Monday, 4 August 2014

Lucca & Chianti, Italy

Ahh Tuscany, we're finally here!  It's been months since the beginning of planning for this trip, and Tuscany was always top on our list when it came to our itinerary.  We even named this blog after how excited we were about Tuscany!  So was Tuscany all we dreamed of?  We would have to say yes and no.  We had a great experience, just with a few ups and downs (but mostly ups!).

We arrived in Lucca late in the evening and were picked up at the train station by our host, Giuseppe.  Despite his lack of English, we found him to be an extremely welcoming host.  We stayed at his family's house, 5 km outside the walled city of Lucca.  We enjoyed being in the countryside and they had a couple of bikes for us to use, which we used to ride into the city.  The area was a little different than we had imagined... instead of rolling hills of manicured vineyards, there were unruly wild gardens growing corn, and the bumpy streets were lined with old, weathered looking buildings.  The bikes we rode had rusty old chains and breaks that squeeked (I'm pretty sure the bike that I rode belonged to a child, haha).  The weather was not the greatest either, raining for half of our stay.  I ended up being attacked by mosquitos during the night and woke up to red, swollen bites all over my body. I would post a picture of my face in the morning, but it's a little too embarrassing... haha.  Our host family was not around for the first day and a half though, so it was nice to have some quiet time to ourselves at their house.  The second night we were there, they invited us to join them for dinner and we indulged in Giuseppe's home made pizza.  We enjoyed their company so much and we felt that we were able to experience some true Italian family time!  

Okay, now on to the good stuff.  The city of Lucca however was definitely worth the rainy ride in on our rusty old bikes.  It is one of the only cities left in Italy with its city walls still completely intact.  To enter the city, you enter through a tunnel through the thick walls.  The walls are quite wide on top, allowing for bike paths and parks on top of the walls.  The locals are proud of this special part of their city, and keep the parks and paths very well kept.  It took us about a half hour to ride around the entire city, and we were joined by many other walkers, runners, or tourists who rent large 4-seater bicycles.  Inside the city walls, you'll find a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with cute shops and restaurants, many buzzing piazza's, and the aroma of freshly baked pizza and fococcia.  Our favourite thing to do here was to just get lost within the city.  The city is small enough that you can't get too far off the beaten path, and you are contained within the walls!  So we wandered without a map, sometimes finding out that we'd gone down the same street 3 times already and hadn't noticed (there is always something new to discover!).  

On our last day in Lucca, we decided to seek out some of Tuscany's rolling vineyards.  We had accommodations booked in Rome for that night, so we figured out a route from Lucca to Rome that would take us through some of the most picturesque areas of Tuscany.  Chianti region is where we headed.  We were able to take a train into the region, however our destination (Castellina in Chianti... where we would find a couple Tuscan wineries), seemed almost impossible to get to without a car.  The train station was deceiving by it's name, and we ended up about 10 km away from Castellina.  It was hot, we were sweaty and thirsty, and to top it off we had all of our stuff with us.  We had two options:  turn around, and get on the train to Rome. OR put on some friendly smiles and see if we can catch a ride into Castellina in Chianti.  We opted for the latter.  Hitch hiking (as we have already discovered) is much more accepted here in Europe and we have been able to meet some very nice local people (don't worry mom, we are using our street smarts!).  The drive into Castellina was breathtaking.  We finally found the rolling hills of vineyards!  We eventually made it to a winery in Castellina where we tasted a few wines, and strolled through the vineyards.  The winery was very quaint and quiet unlike some of the wineries we have at home in Niagara.  The employee there told us that it was a medium sized winery for that specific region.  Afterwards, we met a couple from Paris who gave us a ride right to the train station in Poggibonsi so that we could continue onwards to Rome.  We were very appreciative and couldn't believe at the end of the day how things worked out in our favour.  It's nice to know there are still so many nice people out there!

In front of our host family's house.  Ready to bike into town.
Outside the city walls.
On top of the city walls!