The summer edition

Can’t believe I’ve been so slack and not sent an email since the end of July.

Having survived a summer in Lucca, inside the walls, where the temperature hit 38C with 92% humidity one day, I feel I am owed a medal. If not a medal, then at least a line in my CV to the effect. Yes, being up on the walls was cooler, but they don’t let you live up there.

There was a day so hot and still, I thought I was going to do the nuclear core meltdown thing. Onto the bike. Out to the river. Sit in river until core temperature returns to safe level. Bike home.

Gelato. There is some bad stuff out there (including the weird carton of it in NZ isolation, but more on that later), but Momo in Lucca and I Dolci in Viareggio are worth waiting for. Servings are generous. And dairy-free! We won’t mention the sugar content.

Italy doesn’t have open-access beaches like NZ, so xPat Travel booked us a day at a beach club at Viareggio. This generally gives you showers, chairs and an umbrella, table service at the umbrella, a pool and a restaurant. We got most of this. Oh, the joy of swimming in warm water. Of course, one checks one’s emails at times like this – and discovers the British friends aren’t now going to Spain and France (this was August) because of the risk. It’s now mid-October and what we thought was risk then is nothing compared to what is happening now. Heigh-ho, I’m staying in Lucca until I leave.

Wearing masks in the Italian summer is hell. No other word for it. I was sweating so much I could wring them out. Just before I left Lucca, they became compulsory; just had to live with it. Amazing number of young people and men with their masks under their noses.

Venice, Rome and Florence are all very strange without the tourists. Even in my last week there, Florence was still only mildly busy. Lucca seemed to attract weekend travellers from other parts of Europe – mainly Dutch and German.

How do all those stalls in Florence’s San Lorenzo market make money? They’re all selling the same masks, scarves, bags and jackets.

There is one breakfast treat better than a cornetto. You catch a train to Florence, walk to the San Lorenzo market. There, one of you buys slices of schiacciata and the other buys good coffee from the Albanian guy across the aisle. You take it outside to the steps where you ponder how all those stalls make money. Schiacciata is a type of Tuscan flat bread, but this version comes with a custard base (of course) and sweet, dark grapes baked into it.

Some of this is offset by Saturday yoga-on-the-wall sessions with Lesley and her Labrador Tina. The ground is uneven, and sticks must be removed from under mats. Tina will slip her collar and come by to say hello, lean on you, or lie under you when you’re doing cat/cow. The sky will be that inimitable Tuscan blue seen through an umbrella of bright green leaves. The reward is a good workout….and sfoglia mela after. See, we’re back to pastry. Think puff pastry with tasty apple inside, crusted with sugar and then cooked until said sugar caramelises. Add a double espresso. The dogs lie in the shade, and we talk for an hour. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning. I went to Lucca with the intention of walking the walls daily and taking yoga and Pilates classes. Never happened, and it doesn’t look like it will for a while now that new regulations are in force. Being back in NZ means I can do all of these which are desperately needed. There are no pastries for breakfast in isolation (except for this morning and it was solid, possibly baked a week ago).

Liz came over from London. She came last year and fell in love with Lucca, even though it was mid-winter. This year, it would be warmer. Her visit coincided with me getting a case of bad transport juju. Here’s what we now know. Tuscan heat/humidity do bad things to my brain. Never fly into Pisa on a Sunday afternoon because you must wait two hours for a bus to Lucca. Don’t take the bus to Pietrasanta and decide to get off at Viareggio because there’s a train. That train will be cancelled. When the crowd scrambles for the bus, it’s only going as far as Montecatini Terme where they’re doing work on the line. Social distancing goes out the door. There are arguments; the driver holds firm. Ah, but then there is a train to Lucca. We arrive in Lucca at the same time at the bus would have arrived, but considerably more antsy from my bad travel juju. It is very hot. We end up eating the worst pizza of all time in Anfiteatro.

The rest of the visit goes better and then the bad travel juju returns. We are to take the beautifully named DD bus (known as the double-D – yes, have a laugh) from outside the railway station in Lucca, wander around Florence, lunch on the rooftop terrace at Rinascente, and walk slowly to the tram. The tram will whisk us to the airport where a short walk across the car park will put me at the DD bus stop for the trip home. The trains are still out, you see.

I have us waiting at the wrong bus stop in Lucca and the Double D sails past. Ah, but we can get to Florence through Pisa, so we take that train. Lunch is now off. We arrive in time for a quick sandwich and the tram to the airport. I make Liz trek across the vast piazza in front of the train station to reach the tram…. which then stops right outside the station building. See? Bad transport juju.

I leave Liz at the door of the terminal at Florence airport near a marquee that says, “Voluntary testing”. Liz goes inside only to return because the “voluntary” is an Italian “voluntary” and is actually   compulsory. She arrives back in the UK in the rain. There’s no DD bus for two hours thanks to the summer schedule, and I take the tram back into town and then a train back to Lucca. Sweating all the way.

Liz was gracious about my bad transport juju. All going well, we’ll try again next year, and Liz won’t fly into Pisa on a Sunday.

I’m going to leave it there for this edition. Coming up – a cable car to lunch, Torre del Lago, a trip to Florence, new friends, and the trip home. And, because I’m in isolation with nowhere to go, that email might follow quite soon.