I spent five wonderful days in an air b and b five kilometres from Lucca. My hosts were one of the kindest people of have met on my trek. They couldn’t do enough for me. They drove me places, taught me about the history of the area, made me fresh pasta, gave Tuscany wine, took me out for aperitivo (paying for me) and even picked me up and drove me to the train station.
I loved staying on the outskirts of Lucca and enjoying the small-town atmosphere – especially the bars. I found a bar just two hundred metres from my place where the guy made the best cappuccino and Nutella filled croissant. One day I went on a bike ride in search of the Maddelina bridge. My phone ended up turning off half way so I just followed my instinct which I should have known would have led me into a completely different territory. I ended up in a medieval town that did have a bridge but it wasn’t the Maddelena bridge. I decided to head to the nearest bar for my second coffee. When I went into the bar I was the only customer – the owner an elderly woman and I didn’t even speak – I pointed to the coffee machine and a cake. I took it outside on the veranda where I could see the Tuscan mountains. As I watched and enjoyed my coffee and cake the bar suddenly filled with people. An elderly couple first – they took forever just to cross the road. They looked about 100 years old and I bet they had so many stories to tell. Then some young people arrived. Then more people. I could hear them all in the bar talking merrily. At that moment, I thought I could move to Tuscany and write books on characters I meet in bars.
On two of the days, I rode a bike into the medieval town of Lucca. Lucca is famous for its Renaissance-era city walls – they were built as a defensive fort in the 3rd century and are still intact. As I walked along the wall I felt like I had been taken back in history. I passed roman ruins – there once was an amphitheatre here and walked along narrow, cobblestone alleys that were perfectly picturesque and charming – I don’t know how many churches I saw but there are more than 90 in Lucca alone.
One night I headed out to dinner by myself. My hosts were so worried about me that they drove me and insisted on letting the cook know I didn’t eat meat. Tuscany isn’t famous for vegetarian dishes. The cook ended up making me a pasta dish and a welcoming dish. They told me this is part of a Tuscany custom. They made me feel like I was visiting a friend. When I walked home down the alleyway it was completely dark. I had to walk slowly so I didn’t fall. It was a little spooky but also little exciting.
On another night, my hosts insisted they were taking me out for Appetrivo at the local bar. They also insisted on paying. The local bar had recently been taken over by a Chinese family. The locals weren’t happy at first. Italy is everything Italian – it is not a place that welcomes change. My host told me that because of the proudness of Italians they only eat and buy Italian things. They refuse to buy anything made in China. She then told me that when she was visiting different parts of Italy she found a non-touristy town full of Chinese. They were all seamstresses – they were making the Chinese style clothes in Italy – so the label said made in Italy. I admire the Chinese they do not get deterred easily.
That night we visited a second bar in the town of Nozzano Castello. It is a fortified village built to defend Tuscany from attacks by Pisa in the 9th Century. This was a time when Italy had independent regions. I climbed up a hill to view the watchtower and castle that was destroyed several times during fighting between the regions and was always rebuilt. During the second war, the SS transformed the village school into a prison. My host told me that every year Nazzaro hosts a medieval event to remember the past and return the town to the year 1300. I love how Italians never forget the past and how their celebrations unite communities.
On my last day, my hosts drove me to a tiny train station where they watched me board and waited at the station waving me off as I left on the train. I felt like I was saying goodbye to family they had even offered to let me stay longer for free.