My past week has been spent exploring more of Tuscany, in the two small cities of Lucca and Siena. My intention after my first three cities was to spend some time by myself- something I haven't done enough of at all on my trip. I have met so many amazing people- mostly travelers and a few locals- but I really needed this time to chill... and I've - well, for the most part - done just that.
Lucca is a historic, charming bite-size city with a minimal amount of tourists. I started my stay there with a run on top of the city's walls, which is basically a beautiful park enclosing the city-- complete with a biking and running path, picnic tables, and playgrounds. Just a walk around the walls gives you a glimpse of Lucca's overflowing Botanical gardens, stunning Romanesque churches and other historic buildings.
My first opera experience ever was in Lucca-- and is apparently the place to go -- because Puccini, the famous opera singer got his start there. Every hair on my body stood up as I listened to the female opera singer (there was one male, one female) belt out every song... She was remarkable. The man? eh, slacking.
One downside of Lucca-- the hostel. It reminded me of a classy prison... if that makes any sense at all. Ok, from the outside, it's decent. And the front desk guy was extremely comical and friendly. BUT It was always dark and freezing cold, and I paid 2.50 Euro for a PAPER towel and wash cloth.... I didn't even know those existed. And one of the women in my dorm snored much louder than any of the guys I shared rooms with in Florence or Cinque Terre.
I did figure out a trick to get people to stop snoring if you don't know them well enough to slap them or pour water on them--- Cough really, really loud. Usually, they will wake up and most of the time, they will shut up.
Lucca is also the place I figured out I could eat lunch for about 4 to 6 euros-- the markets in Italy are fabulous for buying picnic lunches. Everyday I was there, I bought bread, cheese, tomatoes, salami or whatever else, and took it into the beautiful park. I'm starting to realize I have no money, so my need for elaborate meals all the time is pretty much going out the window. But, honestly, I have no complaints. It doesn't get much better than Italian cheese and bread. Not to mention- the SALAMI- Thank God I started eating meat again. I don't know what I am going to do when I get back to the states-- Salami there is disgusting.
Anyways, after two nights in Lucca, I took a bus to Florence with the intention of getting on a train there to Siena. Well, apparently the trains were on strike all day long... the Florence airport was a madhouse. People were screaming at each other in multiple languages and everyone was pissed they couldn't get to their destinations. I stood in line for about an hour to be told I may get on my train. I took the chance and bought the ticket. About 4 hours later, I made it to Siena.
Exhausted and starving (and in need of some wine), I made my way to a little trattoria and ate. I had no idea I was seated front row for a huge political debate. A local man and his wife were leaving when they started talking to the restaurant owners about the Italian government and how awful it was (this is all I could truly gather with my unsatisfactory-but improving-Italian skills). The man grew very angry and started yelling about how Obama is doing things right. (Yea, okay).
After I spent about a half hour being entertained by him, I slid out and went on a hunt for a pub I found in my beloved travel guide. Well, I made it to the street, but no sign of the pub (My book's a little dated, and sometimes it lists places that have already shut down).
But, there was a wine and cocktail bar. I ordered a "spritz", which is a mixture of Prosecco (sparkling white wine) and some kind of fruity mixer. After a few minutes of observing the rowdy Friday night college crowd (Siena has a university), a group asked me to join them. They were all native Italians, which I was very happy about-- I spoke my broken Italian to them, they spoke their broken English to me.
They were quite funny, drunk, and more than willing to share their wine with me. One of them asked if I could sing, "I believe I can fly" for them. Apparently, they are about 10 years behind, and unfortunately I was not quite intoxicated enough.
But after talking to them for a while, it was clear they are all driven, all with different career paths. Two of the girls were going to be an economist and an artist, and two of the guys- an engineer and a lawyer. And they too, think Obama is the man. (?)
So, my days in Siena were spent mostly wandering the cobble-stoned hilly streets, relaxing, cooking, avoiding tourists (even though I am one), and learning more about how locals live here. I climbed the Torre di Mangia, visited the Duomo, and went to a popular running place called Piazza Della Liberta at sunset, which was incredible.
And now I am re-charged and off to Rome... ready for yet another adventure.. ready to meet more people and reconnect with a few. I'll be staying in a 12-bed hostel with the first friend I made on my trip in Bologna. I'll also be meeting up with two girls from New Jersey-- one who I met standing in line at a restaurant in Florence-- she actually lives there now and teaches Italian kids P.E. (pretty sweet deal?).
And the other- Alisa- is on her own journey through Europe before she goes to med. school. I met her standing on the train to Lucca... we got to talking, realized we grew up about 15 minutes away from each other, and she told me about her experience with working on an organic farm in Italy during her trip. Fascinated, I took down her info, she told me about the organization, and I ended up finding a farm to work on near Alicante, Spain- for about 10 days. It looks amazing- I will be helping with anything the family needs, perfecting my Spanish, tending to their animals, picking fruits, veggies, olives and making olive oil, hiking, climbing, and decompressing from Barcelona (my first stop in Spain). I've always wanted to have an experience like that, and... well, I'm getting it much sooner than I expected!