A little walk on the wild side…

Well, the view was wild that is for sure!!!


We finally made it the lovely, touristy, yummy, perfectly beautiful Cinque Terre. The land of five towns is everything I had read, over priced, filled with tourists, no cars allowed, narrow paths…but so worth the visit. The views and the walk from town to town was simply a glorious day.
We asked our new friend Lizzy (from the States living in Lucca now) to help us brave the drive into the Cinque. YES-I know everyone said just take the train but we had a group and a rented car and we are used to the crazy roads in our village so we felt like we could make it!

Cinque Terre is located in the La Spezia, Liguria region and is a short hour or so drive from Lucca-and actually quite easy…we enjoyed the views on the way uppppppp and dowwwwwnnnn to the eventual car park. We so enjoyed the town of Manarola with it’s lovely shops, fishing boats lining the streets, views to die for and brave men diving into the crystal blue ocean. It is known for it’s brightly colored homes lining the cliffs and the San Lorenzo church. We were unable to hike from this town however due to the “under construction” trails form the prior floods. I was actually in Italy and flew out Oct 19, 2011 the day it literally started pouring rain. These rains grew to devastating floods in the region leaving nine dead, homes destroyed, one town almost leveled and trails and roads a mess. The people of the region have worked hard for three years getting the area back in shape but not all the trails are open yet. I was disappointed as this is the “Via dell’ Amore” or Lover’s Trail

We jumped back in the car and headed to an equally precious tiny fishing village of Vernazza (circa 1080) where we grabbed lunch at the small swimming hole Piazza Marconi, then began a hike to the next village.
The hiking trail included shaded areas, narrow “hang on to the cliff” areas, lots of steps, ledges, suck in your gutt to let the other person pass first areas and more! We did NOT take enough water and I braved a drink from a trickle of water coming from the rocks (luckily I did not get sick). As always, I was amazed at how Italians can grow anything…anywhere!! How do they care for fruit trees and pick olives while hanging from a cliff over the ocean??? My kid would love to find out as she has decided she will live and die here…it was that beautiful.

We finally arrived to Monterosso al Mare…the trail actually ended at the largest sandy beach of all the towns. It was packed with sunbathers and swimmers and lovely hotels overlooking the water. We shopped, had some of the best gelato, and looked inside the parish church of St John The Baptist (circa 1282), the convent (which was kind of creepy to me) famed for housing loads of art and historical items. After the long day we jumped the train back to where are car was parked and held our breath as we drove back to the Autostrada!

It was a place we will return to and hopefully stay over and hike more!! Here are some reasons why…








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Bread on the Bluff

There is something so “Southern” about bread. My grandfather always had to have something in his “left hand” as he ate his meals. I have never been able to make biscuits from scratch but I do enjoy playing around with bread, especially finding gluten free alternatives for the hubby.

Every now and then though you have to throw caution to the wind…on a sunny day the kid, friend and I visited the amazing Bluff View Arts District in Chattanooga TN. About an hour away, this collection of historic buildings hang on the cliff of the TN River and includes an art museum, an outside art garden, various places to dine, the best “snickerdoodle” coffee ever, a Bed and Breakfast and now …a bakery!

The small space yields beautiful breads and you can watch the guys working hard mixing the dough. I had never even seen chocolate bread! The girls got thier fill of samples and we managed to get home with just a tiny pastry but it took alot of will power. The Bluff View is one of Chattanooga’s best keep secrets but every one should visit! Besides bread, they also make their own pasta served at Tony’s Pasta Shop, handmade chocolates and pastries at Rembrandt’s, and eye catching items at the glass blowing gallery and Art Market…or just walk around the outside garden and enjoy the views or play some bocce at the bocce court! Fun day…yummy food!







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A little goes a long way…

Joanna Nobile has a lovely Holiday rental and working farm (agriturismo) in Guzzano, right up from Bagni di Lucca, along with her husband and son. I will do a separate post on her lovely rental. Today I want to share with you the amazing long journey of cultivating saffron.
Saffron is a spice made from the tiny red threadlike stigma of the flower my grandmother always called “crocus”. I wish I had known as a child what I know now…she had a hundred bucks sitting in her front yard!
The harvest is so tediuos it makes the spice very valuable. My husband has been carrying around a small tin of this spice for years. Most people use it in rice (risotto) or to flavor meats or soups. It was started in Greece years ago but now 90% of the harvest is in India where it is used for cooking and coloring fabric.

Anyone attempting to harvest this spice must enjoy the labor of love!
Last summer we were asked to help dig up and clean these bulbs in a small plot of land. The bulbs are then washed and soaked and replanted. Saffron flowers seem to like cold weather and the mild fall season made the crop very sparse. In November I returned to Joanna’s and picked the few flowers we could find, gently pull out the middle and dry them. This tiny jar below took ALOT of work and will yield about 40e. It takes a strong will to harvest saffron for such a small return but the good news is you only need a tiny bit of the culinary delight!









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Yes it is leaning…


The torre that is, I have written about the Leaning Tower of Pisa before, but it is worth more than one visit. This belltower or “campanile”, was built in 1173 until 1372…and it has been leaning ever since. The tower an be seen in the Piazza dei Miracoli in the City center of Pisa. You can visit by driving into Pisa following the brown signs to Torre (with picture of the leaning tower) as you get closer you will spot several parking areas.

This last visit was really fun because I got to climb it with the kid and several friends from home in Tennessee.

I took the normal “have to” leaning tower pictures of course. You have to stand wayyyyy far back to get the good ones and then attempt to dodge all the other goofy tourists doing the same thing.

I also took some great pictures this time of the steps (there are 296 of them by the way) leading up to the top, showing the marble worn from all who have climbed the torre. No wonder the thing is leaning…what is really funny is the “clean” side of the wall while you climb and the “dirty” side-one side is white and smooth, the other side is discolored and still rough to the touch…why? Because your body can not help but really lean on the wall as you walking, making it smooth marble over the years.

This was also the first time I was there with no construction going on! The poor thing has been restored so many times, I mean, really what would Pisa do if it just eventually toppled over? Well, for one thing they could market the incredible Cathedral! Pisa’s Duomo also called the Santa Maria Assunta, is really one of my favorites. The Romanesque style, bronze doors, and interior mosaics, carved pulpit and at last the cupola is just overwhelming. I am saddened by all the idols and wasted money but the artwork and architecture is breath taking. It is bright and lovely not so dark and dreary as others we have seen. Of course it also houses some bones, like most…here we have the Patron Saint of Pisa-St Ranieri, and the Holy Emperor Henry VII. It takes a while to take it all in. DO NOT miss it.

Buy the combo ticket so you can also visit the Baptistry! This huge round building takes awhile to enjoy JUST the outside before you even enter. It is the largest in Italy, dedicated to St John the Baptist whose statue stands on top of the dome. The inside is plain but the pulpit is very ornate and make sure you take the small stairway leading upstairs.

Ahh Pisa…historic torre, cheap trinkets, expensive lunch but yes, it is fun and beautiful.












Italy and Spain 019


Posted in Family, History, Holidays, Italy, Pisa, Things to do, traditions, Travel Tips, Tuscany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dario , here I come…

Finally a Day in Siena! After reading one of my favorite and hysterical books “Too Much Tuscan Sun”. The author and now famous tour guide of Siena, Dario Castagno has become a bucket list person to meet…not likely, but I can visit his City!

Taylor and I jumped on the train to Sienna on a cloudy day, watching it rain on the hour ride we hoped it would dry up and it did! After grabbing a map we walked about 15 min to the famous Piazza. We had the run of the town as it was off season and only a few visitors. The piazza was indeed huge! The brick laid semi circle area dipped down perfectly for drainage, had a lovely blue water “bath” at the top and forced you to look at the lovely bell tower ahead. This is one of Italy’s most talked about Piazza. It was stunning. The circular area reminded me of the anfiteatro in Lucca.
We strolled around towards the lower lever and Taylor mentioned people were allowed to climb the torre. WHAT?! She said as soon as it left her lips she knew she was in trouble. I have NEVER denied myself to climb a tower! After she tried to find every reason why NOT to go – we started climbing the narrow stairs to the top. The good news is you get to stop half way to put your bags in a locker…then more steps. The top was windy but worth it. Our photos showed both the countryside and the town of Siena. It also pointed us to our next destination, the Cathedral. The climb down was worse for my knees and we were glad to be back on solid ground. That was a tall one!

The Cattedrale e Libreria was Beautiful and so different. The marble front had loads of pink and in the cloudy late afternoon it almost glowed. The facade was indeed filled with multi colored marble, grand details of the Renaissance including gold inlaid and colorful precious metals as well. With a 8euro purchase you can tour the Cathedral, the Baptistery, visit downstairs and the newly discovered fresco covered crypt, the museum , then climb the top for panoramic views. With the Baptismal Font by Donatello, works in library by Bernini and Michelangelo- there is lots to ohh and ahh over , and lots of marble striped green and white and more gold!
After all this adornment we had a great lunch of pasta and ginghiale (wild boar) , then made our way back to the train station after much window shopping and a quick gelato stop. There is surely more to see of Sienna but it was a lovely afternoon!
I called goodbye to Dario, hating that he missed meeting us Southern gals! Oh well, his lost!

In the Piazza…
Yes…we are going up this tower…
Half way…
Pink marble…

The city’s symbol…

Lots of churches…

Out the gate back to the train…

Posted in Family, Florence, Food, History, Holidays, Italy, Siena, Things to do, Travel Tips, Tuscany | Leave a comment

Horses in the hills…

In November I went to the Ranch!! I worked with Fredrico and Laura again. I have posted about the ranch before but was so glad to return!

It was a lovely day and I was ready to get to work! After helping bring out saddles for riding lessons, Laura handed me a scruffy, tough wired brush…then she nodded over to one of my favorite horses. So, I brushed, …I brushed and brushed and brushed…

As I brushed, I watched as Laura worked with almost a dozen students ranging in all ages and skills. One guy kept saying “whoa whoa” and of course his horse sped up! Ha
One young lady was very beautiful on the horse, while others looked afraid! Laura was so gentle with each client.

I also made the picnic area pretty, raking leaves and limbs. It is still Fall here and the leaves are falling like rain. I cleaned the outside stall and brushed some more!
After the day of lessons I walked the horses back up to where they live when they are not working. It is the side of a hill actually and guess what it is filled with? DIRT!
Those crazy horses went right out and rolled in the dirt!

On Monday we go to the forno (bakery) to get the old bread to feed the horses. Laura’s English has really improved. She is working hard on her English to work with her growing tourist crowd. Fredrico helped me with my Italian and I taught him some horse terms in English. But once he realized my iphone transated, he kept saying “phone phone”! They are looking forward to our group’s return in June. Laura wants to do line dancing with us! Ha

Everything we did this past summer still looked good and I eyed a huge mulch pile praying that wouldn’t be my job after lunch!

If you visit Tuscany stop off the beaten track and enjoy a mountain ride with Laura at “Il Nostro West ” in Mutigliano (minutes from Lucca) and ask for Lady..she is the sweetest horse!

email them at info@luccahorseriding.com

Waiting to get to work…

The hillside of dirt…uurrrggg

This was hubby’s horse this summer, he is so lovely. His name is Paco.

Posted in Bagni Di Lucca, Family, Holidays, Horse riding, Italy, Lucca, Things to do, Travel Tips, Tuscany | Leave a comment

Love Letters?

Paper out of wheat!?

” The Way of the Paper” or Traditional Paper Making, was the highlight and theme of a festival held in Villa Basilica in November.

The Commune did an excellent job helping people park safely on the side of the road which as usual had no shoulder!? I strolled around enjoying the many booths of food, crafts, food, jewelry, food, chestnuts, music, and more food. See blog post “I’m nuts!”. The children of the area made up the orchestra and they were very good and very giggly. I bought some acacia honey to take home to hubby and ate my weight in everything…I was however not expecting to be so amazed by historical paper making.

The two gentlemen doing the presentation obviously love the craft. By using “grano” or wheat …they grind the wheat in a machine using a round stone. By adding just a touch of water it turns into a pulp mixture. After it is ground to his liking it gets poured into a bucket and is checked for any large pieces that need to be taken out. The bucket of icky looking mixture is then poured into another larger vat of water and sinks to the bottom. The craftsman gets a tray (what reminds me of panning for gold) and scoops up the mixture and let’s it drain. He then whips the now wet paper upside down onto a semi round tray and bam…paper! Of course it then has to be hung to dry. They can add flowers or berries to add color. It then gets pressed for several days to make it smooth.

I was so amazed and asked lots of questions. The Italian gentlemen loved my translating phone so much I got a free completed piece of paper…hmmm, what shall I write on it? …maybe a love letter home to hubby?

The grinding stone.

Adding water…

“panning for gold”…


Now it must hang…

There was plenty of history to read about as well in the paper making area…

My Love Letter…

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A private collection tour…

Every woman loves jewelry and I am no exception!

What a great idea to bring home some lovely Italian joy as holiday gifts plus meet a beautiful artist? Meet Anna…

Anna Lord and her husband of 30 yrs Signor Ascoli allowed me the pleasure to visit their home/studio in San Ginese, just outside Lucca. Another amazing contact made via the power of the internet. This beautiful blond from Finland met me with a big smile and begin with a tour of her lovely garden, within ten minutes I had a case of persimmons in my hands! Small world, she actually used to live in our area of Bagni Di Lucca years ago and knew our village and it’s people well. She is a free spirited artist, one you could sit and listen to all night- and I almost did.
After we became fast friends, solved world peace, and knew each others ancestry- we entered her husbands workshop. He was fast at work on a Friday evening creating another amazing pair of earrings. Anna seems to design the lot and he executes the craft. He also had several items he had created himself and I was instantly in love. She unrolled the creations in small batches so I was not overwhelmed and let me ohhh and ahhh but I never felt pressured. I chose several items as Christmas gifts and one for me. As I type, I need at least four more that I should have bought! Good thing she ships.
Anna uses precious metals of silver, copper and gold with all types of stones. They have both traveled around the world and brought home interesting artifacts they have also used in amazing necklace and bracelet creations. The styles were from simple and classy, to fun and whimsical and even Egyptian and Asian inspired. But I had to stick to my budget so I gathered my gifts and finally left the gracious couple! Of course, he sent me home with homemade jams and more fruit…Italians are truly the most gracious people.
I can not wait to see her again next summer.
What a joy some people are…from the first handshake you just know how wonderful the next few moments will be…that was my evening with Anna.

The artist in her garden…

Hard at work…

Her sun/moon pendant is her trademark …

These green babies went home with me…

This was an emerald!

This wrist candy is mine…as soon as I hit the lottery!

Good bye sweet studio…until next time.

Posted in Bagni Di Lucca, History, Italy, Jewelry, Lucca, Things to do, Travel Tips, Tuscany | Leave a comment

I’m “nuts”!

I have to stop!
Eating chestnuts that is. My friend and tour guide extraordinar sent me a link to a festival being held while visiting. This festival honored the tradition of paper making, (separate blogpost) but promised to have food and my beloved chestnuts…so off I went!
Located in Villa Basilica, over the mountain heading towards Collidi and of course another hill top village itself, I arrived on time which I had been warned would be silly. It was. Only two booths were ready and everyone else was scurrying around getting prepared. I was crushed upon arrival that I had missed most , if not all, the chestnut festivals. But this website mentioned them however so I was thrilled! Sure enough, the first guy I saw was twirling a huge cage of chestnuts roasting oon what would be the only warm spot this afternoon. He seemed to have it easy , sitting drinking vino and turning the handle. Later as the crowd arrived wanting the perfect chestnut he started sweating and saying “almost ready, almost ready”. Meanwhile I strolled around until they were ready…The ladies scooped them into bags as fast as he roasted them and for only 2.50e I was smiling and my hands were warm…only one problem…This was actually an hour later.
While waiting and watching the paper maker , I spotted a chestnut pancake with ricotta cheese freshly baked right before my eyes so I had one (this was my first course), then a lovely lady was making bombolinas with sugar so I tried that too (my second course), but then four ladies taught ME how to make pasta fritta so of course once I turned it over in the hot cauldron and sprinkled with salt I HAD to try it (my third course)… Then a woman had made a cake looking thing out of chestnuts which looked good but actually was not so much (my fourth course)… Total cost for my four course crazy , erratic , no veggie or protein meal except nuts?? drumroll…6 euro…
The problem then was I could not eat more than two of my beloved roasted chestnuts! But hey, my hands were warmed with the hot bag of nuts in my pocket.
I moaned the entire drive home and then walked all around the village in hopes something in my belly would forgive me.

But seriously, I love chestnut time in Tuscany!

Making the pasta fritta…

Cake was …not as good as it looked…


Now this guy has the life…

and to think it all started witha little spiny nut!

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A quiet resting place…

Slow down!!! or you will miss it…
Off the SS 12 in Bagni di Lucca is the English Cemetery. You have to pull over tot he side of the busy road and park as the entrance is directly on the busy road.
Now owned by the Commune of Bagni, the cemetery was built to pay tribute to the English visitors and citizens of the area. It houses the sister of our past President Cleveland who lived here. Along with several other poets, armed force men and important contributors. Some of the tomb stones are old and unreadable. Some tombs are very nice and several have even been restored in the last few years. I have no idea if it is rude to take pictures of these but I have always had a fascination with cemeteries for various reasons . I loved some of the long stories they had…There are many blogs and information about this cemetery online. The Commune bought it a few years back and anyone can contribute to the restoration of it now. There was a map of who was buried where and even a register for visitors. I have always wanted to slow down long enough for a brief visit. I was pleased to see some very Christian sentiments…

Here are a few interesting pictures…

This one was quite old…

I love this…better off with Christ…

Recently restored…

The entrance…

Posted in Bagni Di Lucca, cemetary, Family, History, Italy, Lucca, Things to do, traditions, Travel Tips, Tuscany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment