Intermission: We are going home to sell our house before we hit the road again

We have spent 68 days in the European Union, and according to the Schengen tourist visa you can only stay legally for a total of 90 days in most of the countries of the EU. For non-Schengen citizens ( people who are not citizens of these ccountries) , you’re allowed entry into the Area for 90 days within any 180-day period. These days don’t need to be consecutive—the total is cumulative. This means that we need to go somewhere outside the Schengen zone for a while before we can return again.

We were going to do that even though our wish was to spend a year in Europe.  (Fortunately, the UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen zone.) But we have learned that we like traveling, it is not that expensive staying a month in a country, that we can live with a lot less than we ever thought.  In addition, we found that it is very hard having a house in the U.S. that requires upkeep and bill paying ( especially with a 9 hour time difference) while you are traveling for a long time.  Since we had to leave Europe for 3 months anyway,  we  decided to take the leap and come home.  Our next project will be to look into emptying and selling our house.

Just typing this makes my stomach cramp.  We have lived happily in our home for 22 years and it is a big house.  I am sure I do not need to tell you how much stuff you can acquire during 22 years of working and child rearing. It was easier to run away from it all at the beginning of the year and go off into the sunset of new adventures. We justified leaving the house intact since we did not know if we would not like traveling and want to come home.

It was great to get home yesterday and see the sweet son, the excited dog and to see our extended family.  Today we are going over to my sister’s house to eat Mexican food ( OMG I have missed that) and show some of the hundreds of photos.  This is the fun part of being home.

Next we have to begin the really hard part; the repairs,  the room by room purge of all the accumulated stuff we have packed into the house, the garage and the storage unit. (Can I stay in bed and have a magic fairy do this for me?).  Since this letting go of the house  is part of the the senior gap year experience,  I will be blogging about how we manage this part of the adventure.14 07 29_4611( other wall in my art studio, get the idea of why purging the house is difficult?)  I will also do some extended blogs that I did not have time on the road to do.  They will cover  money saving ideas, how to pack lighter than we did, and other strategies that we have learned from about 6 months away from home. The blog entries will not be as frequent because the subject matter is not that exciting, This is a photo of one wall in my art studio.

##### 14 07 29_4613#####So it might be a good idea to click the “FOLLOW” button at the top of the blog and you will only get an email when I post again.

While researching costs for a ticket home, we found that booking a return to London in March resulted in a lower fare than a straight one-way ticket home. So that’s what we bought. That is good, because that means no matter how hard this part is to accomplish, we have a shining ticket to London in our pockets.

Lucca’s botanical gardens turtles sunning on lily leaves in the pond

Made a quick trip to Lucca’s botanical gardens this afternoon.  The fun sight  were the turtles sunning themselves on the water lily leaves.  Here are some photos that will make you smile.lucca Italy botanical gardens sign smalllucca Italy botanical gardens 2 water lillies small lucca Italy botanical gardens bee smalllucca Italy botanical gardens turtle 1small lucca Italy botanical gardens turtle smallThis last turtle that is lying on the leaf like a dog with his legs splayed out the back was only about 5 inches long. I tried to look up what kind of turtles these are and I think they are European pond turtles; emys orbicularis ,  If this is wrong and someone knows please put it in the comments.

A good day in the sunny garden

Palazzo Pfanner: beautiful garden, collection of gynecological tools of torture, Roman ruins under Lucca

Well how is that for a title of what we did today?  We went to tour the Palazzo Pfanner ( a 1660 palace in Lucca).  Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner outside smallWe had seen parts of the beautiful garden from our walks on the Lucca wall but the view from the ground was stunning. Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner garden 2 small The Italian garden which was made in 1686 is described by Wikipedia perfectly; “With its lawns, its ornamental flowers, forest plants, and earthenware pots of lemons that accompany the monumental string of 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons, the Palazzo Pfanner garden, ascribed to the genius of Filippo Juvarra, represents an excellent example of a baroque garden laid out in the heart of medieval Lucca” . Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner garden smallLucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner garden flowers smallWhen you go into the inside of this baroque mansion you are presented with; “The Residence has a permanent exhibition of medical-surgical instruments and ancient medical texts that belonged to Dr. Pietro Pfanner (1864-1935), the surgeon”.  These medical instruments were from about 1860 to 1910.  The ones I took photos of are the gynecological tools.  They make my insides grip with terror just looking at them.  To me 1910 does not sound like that long ago but remember there were no antibiotics and no MRIs.  This first one was called an endocrine syringe.Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner medical gyn  tools 1 small Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner medical gyn  tools 2 small Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner medical gyn  tools 3 small Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner medical gyn  tools 4 small Lucca Italy Palazzo Pfanner medical gyn  tools 5 smallThe long hook one was an decollation hook and craniotomy instrument that was developed in 1868 to remove a fetus who died in the womb.  If you want to know how it worked look it up, I cannot write about it.  And the final “y” shaped tube was the treatment for cystitis before antibiotics , it was called a double flow vesicle catheter.  I am sure that when people in the future look at our medical instruments they will feel like they were primitive too, but these were used on my grandmother.

After this experience we went to a small private museum (3 euros) showing Roman ruins that lie underneath all of Lucca.  They are about 10 feet below the street level.  This museum is called Domus Romana Lucca and we had an excellent tour guide named Anna to explain what they found in 2010 under a current mansion.Lucca Italy Domus Romana Lucca Anna small  It was the remains of a 1 AD house. Lucca Italy Roman ruins roman map small They located the under the floor drains that took out used water from the house to the guttersLucca Italy Domus Romana Lucca drain small.  The Romans were so far ahead of the Lombards, who invaded Lucca after them.

It was an interesting day in Lucca

Lucca, Italy; the Villa Guinigi story 1413 – 1430 (a national museum)

One thing that I admire about the Italian culture is their sense of history and preservation of their historical buildings.   They do not tear down old buildings but refurbish them to be used in a modern way.  This is exemplified by the apartment we are living in.  This is probably an 18th century building that has been divided into 4 apartments.  New walls and  IKEA- ized inside, and you have a building that is historical but practical to live in.lucca apartment small kitchen

The same is true of the Villa Guinigi National Museum. lucca villa Guinigi outside small This villa was built as the “pleasure palace”  (translate summer fun) for Paolo Guinigi’s family in 1413 just outside the medieval city walls of Lucca, and practically next door to our building.  It is a large, graceful villa with an extensive front and back garden which were behind fortified walls. Lucca Villa Guinigi model small ( This is a wooden model of what it looked like in 1420) Paolo was the city’s richest and most powerful man from 1400-1430.Lucca Villa Guinigi portrait small ( This is what he looked like, not the nicest looking man)  He had 4 wives ( the beautiful Ilaria that I wrote about earlier was his second wife) and many children.  When the citizens of Lucca decided that they wanted to return to being a republic in 1330  they arrested Paolo and threw him in prison where he died 3 years later.  They confiscated all of his property ( including this villa) and everything was sold.  Luckily, the city in 1924 decided to purchase it, repair it, and make it a museum with art and artifacts from Lucca’s history.  In 1948  it became a state property and the current exhibits were arranged for the public.

Almost no one knows about this excellent museum.  When I was there I was the only person looking at it.  They have a good collection of Roman art,Lucca Villa Guinigi 1 ad Roman artLucca Villa Guinigi 8th century art small medieval art Lucca Villa Guinigi 7th century soldier smallLucca Villa Guinigi medieval cross smalland baroque ( this is not my favorite so there are no photos of it).  In the back garden this is a well which all medieval fortified homes had to have in case they had to hole up behind the walls for a while. Lucca Villa Guinigi 15th century well small It gives the viewer a good over view of the history of this place.   I highly recommend it if you are in Lucca for more than a day.

Cinque Terre: Crowded like Disneyland on a hot Fourth of July

We’ve been having a heat wave in Italy, and an occasional afternoon thunderstorm, so we’d been looking for an opportunity to visit Cinque Terre, the five small cliffside villages on the northwest Italian coast. They’re about a 2-hour train ride away, and today the forecast was for 81 and no rain, so we decided to go.

We took the little LAM Rossa bus (€0.85) to the train station, and found the ticket machine easy to understand, particularly since it has good language options, and the format is very similar to the trenitalia website. I bought tickets to Monterosso, the farthest of the the five villages, and they were about €10.85 each. Pricing is by length of the trip, and this routing was actually south (the wrong way) to Pisa (only 19 km though), then to La Spezia and on to Monterosso, changing trains twice. The machine takes credit cards.

We found a car in which the air conditioning was working and left on time for Pisa. Unfortunately, we arrived about 5 minutes late, and only had an 8-minute connection. At first we missed the sign directing us to the correct track for the La Spezia train, and missed the train by about 15 seconds. Oh well, there was another in about 30 minutes, but this “station” was a bunch of benches and a couple of ticket machines, so we sat and waited.

The train to La Spezia took about 70 minutes. It goes by Carrara, where the marble comes from. The mountains are white! And there is marble everywhere … blocks, sheets, chunks, pebbles, rocks, boulders, and dust … mostly white, and piled up in construction yards for a mile or three on either side of the station. At La Spezia we found the train to Monterosse and it left less than a minute later. That was better! It’s about 15 minutes and mostly through tunnels, but we climbed off in Monterosse and walked around a bit. It was hot in the sun ( it was about 83 degrees but with about 70% humidity) and at noon there was not much shade. We bought afternoon tickets for the “ferry” system (€15 each) and boarded a boat at 3 for Vernazza.

Holy cow! They were running two boats for a total of over 300 passengers.cinque terre crowd smaller It took 20 minutes to load, and only 10 minutes for the ride. Then another 15 minutes to unload in the hot sun.cinque terre full ferry small  Vernazza is tiny. It has a main street that’s about 200 feet long and 15 feet wide at the best. Every other street is alley-sized. And it was jammed with tourists, most of whom just seemed to be ambling around. There’s a castle there, but the path to it is not marked. We tried two dead ends before we remember we’d brought Rick Steve’s instructions  with us in our bag. His book cleared up the confusion, but it was too hot to climb a hill of stairs so we headed for the boat area.

Two boats were loading, one going east and the other going west, but the staff at the ticket desk couldn’t tell us which was which. “Just follow the line,” they said. But the line was unmanaged (no signs or staff to help), most people were going the opposite direction from the one we wanted and blocking the narrow path, and our boat cast off just before we reached it.

At that point we decided we’d had enough and walked back to the train station to return home, which we did without complication and with good connections. Only €10 as we changed in Viareggio and so the total length was shorter … and quicker too.

Our buddy Rick Steves thinks Cinque Terre is charming and worth several days. We didn’t see that, at least on a crowded, hot day.  The crystal clear water was quite enticing but we were there to see the towns not to go to the beach.  The very small towns were really overwhelmed by the number of visitors ( there were 2 cruise ships in Livorno and several tours from the boats were here) . cinque terre crowds small It was too crowded to enjoy.

==today’s post is by Dave

St. Zita’s mummified body in San Frediano Cathedral in Lucca, Italy

Today I went to the San Frediano Cathedral here in Lucca to see St. Zita’s body in the church.  I have to admit I had a morbid curiosity about seeing an actual body in a glass coffin.  I had to borrow a photo from Wikipedia because my pictures were too dark.  So here she is.  1024px-Lucca_Zita_San_Frediano  I thinks she looks pretty good for a 700 year old body.  I like her story; she was a house maid for a rich family in Lucca and she was always doing her job really well.  The other servants did not like her too much because she worked hard, was cheerful and holy (a difficult combination for anyone to win a popularity contest),  She was so good the family made her head housekeeper, and she worked for them until she died when she was 60 years old in 1272.

After one hundred and fifty miracles were attributed to her, she was canonized in 1696.

Her body was exhumed in 1580, discovered to be incorrupt, but has since become mummified.”  (Wikipedia) She is the patron saint  of domestic servants.  It is also said that she is good at helping you find lost keys, that is something I could pray for.

The outside of the cathedral  has a stunning 13th century golden mosaic designed in a Byzantine/medieval style.  My photo does not do it justice.  It glitters in the light.Lucca San Frediano church mosaic small Here is a photo of the entire facadeLucca San Frediano church outside small.  Inside the church is a 12th century baptismal font that is quite beautiful. Lucca San Frediano church 12th cent  Here are some other photos from inside the church. -ucca San Frediano polyptych of the Virgin and the Child smallLucca San Frediano Elisa Trenta tomb smallLucca San Frediano virgin Mary small It might seem like looking at all of these churches (Lucca is supposed to have 100 churches!) it would get boring.  But each of these edifices has its own story to tell, and it is interesting to find out what it is.  I would never have researched the story of St. Zita without going to this church.  It was cool to see her still together and dressed so nicely.

City sights and gelato in the walled city of Lucca, Italy

Lucca is a very old city that lies within its Renaissance walls. lucca city sign small Since we are living here for a month, I thought I would write and share photographs of what the city looks like.  The streets in Lucca are mostly covered with old stones, though there are some large grassy parks and the wall is one large park. Lucca walls small People tend to live in old buildings that have been converted into apartments.   So there are lots of flowers in pots outside of windows and some vegetables in pots, especially now in the beginning of summer. Lucca pink roses small small  They also hang ribbons on their doors when there is a new baby.  SomeoneLucca Mary statue small Lucca St just welcomed a little girl today.lucca  baby girl small  There are many street shrines to the Madonna and saints.  In front of their many churches there is often a large stone square.  They seem to be used for lots of different events.  One day it is empty; the next day there is a children’s basketball tournament going on.luca san francesco square smallluca san francesco square basketball small  But the best part of the city are the gelato bars and here is my favorite one, Grom !  It has the best dark chocolate gelato with whip cream on top.grom gelato smallgrom staff small  And they have the nicest staff of young people to help you out on a really hot day!   Thank you!