The first month in Lucca

I've been here a month and I know some new stuff

A new set of number plates for your British car that must now have Italian plates will cost you €500. A fine for not having them will cost €500.

There is no such thing as too much tiramisu.

Not all breads are equal. I can buy a dozen varieties in my local pasticceria depending on whether I’m having charcuterie (yes, I know it’s French, but it’s the term used here as well), soup, meat, fish, veal, offal….

Aperitivo is a great way to spend the hours between 7pm and 9pm.

A Google search will never throw up the astonishing medieval part of Pisa, but it turns out we walked through it without knowing.

A Google search on Venice will deliver endless variants of gondolas, express tickets, walking tours, food tours (one at more than €300 per person), but not much more than that. Yet, there are “hidden” places everywhere if you look hard enough.

Polpo is a London restaurant chain serving Venetian food. They go further; they also list places to eat in Venice away from tourist-trap eateries. What a great idea – a restaurateur recommends other places to eat.

Never pop out at lunchtime after a morning on the keyboard to do a few errands. Remember, lots of shops close between 1pm and 3pm.

Never pop up to the Coop supermarket – a really big one – about 2.30pm because the lunchers have finished and are now out buying again. There’s Nonna and Nonno, moving at snail’s pace; Mama on her iPhone stopped in the middle of the aisle; little Mario screaming his head off about something…oh, it’s just like home, only Italian.

Lucca has a lot of pharmacies and most of the “drugs” are hidden in cabinets. No self-selection here.

Sausages – salsiccia to locals – are dense, meaty, rustic things one can add to some reduced passata and a large tin of cannelloni beans with some pancetta to make a dinner where you can sop up the juices with your choice of bread. Aided by some local wine or a nearby Montalcino or Chianti.

You can’t always trust what the website says. Visit the Botanical Gardens; they’re closed for winter.

You can’t always trust the hotel receptionist. Annie e Leo (a restaurant) is closed until mid-February for ferie (holidays).

Just when you fancy a large slice of that stunning pizza down the lane, they close for a month for ferie.

Peschino is chopped up fresh peach marinated in some lethal liquor and then topped up with Prosecco. I may have told you this before (hic).

Lucchese – the correct term for people who live here – are warm, generous and helpful. I make them laugh with my Italian.

Marco at Café Mercato – site of very good aperitivo – collects number plates. I am required to send him one from New Zealand when I return.

The local fruit and veg shop is called an “Ortafrutta”.

Our local library is called Agorà, as in the Greek for gathering or meeting place.

Central heating ripens your bananas quicker than you eat them. It also creates mould in your Fragole and Albicocche, so you must keep them in the frigio.

Never eat the bread in a restaurant. Firstly, you’ll pay for all of it and, secondly, it’ll fill you up before you start eating.

Drinkable Prosecco and reds can be had for under $10 a bottle. Even more drinkable Prosecco and reds can be had for more than $75 a bottle.

One can buy a slab of those pocket-sized tissue packs but try locating a box of tissues for the bathroom. Darned near impossible.

I really would like someone at Trenitalia to ensure the windows of the trains are clear for those of us who wish to snap/video the passing countryside for the purposes of loading onto Facebook or YouTube.

There isn’t a great selection of fruit or veg at the supermarket. Friend Jane says Italians tend to eat seasonally. It’s pretty much apples, pears, bananas, oranges and clementines for fruit, and kale, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli (shrink-wrapped tighter than a mummy) or beans. Potatoes seem to come in white or red. Still, they mash ok.

Food tends to be quite simple and pleasingly rustic. Not a lot of meat, a lot of pasta and bread, soups. Ah, the soups. Plastic bowls of them from the supermarket and they are both divine and cheap. Leave NZ’s Pitango brand and others languishing in the dark from lack of flavour. Who knew borlotti beans and dense little pipes of pasta could make such a good soup?

Inside the walls, you get mostly Burro brand butter, or one wrapped in white paper called Antica Creameria. At the Coop they had French “President” brand which takes me right back to Paris and smothering a baguette in the stuff.

Going to the movies here is just as expensive as at home, but no ice-cream, wine, or noisy bags of chips. How could these people, who enjoy their food so much, not have anything at the cinema? We went to the live relay of La Traviata from Covent Garden. Heavenly.

Relish your access to the coffee of your choice. Here, it’s Lavazza or Illy and co and pretty much designed for espresso. Even the pods. No choice of mild-blow your head off.

Solved the bought coffee issue: ask for some hot water on the side and in that way, you can dilute the black stuff to deliver more than just one mouthful.

No one but me looks sideways at anyone having a glass of red or her second sparkling rose (Yes, I’m talking about you, Nonna) at 11 in the morning. Here, drunkenness is frowned upon and people seem to have a few but no more.

Two glasses of Prosecco followed by a Peschino is enough to wake you up at 2am.

SKY TV here is as bad as it is everywhere. It’s the BBC news or rather old movies/TV series.

The herb section at the Coop features a lot..a LOT…of black peppercorns, parsley flakes, basil flakes and ground peppers. I shall have to visit the Sri Lankan shop to get what I need.

The reading lamp story

I need a lamp. While the lighting here takes years off my face, it’s impossible to see clearly at night when reading on the sofa or deciding to pick up the embroidery.

Ikea in Florence has good lamps but that’s five hours of walking/train/bus/bus/train/walking. Ikea in Pisa has them but that’s three hours of walking/bus/shuttle/shuttle/bus/walking. All cost-savings go out the window when you factor in the time. “Brico io” has a great range according to their website (yeah, right). They’re about 1km outside the wall and, just my luck, the little “LAM Blu” bus goes right past.

It’s like a Bunnings or a Mitre 10. Ah, the lamp section. Oh, a very limited selection. Nothing like the website (see, I told you). They have some very nice designer models which cast so little light I wonder why one would buy them.

The only option – and I’m determined to buy a lamp today – is the large black anglepoise model.

Mr Brico man appears to have no English. Off we troop to the relevant aisle. In my limited Italian, I explain I want “this” lamp. I point at the black anglepoise. A problem. This is the display model. I nod. “This one?” he asks. I nod again. He debates this for a minute or two and then uplifts the light.

It appears there is no box for the light. There is no sacchetti (bag) for the light. There isn’t even a piece of plastic in a place that sells pieces of plastic. It is pelting down outside.

Mr Brico has no interest in solving my problem.

Fine. I bend the lamp down and cover it with my non-waterproof scarf. It now looks like a set of Italian bagpipes, given the scarf has hot Italian colours on it.

Out into the rain I go, my bagpipes under my arm.

I’ve got a lamp. I’ve got a lamp. Mission successful.

Back onto the LAM Blu and everyone on board stares. Why is she carrying bagpipes in this weather?

The light works brilliantly.

The prolunga – yes, that is a word. The prolunga, the extension cord, to reach the plug doesn’t fit. The plug is an older fitting and the cord is a newer fitting. I’m selling the prolunga cheap if anyone wants it.