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Zurers in Italy 2023

This is the first report since the pause before the family reunion. I am easing back into the report writing...but you can expect daily reports from here on in plus a longer, impressionistic report about the wonderful week at the villa.

Saturday July 1: Day 19 - Montepulciano-Lucca​

The torrential rains of Friday have disappeared and our last morning at the villa is cool and overcast. Michael and family leave early to catch the first of their trains for Lucerne. The remaining family members finish packing and cleaning up. The owner comes over to collect the additional costs--one catered dinner, cleaning, air conditioning, etc. I have to make a quick trip to an ATM to get enough cash to pay the bill. (NOTE: I am able to withdraw Euro 800.00 from the ATM...I remember that there used to be a limit of Euro 250.00.)

Jonathan and Lisa head out for the Rome airport and the rest of us are headed to Lucca. But there is not enough room in our car for five people and all the luggage, so Seth and Kerensa are taking the train and we are driving with Jonah. This gives Seth and Kerensa a chance to stop for lunch in Pistoia before continuing on to Lucca.

Our drive is quite pleasant...especially the first part of the drive from Montepulciano to Torrita di Siena which has spectacularly typical southern Tuscan broad vistas over the rolling hills. Breathtaking....

We arrive in Lucca about 1 pm, drive to our hotel which is inside the city walls--Lucca is unique for the walls which completely encircle the city (about 2.5 miles) and are wide enough for broad walking trails and parks on the top.


Photo courtesy of the Coselli Collection

We wend our way through the narrow city streets, reach our hotel (Palazzo Alexander), unpack all our luggage, and the desk person takes the car to the hotel garage around the corner. After we check in and get to our room, we are ready for lunch. Jonah has been snacking in the car and decides to stay in the room while we walk over to the main piazza to find a sandwich.

We have been in Lucca many times over the past thirty years and the streets and the buildings all seem happily familiar to us. We have good sandwiches at a bar overlooking the Piazza San Michele, famous for the church's very distinctive facade.


The sandwiches are good...mortadella for Diana and porchetta (in a very distinctive Lucchese style--almost like pastrami) for me, on very good bread. After lunch, both Jonah and Diana rest while I go out to re-explore the town. I meander through some main piazzas and back streets. Passing through the Piazza Napoleone, the whole square is taken over by a stage and seating for the Lucca Summer Festival. The town is crowded tonight for a concert by Simply Red and Bob Dylan is scheduled later in the week. All sold out.


My picture doesn't convey the full effect of the scale of the concert location and the one below does.


Courtesy of the Lucca Summer Festival

I take some random shots of courtyards and doors while I wander...



There will be many more photos of this very striking town in the next few days.

Seth and Kerensa arrive around 6 pm by taxi from the train station and we sit around and talk until it is time to go to dinner.

We go to our favorite restaurant in Lucca, Vecchia Trattoria Buralli.


We have returned there frequently since our first trip to Lucca in the mid-1990s and are usually recognized by the owner and his staff. We are looking forward to the "house specialty"...pollo fritto (fried chicken) and vegetables....prepared in almost a tempura style. We have read that this is a Jewish recipe for chicken in Tuscany and have never seen it elsewhere.

We are recognized by both the owner and the waitress and dinner is a great success....except the chicken is a bit dry....very ironic after all our carrying on. But everything else is great....celery salad, calamari fritti, gnocchi with pesto, polenta with porcini mushrooms, very nice red wine from the next town over. We will have to give the chicken another try on another night.

It's a short walk back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will do some more exploring.

Jim and Diana

Sunday July 2: Day 20 - Lucca​

Breakfast at the hotel is a bit unusual for Italy in our experience....instead of a buffet of breads, meats, cheeses, fruit, cakes, etc., they have a printed menu and you order what you want--cornetti, freshly prepared eggs, salami and cheese Roberto, the night man, is the server....he is extremely friendly but his English is not good and his Italian is rapid-fire and he seems to want to make sure that you get as much from the menu as possible. It is very hard to say no to him...he is very insistent in an ingratiating manner. I finally do get across that all I want are cornetti and coffee....

I head out early with Seth to do a reconnaissance run for Jonah....we are looking for likely places on the wall that he can do his sport--parkour.

parkour, the practice of traversing obstacles in a man-made or natural environment through the use of running, vaulting, jumping, climbing, rolling, and other movements in order to travel from one point to another in the quickest and most efficient way possible without the use of equipment.


We have a nice stroll through town and on the walls....Lucca is a very attractive town with lots of distinctive buildings, inviting piazzas, imposing towers and entrance arches, as well as many churches.






Later, Jonah joins us and tries out many of the locations for parkour, an activity designed to give parents and grandparents heart attacks.




He even terrifies a Lucca grandmother who is walking past while he is climbing the wall...she almost fainted.

While Jonah is doing his thing, I take some pictures of the view from the wall...mountains in the background, people strolling, jogging, bicycle riding (including the four wheel family bike surrey which is very popular in Lucca.)





After we have some hefty sandwiches for lunch (we eat them in the hotel lobby), Seth, Diana, and I walk over to the nearby Palazzo Mansi, one of Lucca's art museums. The guard seems happy to see us and admission is free (it's the first Sunday of the month and this happens all over Italy).

The museum is housed in a large, ornate 17th century palazzo and the collection is made up of the Mansi family holdings. The most impressive rooms are those hung with spectacular 17th century Flemish tapestries, still vivid and powerful.




as well as an enormous music room with a knockout ceiling painting featuring a perspective lesson with four columns that change in appearance as you move around the room.



All three of us agree that the museum is a real treasure....

After a short rest, Diana and I set out in the car to revisit an attraction we had seen twenty-five years ago. The Ponte della Maddalena in Borgo a Mozzana, about 30 minutes north of Lucca in the foothills of the Apennines, is also known as The Devil's Bridge.

According to legend, the bridge was built by Saint Julian who, unable to complete the hard project, asked the Devil for help, offering him in return the soul of the first living being who would have crossed the finished bridge. Once the bridge was finished, Saint Julian threw a piece of bread onto the bridge, luring a dog to cross it, cheating the Devil.

The 12th century bridge has a very distinctive appearance....one really tall arch and three smaller ones spanning the Serchio River.


The walk up the bridge to the top of the big arch is quite steep



but you get wonderful views over the mountains in both directions from the top.



We go back to Vecchia Trattoria Buralli for dinner and everyone is very happy with their food....including zuppa di farro, trippa lucchese, spaghetti alle vongole, tordello (Lucchese ravioli) with local ragu, fried porcini, fried baccala, zucchini soup, and a delicious local white wine....Vermentino. A great success....

We walk to the main piazza for gelato....excellent.

Tomorrow, we plan to climb the Torre Guinigi in the center of Lucca.

Jim and Diana

Monday July 3: Day 21 - Lucca​

Roberto, the nightman and breakfast server, tells us that tomorrow is his day off and that we won't see him, so we say goodbye...we have appreciated his enthusiasm and friendliness during our stay.

Seth, Jonah, Kerensa, and I walk over to the Torre Guinigi, the 14th century tower built by a powerful merchant family. It is the last of some 250 towers that existed in the 1300s in Lucca. It is about 150 feet tall and topped with a garden and tall trees. Diana takes a taxi over and she and Kerensa wait for us in a nearby bar.


There is a line (only 35 people can be on the top at a time) but after twenty minutes, we start our climb. There are 250 steps but most of them are regular stairs and there are landings with windows; once you get closer to the top, there are a few very narrow flights before you pop out on the "hanging garden."


There are fine views in all directions....the rooftops of Lucca, the bell towers, the wall, and the mountains in the distance.





The experience is well worth the climb... (Diana and Kerensa enjoy visiting over lemon spritzers-- Prosecco the secret ingredient. It's noon, so the time seems right for the drinks and the tomato crostinis.)

For lunch, we walk over to the Piazza Anfiteatro, built on and in the shape of the old Roman amphitheater.


It is now packed with restaurants, many filled with lunch customers. It is very hot today and most of the restaurants feature misting devices to cool the diners...unfortunately, the Locanda del Linchetto where we have lunch has turned theirs off. We have a bit of a drama calling a taxi (no one in the restaurant seems to have done it before) to take Kerensa and Diana back to the hotel but, after a while, a cab pulls into the middle of the piazza.


The rest of us head for a gelateria for dessert....Seth had found one the day before and wanted to return. It was indeed delicious. We take the long way back to the hotel ready for a rest.

Before dinner, Seth, Kerensa, and I take a stroll on the wall. As usual, the Lucchese (and some tourists) are out in force--walking, biking, taking kids to the playgrounds, or just sitting and reading.

We break our dinner pattern and go to a well-known nearby trattoria for dinner--Giulio in Pelleria. The outdoor setting is great...set into arches under the wall.


The food is mostly good but it is a large, impersonal operation and we miss the more intimate and friendly Vecchia Trattoria Buralli.

Tomorrow the Riverside Zurers leave for Amsterdam.

Jim and Diana
there are a few very narrow flights before you pop out on the "hanging garden."
That is beautiful! I’ve done a few of these tower climbs and you end up in a small space and I’m always terrified and stay against the wall. This one looks great with the trees and all that space. How do those trees grow? Where do their roots go?
That is beautiful! I’ve done a few of these tower climbs and you end up in a small space and I’m always terrified and stay against the wall. This one looks great with the trees and all that space. How do those trees grow? Where do their roots go?
I don't think you would have much trouble with the climb....and the top is quite pleasant.

3. Guinigi Tower Torre Guinigi
(Torre Guinigi)​

Torre Guinigi is a battlement tower of the Palazzo Guinigi. The tower is 44 meters high up 230 steps, but it is not its height that makes it one of Lucca’s most famous and unique sights. On top of the tower is a small grove of oak trees whose roots have grown into the room below.
Agree with Jan. I so remember climbing the Torre Guinigi on our only visit to Lucca and the interesting trees at the top (and a nice forno close by where we got some panni afterwards). We also enjoyed seeing Piazza Anfiteatro as well. Current buildings built on or around the foundations of former Roman arenas (like in Florence as well) are always fascinating to us. Thanks!

Tuesday July 4: Day 22 - Lucca​

We have an early start today. At 7 am, I drive Seth, Kerensa, and Jonah to the airport in Pisa for their flight to Amsterdam--the wonderful family reunion part of the trip is over.

After breakfast, I head out to check on a museum that I had read about....the Museum of Italian Emigration. After finding it--it is located in a deconsecrated church on the grounds of the Ducal Palace--I double back to the hotel and we walk over. This small museum holds the collection of letters, artifacts, and pictures compiled by the Florentine photographer and collector of documents about Italian emigration, Paolo Cresci.


Each room of the museum is filled with displays of his collection organized into a series of posters describing each aspect of the emigration process. The text is written in Italian but I use Google Translate to photograph each poster, have the text translated into English, and then listen as the app translates the text into spoken English. I am impressed with how well the translation app works and am very proud of myself. (On leaving the museum, we find that they have for sale an English-language guide to the exhibits, with each panel translated into very good English. If only they'd had them at the entrance of the museum.)

Here are some examples of the panels....




This is the ceiling of the church where the museum is housed.



I add to my collection of Last Suppers. This one in stone set in a wood frame, done by an emigrant artist.


We are both very impressed by how well the artifacts are displayed and how coherently the story is told. It seems that it is a very appropriate way for us to celebrate the 4th of July in Italy.

You can get a good idea of the museum from the web site:


and by watching the introductory video:


We make a brief stop at the San Michele church on the way back but it is too crowded so we head back to the hotel.

We split a porchetta sandwich for lunch, eating it in the comfortable part of the lobby with an open window onto the street. This is Diana's favorite spot for sitting and quilting as well.


After lunch, we have a visit from a Lucca friend with whom we lost touch during the pandemic. Paolo Moncini had been the owner of another hotel in Lucca, the Piccolo Puccini, where we often stayed. The hotel closed during the pandemic. We were very happy to reconnect and had a wonderful reunion.

Later in the afternoon, I do some more exploring and walk through parts of Lucca that were new to me. (However, I didn't take any pictures.) We then get into the car and take a drive into the hills to the west of Lucca to enjoy a little Tuscan scenery and successfully return to the hotel through city streets without making any wrong turns. On the way past Vecchia Trattoria Buralli, we see the owner watering the plants and Diana leans out the window to make a reservation for our "last supper" in Lucca.

Dinner is excellent...polenta with porcini and pollo fritto (which is cooked perfectly tonight) for me, and a caprese and grilled sausages with roast potatoes for Diana. We have an interesting conversation with the people at the next table...an American retiree and his mother-in-law. His family is from Lucca and he has moved into the family home..a villa outside the walls. His mother-in-law, an 85 year old lady from Austin, just joined him a few months ago.

We say goodbye to the owner and the friendly waitress...telling them we'll see them "a la prossima" (next time).

Tomorrow we leave for Florence....

Jim and Diana

P.S. Diana recommends the following books she's read on this trip, with reviews by wiser heads.

The Trees
by Percival.S Everett

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

My Father's House by Joseph O'Connor

She also claims that even the deer crossing sign is more beautiful than the American version.


Wednesday July 5: Day 23 - Lucca-Florence​

After breakfast, which is much less organized without Roberto in charge, we pack up and I go get the car from the garage. (The garage, located on the next block, has been a challenge for me. The parking space requires a sharp 90 degree angle with walls and columns lurking everywhere. I have gotten the knack of getting out but parking the car is still beyond my skill level.)

Enroute to Florence, we decide to stop in Pescia where the Uffizi has organized a temporary return of a Raffaello masterpiece, The Madonna of the Baldicchino, from Florence to its original home in the Pescia cathedral. In fact, it had been painted for a church in Florence but a high-ranking prelate--Baldassare Turini--brought it to Pescia in the early 16th century. It was then acquired by Ferdinando de Medici in 1697 and the Pescia cathedral had to make do with a copy for all these years.

It has been returned to Pescia temporarily as part of a special Uffizi initiative...Uffizi Diffusi.


I am taken by the painting of the lady in the window in the building on the right.


It is quite a production...it is hung in its original chapel with the copy just to the side for easy comparison. There is an extensive web app with explanatory information in English and Italian (both written and audio) about the whole church....which in fact doesn't work very well.

But the painting is quite remarkable and beautiful...


and it is easily seen as superior to the well-made copy... it's brighter, more vivid and refined.


The Madonna will remain in Pescia until the end of July....when the copy will be put back and the Raffaello will return to the Uffizi.

Before reaching Florence, we stop at a service area for sandwiches. At one of the counters, orders have to be placed at a kiosk (a holdover from the pandemic perhaps) before being picked up. I need some pointers from the man in line behind me to finish the process.

The drive to the hotel seems endless through the outskirts of Florence but it is not difficult. We finally pull up in front of our hotel, the 3110 Art Hotel, located just outside the centro storico. I am surprised to see that the hotel is located on several floors (not on the ground floor) in a commercial building and there are stairs up to the front door. When I press the bell to get in, no one answers. As I call on my phone, the desk clerk comes running up the street...he had been escorting another guest to the underground garage half a block away. Instead of having us unload at the front door, he directs us to the garage where we park and then have to schlep all our luggage (with his help) back to the hotel. Seems like a lot of extra effort....

We check in and get settled in our room...a small junior suite with a terrace. It is named for the Alinari Brothers...famous Florentine photographers...and one wall is covered with a photo of two bicyclists. (The company is now one of the largest photo libraries in the world.)


Later, we get in the car and drive up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which has the famous view over Florence.




After admiring the view, we continue on our drive up to Fiesole, the town that overlooks Florence from the other direction. The drive is quite scenic but there is no chance to stop and take pictures and, when we get to town, we can't find a parking space...there is some big event going on and policemen are stationed at every intersection.

Here is what a picture would have looked like if we could have stopped.


Photo from Visit Tuscany

We continue on and finally descend down an exceedingly steep and winding road, impressed by the bicycle riders working their way up the hill.

For dinner, we take the desk clerk's recommendation and walk over to Ristorante Alfredo, a few blocks away. We are the first customers and we get an uncomfortable vibe from the host. Unusual occurrence. The food is mostly just okay...I have ossobuco which is tasty but a bit tough and Diana has cacio e pepe pasta. The best part of the meal is the ciccioli with stracchino cheese and prosciutto....ciccioli are the Tuscan equivalent of gnocco fritto (a fried bread) that we have enjoyed before, especially in Emilia-Romagna. The house wine is a pleasant chianti.

After dinner, we watch a movie...You Hurt My Feelings...which is quite good.

Tomorrow, we are driving out to the Mugello (north of Florence) to have lunch at our friends Jane and Carlo's house.

Jim and Diana Zurer

Thursday-Saturday July 6-8: Day 24-26 - Florence​

I am taking the liberty of writing one report for our time in Florence.

Our visit to Florence is mostly scheduled to visit friends in the area, not to sightsee in Florence...which is probably a good thing, since the temperature is in the 90s and we are experiencing some of the travel fatigue that crops up at the end of a month-long trip.

Luckily, our hotel has very powerful air-conditioning so we are able to retreat to the room to rest in comfort.

On Thursday, we drive to Vicchio in the Mugello area...about an hour northeast of Florence...to visit our friends Jane and Carlo. The drive up to Vicchio takes us along the Via Bolognese, which has amazing scenery and wonderful views across the Tuscan countryside. We met Jane, an American art history major, years ago when she was a guide in Florence and became friendly with her and her Italian husband Carlo. Carlo is an excellent cook and we always enjoy having lunch at the house. Today is no exception...he cooks a risotto with vegetables and a rabbit cacciatore and stuffed peppers and also serves fresh cucumbers from his garden. We have a long conversation about his retirement studies in art history and archaeology as well as discussing books that we have both read.

After the drive back to Florence along a less scenic road...the via Faentina..we escape the heat in our room. We want to have a light meal so we walk over to a pizzeria a few blocks away--da Napoli--and have a pizza and an order of coccoli (fried bread) with prosciutto and stracchino.

On Friday, we drive south to Chianti to meet our friend Rita O'Connor who has a house in Chiocchio, about 40 minutes from Florence. We are planning to make a long awaited and covid-delayed visit to the Badia di Passignano, a Vallombrosan monastery. The abbey houses a Last Supper by Ghirlandaio that I have wanted to see since our first trip to Florence thirty years ago. Rita (and her late husband Lino) were in the travel business and we met them through Pauline Kenny's Slow Travel website sixteen years ago and have seen her frequently both in Italy and U.S.

The Badia has recently re-opened to visitors and Rita has arranged for us to have a tour of the abbey with one of the monks. Arriving at her house, we get an added bonus of seeing her daughter Pia, whom we met in Washington DC years ago. The drive to the Badia on back roads is stunning....long vistas over hillside vineyards with mountains in the distance. The first view of the Badia is impressive...


photo by Daniel Papi

...it looks more like a castle than a monastery. That's because the abbey was deconsecrated by the Italian state in the 1860s and sold to a Polish count who renovated the buildings to resemble a medieval castle. Though the abbey dates back to the 9th century, it was only recently re-acquired by the Vallombrosans in 1986.

Our tour is led by the Prior, a Keralan monk. We start in the church which is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel...covered with stunning frescoes on almost every surface. I have many photos but I recommend taking a look at the Badia's excellent website for more professional shots.






After leaving the church and walking through the cloister, we finally reach the refectory and the Ghirlandaio Ultima Cena. It has been worth the wait.


Photo from the Badia di Passignano web site

Here are a couple of photos of me with "my" ultimate Last Supper.



Our tour guide points out some interesting details about this fresco....how you can see the reflections of the windows in the refectory in the water carafes on the table and how Judas is on the opposite side of the table in this early Last Supper, while in later versions, he is on the same side of the table with the other apostles.

After a long time with the fresco, we tour the rest of the abbey--the gigantic kitchen


the model of the Abbey as castle


and the beautiful garden.


We all agree that it has been a very successful visit.

We have lunch at La Castellana, a well-known restaurant in the small village of Montefioralle, just above Greve in Chianti. We sit on their outside terrace overlooking the valley...a wonderful setting and an excellent meal.


We share a plate of salume, cheese, and crostini and we all have the pappardelle with wild boar ragu. The wine--a crisp Vermintino--is finished easily. After lunch, we take Rita home, say goodbye, and head back to the hotel for a rest and to escape the heat.

In the early evening, we take a taxi to the Piazza Signoria in "downtown" Florence, walk around a bit, are daunted by the crowds, and end up in a bar on the piazza for some prosecco. I take a short walk in the crowded streets and we retreat back to the hotel. My lack of affection for Florence is intensified by the crowds, the oppressive narrow streets lined with bars and tourist shops, and the almost total absence of green space.

No dinner tonight....we watch a few episodes of The Bear before going to bed.
On Saturday, we do a laundry in the morning....I get a great parking space and Diana works on her quilt while the laundry is in the machines.



I also help three Italians who are unfamiliar with the laundromat procedures...part of my Italy expertise.

We have lunch at a cute little trattoria on our street, Il Micio. It is a one man operation today...the owner is cook and server and does a good job with the four or five tables. The food is fine....spaghetti alle vongole for me and linguine with shrimp and zucchini for Diana. While we are eating, we learn that our dinner for tonight with our friend Maddie has to be cancelled so we are free for the rest of the day. But it is so hot that we end up in the room....resting and watching some more of The Bear. We return to the Pizzeria da Napoli for dinner...more coccoli for me and a caprese salad for Diana.

Tomorrow we leave Florence for one of our favorite places in Italy....Lerici.

Jim and Diana
No dinner tonight....we watch a few episodes of The Bear before going to bed.
On Saturday, we do a laundry in the morning....I get a great parking space and Diana works on her quilt while the laundry is in the machines.

View attachment 41773

I also help three Italians who are unfamiliar with the laundromat procedures...part of my Italy expertise.

Jim and Diana
There is that very special pleasure in assisting Italians in their own country. It's not often for me, but when it happens I feel immense pride. It might be giving directions, advising rail travellers of a cancellation or platform change announced over the tannoy, or managing a procedure like this.

I suspect it's subconsciously linked to the desire a number of us have here, of embedding in the culture of where we stay, being as much or even more important than seeing a famous site.

It's also reflective of the times Italians have helped us out when we've hit challenges in Italy. That generous assistance is fondly remembered.
I’ve been thinking about Jim and Diana is this heatwave, but they are home now. This is what he posted earlier about the trip:

“Here is our itinerary for 2023. We leave on June 12 and are flying to Milan. We will spend our first four days in Vercelli, a provincial town an hour south of Milan. We will then spend a week in the small village of Sovana on the Tuscany-Lazio border. Our week with the family is next...the villa is very close to Montepulciano (not far from where we self-isolated last May when we got Covid.) After that, we will spend four nights in Lucca (with Seth, Kerensa, and Jonah), four nights in Florence visiting friends in the area, two nights in Lerici on the Ligurian coast, and the last night in Sesto Calende (near Malpensa airport) at the same hotel we stayed at on our first night in Italy in 1993.

We will be back home on July 12.”

Hoping to read about their last days in Lerici!
NOTE: We are home, getting back to "real life" , and overcoming our jet lag. However, the trip reports continue......

Sunday July 9: Day 27 - Florence-Lerici​

We leave Florence with the forecast high of 100 degrees, to go to Lerici with the forecast of a "cooler" 92 degrees. We stop enroute to have coffee with our friend and long-time travel colleague Maddie Bacarelli at a bar in Agliana, near her home. We haven't seen her for a number of years so it is great to reconnect, catch up, and reminisce.

The drive to Lerici is very familiar to us...we first stayed there in 1996 and have returned many times since. We usually stay at the Doria Park Hotel but the 75 stairs from the parking lot down to the hotel and the steep hill from the hotel to town is too much of a challenge. This year, we are staying at the sister hotel--the Grand Hotel Europa--which is further up the hill but has a shuttle bus to the town center and sea that runs all day. We are greeted warmly by Luigi Pini, who has worked at the hotels since we have been coming here. We have become friendly with him and his wife Shona and often go out to meals with them when we are in Lerici.

Lerici is one of our very favorite places in Italy, a low key seaside resort town on the Ligurian coast built on a hill with a long promenade along the water, a small fishing port, a large castle, many restaurants, and stunning views over the Gulf of Poets. (Byron and Shelley used to hang out here in the early 19th century.) After catching up a bit with Luigi, we go up to our room and check out the view from our balcony.....


...a slightly broader view than we are used to since the Europa is higher than the Doria Park (the building in the very center of the picture.) After unpacking, we take the shuttle down to the center and have a sandwich for lunch. We decide to go back to the hotel because it is too hot to walk around and we hang out in air-conditioned splendor for a few hours.

Later in the afternoon, I take a walk...it's an easy descent to town on the pedestrian path. I walk through some new (to me) areas and discover a passageway under the town that was built as a World War II air raid shelter and is now a cool and level shortcut.


I continue along the waterfront to the rocks under the castle


where hundreds of people are hanging out, sunbathing and swimming.



I take the elevator up to the piazza under the castle and walk back through the residential section of town and make the somewhat arduous climb back up to the hotel.



We have dinner back in the center at the Loggia Ampara...


Photo on Loggia Ampara web site

....where the service is very disorganized. We have made a reservation but, after having been seated, we are moved by the hostess who tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the table is reserved. We are confused but move as directed. Our Italian neighbors next to our new table are sympathetic and also confused. However, when we see a couple with a huge dog approaching the restaurant, we realize that they have specifically reserved the table which has room next to it for the dog.

We have a pleasant conversation with our neighbors--he is from Milan, she from Sicily--and, after a long wait, the food finally arrives and it is quite good. Diana has trofie (local pasta) with pesto, I have spaghetti alle vongole, and we share a tasty fritto misto. The wine--a local vermentino--is excellent..in spite of its strange name and label.


We stop for a gelato and then call the shuttle for the ride back up to the hotel.

Lerici at dusk is so attractive...both on the waterfront



and from our hotel room.


Tomorrow we will go up in the hills with Luigi and Shona to have panigacci in Podenzana.

Jim and Diana

Monday July 10: Day 28 - Lerici​

Today we are having a quiet, relaxed morning. We enjoy the sumptuous breakfast offerings at the Hotel Europa while sitting on the terrace with the spectacular view over Lerici.


At noon, Luigi and Shona pick us up for our lunch date in the hills for panigacci in Podenzana, about 35 minutes from Lerici. We have been enjoying this expedition for many years eating at Luigi's favorite place in Podenzana--La Gavarina d'Oro. We first went there in the early 2000s when we were traveling with our three sons before they had wives or significant others.

The panigacci (flatbreads baked between ceramic disks heated in an open fire) are traditionally served with ham, salami, and cheese.



Today, we enjoy a new addition to the menu....fresh sausage cooked on one of the disks (testi) in the open fire.


They can also be boiled and served with sauces, like pasta or with nutella for dessert but we prefer the "classic" preparation. We eat our fill (and a bit more) along with some red wine....a feast!!!

After lunch, we wait a bit for the car to cool down after sitting in the hot sun and enjoy the view over the valley.


Here's a picture with me, Luigi, and Shona.


We spend the afternoon in our room and on the veranda...it's too hot to go out. But we do take the shuttle down for a short stroll before dinner. We are surprised to hear some Ray Charles music being played on a keyboard so we sit down and enjoy two members of the band Senso Unico doing a sound check on a stage for an upcoming performance. They play a mixture of American rock and roll and Italian popular songs for a very small audience but we enjoy the show.




We have dinner at L'Ancora on the main piazza....we have nice conversations with an American from Connecticut who is a frequent visitor to Lerici as well as with a group of Norwegians from Bergen. Dinner is very enjoyable...I have marinated anchovies for an antipasto and we both have the grilled branzino and the pleasant house white wine.

It is convenient to call the shuttle to bring us back up the hill.

Tomorrow we leave for Sesto Calende (near Malpensa Airport).

Jim and Diana
with a group of Norwegians from Bergen.
I’ve been to Bergen. It is really out there in the Fjords.

Lerici was a nice place for the end of your trip. I remember our first visit years ago. We stayed in a rental in a village up in the hills but came down to Lerici for pizza. There was a traffic accident in town and we learned the word “incidente”! Funny the things you remember from a place. The last time we were there was with you and Diana!

Tuesday July 11: Day 29 - Lerici-Sesto Calende​

After breakfast, we pack up, say goodbye to Luigi (and Lerici) and head for Sesto Calende, where we will stay for our last night in Italy before our flight home tomorrow.

En route, we finally get to a museum that I have been trying to visit for many years--the Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi in Pontremoli. This museum houses a collection of sandstone sculptures that have been recovered in the area from the ancient Lunigiana civilizations...some from as far back as 4000 BC. The museum is housed in a hilltop castle above the centro storico of Pontremoli, a small city on the Liguria-Tuscany border. The Castello Pignataro was only accessible by a steep climb which was too challenging for Diana. However, recently, an elevator has been installed deep in the hillside to make it easier to get to the museum.


Di Alessandro Mogliani - Opera propria, Copyrighted free use.


The museum is extremely well done....we follow a route through the castle where the ancient statues are nicely displayed and well-lit. There are a couple of informative videos (with English translations that you listen to through headphones) explaining the background of the stele as well as how they were found.




This description from a blog by Judy Marino sums up the museum very well.

The museum is fascinating. Stele are prehistoric carvings, representing human figures, found throughout the Lunigiana region. They have been housed in the castle museum since 1975 and are truly a treasure.

Both male and female figures are represented. The males seem to be warriors, armed with knives. The women, bare breasted, are adorned with necklaces. The dark rooms and dramatic lighting show the pieces off perfectly.

Here's the link to the informative museum website if you want to know more about the stele....


The drive on the autostrada through the mountains towards Parma is one of the most attractive that we know....lots of heavily forested mountain scenery. The rest of the trip (about 2 hours) through the Po Valley is less appealing save for the actual crossing of "the mighty Po"--my favorite river.

Sesto Calende--a busy small city at the bottom of Lake Maggiore--is the first place we stayed on our initial trip to Italy thirty years ago and the Hotel 3Re is the hotel where we spent our first night in 1993. We have returned here a number of times and we have gotten to know the two sisters--Raffaella and Silvia--who still run the hotel, so it is something of a homecoming for us.

After we check in and catch up with Raffaella, we take a walk on the attractive promenade along the Ticino River and enjoy some gelato while sitting and enjoying the passing scene.



As usual, we have dinner in the hotel dining room and have a very warm reunion with the waitress, Marsia, who has been working at the hotel for 19 years. Our "last supper" is quite good....Diana has a dish of tortelli stuffed with burrata, leeks, and shrimp followed by a plate of delicately fried perch. I have an interesting dish of prawns wrapped in lardo served on a bean pesto followed by perch sauteed with white wine, tomatoes, and capers. We drink a local white wine from Lombardia--a Lugana--that we enjoy.

Tomorrow we leave for home. We still love Italy.

Jim and Diana

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