A Visit to the home of Puccini
Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
18Trip End Sep 29, 2011
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When I woke up this morning, it was with the sad realization that I'd be leaving the Cinque Terre today. I've had a fantastic time here and I feel very much at home in Monterosso. During breakfast many of the same people were there, including the nice couple from Australia. The couple from Denver were also there and they'll be leaving today also, to head for Venice. The overwhelming opinion of just about everyone I’ve spoken with over the last few days (both those at the Hotel and others) is that everyone wishes they had booked a longer stay here. This is one location where Itineraries get thrown into the sea and people just relax and enjoy the town and the beaches and quickly adapt to the local "laid back" lifestyle.
I paid the bill for my room and had a short visit with Hotel owners (when they weren’t busy dealing with others)
The Taxi showed up on time at 10:40 for the short ride to the station. As I drove down the hill for the last time and past the familiar shops and people, I felt a wave of sadness. Throughout my visit here, I’ve felt like a "local" and part of the daily life in Monterosso. I’ve been used to watching other anonymous people drive by in Taxi’s, but now I was in that position. During the ride, I passed local people that I had dealt with greeting each other as they started another day, as well as other tourists heading to the beach or their touring locations for the day. I didn’t want to leave!
I arrived at Platform 3 at about 10:50, and the couple from Denver arrived shortly after. They would be on the same train at least as far as Viareggio, where we would both be changing to different trains
About five minutes later, the correct train arrived and I boarded and found my assigned seat (reservations were compulsory on this route). The compartment had six seats, but only three were occupied by a couple from the U.S. and a woman from Genova who was travelling to Bari (she could speak English so we had a short visit).
When I arrived in Viareggio, there was only one train on Platform 8, so I assumed that was the correct one and boarded
The train arrived in Lucca on a “side track”, and not one of the main ones. When I exited the front door of the station, I had no difficulty spotting Hotel Rex across the street and was glad that I had booked a Hotel with such easy access. I’ll only be here for two nights, so don’t need to be in the heart of the city.
The Clerk at the front desk was more business-like than what I’d been used to in Monterosso. After recording my Passport details and generating a code for the internet, he showed me to Room 11 which was through a small hallway behind the front desk. The room is clean and comfortable, but the décor is somewhat “dated” so it’s slightly different than that of Villa Steno. There’s a small sitting room with a TV, Bar Fridge and Couch just inside the door, with a small bathroom to the left. The bedroom is located up a small set of stairs in a Loft. I can’t recall ever staying in a Hotel like this before.
Lucca is a city located in the northern part of the beautiful Tuscany region
After a short rest, I got my gear organized to do a “walkabout” in the city. It didn’t take me too long to find a passage leading through the huge medieval wall and into the main part of the city. It was about 15:00 by this time and I was starting to get hungry to went to find somewhere for lunch. The first place I tried appeared to be open, but when I sat down the Waiter told me they were closed.
After wandering through various parts of the city, I ended up in one of the squares with a large Church
After lunch I continued exploring various side streets around the Church, and getting more photos. During that time, I heard the loud clamour of drums coming from the front of the Church, so quickly moved to that area. There was a small Band playing different types of Drums and wearing period costumes. At the beginning they “drummed” a group of well dressed dignitaries into the Church, and then gave a small performance in front of the Church before marching off into one of the side streets.
By this point, my back was starting to hurt and it was awkward moving around through the large crowds, so I decided to make my way back to the Hotel
I spent the latter part of the afternoon resting and catching up on computer records. I had considered not having dinner tonight as I had such a late lunch, but by 20:00 I was starting to get quite hungry. I asked the Desk Clerk for recommendations, and he suggested Trattoria Pizzeria da Francesco, which is just a short walk from the station.
I located the restaurant easily along a quiet side street, but was very suprised at how busy it was, as it’s located in a somewhat “industrial” area right along the rail tracks. However, it seems to have a “loyal following” and everyone in the restaurant was speaking Italian. As far as I could determine, I was the only tourist in the large crowd. I was given a table in the outside patio at the front (there’s another one on the side, which I didn’t discover until I was leaving)
I waited about 20 minutes before the waitress finally had time to take my order (she was so busy with orders that she was literally running back and forth). From my table, I had a good view of the two Pizza Chefs and the wood-burning Oven, and it was interesting to watch the activity. They were working continuously! I learned that the attractive waitress was actually from Romania, but she conversed in both English and Italian with equal ease. I ordered the Quattro Stagione Pizza, wine, water and eventually Coffee and Gelato. The Pizza was about equivalent to a “medium” at home but it was thin crust so the size was just right.
When I got the bill, I noticed that I hadn’t been charged for the Coffee or Gelato, and I questioned that. She told me not to worry about it. I was instructed to pay in the back and when I went to the rear of the restaurant, there was an employee sitting at a small table next to the Bar with an older printing type adding machine (I was surprised that he didn’t have a Croupier’s hat). Taking care of the bills seemed to be his total job function
I walked back to the Hotel and had a short visit with the Desk Clerk. It turns out that he’s familiar with B.C. as he used to work on the Cruise ships so has been in port in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and Port Hardy. We visited for about 20 minutes and about midnight, I excused myself and went back to the room.
A few thoughts that occurred to me while dining this evening. First, I’m amazed at the number of people here that still smoke (especially younger people). For some reason, the culture here has been slow to adopt the non-smoking philosophy that’s so prevalent at home. Secondly, I’ve been somewhat annoyed with a few things here since arriving, but after speaking with the Waitress and the Desk Clerk I’m starting to get used to this area to some extent. The culture here is definitely different than the Cinque Terre, but I’ve found that talking to people in new places tends to help me to become comfortable with a location and to become familiar with the people. I’ve found that initial impressions are often incorrect
11 Sept. 25 – Sunday
After reading some of the comments on Trip Advisor, I was somewhat curious about what type of breakfast would be provided at Hotel Rex. I envisioned a couple of stale Croissants and some watery juice, but was pleasantly surprised. The Hotel provided a fairly elaborate breakfast selection including Cereals, two types of cold meats, cheese, bread, fresh Croissants, Yogurt, numerous types of fruit jellies and marmalade, coffee, tea and juices. It wasn’t hard to fill up with that selection!
I decided my first order of business today would be to get some laundry done. That would also allow the Maid some time to clean the room. The helpful girl at the front desk provided directions to the Lavanderia and insisted it would only be a 10 minute walk (it looked a lot farther than that on the Map). As it turned out it wasn’t too much longer than 10 minutes, and the Laundry was easy to spot.
It was a small facility with two small Washers, one large and four Dryers. They had instructions in English and Italian, but I didn’t see any soap dispenser
The machines only took Tokens and all I had was €20 notes so that’s what I had to buy. A wash was four tokens in the small washer and eight in the large machine, and the Dryers were one token for 10 minutes. The wash took about an hour and I allowed 20 minutes for a dry. Unfortunately, when I took my Tilley Vest out of the Dryer, I discovered a noticeable green stain on the front, and realized that I’d left some medications in one of the pockets. I’ll have to wash that again when I get back to the Hotel.
Just before the Dryer was finished, a young Italian came in and proceeded to stuff each of the small Washers with an incredible amount of clothes, including sheets. He could barely get the doors closed! I suggested that perhaps he should consider using the big machine, at which point he asked if I was an expert on laundry. I percieved the comment to have been intended in a humourous note, so wasn't offended
On the way back to the Hotel, I stopped at a small Bar on the corner by the Laundry and had an Espresso (it was only €1). As I was walking back to the Hotel, I noticed a nice looking German Sheperd wearing two collars wandering around aimlessly, and he looked like he was hot and thirsty. There was a small “moat” running along the wall, so water was available. He followed me for awhile, and I thought about bringing him back to the Hotel and getting them to call Animal Control. I hope someone eventually takes him to his owner.
One thing I’ve noticed especially this morning is that there a LOT of people on bicycles, and many bike rental shops in town. One of the favourite activities here is apparently riding along the medieval wall, and if I had more time I might give that a try.
Back at the Hotel I washed out my Vest and got some Computer work done
At about 15:00 I made the short walk to the train station to buy my tickets for tomorrow (the Hotel is in a darn convenient location!). I was glad to see that the ticket office was open on Sunday and I booked the train departing at 10:32 (which was the original plan – there’s one change in Florence). I was also getting a bit hungry by this time so I stopped at the small Bar in the station for a Proscuitto Crudo & Mozzarella Panini, Fanta and Coffee.
After lunch I had a look at the station to figure out which track I’d be departing from, where the Sotto Passagio was located, etc. I briefly spoke with a young couple from New Brunswick (their MEC Backpack gave them away). They were heading for a Villa somewhere near Portaio to meet friends
After checking out the station, I headed through one of the portals in the wall for a look at another part of the city. I thought it would be a good idea to get some further photos in the late afternoon light. I spent an hour or two just wandering around taking photos, and hopefully some of them are good. At one point I noticed an elaborate procession which involved a pickup draped with cloth and fitted with a large Umbrella, and a figure standing in the back that was dressed in religious robes. There were two others in the back assisting him. There was a Police car in the back to control traffic. The truck stopped at a small Church, which had a large crowd gathered out front.
They were obviously not native Italians so I asked one of the female Police officers standing nearby which Church it was, in order to get some idea what this occasion was. She “snapped at me” in a very unpleasant manner, and first corrected my imperfect Italian
By the time I got back to the Hotel, it was about 18:00. The Clerk that I’d been speaking with before said that if I was going to da Francesco for dinner again tonight, I’d better go right at seven before it gets busy. I watched TV for half an hour and had a short rest, and then got ready for dinner.
However, I got a huge surprise when I went down to the Lobby. The weather had changed drastically and there was now a torrential downpour of Biblical proportions happening, along with thunder and lightning. There was ankle deep “rivers” flowing in some parts of the streets. The Clerk offered an Umbrella, but the Hotel units were somewhat “in need of repair” so I went back to the room and retrieved my trusty travel Umbrella.
By the time I’d walked about half way to the restaurant, I was wishing I’d used my Rick Steves Rain Poncho instead
I was seated beside a very proper British couple from Bath and we had a nice visit, although they were both somewhat hard of hearing. I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, Insalata Mista, Wine, Water, Coffee and Gelato. It was an excellent meal, and just about the right size. Eventually the British couple left and they were replaced by a couple from Boston. The husband had been born in Lucca and could speak Italian. When I paid the €19 bill, I provided a €3 tip, and I explained to the Owner that I was very pleased with the service provided by the young Waitress (this was a different Waitress than the one I'd been speaking to earlier). I thanked both Waitresses (including the one from last night) and headed for the Hotel.
The attractive blond Waitress said she hopes I return to Lucca, as she will probably still be working at the restaurant
The walk back was considerably “drier” as the rain had mostly stopped. When I got back to the Lobby, I had a short visit with the Desk Clerk and also a couple from the U.S. The husband was also a photographer (Nikon D40) and we talked about that for a few minutes.
Back in the room, I got my Camera bag packed, my ScottEVest loaded for the trip tomorrow, charged my Cellphone and updated my computer records. My experiences in Lucca have been somewhat “mixed” and the city just hasn’t resonated for me. Perhaps it’s just that it’s late in my trip and I’m suffering some degree of “travel fatigue”. I havn't given up on it totally and may get back here someday, and if so I'll be looking forward to dining at the da Francesco restaurant. Visiting Lucca with a Rick Steves tour would probably help me appreciate the history and character of the city much more.
I sure hope the Hotel in Rome has a less complicated system for internet access.