Lovely Lucca & off to the Italian Riviera!
This morning we traveled to Lucca to visit the birthplace of Puccini! We met our local guide Carlo for a walking tour of this walled Renaissance city, before having a few hours to explore on our own (Sarah told us that we each had a bike reserved in our name to bike the famous city wall if we desired. Fun!).
The city center, Piazza del Mercato, is the site of the ancient amphitheatre. Built during the 1st and 2nd centuries, the piazza today is lined with curved architecture and is bustling with restaurants, residences, artists and tourists.
Carlo was another fantastic guide and as our tour ended, the rain began to fall. We took cover as Amanda and Sarah surprised us with a Luccan treat, cicina. It was delicious!
Sarah & Amanda surprised us daily with local culinary treats. This is the type of attention to detail, going above and beyond expectation, that makes a Rick Steves tour unlike any other.
Our local guide, Carlo.
Our local guide, Carlo.
We popped into a local restaurant for lunch to wait out the rain, and it was a perfect day for a Tuscan specialty, Minestra di Pane...bread soup. So delicious, and rustic, it filled our bellies as the rain subsided and we set off to find our bikes and ride the wall around town! Our day in Lucca quickly came to an end, and it was time to reboard the bus and head to the Cinque Terre!
Need a bathroom? Have a coffee!
You won't find many public restrooms in Italy, but coffee bars are plentiful. Since most cafè restrooms are meant for customers, pop into a bar for a caffè or water and use the facilites. This isn't Starbucks so you won't break the bank! You'll spend about €1 for either caffè or water. Totally worth it! (But don't blame me if you get addicted to your afternoon macchiato!)
Another note about coffee. Italians will never drink capuccino after noontime. It's meant for breakfast only, and espresso is the drink of choice for the rest of the day. It's said that Romans like their espresso "fast, strong, and burning hot" and almost always consumed on the go, never sitting. Many Italians drink 5 or more espressos a day! BUZZ! If espresso is a little strong for you, try a macchiato, which is simply an espresso with a dollop of foam. This became my afternoon drink of choice!
We arrived at the Ligurian coast late in the afternoon after the bus dropped us off in Levanto, where we took a short train ride to Bonassola. While not technically one of the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre, this quiet town served as our base of operations for the next two days. The Hotel Pensione Modern was mere steps from the train station and a perfect location for enjoying all the Cinque Terre has to offer. With time to spare before dinner, a bunch of us decided to explore this tiny town and take in the massive waves crashing at the beach. We stopped for an aperitivo at a small bar where Tony and tour mate Tom indulged in a grappa and a cigar. Sarah joined me for an Aperol Spritz, while the rest of the gang gathered at nearby tables.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time chatting and was happy for the opportunity to get to know her better.
Dinner this evening was in our hotel dining room with our tour mates. No...with our friends. Delicacies from the sea were on the menu. Delicate, crunchy fritto misto with shrimp as big as my head, perfectly crisp tender calamari, and the regional specialty anchovies rounded out this shining star of the evening. I admit, while Tony can eat anchovies like popcorn, they aren't my favorite. Hide them in a Ceasar salad and I'm good, but popping them in my mouth whole, bones and all? Notsomuch. But I was in Italy, so I promised myself I would at least try everything. Oh em gee. These anchovies? So so good. Delizioso. Mangia tutti.
I honestly could not imagine a more knowledgable, personable, or fun tour guide. I truly felt that we had hit the jackpot with Sarah!
And isn't this where Rick Steves has found the recipe for success? I would bet almost anything that most tour groups
feel the same about their guide. He manages to find these amazing people whose passion for travel matches his own
and then sends them out to be ambassadors of back door travel. And those of us who get to experience it?
Lucky. So so lucky. Sarah was the perfect mix of Mary Poppins and stealth Ninja Warrior. With effective precision,
she kept everything running smooth as silk while keeping us all in line. Which wasn't always an easy task!
Un altro giorno perfetto. Non ho mai voglia di uscire.
Day 5 Photo Highlights
A vacation from our vacation! On to the Cinque Terre
or 'Five Lands.'