At the end of September 2021, Derek, our son, and Dani, his girlfriend, came to visit. It’s been 18 months since we’ve seen Derek or any family member, so you can imagine that we were quite thrilled to see them. We had a wonderful time with them and visited some new sites and some familiar ones.
Pickup in Rome. Derek and Dani flew into Rome and were set to arrive early in the morning. So Jim and I drove down the day before and stopped at Tarquinia, an hour north of Rome on the coast. The city is known for their Etruscan tombs and Etruscan Museum. I’ve seen a lot of Etruscan stuff, but I was surprised at the beauty and quantity of these tombs! In this necropolis there are 22 different underground tombs that you can look into with beautiful painted walls. Each tomb has a modern building covering the tomb with steps going down. Lighting was not good (to protect the paintings), so I’ve included one from the town’s museum, which was moved for accessibility and protection. I’ve also included a picture of a decoration from one of their temples. Keep in mind that these are from the 4-6th centuries BC!
The next morning Derek and Dani arrived on time. After more than a few hugs we were off to Sorrento where we planned to spend 5 nights.
Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, and Capri. None of us had ever been to this region so we were excited to explore the cities, the views, and the sites. While approaching Sorrento Jim stopped for a view of the city… the view was a great first impression, the traffic not so much!
We headed to Capri Island the next day… joining a boat trip from Sorrento, went around Capri, a short swim break and then a stop at one of the marinas. We visited the town of Capri, filled with shops selling beautiful (and overpriced!) souvenirs. Jim and I enjoyed wandering through the small streets while Derek and Dani headed to another marina to check out some of the boats. The wait to see the famous Blue Grotto was over an hour, so everyone on our boat agreed to skip it. Instead the captain stopped at two of the lesser known, but equally beautiful grottos, and Derek, Dani and many of the others jumped into the water to check them out.
The next day we headed to Pompeii where we spent hours wandering through the city. “Pompeii is a vast archaeological site in southern Italy’s Campania region, near the coast of the Bay of Naples. Once a thriving and sophisticated Roman city, Pompeii was buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The preserved site features excavated ruins of streets and houses that visitors can freely explore.” (from Google) I was struck by the size of the city and how well preserved everything is. There were so many details here and there that really gave you a sense for life in an early Roman city. I definitely want to spend more time here.
And the next day we had another boat trip planned – leaving from Sorrento and going along the Amalfi Coast. My knee was too sore at this point, so Jim and I opted to stay in Sorrento while Derek and Dani headed back to the boat. They had a great time, seeing several small towns and popping into the water at a few swimming spots. Each evening of our trip, we had dinner at one of the restaurants that featured local delicacies and a good wine list.
Chianti. We had planned for one more day in the Sorrento area, but we were all ready to move along. So we headed towards home, stopping for a night in Castellini in Chianti. This small town holds special meaning for Jim and me. In 2016 we stayed here and used it as a base to explore this part of Tuscany. One evening after dinner as we wandered through the town, we paused to look at the available real estate in one of the realtor’s window. That was the evening that we realized that living in Italy would be affordable for us and planted the seed to “retire in Italy someday”. At the time, we expected that to be a decade or so away, but why wait???
We were in Chianti, so naturally we visited a winery and some of the nearby towns.
Next stop, Lucca! Derek and Dani were likely tired of hearing us talk about what a wonderful city Lucca is to live in and they now had an opportunity to check it out. They stayed in Lucca for a week… we spent quite a bit of time in town, but also used it as a base for day trips. I’ve included some photos of our time with them, but they also visited a nearby cave in the mountains, took a cooking class, and visited the Irish Pub (in Lucca???) multiple times. You’ll need to ask them if Lucca lived up to the hype from Jim and me…
Derek and Dani then left Lucca and wandered around Europe for another two weeks, visiting Prague, a small German town, a few places in Switzerland, Chamonix, and Milan.
It was wonderful to spend time with Derek, to really get to know Dani, and to show them some of the aspects of Italy that we enjoy so much. We are looking forward to future visits from our family and friends!
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.
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.
When we arrived in Lucca in March, we planned to rent a car for a week to buy stuff for our new apartment and pick up wine we were storing in Florence. Three months later, it finally happened. And we were able to take some fun day trips as well. This blog post will describe our adventures with plenty of pictures. And give you a bit of insight into the fun and challenges of driving here.
The Beauty of Lucca… so many nearby day trips!
You probably aren’t interested in our trip to IKEA or stocking up on heavy and bulky foods at the supermarket. So, I’ll focus on our day trips to Florence, Bolgheri, and Cinque Terre.
Florence: Jim and I walked through the biggest tourist areas in Florence: the Duomo/Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio/town hall, the center court of the Uffizi museum, and across the Ponte Vecchio/old bridge. I estimate that the tourist crowd was about 5% of the usual size. Many stores were closed and museums are starting to open, but with limited hours. It was a great opportunity to take pictures of some of Florence’s great sights, but it was also quite sad. For example, there are usually big crowds in front of the gorgeous Gates of Paradise and you could never expect to get a picture without bunches of strangers… not now. Ponte Vecchio is usually packed with tourists looking at overpriced gold jewelry in the shops that line both sides of the bridge… not now.
We had lunch with Rebecca of Grape Tours. We met Rebecca and Pierre, her husband, in September 2014 when we went on their four-day Tuscan Wine Tour. And we’ve stayed in touch since. We are signed up for their Sicily Wine Tour in October. There is still room on the trip for you to join us! We had lunch at Le Volpe e Uva, a great place for wine and food, one block off of one of the main tourist areas. Seek it out!
We also picked up that wine that had been stored for a few years at an enoteca by the train station and bought a few more bottles to show our appreciation. Our wine cellar is growing again, but it will NOT get too large!
Bolgheri: Bolgheri is a small coastal town about an hour from Lucca with numerous wineries that make some of the best and most expensive wines of Italy. The two “biggies” are Ornellaia and Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia). Several years ago, Jim and I visited Ornellaia; this week we went to Chiappini, a family-owned organic winery that is next door to Ornellaia. We went with Pasquale, an Italian friend of ours, who knows many of the family of these small & great wineries. The wines were delightful and just being at a winery was wonderful. We tasted several wines than bought a few bottles. We ate lunch at a local enoteca and enjoyed some yummy gelato with views of Bolgheri out to the sea.
Cinque Terre: When planning vacations to Italy, we often considered visiting Cinque Terre, five fishing villages perched high on the Italian Riviera. In fact, we even did a puzzle of one of the villages. But each time, we concluded that it would be too crowded. Those villages are packed with people coming to see some of the scenic views in Italy. Well, they aren’t too crowded now! So, off we went with our friends Victoria and Brian to visit two of the towns – Manarola and Vernazza. They had been several times before and talked about how nice to visit without the heavy crowds. There were tourists visiting, but not too many.
Our first stop was Manarola. We wandered through the city, then ate lunch at Nessun Dormire and enjoyed a slow meal of bruschetta with pesto, salami, cheese, melon with prosciutto, and a local white wine – with THE most incredible view.
After Manarola, we jumped on the train that goes between the five villages and we got off at Vernazza. Typically the trains run every 20 minutes, but now are running one per hour. We wandered around Vernazza and stopped for some delicious Italian gelato. We visited the town’s main church and wondered if it would be difficult to concentrate on the service with such spectacular views out the windows!
Everyday life in Lucca… car rentals and driving
We don’t have a car in Lucca, so get around town via walking and bicycling. Plenty of food stores, restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacies, etc. are very close by. But after staying in Lucca for 3 months, I was ready to wander a bit further.
So, we rented a car for a week, starting June 8th. We requested a standard SUV through the local AVIS office so that we’d have plenty of room for some furniture that we plan on buying. Jim walked about 20 minutes to the car rental place, was given a mid-sized crossover, and returned to our house.
Our apartment building has a parking lot and we are allotted one space – quite an unusual feature inside the walls of Lucca. To get to our parking lot you need to drive through a ZTL, a zone that is tightly restricted to residents and others with specific needs. Because of the coronavirus, the rules have been relaxed through the end of August, so we didn’t need to get any special permission to drive through our ZTL. On our second trip to Italy we got two tickets in Florence for driving through the ZTL and did not want to have to pay the big fines again!
Jim has driven a lot in Italy and is quite comfortable doing so. I’m the navigator and am quite comfortable in that role. In fact before last week, I had never driven in Italy. But I drove around the outside of the Lucca walls (lots of traffic circles and relatively heavy traffic) and once to Pisa on the autostrada/highway. I would say that the drivers are more aggressive here than in Virginia, the lanes are narrower and there are traffic circles everywhere! Oh, and if you are looking for the pictures of that tower, we went to Pisa for the shopping – there is an IKEA there! After our first (of several!) trips to IKEA, the car was stuffed with furniture, household goods and more stuff!
For now, we plan on renting a car as needed. We can use our International Driver’s License for one year then will need to get an Italian driver’s license. The test is MUCH harder than in America AND it is in Italian. Most ex-Pats study a lot for 3 months to take the test, then end up taking it a few times before passing.
In the town of Lucca, there was one new case of COVID-19 for the week ending June 14th. We are learning to live with the virus. In town most people have masks on, around their neck (to allow quick replacement) or stashed on their arms (???).
Stores are very careful to follow the rules. Masks and hand sanitizer are required and many stores allow only one customer at a time, so queues on the street on common. Some stores take your temperature before letting you enter; a nearby supermarket even uses an infrared sensor! In more open area such as the Walls of Lucca, about 25% of the people are wearing masks and the others only put them on as needed. There are a few areas of town where young people gather during the evenings and they not do proper social distancing. ☹
Our church met face-to-face for the first time on Sunday, being very careful to leave lots of space between family groupings. After the service, we went outside to chat with each other. It felt great to be doing something as normal as going to church!
And one final picture from Lucca… the moon next to a church’s bell tower:
We had a great trip to Italy from October 31st to November 16th. We spent a few days in Florence, mostly relaxing and just enjoying this beautiful city. We did one walking tour which was called “Renaissance Intro Tour”; great tour, but I’d characterized it as the advanced course, not an introduction! We’ve visited Florence several times now, so this was great to pull together the bits and pieces of info that we have learned.
We headed to Lucca on November 5th, the day after Lucca Comic and Games ended. Try picturing hundreds of thousands of visitors dressed in fantastic costumes wandering through a medieval town… I’m looking forward to seeing it next year and taking lots of fun pictures.
We spent the majority of our time preparing for our move to
Lucca. We saw 7 apartments, accompanied by realtors, lawyers, owners, and their
colleagues. Jim sensed before the trip that I had my heart set on an apartment
Pappagallo” and I simply spent the time comparing each apartment to it. So,
we now have a lease for this wonderful apartment starting on February 1st!
Click on the link to read a description (in English) and check out the
pictures. Yes, there will be room for visitors!
Besides the apartment, we got our Codice Fiscale (similar to the USA’s Social Security Number), opened a bank account, and got health insurance. We could not have accomplished this without the help of our lawyers and realtor. Even with that help, other ex-pats were surprised that we got it all done in about a week.
To get a sense of the bureaucracy in Italy, here’s a description of what it took to open a bank account. Our lawyers recommended a bank and we took their recommendation. On Monday, we were accompanied by a lawyer and an accountant and met face-to-face with a bank officer. The majority of the time was spent with the lawyer and the bank officer speaking in Italian. He then collected some information from us that he hand-wrote on a piece of paper. He seemed concerned that we didn’t have our Social Security cards with us. ☹ We were told to return the next day. The next day, we met our other lawyer, the same accountant and a different bank officer. Lots of talk in Italian as we just sat there. Then he started printing… about ½ inch of paper, small font, double sided. Then we started signing… We could have bought a house in America with this amount of paperwork! He gave us our ATM/debit cards and showed us how to use their online banking. He seemed surprised when we said that we wanted to deposit some cash – because they close at 1:20pm for a few hours and it was already 1pm. They got us into the teller line just in time. So, we have an Italian savings account and an ATM/debit card.
We now have tasks to do in America to prepare for the visa:
renew our passport, get FBI background checks, and gather a bunch of paperwork.
We’ll take documentation from all of this to the Italian Consulate in
Miami… just as soon as we get our
appointment. Unfortunately, the next available appointment is February 3rd
and it will take weeks to get the visa through the approval process. I will be
checking their website daily for earlier appointments – and hoping and praying
that we get one in December or January!
“The walled city isn’t large. It takes twenty minutes to
walk across it at a leisurely but steady pace. Don’t expect to maintain a
steady pace, however, because although Lucca isn’t large, it is dense. It has
been continuously inhabited for more than two thousand years; it was never
abandoned and it was never destroyed. During most of its history Lucca thrived.
It survived the Dark Ages intact and by the Early Middle Ages it was the
capital of Tuscany. In the High Middle Ages it was the silk capital of Europe;
its merchants and bankers preceded those of Florence and Siena. During the
Renaissance Florence conquered the rest of Tuscany, but Lucca never fell. It
did inevitably succumb to Napoleon but he prized the small republic
sufficiently to bestow it upon his sister, Elisa, to rule as princess.
All of these periods survive today, in layers. When Lucca
rebuilt it always built on what came before. No city better preserves its
original Roman street layout. The medieval buildings were erected on Roman
foundations and the Renaissance mansions assembled medieval houses and towers
into grand edifices. Peel the plaster off a Renaissance building and you will
usually find medieval brick underneath.”
During your visit, “try not to be overly ambitious. A visit
to Lucca is often inserted into a hectic tour of must do’s and must see’s in
more famous places, and Lucca is the perfect place to stop and catch your
breath. Wander aimlessly a while, have a cappuccino, wander some more.”
We didn’t do a lot of sightseeing and I didn’t take any
pictures at the bank 😉 but here are some random pictures that I
took during this trip.
I’m now in Northern Florida, hanging out with Derek until our visa comes through. I hope to spend the time enjoying the pristine parks (“The Real Florida”), time with my son, a bit of a refresh on his house, and printing tons of information for our visa application.
I hope that you have a great Thanksgiving. I have so much to be thankful for, including having you follow along with me on this adventure!