus regulations??? I filled out the lengthy form with lots of help from resources available on the Internet and included some of the same attachments that went with the visa applications. You need to include a 16€ stamp that you get from one of the tabaccaia stores. One is a few doors from our apartment and took just a few minutes to get. Then both of us needed to return to the Post Office. After a short wait, one of the people at the window quickly looked through the package and it seemed that this was just going to be too easy! Then she asks us how much we needed to pay for the permit. We didn’t know but she said that it our responsibility. So… we sat down in some chairs and started googling. We quickly learned that it was between €40 and €100. We decided on €50 based on some confusing descriptions and went back to the same window. Nope, she said; €50 was not the right number. She didn’t know what the right amount was, but it wasn’t €50. She said that it wasn’t a whole number. I was ready to go home so that I could do proper research, but Jim insisted on staying at the Post Office. Back to the chairs and back to googling. I finally found it on Italian immigration site. The right answer was €70.46. She seemed happy with that and gave us the all-important receipts which served as a temporary residency permit. Next step is a visit to the Questura in mid-June to get the official permit. Then the Carta d’identità…

Our prayers these days are focused on the coronavirus – for the health of all the medical workers and patients, the Luccesi community, our new church family, for the shopkeepers we meet, and for all our family and friends back in the U.S. We are all dealing with our first pandemic that it significantly impacting each of our lives.



Journey to our new home

Well, this wasn’t anything like I imagined. The coronavirus hit Italy hard and the situation has changed daily since we received our visas. But now we are settling into our new home.

We received the visas on Thursday, February 27th and made reservations that day to Pisa. We got a great flight from Orlando to Houston to Munich to Pisa. Crazy to go to Houston, but we needed only 3 flights to go from one medium-sized airport to a small one in about 15 hours. We got business class tickets with points that allowed us to check three 70 pound bags each. That’s 420 pounds of stuff and we could each take two carryons. We wanted to maximize what we could bring along with us.

We were in Ohio at the time, visiting family and friends. And keeping an eye on the news of coronavirus in Italy. Some of the northern towns were locked down, but we felt confident because there were no cases in Lucca and few in Tuscany.

On March 4th, I heard from an American couple that lives in Lucca returned on a flight from the US through Pisa. No problems but they said the flight was quite empty. New problem… flights were being cancelled because there just weren’t enough people flying. Sure enough, on March 5th, we received an email stating that our flight was changed to land in Florence with a 5 hour layover in Munich. We were also watching the news about the growing coronavirus problems which were spreading throughout Italy. If we didn’t travel soon, we were concerned that our move would be delayed for months.

So we completed our packing and rented a big SUV. Derek took us to the Orlando airport and helped us get it checked in. The maximum weight for each piece of luggage is 70 pounds. Boxes 1 to 3 were 68 pounds, 4 and 5 were a bit lighter, and the suitcase was exactly 70 pounds. Jim did a great job of preparing all of the luggage. 🙂

Five of these big boxes plus lots more
We made it to check in station

No problems with our flight. We had a good night’s sleep flying from Houston to Munich. This flight was about half full, so clearly people are just deciding not to travel. Upon arrival in Munich, they took a quick look at our passports, didn’t ask any questions and didn’t even look at the visas! We spent the long layover in the Lufthansa lounge and were thankful for the clean and warm showers. The flight into Florence was less than half filled. We had our temperatures taken then juggled our massive luggage out to the front where a driver with a van was waiting for us. Some of the boxes were wet and starting to break down, but we squeezed them into the van and headed off to Lucca, less than an hour away.

We were greeted by Debora, but there were no hugs or the typical Italian cheek kisses. With help from the driver and Casper, a member of our church, we got all the luggage into our apartment. Even though there is an elevator, there are still several steps up and down to get to the main area of our apartment. Debora briefed us on the apartment and gave us a warning that she expected all of Italy to be “locked down” within a day or two. Yikes! We had several critical tasks to be done the next day…

Tuesday, March 10th was our first full day in Lucca. A new set of rules were in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging everyone to stay home. We weren’t allowed to leave Lucca without a good reason, pubs and restaurants closed at 6pm and everyone was to stay at least one meter apart. Despite these rules, we were able to go to the bank, cell phone store to order Wifi and get Italian phone numbers for our phone, buy essentials for the appartment and get some food into the house. We accomplished a lot and enjoyed our first dinner at home.

A simple charcuterie dinner

That evening we enjoyed the wonderful views from our kitchen and “altana” as the sun set. Life was going to be good in Lucca, once we get through all these new rules!

Sunset, taken with my cell phone, #nofilters
And getting darker.

Today (Wednesday, March 11th) we felt like pros at these new rules. We ventured outside of the walls to stop at an electronic store, similar to Best Buy, to buy a Nespresso machine. Then to a much larger supermarket. Because we must stay a meter apart, the stores limit the number of people inside. This creates queues outside of many stores and we waited 30 minutes to get into the large supermarket. We buy only what we can carry and Jim has carried a bunch the last 2 days!

Tonight we created a plan for tomorrow, but as we prepared to go to bed we learned of the next set of rules. Only food markets and pharmacies will be opened starting tomorrow. So we won’t be going to the bank or other “essential” errands that we planned, but will turn our focus on organizing our apartment and finish unpacking. And staying home.

We don’t regret coming to Italy. We have everything that we need. We feel safe and still healthy. We felt called to come to Italy and are still at peace with our decision.