Friday 19 September 2014

Travelling through Tuscany in 40 clicks

The Tuscan treasure trove of sights, food, culture and people is endless. We left Signa on a sunny summer morning in late June and made our way to Lucca.

I had done my bit of 'do this and not that' research and decided upon spending a day in Lucca instead of Pisa- and this is what you should do if you want to relish Tuscany without getting crushed by ship loads of tourists.

Entering Lucca is like entering another world. It's a walled city and the only one in Italy with the entire wall intact. Its tourist brochure proudly celebrates its 500 years of City Walls.

For me, the fact that this is a traffic free city and has been since the 1970s makes Lucca the kind of place I'd like to call home. Only residents are allowed to park inside the city walls and they cycle everywhere. Visitors can park on the outer perimeter of the wall and then enter through any of the gates built in this imposing wall.

So imagine a wall which is so wide that they have planted trees on it- it's an unmissable experience to walk or cycle on this wall.

Lucca's medieval architecture is intact. I'll let the pictures do the talking. I'm not biased or anything, but...

I do have a soft corner for doors and windows, especially windows that double up as mini gardens. So, please bear with me...

At this point, I had to ask for directions to a craft fair that was being held in Lucca and asking for directions almost always becomes my responsibility (you know men and directions).

So I went up to an Italian gentleman who was parking his bike. I am sure he gave me the direction but all I remember registering then (and all I can recall now) are his deep blue eyes and his chiseled features.

I turned around in a daze after having nodded furiously to show my understanding and gratitude.I walked  up to my husband (still in a daze) and said,
" He was too cute, I couldn't concentrate- let's look for the information centre".

Which we did.

Why wouldn't I love Lucca? It made me feel like a fourteen year old at forty three!

We found the craft market. It had a range of Tuscan artists displaying their crafts. As usual, I was drawn to pottery and ceramics, but sadly did not buy anything...maybe next time...

We were almost ready to stop for lunch when we entered this beautiful shop in the town centre (it's the one behind the bicycle).

Lunch was a delicious Lucian fish dish with chickpeas. The waiter proudly explained that Lucian cuisine is unique. Like India, Italy offers a huge range of local cuisine which changes every few kilometres or so and that is why a road trip is so worth your while if you can manage one.

It was time to leave Lucca ...

And head off to Pisa, which is a stone's throw away. We found an excellent parking spot ( a block up from the western edge of the Compo di Miracoli on Via Pietrasanta), paid a couple of Euros to park, got accosted by sellers of 'genuine fake' watches saying 'namaste' and plunged into the throngs of tourists.

We were back in the car in exactly 30 minutes after having taken a bunch of photos with the leaning tower,including selfies. I managed a people-less click...

And my daughter managed to capture the tower on her phone...

Back in the car, sweating and exhausted, we thanked our stars that we'd chosen Lucca over Pisa before we headed out south towards Siena. 

The next set of pictures are from a day of  driving ( a few days later) in and around the Val D'Orcia region of Tuscany, south of Siena. We stopped at Montalcino (famous for its red wine and where we bought a bottle of Brunello), Pienza (famous for its sheepcheese) and Montepulciano (famous for its Rosso di Montepulciano). These are beautiful towns nesteled in the the most breathtaking Tuscan scenery. 

Alessandro from Borgo Villa Castelletti in Signa had gone into raptures of emotions when he was describing the beauty of this area to us.

Words fall short.

These are walking towns.

No cars.


See you soon. xx

Monday 8 September 2014

The last of the Florentine experience.

After saying bye to Bruno Gambone, we headed off to the Accademia as the hotel had managed to book our entrance tickets for the afternoon. Even with the tickets, we waited for over 20 minutes to be let in (and that's because the guard who was letting people in suddenly vanished).

I am not complaining because I was standing here (ahem! ahem!...) notice anything special?

If the street name is this...

then the rest has to be artful, right?

And we had David keeping us company- you don't believe me? Here's evidence...

David (artist unknown) on the outside wall of the galleria Accademia...

 And David (Michelangelo's) inside the Accademia...

The most impressive fact about the above is that I managed to get this shot without any people or their heads as the whole world was gathered around him and I am only 5 feet and 1 and a  half inch tall.

The facts about how he came to be are impressive, too. You can find out more about David here:

There was a lot of other art by artists I had heard of and some by artists I hadn't. For me though, the gallery itself was a much more enjoyable experience- the high domes and the spacious galleries. I think after a while I started people watching because there is only so much art one can take in one go.

Time to rest...

The Jain tummies had started rumbling. So we headed out and this time the trio (teenagers and the father) forbade me to even mention 'trip advisor' before we decided where to eat. So they lead, and I followed (muttering -mostly to myself- that there is a 'recommeded' place not far away). But, as we had had such a lovely day so far, I didn't object too much to their choice of a pizzeria.

A gelato each and we were ready to explore again.

The art on the streets of Florence...

Mona Lisa seems happier here (out in the open) than she does in the confines of the Louvre. And her creator looks equally pleased.

The artful streets of Florence:-

 just because I like this street so much:)

 This sign caught my eye...

 And I was invited in by the most cheerful cheese seller I've ever seen. I asked if I could click and he obliged. We even managed a short English/Italian conversation peppered with Italian hand gestures and Indian head nodding (cliche it may be- but when language fails- we go back to our roots). I didn't buy anything as we had just had lunch, but left his shop happy and content.

Our next stop was Galleria degli Uffizi or the Uffizi Gallery. This was just by chance. We had seen serpentine queues to get into the gallery in the morning and had decided to give it a miss. But at 4.30 pm, we happened to be in the area and there weren't many people waiting, so we went in.

The pictures that follow have no labels. Here's why- when I was a primary school teacher in London, I had accompanied a class of boisterous boys to the National Portrait Gallery on a school trip. The Gallery guide started our tour by showing the children how adults behave in galleries- stare at art, look at the labels, make notes-trying to remember the artist, the year and  all those details that clutter the experience of actually enjoying the art. They never sit down and enjoy being with great art. He urged my class to be a child (not an adult) when viewing art and gave them some tips.

I recognised myself in that caricature and promised myself that I would (from that day on) visit galleries like a child and use his tips- stare at pieces that caught my eye- find a place to sit and watch it for as long as I felt like it- without the nagging agenda of the 'must-see' list and without knowing who had painted it, unless I felt like finding out. I wasn't studying for an Art History exam, was I?

The next room is an octagonal room called the Uffizi Tribuna.
"The structure, decoration and objects were meant to allude to the four basic elements of the universe: air, water, earth and fire. This room amazes visitors with its coverings in precious materials: from the approximately six thousand shells embedded in the cupola, to walls covered in crimson velvet with abundant decorations of plants and waterfowl along the lower parts." source: 

Notice the crowd?

You can not step inside but all is visible from the doors. The trick is to be patient enough to move up to the front and manage a clear view- then please be kind enough to move along, as others would like to do the same. It's when couples (young ones, usually) hog the space to pose in various angles that gets my goat. And the worst kind are the ones who take turns, fist the lady, then the man!

Can you detect the frustration or irritation in my tone? I could, too. So before I succumbed to Stendhal Syndrome also known as Florence Syndrome or simply put ' being arted out', I followed my family who were all on their phones by now out of the Uffizi and into the fresh air outside.

More about the Florence Syndrome can be found here:

For those of you who would like to visit the  Uffizi Gllaery, here's a lovely guide

I had a great time soaking it all in without getting distracted by labels.

That's all folks. Next time it will be a walk down the streets of Tuscany- a beautiful adventure. Hope to see you soon. xx