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Lucca - Getting Out Of The Big Cities

We have had quite the chill time since leaving Florence. We left behind the city to see a little countryside, and have found that we have been lingering a little longer in our destinations here in Italy. Compared to our usual high-paced travel standards, it has been very leisurely, which is just the way we have wanted it.

We were up on January 2nd bright and early, though it wasn't so bright. It was overcast and cool, a big change from the brilliant weather we had for the first day of the year. We had that cloudy weather for the rest of our time in Lucca, though now that we are at the coast it is back to being brilliant and sunny again. As Jess mentioned, it was quite a change being back in a hostel again, especially having to share our room with four other people and especially get the small bathroom. However, it was still our first hostel on the this trip (so far our only one), so we were a bit sad to bid it farewell and head to the train station.

Our next destination was the little town of Lucca, known for its intact walls surrounding its center as well as its fine foods. It is very different from Florence, where crowds and massive architecture are the norm. There are more than 80,000 people in the city, though it does not feel that way; there is a distinct small town feeling to Lucca. It only takes a couple of hours by train to reach the city from Florence, so we arrived by early afternoon, to find that it was lightly raining. On previous trips we tended to forget our rain covers for our bags, and while we definitely still forgot important travel items (believe me), rain covers were not one of them. (We are actually finally getting down our list of important travel items,  after eight years of traveling together). So we attached the rain guards to our bags and headed into the city. After crossing the impressive walks that surrounded the center, we trooped on to the guesthouse we were staying at, just to find that the receptionist would not be back for about an hour. We went off and found a cafe for some lunch and warm drinks.

Accommodation in Italy is different than what we've found elsewhere in Europe. When we've traveled to countries like Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other central countries, we usually find hostels to stay at, because they usually are convenient, cheaper than most hotels, and common. With the exception of Florence and probably in Rome, we have found that there are far fewer hostels available in our Italian destinations. Not only that, but the hostels tend to be overpriced, starting at €25-30 for a bunk. When a room at a guesthouse or hotel starts at twice that for a double, of course we are going to stay somewhere besides the hostel. Our choices in Lucca were limited to B&Bs, guesthouses, and hotels; not knowing what a guesthouse was, I went with that because it was the cheapest option. It turned out well for us.

The receptionist returned at 2pm as promised, and we checked into our room. We had a huge room, looking out into small plaza. The guesthouse had a very nice kitchen for us to use, as well as three shared bathrooms down the hallway. It was all well-kept and simply decorated, and was nice after being in the hostel in Florence, regardless of how much we'd enjoyed staying there. We relaxed at in our room for awhile, as the rain outside discouraged us from going out for much of a walk. The receptionist had told us about a market just outside the walls, so we went there and bought enough food for a nice dinner as well as lunch and dinner for the next couple of days. By at time it was getting dark, so we went back and ate. It had stopped raining, so we took a little tour of the city, which seemed very charming and beautiful even in the glow of the streetlight. We quickly realized that we'd made a mistake going to the big standard market, because of all of the small artisan type shops, each selling a particular ware, such as meat shop, a cheese shop, a chocolate shop, and so on. We decided that we would avoid the big market from then on, and continued exploring the center. We found a leather goods shop with incredible bags, folders, book covers, belts, and other items. Even better, it was obviously a family business–-the men there were busy making more leather goods, sewing and cutting. Of course it is possible to just go to one of the many shops selling leather goods, but to know that the goods were made right behind the counter is pretty special. Of course Jess and I have a hard time actually buying stuff for ourselves, especially high priced things, so we decided to come back the next day after giving it some thought. Finally we found a little cafe near our guesthouse (one that seemed much like a gas station to us, with racks of cigarettes and characters one might expect at a truckstop), where we had our nightly spritz before heading in for the evening. We played some card games in the guesthouse kitchen, where we met a couple of fellow travelers, two Americans college students, Nicky and Katie. We talked a bit with them before calling it a night.

The next couple of days weren't so exciting, but quite nice nonetheless. We spent the day of the 3rd walking the surrounding wall, which is about 4km in total. Since this only takes about an hour, we also filled the time by going into the city when we saw a plaza or church that looked interesting. We also spent a fair amount of time in cafes drinking cafe americanos and sampling the fine desserts that Lucca has a reputation for. Lucca can be fully explored in a morning, but we spent all day doing it in a very leisurely fashion. While the city has a small town feeling, its two main roads are lined with a surprising number of stores selling high-priced fashion goods, from clothing to shoes to chocolates. You'd never know Italy is in a massive debt crisis given not only the number of shops but the many folks shopping there. Italians are very fashion minded--Jess, with her sneakers, has really attracted a lot of stares and glares, to the point that it is embarrassing for me even (being the fashion guru that I am). 

At any rate, we ended the day by visiting our little leather shop, called Legatoria d' Arte, which importantly was nowhere near the main shopping areas. Again, we didn't buy anything but continued to solidify our minds about getting some leather goods. We went out for dinner that night, as we have decided that we will go out every destination that we visit for a good meal. We found a little restaurant that seemed to have a lot of locals inside,and had a nice dinner two-course set, which only cost €20 each, including a glass of wine. Then we called it an evening.

The next morning we set off for a few villages up in the nearby mountains, despite a heavy covering of clouds. The American girls ended up coming as well, since we were all a little late getting out of the guesthouse. Sadly, the higher in the mountains that our train took us, the more it seemed to be raining. We got off in a little town called Barga, which apparently is quite nice in good weather. However, we didn't walk ten minutes before we started to get pretty wet, so we headed back to the train station and waited for the next train in a funny little cafe where old Italian men were playing some passionate (i.e. with lots of shouting) games of cards. The next town, the rain was falling even harder. So, we took the train back to Lucca, though we had a very nice, long conversation with Nicky and Katie during the trip. Back in town, Jess and I went on a real spending spree, buying our leather goods, getting some chocolate, and shopping for our dinner food. That was very fun. We had dinner with the girls at the guesthouse, talking and eating until late, and then called it a night.

We headed out the next morning, checking out by 10 after bidding farewell to our fellow American neighbors. We were on our way to Cinque Terre, the beautiful region where we have spent the last couple of days and plan on being for a few more. Lucca was good for us, and even provided us with a little class, what with our new Italian leather goods. Even better, though, it gave us a sense of how rural Italy is, something that you could never get by staying in the big cities like Florence or Venice. 

Until next time, be safe.


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