Originally written Oct 9.

The excitement is in the air. I can breathe it. I can feel it. Our trip to Italy is set and we are packing and getting ready to leave.

Of course, it is tainted with the fear of flying. But slowly I am loosing that fear. I like to think I am progressing positively in my self-diagnosis and therapy. On the last trip to Italy, I even got up and out of my plane seat. On this trip, I plan to do the same…..without the assistance of someone holding my hand, the tears, and the attendants asking me to stop talking so loudly.

Back to our trip plans:

We are going to Italy for about three weeks. This is going to be what Rusty refers to a ‘working’ trip; He refuses to call it a vacation. Yeah, right. As we all know, all working trips to Italy end up being more vacation than work.  It’s a working vacation until we find another village to explore, new sets of friends, and another bottle of wine. However, we do have a lot of work to do. Most importantly, we have to make choices. We are meeting with masons, electricians, plumbers, and other people who I am not sure what they do but they have an ‘official’ title. I just hope what they do is legal and it doesn’t cost much. 

It is easy to try to find laborers in Italy. I found it remarkable that if you go to the local bar and ask around, you can leave with the number to any laborer or professional you may need including the cook, baker, and candlestick maker. Who knew they actually lived in Italy!!!  However, because this is going to be a bed and breakfast, we can’t just go with the third cousin of the bar owner’s twice-divorced daughter’s husband.

Our geometra is the connection to these laborers. He has made arrangements for us to meet with all the laborers and professionals we are going to  choose from and have the contracts ready for the renovations.

We also plan to visit as many home improvement stores as we can. We need to pick out floor tiles, light fixtures, toilets, kitchen sinks, colors, textures, etc.  If all goes well, we will have signed contracts with the laborers, picked the materials, and put together a renovation plan by the time we leave to go back to the US.

We are not going alone. My very good friend, Norma, is going with us. She is someone special in my life and she wanted to share the excitement.  She has never been out of the US and so this trip is a grand trip full of new adventures. We want to show her the sites in our valley, our village, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, have her taste new foods, drink Italian wines, and …..wait one minute…..she is also there on a ‘working’ vacation. Yeah, right!  But she won’t be the only one joining us. We are also going to meet with some of Rusty’s family. A couple of his female cousins and one of their husbands are coming to visit for a few days. Rusty made these plans after learning that they would be in Italy at the same time we would be. Rusty and his cousin Chris have stayed connected throughout the years. This is going to be a sweet, small family reunion for them. I can hardly wait to meet them.

Okay, now I am back to being excited.

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I had one last, little adventure today. A bit unexpected, but incredibly enjoyable and amazing. It involves the Torrenta Turrita Cava, the small tributary to the Serchio River, to the west of Piano de Coreglia.

 As I was returning from Ponte al’Annia this afternoon, I saw across the river a small slit in the rock of the mountains, where a small tributary river comes into the Serchio. I had seen this on a detailed map of this area I bought. Although it was late afternoon, I had time to go over and investigate this little river and the road leading up to it. There was a sign for the Torrento Turrita Cava. I turned left and went about 100 meters, and then took a right turn on a small road, leading up a switchback road. Not too far, though, it rose a bit, and then flattened out, and turned inward to the mountain. This is a narrow gorge, with steep walls, and heavily wooded. In a short distance the road came to the small hydroelectric dam built on the river. Behind the dam is an amazingly beautiful blue/green lake, narrowly winding back between the lush sides of the little, steep canyon. The road continued along the left (south) side of the lake, and I could not help but follow it.  Winding, on and on, along this paradise of a place. You see, once you reach the dam, you have entered this entirely different world, and left behind the wide open space of the Serchio River valley. This place is lush, park like, undeveloped, and hidden from Ghivizzano or Piano de Coreglia. It is hard to see from the outside, but once you are in it, you see it is expansive, going back for many kilometers.

I biked on. Amazed at what I had found. And kicking myself that I only had found it now, the evening before I leave! If I had only known!!! This is a little slice of pristine forest/wilderness right on the doorstep of Ghivizzano..

My big regret for this little adventure is that I did not have my camera with me. And so for future Casa La Pace guests, please put this little excursion near the top of your list of things to do around Ghivizzano. It is such a remarkable, but seemingly hidden, treasure so near to the town. I fear my words did not do justice to the beauty of this lake, stream, and mountain gorge.  The high mountain walls were so beautiful along the way. There is a bald face mountain top that is visible from Casa La Pace. Going along this road takes you right beneath that bald face. Amazing. And when I was coming back, high up on the south side, on the edge of the mountain was a solitary castle or bell tower. It would be fun to discover where that is.

This was a wonderful last adventure for me in my time at Casa La Pace. It was a perfect way to wrap up my stay. I hope when you come to stay, you will have the pleasure of many amazing little adventures yet to be discovered here.

Again and again,  I want to thank the owners of Casa La Pace for their kindness, generosity, and opening their home to me. It was such a great adventure and stay that I hesitate about going back home. I came here to stay for a few days and extended my stay by weeks because it was just so wonderful. I hope to return someday soon.

Thank you Casa La Pace.

Aug 26

My journey today was set with a northerly pointing of the compass, up the Serchio river valley, and beyond, to Aulla. Fair weather prevailed (what else in Tuscany in the summer?), so I strolled on down to the Ghivizzano train station to hop aboard the Regional TRENO line.

The trains have been more or less on time throughout my travels here. Although aged,  the trains are pretty well cared for in this train line.

 I got on the train at 9:05 a.m, the appointed hour.  I sat down, and we chugged along; good-bye Ghivizzano, so-long Fornaci, passing Barga.. Once we reached Castelnuovo, I could tell the grade increased significantly; could the little engine? Yes, it could, and did. We made it up the long grade, past many stops.

Actually, the ride offered quite spectacular viewing, as we went beyond Barga and Castelnouvo di Garfagnana. That is, of course, when we were not in a tunnel, and there were plenty. At one point I thought we were going to exit the tunnel at Paris. But no, it was just Piazza al Serchio. I could not see much from the train station, but there were several people coming and going, and I think it would be a nice stopover to explore.

We continued, still climbing the grade, but I could tell we were in the higher altitudes now, and had a great view of the surrounding mountains. One last tunnel, and there we were at the Aulla train station. The station was very new and on the outskirts of town. So I had to determine in which direction to go (for unknown to me, the Aulla Centro was behind a hill, and unseen). They do offer bus service from the station to the town, but one nice woman kindly directed me to a walkway, which I took.

The town is quite like Fornaci, in size (maybe a bit larger), with an active commercial base, and a lot of traffic. However, as my earlier reading on the net indicated, the town has been largely (re)built since WWII. There is no quaint old town center. The only historic structure is the old fortress sitting on top of a hill, overlooking the town. The fort is nice, and worth looking at; there is also a very nice park and arboretum surrounding the fort, in which I spent a fair bit of time lunching and napping. The town is set in a very nice environmental terrain. It is an intermountain confluence of two rivers, which is why it was significant enough for a fort to be placed there (and subsequently bombed to oblivion in the war). Beautiful hills and scenery. And as I was standing up at the fort, overlooking the town, I enjoyed the wonderful steady breeze coming from the west, through the valley. Of course, that is the direction of La Spezia, and the ocean. Imagine the beauty of the setting with a steady ocean breeze. Nice.

My recommendation regarding Aulla: on a stop over, I would take the time to see the fort and park.

After taking some time-off to ‘buy new ink’ (refresh), we continue with our Italian journey. Now…hmmm….where were we…

Aug 24

 

I slept well last night, for some reason. I guess I was worn out from all the excitement going to Lucca yesterday or maybe it was the beer.

 

But, onward to today. The weather turned cloudy this afternoon, the first time in six weeks. And it was pleasantly cool, or not hot, this afternoon. I took advantage of the break to jump on the bike and head up the road (and hill) toward Coreglia Anteminelli. I was not sure how far I would go, whether I would run out of energy or be rained out, along the way. I cruised along… until the hills overcame my cramping legs. I walked, around curves, up hills, by houses, around curves, etc. Quickly the view changed, and improved, as I began to rise above the Serchio River valley. The view was WONDERFUL. The light was soft, with the cloudiness, and a bit of haze in the air.

 

I felt good, so I continued onward. And onward. And after about 2+ hours I came to Coreglia Anteminelli. What a fun little town, nicely situated in an intermountain area, on a small ridge, with a view of the big mountain to the northeast. That, I assume, is where the big park reserve is, with all the good hiking trails and places to explore.

 

There is quite a tourist base in this town, from what I could tell. I saw many restaurants, cafe’s, bars, hotels, etc. As I got into the town I could see the old town was set a bit higher on a little hill beyond the main town. Up the remaining hill I chugged, hey, I had come this far so I might as well go to the top. And up the hill and around more curves.

 

These Italian drivers really like to cut it close when passing in their cars. Maybe they make a game of it, to see how close they can get with inflicting major bodily injury. But I made it to the alto without a scratch.  I found this beautiful old town, with a very active business section, with shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels all nestled in this little space. Nice little stone streets, and very well kept properties. And a spectacular view from the overlooks.

 

So now it was time for the fun part…. going back… all downhill. I sailed down through the town and stopped at a little park just on the edge of town. For water, from the old tap. It was a beautiful little roadside park, with huge old pine trees all covered with ivy. Cool, literally, and a nice place to be, sit, and dwell a while.

 

And I sailed on down the rest of the way to Piano de Coreglia. While it took almost three hours to go up the mountain, it took about 2 minutes to go down. But lots of fun anyway.

 

Below is my photo documentation of this trip.

 

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Images from several Lucca Museums.

 

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Aug 23

 

I continue my trips throughout Italy.

 

I went back to Lucca yesterday. The big news is that I found the market!!! I bought one item for 2 euro. Wow. The market is on the northeast corner of the old town, at the Porte S. Jocopo, and spreading out the gate to the ring road, and inside all the way along the east side down to Porta S. Elisa. Hundreds of vendors, lots of clothing, some toy junk, a few food vendors, and some fresh fruit and vegetables too.

 

After stopping on the wall park to have a little snack that I packed, and to read my book, I headed to the the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi. It is a nice, quiet museum. I especially liked the first three rooms with the ancient Etruscan artifacts, dating back to the 8th century BC.

 

I next stopped at the botanical garden, in the southeast corner of the old town. Apparently this was a scientific garden established many years ago by a benefactor of a local University, for the support of the study of botany. Now it is used as a collection point for rare and unique species. The garden is nice, but not as big as I thought it was. They do have a very good collection of tree and shrub species, as well as a good garden of culinary herbs. A real prize in the garden is the HUGE old Ginkgo Bilboa tree. Not sure how old it is, but it is massively huge. This is the male tree, while the female tree has been relegated to a spot just outside the Porte S. Elisa gate, because of its very smelly fruit.

 

 

I am planning to go to Aulla on Tuesday, and see what I can see.