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Report 414: Tuscany May 2004

By Monica Pileggi from MD, Spring 2004

Trip Description: Two weeks in Tuscany (May 12- 27 2004) visting various Tuscan small towns, and Lucca, Siena, and Florence.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Florence, Tuscany

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 6: Lucca and Pisa

Tuscany, the land of rolling green hills dotted with farmhouses and villages, poppies and poplars, vineyards and olive groves. That's what brought Reenie and me to Tuscany. I found a fabulous deal on Alitalia and booked two tickets immediately. Then I called Reenie and asked if she wanted to travel with me. Of course! She flew in from Boston the day before our flight.

May 12, 2004: We flew from Dulles International via Milan to Pisa, which was smooth sailing all the way. We had checked in two hours earlier. I had to re-arrange my luggage, as my carry-on bag was a little overweight. I removed the bottle of wine that I brought for Antonio and placed it in my other bag. The food on board Alitalia is less than average. We prefer Air France. As usual, I didn't sleep on board the plane. The seats were very uncomfortable in that they sunk in the middle. We sat on our folded blanket, but it didn't help.

May 13, 2004: Transferring from one flight to the next in Milan was fairly easy. There was a lot of walking from one gate to the next, as well as going through customs. We chatted with a few people while waiting in line. By the time we got to the gate, we only had a 40-minute wait. Our flight was on a prop-type airplane, an ATR 72, which holds 66 passengers. I sat right next to the propellers, but had my earplugs with me. I enjoyed this flight as we flew low, compared to most other flights. It took a little over an hour to get to Pisa. We passed the lakes on our right. Too bad it wasn't a clear day.

Since we had our carry-on luggage, we quickly went to the car rental place, got some money from the ATM machine, stopped at the restroom, and then drove off to Pisa. It was an overcast day. Prior to leaving Maryland, I had checked the weather report for the next 10 days. It predicted rain every day! We were quite upset because we wanted to be "Under the Tuscan sun." At least it wasn't raining this day. Our car was probably the dirtiest out of the whole lot. I should have gone back and gotten another car, but figured the forthcoming rain would wash the car for me.

Getting to Lucca, our first stop for two nights, was very easy: up A12, then to A11. Cars zipped right past me on the highway even though I was trying to keep up with the other drivers. One almost hit me as he passed me and merged back into my lane. What a way to start the trip!

Finding our hotel in Lucca was fairly easy, though I missed one street. It's interesting to look at a map because it's really difficult to tell the actual size of a town or city until one starts walking it or driving around. Lucca was quite small. Our hotel, Albergo Diana, was located on the south side, inside the town walls. The hotel has two or three parking spots very close for five euros/day. We considered free parking area outside the town walls, but it would have been too long a walk. Can't waste time on this trip!

We unpacked a few things from our bags, freshened up, and then headed out for the afternoon. Lucca is a lovely town with small streets (pretty clean); fabulous cathedrals with ornate designs. We had lunch at da Leo, which was recommended on Fodors and other guidebooks. We arrived just before they closed, but they took us anyway. More walking after lunch, we headed to the area of the Roman amphitheatre, now homes, shops, and restaurants. Reenie and I purchased a few postcards and went back to the room to rest for a while. We were tired from being up all night. No luck, so I took a shower, which helped a little.

Dinner was very good. We dined at Orti di Via Elisa near the porta Elisa on the east side. The hotel owner recommended this little place when I corresponded with him prior to the trip. I emailed the restaurant and made 7:30pm dinner reservations. The pappardelle with rabbit sauce was very good. Reenie enjoyed braised goat with onions. One part of the restaurant reminded me of a diner.

We had a nice walk home after dinner, taking about an hour to get to the hotel. Lucca is very quiet at night with the exception of a restaurant or two being open, and the sounds of people in their homes having their late meals.

May 14th, 2004: I didn't sleep well last night. Our room faced an inner courtyard, so it was quiet at night. Reenie had gotten up earlier and stepped out for a short walk. I looked out the window to find bright blue skies. I was very happy! Temperature for the day was in the mid 70's and dry.

We decided to climb the first of many towers early before it got too hot and possibly too crowded. We stopped along the way where I purchased a large slice of foccacia bread for breakfast to eat along with some cheese that Reenie purchased the day before.

We climbed up the tower, the Palazzo Guinigi, where large evergreen oaks bloom. There were 230 steps to the top and well worth the climb for the great views of Lucca and the nearby areas. Lucca is certainly a beautiful city.

We wandered around the town stopping at various places (S. Frediano, as well as the Mansini museum - wonderful place to visit with its tapestries, beautiful carpeting, and the most ornate room with gilded statues and alcove and silk wall hangings), and walked along the town walls. Many locals get around Lucca on their bikes. Bikes were for rent everywhere (and very inexpensively, too). The walls are quite wide and shaded with trees. Bicyclists rode along the walls, a length of 2.5 miles.

For lunch we shared a pizza Margherita at Pizzeria Rusticanella 2. The crust was thin and it was delicious!

Back in our room, we freshened up and headed out to Pisa for the afternoon. It was only a 15-minute drive. There were several parking lots to choose from. I found one (6 euros for the afternoon) not too far from the entrance of the Campo dei Miracoli. So, there I was again in Pisa. My last visit in May 2003, I had told myself "never again." Pisa is too touristy with their trashy kiosks. But Reenie wanted to see the famous leaning tower. We visited the Baptistery and climbed up its 147 steps for the views of the area. We also visited the Duomo with its gilded ceiling - beautiful. We had purchased a combined ticket for these two visits. The area was crowded with tourists trying to hold up the tower while posing for pictures. Of course I made Reenie "hold" up the tower.

We looked through the many kiosks that sold faux brand purses. I purchased a purse designed by Giovanni for 14 euros. Most of the goods were tacky touristy items, such as the leaning tower coffee cups. It was around 6pm that we decided to take a break and have a glass of wine at a café. We sat enjoying our house wine while writing in our journals. Our waitress Roberta talked with us for a while. She was embarrassed with her English, but I thought she spoke very well. While sitting, we watched the illegal vendors grab their goods when they heard the police were coming. A few minutes later, they returned and laid out their goods. This went on a few times.

My friend Dawn recommended we dine at Stefani's, a restaurant three miles south of Lucca. I saw the restaurant sign on the way to Pisa. I couldn't wait to dine there based on her reviews. It was great! The appetizers were absolutely delicious: Polenta with mushrooms, divine, and caprese. I had tortellini with a meat sauce, then the mixed meal grill (excellent sausage). Reenie had pappardelle with mushrooms followed by breaded fried rabbit. Everything was very good. For dessert we enjoyed Vin Santo with cantucci (similar to biscotti but denser). Our wine was a Chardonnay-Pinot Grigio, which was very good. All this for $61 (calculated at US$1.22/€1). The restaurant was quite empty when we arrived, but others soon arrived.

Driving back into Lucca, I missed a turn and drove around for a bit. I finally found the correct street and our way back to the hotel. Not ready to go to the room, we found a café and ordered drinks. Reenie asked for a coffee with Amaretto. Well, she loved it. It seemed more of Amaretto with a dash of coffee. I ordered sparkling wine. Gino, the waiter and son of the owner of the café, was quite friendly.

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