Ciao, Italia: Final Italy Update

We spent our last day in Lucca shopping and packing and eating. For dinner we consumed three kinds of local cheese from the fridge accompanied by a huge green salad and lots of onion focaccia from the best focaccia bakery in town. It’s special because the oven has steam and the resulting bread is so tender.

We often took a shortcut through this historic site in Lucca.

Taking a short cut through this park in Lucca after afternoon shopping.

I have a red duffel bag that folds into a tiny pouch. It has been from Australia to Peru to Italy with me and never lets me down. This time it is coming home filled with beans, olive oil, tuna, seeds for the garden, a couple of leather purses and lots of other goodies. We had to call a cab to take us to our car on the edge of Lucca simply because of the bean and oil poundage!

We took the highway past Pisa over to the coast and headed for Rome. We passed sheep and sheep and more sheep there in pecorino country.  The views of the hill towns and the sun sparkling on the ocean were something to remember. After a perfect panini at an Auto Grille, we meandered through the seaside town of San Vincenze and down narrow roads between coastal farms before getting back on the highway where the ocean views kept improving.IMG_1475

And then we were at the airport Hilton in Rome. Sterile but convenient for our morning flight home. We missed our cozy Lucca apartment. Sigh….

Last Italian breakfast at Rome airport. The pink stuff is mortadella. I love having thin slices of bologna with my cappuccino. That never happens back home.

Last Italian breakfast at Rome airport. The pink stuff is mortadella. I love having thin slices of bologna with my cappuccino. That never happens back home.

Some final musings…

We learned that we can have a really good time in the rain!

It was an amazing trip and we love crowdless winter travel. Lucca would be so different with summer crowds and English heard everywhere.

Folks are warmer and less stoic in Tuscany than in Umbria where we stayed a couple of years ago, but Umbria, Italy’s green heart is a beautiful place.

Next time we want to bird watch, visit national parks, hear some gypsy guitar, spend some time on the coast and in the chestnut forests of the Maremma. Sounds like we’ll need at least a month.

We know we will return to Italy, but yesterday, Paul said our next international trip should be Botswana. I like his thinking. We’ll start putting spare change in the jar for that trip right now.

A Room With a View: Italy Update#6

On Tuesday morning I got serious about tracking down the bean store. We combined three different directives from Italians on the street, in Italian, and arrived at Antica Bottega di Prospero. They were putting up the shutters for lunch closing, but kindly let us in. It’s a beautiful store that sells Luccan olive oil, black rice, vinegar, honey and all the heavenly dried things you could ask for; mushrooms, pasta, spices and barrel after barrel of local dried beans and lentils. Seeds for the garden too. We stocked up on a variety of things, including sorano beans, and may go back for more once I develop a packing strategy.

Beans, honey and black rice from Antica Bottega di Prospero, Lucca

Beans, honey and black rice from Antica Bottega di Prospero, Lucca

 

Arugula, onion, parsley and greens seeds for the garden

Arugula, onion, parsley and greens seeds for the garden

Beans purchased, we drove into the hills north of Lucca in search of a restaurant called Cecco in Pescia. I’d read that it had served some of the same menu items for 100 years including the ancient sorano beans. The drive went splendidly until we arrived in Pescia where it took us a while to find the tiny street. But alas, no restaurant. I asked someone and we learned that it had recently closed.  A hundred years and they had to close now?

We grabbed a panini in a bar and headed to our next destination, San Gennaro. This tiny town’s claim to fame is a small 12th century church. We drove up narrow winding roads with steep drops off the side hoping to see a beautiful terra cotta statue of the Archangel Gabriel attributes to Da Vinci. The photos looked lovely. The church was locked so I knocked on the door of the diocese office next door. A priest in a hurry said no visitors and closed the door quickly. No angel for us, but here’s a photo for you.

Pieve di San Gennaro Angelo di Leonardo da Vinci

It was sunny so we drove up and down the seriously steep inclines and hairpin turns. No guard rails and views that took my breath away!  It made driving in the Appalachians back home seem quite tame. Tucked away among those hills where there are rivers, so lots of water for manufacturing, are factories that produce tissue or toilet paper. It was a surprise to find them there!

Back in Lucca, we had an uneventful dinner at a place called Nonna Clara chosen mostly because it was close to home. They gave us a small plate of farro in tomato sauce that was delicious, but the rest was only okay. The weird thing was a huge, and I mean huge,  photo of Grandma Clara’s hands making ravioli. It probably started as sepia but had taken on a blue cast over time. A picture of blueish-brown hands magnified so many times you can see every follicle and age spot is not a good thing to have on a restaurant wall! The giant ravioli filling didn’t look so good either. Unfortunately we had ordered before we noticed it. At least the waitress was nice. I don’t have a picture for you because I never want to see Nonna Clara’s hands again!

On Wednesday, on the way to get our bus to Florence, we learned something at Trattoria Gigi. When meat is sliced into nice thin strips it can be called tagliatelle, like the pasta. I ordered farro and bean soup and Paolo order what sounded tagliatelle pasta with Parmesan, grilled chicken and arugula. He was surprised when he was served a beautiful plate of arugula with Parmesan shards and sliced grilled chicken. It was delish and a perfect accompaniment to my soup.  We made short work of it and P. ordered pasta with boar sauce for his real lunch!

For eight dollars, the Lucca-Florence bus dropped us a 10-minute walk from our hotel although it took us 20 minutes to figure out it was only 10 minutes away. After checking in at the Hotel Europa on Via Cavour; a simple, clean and recently remodeled pensione in walking distance of everything, we took a stroll and had coffee in an upscale pastry shop across from the Duomo. Coffee and tiny fried rice balls, a delicate dolce, provided an excellent pick me up. As it got dark, the sky turned an inky blue and the moon came up over the Duomo. Wow!IMG_1304

We had a great dinner at Pepo on Via Rosina. Elizabeth Minchili’s iPhone app, EAT FLORENCE, led us to that one. Thanks Elizabeth!  The decor was a perfect blend of rustic and modern and we felt at home immediately. Antipasto was four crostini typical of Tuscany; tomato basil, mushroom, warm chicken liver pâté and tangy arugula pesto. That great opener lead to an a remarkable dinner of Ossi bucci and sliced pork roast with truffle sauce, salad and crispy, creamy roasted potatoes. We shared dessert, semi freddo, a kind of light ice cream with chocolate drizzle.

Back at the hotel we could see Brunelleschi’s Dome from our window… a room with a view.