Lucca: The Walled City of Cycling

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The top of the wall in Lucca

The top of the wall in Lucca

 

An ancient hamlet nestled into the hills of Tuscany, Lucca was once a bustling town that prospered from its rich banking business as well as its silk trade.  Housing churches of great importance and beauty, it was the perfect stopping point for pilgrims throughout Europe.

Today, it is still the perfect stopping point for tourists.  One of the best parts of Lucca for tourists is that ironically, it is not loaded with tourists. It has a gentle, meandering essence to it that you won’t find anywhere else.  This is why it lends itself to being the perfect cycling city.

 

This beautiful little town encapsulates all of the quintessential aspects of “The Perfect Small Italian City.”   It contains All Things Italian.  It starts with cycling.  That’s right.  I am not beginning with art, churches, wine or food.

 

Do I have your attention, bike lovers?  It appeals to cyclists because in fact, the outer wall is really a track of sorts for both casual strollers and bicycle enthusiasts.  The wall is the perfect way to see the city.  Tourists and locals alike spend the day on the wall, cycling and walking, eating gelato.  It’s a beautiful vantage point; it allows you to see the entire city from the perimeter.  Each steeple and tower is at the perfect level for photographs.

 

The bike ride itself will become one of your favorite souvenirs as you can relive it in your heart forever.  You can bring your own bicycle, and it is extremely easy to rent bicycles for the afternoon, the day, an hour or the week. There are bike shops everywhere, and the bikes themselves have little sign emblems on their spokes to advertise as well.  Follow one back to the shop.  I should say shops, as this small town has more bike shops than La Bella Roma.  Everyone rides bikes everywhere.

 

Be prepared, if you love cycling like the Italians love cycling, you may never get out of the shops to actually ride.  There are things for sale here you won’t see anywhere else….think pink Bianchi.  (If you are a cyclist aficonionado, I’ve already peaked your interest.)

 

See.  I told you.

 

Here is a list of some shops…I have added the websites when one is available.  Noleggio, so you know, is the Italian word for “charter” which means they have rentals. Most of the shops have them whether or not it is in the title of the shop.  Just look for the word, “noleggio.”  Happy riding!

 

  • Berutto Nedo di Franceschi Riccardo

Via De Gasperi 83/A – 55100 S. Anna

http://www.beruttonedo.com/Home.html

 

  • Biciclette Poli

Piazza Santa Maria, 42

http://www.biciclettepoli.com

 

  • Bike Passion: Vendita, Accessorio, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Pisana, 54

 

  • Chrono’Bike di Paladino Meschi

Corso Garibaldi, 93

http://www.chronobikes.com/en/info

 

  • Cicli Bizzarri

Piazza Santa Maria, 32

http://www.ciclibizzarri.net

 

  • Cicli Max di Pumilia Massimiliano Riparazione e Vendita

45, Via Civitali Vincenzo

 

  • Ciclidea di Cini Giacomo

Via Borgo Giannotti, 361

 

  • Cini Roberto: Ciclidea Riparazione Vendita

Via Borgo Giannotti, 317

 

  • Fast and Furious SRL

186, Via S. Donato

http://www.fastandfuriousbike.it

 

  • Franceschi SRL

502, Via Pesciatina

http://www.ciclifranceschi.it

 

  • Mercatone Uno

Viale Giacomo Puccini 1718

 

  • Orsucci Bike Vendita, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Orsucci, 50

 

  • Punto Bici

8, Via Del Crocifisso

http://www.puntobici.lucca.it

 

 

 

Souvenir Ideas: Books

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

For me, shopping on vacation is part of the fun.  I love looking for little trinkets and mementoes to bring back and squirrel into my little nest.  I think there’s really a physiological benefit.  I can feel my heart soar and my respiration change….pretty shiny objects can do that.  🙂  I love bringing back little presents for those whom I left behind.  I can imagine their joy in receiving a special present from so far away.

A particularly good gift idea is a book.

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

The beauty of a book, for a traveler, is that it is easy to slip into a suitcase, it isn’t breakable, and it’s a unique treasure that you can’t just pick up in your own local bookstore.

In Florence, FirenziLibri is a wonderful place to find not only new books, but vintage and out of print volumes as well.  The store is located at Via dei Servi, 52.  It’s  a lovely little side street that has lots of other unique shops.  There is something so special about finding a beloved fairy tale from own childhood written in Italian.  This is where you will find locals and won’t be over run by tourists, such as yourselves.  🙂

In Milan, immediately to the right of the Duomo, there is a huge book store.  In Mondadori Bookstore is  filled with a plethora of books and other little book store trinkets.  This could be your perfect one stop shopping.  This store is akin to the giant bookstores we have here in the states.  In addition to books, there are maps and stuffed animals and mugs….just like home, but Italian.

There’s something magical about a bookstore.   Each volume holds possibility.  To find a lovely edition of a classic, written in Italian, or German or whatever the local language may be is something unique and special.

 

Buying Gold and Silver Jewelry on The Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

 

One of the lovely shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, (or The Old Bridge) is one of the most famous sites in the world to purchase gold and silver jewelry.  Founded hundreds of years ago, this trading post was the centerpiece of Florence, Italy with vendors and customers coming from all over.  Italian gold and silver is the finest in the world, and buying a little trinket, (or two) on a trip to Italy is a wonderful remembrance to bring home.  It’s something you’ll actually use because let’s face it, what do you do with a tiny Leaning Tower of Pisa after you’re home?

There is plenty of debate as to whether or not you are getting the best deal or if the jewelry is overpriced on the bridge.

This is something you have to decide for yourself.  Perhaps you pay a bit more.  Maybe it is a bit less.  Either way, all of the shops on the bridge are accredited vendors, so you know you have genuine materials.  Remember, you’ll also be paying for the experience.  Believe me when I tell you that in itself, that makes it worth the price.  You’ll remember it forever.

Italian gold is made as 18kt.  It will say 750 on it instead.  True Italian gold will also have a tiny stamp on it with usually a star and some small letters or numbers.  These are the identification numbers of the area in Italy in which the jewelry was made.  Each region has its own stamps and numbers.  When you are shopping for gold in Italy, look for this marking to insure you are getting Italian gold made in Italy.

When you shop in Italy, is is different than here in the States.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are some unspoken rules that are followed.  When you are on the Ponte Vecchio, you are truly marked as a tourist. (Or at least as someone with cash or credit cards to spend.)  You want to be alert and aware of your surroundings, so your adventure on the bridge is pleasurable.

One thing to know when you are on the bridge is that vendors are everywhere.  They aren’t selling jewelry, but they have scarves and wooden Pinocchio dolls and such.  They will attempt to distract you, so be prepared and keep walking.  Keep your hand on your purse.  If you need to, say, “Va Via!”  (This means, “Go Away!”)  While they won’t suddenly think you’re a native, they will at least know you’ve done your homework and will move on.

Shopping on the bridge, everything is there for your perusal.  When you spot something that’s caught your eyes, you knock on the door of the shop.  They only allow one party in at a time.  The vendor comes out and you can literally point to something in the window, or you can say, “posso?”  This means, “Can I?” to have entrance to the shop.  They will escort you in and lock the door behind you.  For real.  Be ready.

They are very gracious and it’s intimate.  Once you make the purchase, you will need to give information for customs as there are forms you will need to return when you arrive at the airport heading home.  You’ll receive your papers from the vendor and your purchase will be wrapped like the precious trinket that it is, in velvet bags and tissue wrap.

Honestly, the safest place for jewelry is on your person.  Wearing a gold chain or a bracelet will not make you a target, and you will be infinitely more secure than if you tuck the bag into your purse. Thieves and pickpockets will be watching to see who comes out of a store with some tiny bag in ribbons.  The important thing, again,  is to be aware and alert.   If you decide to wear the jewelry out of the store, (even if it isn’t for you, remember safety) tell them.  They will assist you and they’ll still give you all the lovely wrappings and bags.

They are used to tourists and they are so accommodating and gracious.  Every time you look at your beautiful piece of jewelry it will make you smile to know you bought it at the most famous jewelry location on the planet.

Travel Journals

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One of the nicest things about going on a trip is remembering it after you have returned home.  The sensuous aspects of travel, touch, smell, taste, and sound can evaporate from our memories.  Our photographs serve to help us remember what we have seen, but a travel journal is an excellent way to flesh out the rest of the memory.

I know you’re thinking that you’ll remember, but trust me, nothing will haunt you like not being able to remember the greatest restaurant you ate at, or the best bottle of wine you had.  Keeping a journal while you travel helps create a souvenir you’ll keep forever.

Children love this idea as well.  Even small children can be given post cards and crayons to fill in a journal.  Ticket stubs, train tickets, business cards, all of these things help to make up a memory.  It will become a family treasure as you laugh again over the anecdotes included inside.

Before you leave on your trip, choose a journal.  Get a pretty one that you’ll be proud to put on your bookshelf.  It’s an autobiography of sorts, so make it something special.  Make sure you can fit it into your day bag or pockets to keep with you as you journey along.  Be sure you have a pen.

Don’t create this into a monstrous “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” burden, but rather, think of it as an observer’s notes.  Simple things will strike you as you’re waiting for the train to arrive.  You’ll want to record some memories of your people-watching.  Write about the sounds.  Fountains gurgling and music playing don’t transfer into photographs.  Tell what you’re feeling.  Did you have a blister?  Was the heat unbearable?  How was the jet lag?  Include the different scents and the fragrances, both good and distasteful, to remember.  (Some of the most picturesque cities in the world smell of pollution.)  How did the food smell?  Your hotel soaps?   You get the idea.

Journal pages....

Journal pages…

While you are on the plane, the train, the boat or the car (provided you aren’t the driver) you can jot down memories.  It doesn’t have to be flowing and flowery.  Write down the name of the restaurant you’re eating at, tell what you ordered, something funny that happened during the meal. Most restaurants have menus and business cards at the exits.  Take a picture of the restaurant and add it to your book later.  Take the label off your wine.  Save the price tag off the souvenir you bought.

Tuck these mementoes inside the journal.   These little eclectic talismans become tangible memories when you return home.  You’ll be amazed how a $2.99 cloth journal can suddenly becomes one of your most treasured possessions.

 

Bouquet of Memories: Signature Accessories

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ImageSignature accessories are always a source of interest to me.  How about you?  I love the idea of having something that no one else has.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just meaningful.   Here’s an interesting and unique way to Make A Memory.  Choose a beautiful, long 36-inch chain.  Get one that is sturdy and wear it without a pendant….until you get see one that speaks to you.  Birthstones of your children, your husband’s initials, a feather, a cross, a quote, these are just the beginning of ideas….there’s millions of options.

If you are taking a vacation, buy a charm in each city that you visit.  Visit the local artisan fairs that are literally EVERYWHERE now.   You’ll be amazed at the unique and beautiful pieces that are made by local artists.  You can feel the effort and the energy in each piece they make.

Another idea is to try collecting all the same type of charm.  Buy something you love, like ducks, your initial, angels or even shoes.  Imagine a chain of only four-leaf clovers or stars.  Whatever makes you smile is what you should choose. See how many different ones you can find.

It will be one of a kind.  It will become a signature accessory.  When you’re wearing it, you’ll Feel Dressed.  Polished.  Special.  It will make you smile to hear it jingle when you walk.  You’ll miss it when you aren’t wearing it.

It may take you years to finish this necklace.  You may never declare it to be done.  There may always be another piece to add.  The more you wear it, the more It Will Become You.  It is like your life on a string.  Literally.

 

Sirni Pelletteria, Roma, Italia: Part Two of a Zillion on Shopping

The author with her newest treasure.
The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

I’ve talked before about the dizzying choices of goods to purchase when you are in Italy.  In the heart of the historic center of Rome, it is no different.  You will see goods that range from the sublime, to the ridiculously stupid.  I know.  I’ve bought them both.  I don’t know if you have the same sickness I have on vacation, but I have to confess, I feel like I’m on a hunt and I want to Bag Something Fab…so there is no pun intended when I tell you one of the best things to buy in Rome is a handbag.  The leather in all of Italy is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  My dear Great-Uncle Augusto wears the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen.  They are so beautiful and elegant.  I know they are soft.  I stop myself at throwing myself on the floor to rub my face on them, so I’m making an assumption here, but you can tell….

Famiglia Sirni

Famiglia Sirni

I’m pausing here for a moment to reminisce about those shoes……..

OK.  Back to shopping in Rome.  As I’ve said, it  offers as many choices as there are cobblestones.  You could always decide to choose something cheesy (which let’s face it, they’re funny to buy, especially that gross apron of “The David”) or buy your self  “Un Tipico Romano Regalo. ”    Leather. Handbags.

At Via Della Stelletta 33, you will find the most beautiful leather goods in Rome.  I am speaking of, none other than the world famous Sirni Pelletteria.  This beautiful little shop has been family owned and operated for over 50 years.  The current proprietors, Andrea and Rita, are a brother and sister duo who have inherited the gift of creating gorgeous handbags from their father.

The Mural of Andrea and Rita's Father over the work station

The Mural of Andrea and Rita’s Father over the work station

The inside of the shop is as sleek and beautiful as the bags.  Each piece is seated much like a monarch on a throne.  They just know they’re special.  Rita works the front of the store, managing the customers and the vast choices of bags.  She is an artist in every sense of the word, beautiful inside and out.  She welcomes people from all over the world.  Movie stars, celebrities and locals alike, recognize these bags for the treasures that they are.  Andrea is a genius sculptor.  His medium is leather and he painstakingly coaxes these pieces of leather into a spectacular monument.  Like I’ve written about before, when you are shopping in Rome, the store vendors wish to serve you.  Rita magically conjures any color or style bag you can imagine.  They also make custom designs.  People return to them year after year to custom order pieces like nothing else in Europe, or the world, for that matter.

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

more Famiglia Sirni

more Famiglia Sirni

 

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Souvenir Shopping in Italy: Part One of a Zillion

Browsing in Montepulciano
Browsing in Montepulciano

Browsing in Montepulciano

Ah, Bella Italia.  There is nothing like shopping in Italy.  The beauty of it is that if you really put some thought into it, you can find a fantastic souvenir that will remind you of your wonderful vacation forever.

One of the things about shopping in Italy is that you can easily be overwhelmed.  There are a huge amount of shops to choose from, and each one seems to have just what you never knew you wanted until you saw it at that very moment.

There are a plethora of open air markets, little shops, and famous designer stores.  You can spin in a circle deciding where to go first.  I have some suggestions to help you.

First off, you have to consider the size and weight of some objects.  Most reputable shops are willing to ship gifts home for you, (for a fee) so look in their windows for a sign indicating this to you.  (“Lo Mandiamo” means “we’ll send it.”)

International customs are more stringent than ever now.  Be careful about what you buy in terms of food and liquor.  At the current time, each traveler over the age of 21 is allowed about one liter each.  There is nothing more heart wrenching than having to leave behind a souvenir because it doesn’t meet requirements at border security.

This rule also applies to food.  Meats and cheeses, especially, have strict regulations.  Because these are considered “agricultural products” they are under stricter guidelines than, say, packaged candy.  You may not be allowed to bring them home.  My husband still weeps over a brick of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that he bought in Parma and left behind in Rome.  (He left it in the hotel refrigerator, so they never even had the chance to rip it from his hot little hands.)

Fruit is also carefully screened.  “Floral and Fauna” as they are sometimes called under the Agriculture heading can have organisms on them that are foreign to the United States.

A serious word of caution: Italy is very proactive in protecting her treasures.  This includes taking rocks from the Colosseum, The Roman Forum, etc.  Fines are involved, so do as the Romans do and leave them alone.

Each tiny section of Italy is extremely proud of their local wares.  As the title of this article suggests, I will be adding more information in the coming days  about what lovely things to buy in each “provincia” of Italy.  For example, Montepulciano is known for its honey, lentils and soap.  (This is without even mentioning the wines….oh the wines!)  Florence is famous for its jewelry.  Buying a piece of gold or silver on The Ponte Vecchio is like owning a treasure…in your heart.

The word “souvenir” in Italian is “Ricordo.”  I love how it sounds like “recording a memory.”  In fact, one of the best parts of a trip is returning home and unpacking your memories.  They will stay with you forever.