Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The journey home

We decided to take a late afternoon train from Lucca to Florence in order to maximize our time there.It was a hot afternoon, almost 30 C. The train was a local one that stopped a lot, but the views were beautiful most of the way, what I think of as "typical" Tuscan countryside. We had the train car almost to ourselves. Florence SMN station was extremely busy, being Sunday early evening. We caught the bus out to our airport hotel, and cooled off with a beer & snacks before a fairly early dinner. The Novotel is a fairly standard airport hotel, comfortable & with free shuttles to both the airport & train station, but not much character. Very different from all the other hotels we stayed at!
An early start next day, Lufthansa flights from Florence to Frankfurt , and Frankfurt to Vancouver. Frankfurt airport was much busier and the connection not as easy as Munich, but we had lots of time.Our flight out of Frankfurt was delayed a couple of hours, someone was sick & had to be taken off the flight. The delay was in finding their luggage! Premium economy seats on the 747 not as nice as on the Airbus we flew out on, but the service was pretty good, and certainly more comfortable than economy. Karen was flying on to San Diego later that evening, so we said goodbye at the airport & I continued home by Skytrain & Seabus, to a very warm welcome from Ian & Chiquita.
It was a great holiday, we saw beautiful & interesting sights, met interesting people, and had lots of great food & wine! Italy is such a wonderful country, so many wonderful & diverse areas. I know I'll be back again before too long!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lovely Lucca

We really fell in love with Lucca. It's a beautiful walled town, population about 5000. It's a tourist town, but not nearly as busy as Florence or Rome. People are friendly, and the food is good. There are lots of beautiful churches, towers, squares, parks, small winding streets... if you get lost you'll eventually come to a wall so you can find your way.
Puccini was born & lived here so there are references to him everywhere. There is a concert of his music every night, but we never made it. It conflicted with our pre-dinner relax and drink.The town seems very popular with young Italians, Pisa is nearby with a large university, so many students come on the weekend. Along with the walls, the Anfiteatro, and the towers, particularly the Guinigi Tower with the trees growing on top are some of Lucca's most popular attractions. It seems everywhere you see quirky things like the painting of the Madonna in the old Red district holding a purse, or "Big Tit" square with it's fountain, named after the classic statue with one bared breast.
We stayed in a wonderful 3 star hotel, the San Martino. It was an old brothel, and instead of numbers the rooms all have names. Our s was "Tre Scallini" which means 3 steps, as there were 3 steps up to the shower.
The staff were so wonderful and friendly, did everything to enhance our stay. And Fabrisio at the front desk insisted on kissing us good-bye!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lucca Food Tour

This morning we had a walking food tour of Lucca. There was only 4 of us, and our wonderful guide Borana. First we walked around the town and she told us something about the history of Lucca, and pointed out some of the interesting buildings and streets. Lucca still has remnants of the Roman walls as well as the Medieval and Renaissance walls of today. There are many churches and also stone towers.
We went first to a pasticceria for coffee and sweets. We had a traditional Lucca cake called Buccellato, along with almond cookies, biscotti and chocolate. Then on to a Pizzaria that makes a simple pizza with just chickpea flour, water and pepper. Then on to the Anfiteatro square for wine and local beer, served with local pecarino cheese, mortadello, ham, several types of salami, olives and bread.
A great place to sit and relax and people watch!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Good-bye to Garfagnana

We had a festive last night at our Agrotourismo in Garfagnana. The trip has gone by so fast! We had a wonderful group, everyone got along, and even more amazing, no complaining! It's a beautiful area of Italy, and we only scratched the surface. I know there is much more to see!
We were all quite tired after our hike, and relaxed with beer & snacks and talked about what we were all doing next. Some are flying home, and some going to another area of Italy.
Chiana gave us a fantastic dinner, pasta with tomato and pork sauce, roasted eggplant, fresh tomatoes, roasted potatoes with sausage, salad, and tiramisu for dessert. Red wine of course, and prosecco as well!
We sat around for a long time after dinner socializing, then finally had to think about packing.
The next morning we had our usual breakfast, but Chiana also put out the leftover tiramisu!
We had 2 buses, 1 to take part of the group to the Massa train station, and 1 to take the rest of us to the Lucca train station. It was very sad to say good-bye to everyone.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Corfino Hike

Today was everyone's favorite hike.It was a nice mainly sunny day, and we started in a very pretty small town of Corfino. The start was quite steep uphill, and we had fabulous views across the valley. The hike was a loop that took us around a mountain. We crossed a couple of scree slopes, then through some woods and along a stream. About 2 1/2 hours to a small village occupied only in summer. Lots of cows wandering around. We ate our picnic lunch on the grounds of the refuge, along side the cows. The loop back to the village took us up first and through a cow pasture, then a steep zigzag trail back down to the village. The footing was much better than the other day so we made good time, about 2 hours. I could feel my knees though! We stopped at a small Auberge in the village with a lovely patio for refreshment. I had an espresso first to wake me up, then a Campari & soda. On the way back to the Agrotourismo we stopped at the Co-op to see what they made. They have a lot of spelt products, also jams & beans. I bought some Chestnut flour and fig jam, very reasonable!
Now back to relax for the evening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rest day - train to Lucca

After our tough hike yesterday, we had a "rest" day, and took the train into Lucca.
It was a later start, so we had a morning walk around our Agrotourismo. It's right out in the country, lots of fields with small kitchen gardens, and bee hives. There is a co-op for local products just down the road. The train from Castelnovo de Garfagnana to Lucca takes about 1 hour & costs 11 euros return. Lucca is a lovely walled town, you can rent a bike and ride right round the town on top of the walls. It only takes a little over 30 min, and is a great way to see the town. Afterwards we had pizza for lunch, and walked through the town. Quite crowded in places. It was mainly sunny today and hot, there was a short rain shower as we were heading back on the train.
Our cook Chiara gave us a cooking lesson on our return; lentil soup, mushroom rissotto & marinated roasted pork. The meals here have been outstanding! Relaxing evening sitting around chatting, some excitement caused by a scorpion sighting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Apuan Alps

A beautiful sunny morning. About an hour drive to our starting point high in the Apuan Alps. The first part was easy, along a rough mountain road. We came across a flock of sheep on our way to lunch at a Mountain Refuge. A beautiful scenic spot, and they cooked us a local pasta with pesto sauce with salad and wine of course. We needed an espresso & a tart to get us going again.
The afternoon started quite easy with gentle downhill through some old villages, some not used year-round.
Then the way got steeper, and with a lot of loose rock left from the previous rains. Luckily the weather remained good, but it wasn't easy even for experienced hikers. We came out at a beautiful small village near a small lake formed by a dam. Now back to the Agrotourismo for a well earned beer before dinner.