Tuesday, May 31, 2016


The Stoic One and I have been travelling around a bit. We have wanted to go to Lucca to visit our friends, Anna and John, who also made the transfer from Oakland, California to Italy. (Luca with one "c" is an Italian male name, also the name of our dog. With 2 "c"s it is the name of the city.)

Anyway, truth be told I have been hesitant about going. Our friends left California the same time we did and they have been so happy in their choice of Lucca. I worried, what if we liked Lucca better? Would we have regrets about coming to our little place here in Umbria? And so I procrastinated going. Finally, it was past time to visit. So I took a deep breath, got on the train and went. And the truth is we loved Lucca. It is a fantastic city. Modern, ancient, artistic, commericial, cosmopolitan. It has easy train and bus access in and out of the city. We give it an A+ of Italian cities we have visited.

One of the joys that Lucca offers is the renaissance wall that encompasses it. The surface of the walls are flat and are major walk ways for the towns people and visitors. It is an absolutely spectacular place to stroll regardless of the season. Beautiful trees, flowers, as well as interesting things to see as you walk along. The circumference of the walls is about 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles. Visitors can rent bikes, and bike along as well. The walkers, joggers and bikers all seem to share the wall with ease.

Lucca also has a canal, or a walled river that flows by outside of the wall. The water and the greenery are soothing and lush.If Florence is a city of hustle and bustle, Lucca is her serene sister.

One of the things that we noticed was how prosperous a city Lucca is. There are city workers out in force, picking up trash, cleaning the city, restoring the buildings. It is pristine. 

I kept wondering where Lucca got its money. One of the ways that Lucca generates revenue is by hosting a yearly Lucca Comics and Games convention. This draws tons of people into the city and with them tons of money. The exhibition is held in this field which is just on the other side of the wall.


Here are a few basic facts about Lucca.
• It is about an hour and a half train ride from Florence or about 20 min. by train from Pisa.
• There are 99 churches in the town.
• The city is Etruscan in origins.
• The city walls date from the early 1500's. They have survived intact since then.
• Lucca was the first Tuscan town to accept Christianity.
• Henry James described it as "a city overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty, for beauty, for interest and good example."
• Driving is banned within the walls, and most residents use bikes to get around.
• It has a population of about 90,000.
• The composer Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) was born in Lucca. Here he is sitting watching us with amusement as we stroll by.

Lucca is known for its music school and there are nightly concerts in one of the major churches.

The Duomo is beautiful. It is dedicated to St. Martin.The tower, unfortunately, was under restoration.

Besides visiting the other 98 churches, Lucca has exceptional shopping. I bought a beautiful hand woven scarf in this lovely store.Of course we loved the dog as well.

Lucca is filled with little nooks and crannies to wander through.

Yes. We loved Luca and we love our friends, but at the end of the day, there's no place like home.
Ciao a tutti.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Umbertide and bicycles

When you live in a small town in Italy, the pulse of the town becomes your pulse. You can feel when the town is happy or sad, by the weddings or the funerals that take place across the piazza. Your movements will become guided by market days, festival days and days of the saints. We try to support all of the local events in town, and by and large we enjoy them very much.

The latest even that has come our way is the Giro d'Italia 2016. It is the first time the Stoic One and I have ever seen a bike race of this caliber. We stood along the road outside of town, and they sped by, in a single file row, flying. There were no cars on the road, only cars ahead of them and behind them, so that all you heard were the sound of the bikes wheels, whirring on the pavement as they went by. What was remarkable to me is how closely they ride one to the next. There is no margin of error. I also finally understood what it takes to do a break away. These races require not only skill and performance endurance but strategic thinking. Fascinating.

In order to get the crowd "in the mood", as if you have to in Italy, the Giro Caravana comes first. It is a parade of marketing cars, cheerleaders, music, stuffed animals. Truly and Italian thing. Here are some photos from the Stoic One of the Giro Caravana.

Waiting for the bikes!

Of course this wouldn't be Italy if there were not at least one sexy car in the parade. The driver's not bad either.

Luckily the Stoic One has a great camera to try to catch them as they zoom by. Umbertide was the easy part of their journey relatively flat and a decent road. 

If you look closely in this picture, you will see the winner.  He is an Italian, Gianluca Brambilla, who is in the blue jersey, right hand side third rider down. The guy in the front, Matteo Montaguti, came in second overall in this part of the race.

None of us are true bike afficianados, so when this group came by, we all tended to ignore them. they were so far ahead of the peleton, (4 minutes) that we thought they were part of an exhibit ride or something. It was only later, when I read about the stage that I realized they were the break away group and contained the winners!

Here is the rest of the group. You can't tell, but they are flying...

Ciao, til next time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Giro d'Italia 2016 and Umbertide

Exciting news in our community. On Saturday, May 14th, the Giro d'Italia will pass through Umbertide!This will be the 99th running of the Giro.  Can you imagine the excitement here next year as they celebrate a 100 year race?

Here is a Q& A for those of you who wonder what it is all about.

What does the Giro mean?
Giro d'Italia basically means Tour of Italy, in Italian.

Is it a big deal race?
Yes. It along with the Tour de France in France and the Vuelta a Espana in Spain make up the three Grand Tours of bicyling.

Which race is the oldest?
Don't tell the Italians but the Tour de France is the oldest and and generally considered the most prestigious.

When did the Italian race begin?
It was first organized in 1909 in order to sell more newspapers, and has been run every year since  except for the interruptions of the World Wars.

What's with the pink? Is this in support of breast cancer?
No. Instead of a yellow jersey, as in the Tour de France, the Italians have the Pink Jersey.  It is called "Maglia Rosa" (one s) in Italian. Rossa with 2 s's means red. (you're welcome for the Italian lesson.) The Pink Jersey is worn by the leader of the race. If you follow the race you will see "Fight for the Pink" signs..It means fight for the lead.

Do any of the Italian riders have a chance?
Oh, ye of little faith. There is always a chance. The Italian, Ulissi Diego, won the 4th stage today! Also there is hope for Vicenzo Nibali. As in the Tour de France, the real competition happens in the mountains.

Who are the favorites to win?(I will list the nationalities. The teams are quite meaningless to me)

Vicenzo Nibali, Italian:  Sky odds 13/8
 Mikel Landa, Spanish:  Sky odds 2/1 (Said to be the best climber hence the odds)
Alejandro Valvedere, Spanish: Sky odds 6/1
Tom Dumoulin, Dutch:  Sky odds 18/1...he is the current leader.

Our guy Ulissi doesn't show up in the odds, if that tells you anything.

How many teams and riders are there?
There are 189 riders and 22 teams. I can't imagine all of them zooming through Umbertide!

When does the race finish?
It started on May 6th and will finishes in Turin on May 29th.

When is the Umbertide part of the race?
Umbertide will be on Stage 8 of the race. This part of the race starts in Foligno, home of our major train station, and finishes in Arezzo. It is 186 km. with hills and a steep, gravel road near the finish. Saturday's race is said to be one of the more entertaining stages because of the rough surface. If it rains, the road will be really bad and probably make for excellent TV. We expect them to zoom through Umbertide about 2:17pm Central European Time. 

Where are the pictures?
You have to wait. The Stoic One will be camera ready waiting for them! I'll post as soon as possible.

Is this really worth my time to watch?
If you enjoy watching the Tour de France,  you must tune it for this. The country side where they will be racing is beautiful and everyone thinks this will be a close race.