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This is my first TR on Fodor; I gathered so many helpful ideas in the weeks before our trip I wanted to post some information that might be helpful to others. I and my partner have been to Italy several times before and on this trip we wanted to focus mainly on smaller cities with smaller crowds, but we did want to end up nevertheless in Rome for a few days on the final leg. We organized the route so that we could go by train on short hops in an arc from Rome to Orvieto – Arezzo – Lucca, and then loop back in one journey from Lucca to Rome. I will skip over the areas that have been so heavily covered on these forums and instead give some comments on places and events which have not been discussed so much.

A few thoughts about the trip in general:

In spite of the economic crisis now ripping through Italy, we encountered zero glitches. Everything worked perfectly, no strikes, no disruption, and the bits of Umbria and Tuscany which we visited were not visibly hit by the economic slowdown or high unemployment that you read about. This was true even in Rome. However, in conversations with hotel staff in several places we heard repeatedly about government corruption, public frustrations, joblessness, budget cuts affecting the schools (in Lucca, a prosperous place, students apparently have to bring their own toilet paper to school because of the budget squeeze). It felt like a strange disconnect between the beautiful reality we were experiencing in our tourist bubble and the tougher realities which the citizens themselves have to face daily. In spite of these troubles, the people we encountered were gracious, friendly, and seemingly content with their lives. Plus the people living in the Umbrian and Tuscan smaller places seem to retain a gentler mood than one might find in big cities.

I speak grade C-plus Italian, and this really helps (obviously) to connect with people. We encountered great friendliness and courtesy everywhere (this is my ninth trip to Italy over 45 years, I am a staunch Italophile). We were told five times – Five! – that we did not need to tip or that we were ordering too much food, that a smaller number of plates would be sufficient.

I studied up on my Italian in the months before our trip and I used the language option on Tripadvisor to learn phrases which we would use frequently. In the top right corner of TA is a language menu bar. Pull it down and pick Italian. Then go back to the hotels, restaurants, and sights and skim what the Italian posters are saying, and write down the useful phrases. Also, to practice listening to Italian, go to Youtube and enter search words such as "Viaggio in Orvieto" or whatever and you will pull up many brief travel programs produced by the towns and tourist agencies as well as those created by Italian tourists. You can play these over and over again, pause them, replay a difficult phrase, etc. It's a handy way to brush up.

It has been said many times on this site by many knowledgeable Fodorites that it’s so important to understand the restaurant customs in Italy. But maybe I can say it once more? Most of the good restaurants are small-ish family-run places. They plan on only one seating (or maybe at a stretch two) per night, beginning around 8:30-9:00 p.m. Reservations always help them plan their food preparation. They like to go home after 11:00 p.m. So…arriving at 7:30 p.m. and seeing lots of empty tables and being refused a place is not a sign of rudeness. All the tables are reserved. And if the waiter is grouchy if we arrive at 10:30 p.m. for a late dinner, it’s because he does not want to start a new seating that late and anyway the kitchen may be shutting down.

We enjoyed much live music during the trip. A group of young American opera students (from Kansas?) were giving free concerts in Orvieto and elsewhere and they sang arias from The Marriage of Figaro in the Orvieto streets. Another group of American opera students and their teachers were having classes in one of the barracks buildings along the ramparts of Lucca, doors open, with the passersby welcome to stop outside and enjoy the practice sessions. The Chester County Voices Abroad choir gave a beautiful concert in Santa Maria Corte Orlandini in Lucca (we heard them again three days later just by luck in Santa Agnese in Agone, Piazza Navona, Rome). The concert “Puccini e la sua Lucca” was very beautiful although a bit pricey and a bit brief (there has been grousing about this on Tripadvisor, but it cannot be inexpensive for the town to schedule two operatic singers and a pianist every evening of the year, the piper must be paid…) And a real highlight of the trip was the guided tour cum Baroque music mini-concert through several rooms of the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Rome. Magnificent. A real puzzle why there is practically no mention of this marvel in any of the standard guidebooks. More on this below.

Enoteca al Duomo in Orvieto; La Fromaggiera and Il Cantuccio in Arezzo; Cantine Bernardini in Lucca; Osteria del Pegno, Enoteca Provincia Romana and Abruzzi in Rome. Umbrichelli (thick hand-made spaghetti using only wheat, salt, and water), anchovies, truffles, Vermentino, Vernaccia, Orvieto = YES. Lampredotto (intestines of unweaned calves) = NO.

I bought the first leg of our trip, from Rome Termini to Orvieto, so we would not have to fiddle with the ticket machine on arriving from the airport or stand in line for the tickets. It cost a little more, via the Raileurope site, but it was definitely worth it, especially considering that we were tired from the flight and Termini was hot and stuffy and we were grumpy. I bought a couple of other legs of our train trip online, but only the fast Freccia legs. The others were regionale trains so I simply bought them as we went along.

* * * * * * *


We flew from Montreal (we live in northern Vermont in the summer so using Air Transat from Montreal nonstop to Rome is relatively inexpensive, easy and fast). We landed in Rome at noon on June 19. We took the Leonardo Express from the airport to Termini (we almost forgot to “convalidare i biglietti prima di salire”—punch your ticket in the green and white machine before boarding). Weather was hot and heavy and Termini was a mass of tired, perspiring humanity waiting for trains. I thought uh-oh, we have an unpleasant two weeks ahead of us. We hopped a one-hour train to Orvieto and the weather cleared and the remainder of the trip had sunny days with slightly cool breezes and evening temperatures in the low 70s. No rain at all except a brief pleasant drizzle one morning in Lucca.

Much has been written about Orvieto on travel sites, a great little gem on top of an eroded volcano, so I will try not to repeat things which have been covered thoroughly here and on other sites. We stayed two nights. The old centro is 950 feet above sea level, easily reachable by a funicular just opposite the train station in the lower town. From the funicular station at the southeast of the centro we had an easy 15-minute walk to the Hotel Duomo, just a half block from the side of the Duomo piazza. This is a fine hotel: spacious comfortable room and bath, pleasant management, good prices, good breakfast. We will go there again.

The immense Duomo, with its Signorelli frescoes and packed with other treasures, is a marvel. The Museo Archeologico and the Museo Claudio Faino have excellent collections of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman pottery, statues, temple ornaments, and a two reconstructed Etruscan tombs with the original frescoes. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has superb medieval and early Renaissance works. We spent a lot of time in the cathedral and the museums.

Late one afternoon we walked down many stairs built on the vertical walls of the plateau to visit the Etruscan cemetery (the Necropoli Etrusca, also called the Crocifisso del Tufo). The walk down to the cemetery begins at the Porta Vivaria on the north side of the centro. At some places the stairs join a landing bolted into the side of the cliff, teetering way over the countryside below. Spectacular views. The path winds down the face of the cliff, and after you take a not-very-well-marked zigzag you reach the cemetery. The cemetery is a government archeological park with a small, well designed visitors center. There are detailed exhibits in Italian and English. The cemetery itself, dating from the 6th – 5th cent. BCE, is like a small village. Stone mausoleums, about 8 or 10 feet high, line rectangular paths. The names of each family is carved in Etruscan letters on the lintel of the entry door (the Etruscans used a modified Greek alphabet). It is very moving to walk through these lanes and peer into these chambers, and then when you look up you see medieval Orvieto on the top of the plateau.

One very sunny afternoon we had a late lunch at the Enoteca al Duomo, at an umbrella’d table overlooking the side of the cathedral. The enoteca is owned by a very nice thirty-something couple who moved from Rome three years ago. This was one of those simple peak experiences one enjoys when travelling: a big antipasto plate for two, a dish of white anchovies sprinkled with grated white truffles (trumpet roll -- yes!!) and a bottle of cool Orvieto. Then we went to the gelateria next door for some gelato to round off the lunch.

We took the Orvieto Underground tour after buying our tickets from the delightful Australian-Italian woman at the tourist information office opposite the Duomo. Our guide took our group of 15 deep into some of the tunnels and caves. They were dug by the Etruscans (5th cent. BCE) and then again by the medieval city folk. They were used for olive oil processing, rope-making, storage, pigeon-raising, and even shelter for hospital patients during World War II. There are 1200 tunnels penetrating the volcanic tufa platform on which the centro rests. The town has built thick steel and concrete support columns inside some of these tunnels to prevent the centro from collapsing. (Our guide said that part of the main street did in fact collapse in the 1970s.) One doesn’t want to think about the many tons of Duomo resting on this Swiss cheese of tufo.

I got up early our first morning and wandered over to the little park south of the Duomo. A splendid view of the Umbrian countryside, sun rising, birds chirping. Too beautiful.

A pleasant little spot just across from the Duomo is the Caffetteria [ = coffee and snack bar] Hescanas. We stopped by one morning for an espresso, again in the afternoon for a glass of white wine, and then again on our last night in Orvieto, about 10 p.m., for a final goodbye drink on the terrace overlooking the Duomo. (What were we drinking during this Orvieto visit? Lots of Orvieto, Vernaccia, and Vermentino.) Families were lounging around in the evening, kids were running and shouting and tossing Frisbees. The Duomo was brightly floodlit, all pink and violet colored, under the full moon. Wow. Back to the Caffetteria Hescanas: This is a simple little family-run place, with a self-service cafeteria buffet for lunch. It’s full of postcards, video games, old-fashioned tourist knick-knacks (I bought a Pope Francis refrigerator magnet). It’s not sleek or elegant at all and for that reason we really enjoyed it as a spot to just relax in front of the massiveness of the Duomo. However…it has received scathing reviews recently from Italians on Tripadvisor and I can’t fathom why. We always had a nice welcome when we visited. So once again, some TA skepticism is advised.

A restaurant advisory: we went to Zeppelin one night, on the advice of a friend who stayed three weeks in Orvieto four years ago for a training seminar. In 2009 he went there regularly for dinner and the place was excellent. Today it is not. Do not go here. The chef apparently is focusing on his new cooking school for Americans, with the quality of the food in free-fall. When we entered at 9 p.m. there was one, uno, customer, a young American tourist. During our meal two English visitors arrived. That’s it. The courtyard was closed, unkempt, full of weeds. The food was mediocre, with a micro-waved aura. Looking into the kitchen I saw two young Americans cooking with an Italian. Our very conscientious Italian server spoke pretty good American English, which—you guessed it—he said he learned from the Americans working in the restaurant. A real disappointment.

We were sorry to leave Orvieto. I could easily have spent another day here and I hope to return. On our last morning my partner visited the Pozzo di San Patricio (a Renaissance well with double spiral staircases dug deep into the rock) while I had an espresso in the garden next to the funicular station on the edge of the centro. Then we descended to the lower town and boarded the late morning train for a 90-minute ride to our next stop, Arezzo. (To be continued…)

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    Thank you! BTW, in my Intro, overview about restaurants, I slaughtered the name of the wonderful cheese enoteca in Arezzo (which I am about to post). It should be:
    La Formaggeria, Via de’ Redi 16.

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    TRIP REPORT, continued


    We left Orvieto in late morning, crossing over from southwest Umbria to southeast Tuscany. Our train pulled into Arezzo in early afternoon.

    Arezzo also has strong Etruscan roots, as does Orvieto, but the old centro has a special medieval feeling, different from Orvieto. Arezzo’s old centro is not “central” but rather leaning up on a hill and the Duomo is at the top end. The train station and the immediate area around it were bombed heavily in World War II. This area was rebuilt, very attractively I think, and you have an easy walk (uphill), entering the old town in just a few minutes.

    Very few American tourists seem to visit Arezzo and those who do visit come to see the magnificent frescoes of Piero della Francesca in the Basilica of San Francesco (which is not the Duomo). But the old centro has wonderful things from the Etruscan, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods.

    From the train station we had an easy 20-minute walk to our B&B, Le Antiche Mura ("the ancient walls"). This is a lovely B&B, one and one-half blocks west of the Duomo. Its owners have removed part of the walls and foundations of the 15th cent. CE palazzo (this is a small-ish un-magnificent palazzo) and visitors now see, in the entry hall, thick glass tiles on the floor under which are visible the ancient Roman water pipes. In the common room (with wifi and flat screen TV), the rear wall has been removed to expose the large stone blocks of the Roman walls of an earlier structure. Just half a block downhill from the B&B the Romans built one of the gateways to the city (the gateway no longer exists).

    The B&B is run by the delightful Lancini family. I corresponded with the daughter, Barbara, for reservation details but unfortunately she was away on holiday during our visit. She is an interior decorator; the son is a web designer. Mr. Lancini talked about the huge amount of work needed to transform the structure into a B&B. The rooms are not grand but they are comfortable and air conditioned. (I booked rooms with AC in every city on our trip because of the good chance that some days and nights would be very hot.) We had a small step up into our private bathroom, which was small but perfectly fine for us. We enjoy staying in these kinds of historic structures and we adjust our expectations to the realities of the building and its history. Guests receive coupons for their breakfast, usable in either of two cafes nearby. We chose the closer café, one-half block away, toward the Duomo (cannot remember the name). It was run by a high-energy super-nice woman who took our orders for cappuccino and pastries and then, when I asked if we could sit in the inner room, she said “Keep going, keep going into the courtyard” and when we followed our nose down the little hallway we found a beautiful courtyard with tables and umbrellas and big planters of flowers everywhere. Ah yes, Italia never ceases to give us visitors unexpected treats….

    We went to San Francesco and spent an hour looking at the Piero della Francesca frescoes. There’s a good, large format paperback published by Rizzoli on the cycle of paintings, which depict the medieval Legend of the True Cross. We had bought it from Amazon before our trip and read about this medieval legend and learned how Piero arranged and designed his sequence. The book is a good idea for art buffs who want some background prep before the visit.

    Our arrival day in Arezzo was Friday. Saturday was consumed in a day-long night-long medieval festival called La Giostra (the joust). We only learned about this festival after we had made our travel plans and B&B reservations so it was pure luck that our two-night stay in Arezzo let us see this festival.

    La Giostra is a jousting festival dating to medieval times. The four historic districts of Arezzo (quartieri) compete against each other in jousting against a wooden, revolving dummy of “Il Saraceno” (the Moor). Each district has its own team, horses, medieval colors and uniforms, flags, banners, the works. The Italian city-states of this region were trading with, battling against, raiding and (for islands such as Sardinia and southern Italy) being raided by the Saracens of northern Africa. Pisa actually acquired enough spoils by its raids on northern Africa to beging construction of its Duomo and campanile and Campo Santo. Anyway, the wooden dummy of the Moor is mounted on a pole and it swings around. In one hand it holds a wooden sword and in the other ropes tied to three big wooden balls. A jouster comes roaring into the central piazza, lance in hand, aims for the bull’s eye painted on the Moor’s chest. When the jouster strikes the dummy he has to duck immediately to avoid the three swinging wooden balls of the revolving Moor. That would sting! Judges award points to each jouster. The jousting begins at 9 p.m. The winning quartiere receives the Lancia d’Oro, the golden lance, and they keep it until the next Giostra. The festival is held every June and September.

    But the entire festival of La Giostra begins early in the morning, with a cannon firing at 7 a.m. Then there are parades, proclamations by the mayor from the municipal tower, more parades, marches with trumpets blaring and drums banging right into the cathedral where the Bishop blesses all the participants, and on and on. About three hundred Arezzo folk participate in full medieval regalia--knights, ladies of the court, valets, trumpeteers, drummers—and dozens of horses, also covered in medieval horse attire. Many flags and banners. This is an event not to be missed. I took some videos which I will post on Youtube. La Giostra also has a good web site full of information and schedules. The events during the day, the parades, the cathedral ceremony, etc., are all free. You need to buy a ticket to enter the Piazza Grande for the actual jousting contest at 9 p.m.

    Arezzo has a beautiful Duomo (on the inside; exterior never was finished) and a number of very interesting medieval churches, some in the Pisan Romanesque style (e.g., Santa Maria della Pieve, with several row of arcades, about 40 fine columns plucked from various Roman structures of the area). Rough Guide and Cadogan have good descriptions. One in particular, San Domenico, is definitely worth a visit even if you are not a Romanesque church fan, not so much because of the simple structure itself but because of Cimabue’s magnificent Crucifix hanging in front of the main altar. This is approximately a twin of his Crucifix in Santa Croce in Florence, which was almost totally destroyed in the great flood of the 1960s. The Arezzo Crucifix has been cleaned and restored and it fairly glows against the shadows of the apse.

    We visited two other sites, the Casa Vasari and the Museo Archeologico.

    The Casa Vasari was built by the Renaissance painter, architect, and biographer as a residence and also sort of as a showroom to demonstrate to potential clients his range of “products”, i.e., the kinds of frescoes he could paint. Vasari designed the majestic Loggia, or Portico, on the Piazza Grande (this piazza figured in the movie “Life is Beautiful”). He was a close friend of Michelangelo. Some of Vasari’s letters are exhibited in the house. For Renaissance fans, the place is a must.

    We walked over to the southeastern edge of town to visit the Museo Archeologico. The museum is housed in a retrofitted monastery which was built on part of the Roman amphitheater. Portions of the amphitheater walls and arches survive but the museum has had to lock the entry gates because of vandalism. (?? Who wants to vandalize a Roman amphitheater??) The entry guide will call an attendant to unlock the gate and give you a brief tour.

    The museum is chock full of Etruscan, Greek and Roman treasures. Arezzo and the other Etruscan towns were very wealthy in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE and imported the finest quality vases from Athens. This museum has a vase by Euphronios, perhaps the most renowned Athenian potter. Also: a Roman necklace of delicate gold leaves. Ancient glassware. A very rare portrait painted and gilded on glass, 1st or 2nd cent. CE. We spent much time here. The museum staff was most helpful and friendly.

    Sunday morning we enjoyed a walk through the Passaggio del Prato, a big park to the east of the Duomo with a statue of Petrarch (local son), and around some of the walls of the partly restored Medici fortress.

    Food: a foodie highlight of our time in Arezzo was La Formaggeria, Via de’ Redi 16, (closed Wed afternoon and Sunday) where we ate late lunches Friday and Saturday. This is in a pleasant narrow pedestrian street and ideal for people watching. We chatted sequentially with: couple who live in Florida and Arezzo, he is financial advisor to fashion firms, their King Charles spaniel Brando, their very smart 8-year-old son who walked up to us early on and in flawless American kid English offered to translate the menu for us, another couple from Rome, she works in the Italian social security agency and said they are deluged with unemployed applications, and a group of female German bicyclists cycling from Milan to Rome (!*@?) It was great fun both afternoons. Directions: stand in front of San Francesco, take the street on your left, the Via San Francesco, take first left which is the Via de’ Redi, then halfway down on your left is La Formaggeria. (Note: I misspelled the name in my intro TR post, sorry.) Friendly Sergio runs the place and pampered us with antipasto plates of salumi and different cheeses, arranged in a circle from mild to tart and strong: goat with poppyseed, goat-sheep-cow mix, pecorino, goat with myrtle leaves, and “Rocco” from sheep, all of which were doused with abundant Vernaccia and Vermentino white wine.

    We left Arezzo late Sunday morning, took the train to Florence, transferred to the train for Lucca, where we arrived mid-afternoon. (Next: Lucca….)

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    Great trip report! We also love Italy and have been many times over the years. We stayed in Lucca for a week a couple of years ago and love it. It is one of our favorite towns in Italy. We've also enjoyed Orvieto and Arezzo on prior trips. Your report is bringing back great memories and certainly yearning to go back soon. Will certainly bookmark for your restaurant favs.

    Looking forward to the next istallment.

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    Yes, great start, thanks. we only spent a few hours in Orvieto over one lunch-time but we liked it a lot, though we weren't that impressed with the underground tour.

    looking forward to more!

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    LUCCA Part One

    Leaving Arezzo, we arrived at the main Florence Santa Maria Novella train station and changed trains for Lucca. We needed to change to the short east-west line from Florence to Prato-Pistoia-Lucca-Pisa. The station was mobbed at mid-day, we only had 20 minutes and I was having trouble finding the train. Neither Lucca nor Pisa was the end point and I had not done my Google/Trenitalia homework in order to know what in fact was the terminus, but I found a helpful train person who was methodically calming down several stressed voyagers such as myself, one by one, and he told me “Viareggio” and bingo there it was up on the big overhead screen. If I had had presence of mind I could have simply found the train on the detailed “Partenze” printed board, looking for the departure time and then tracking down each listed stop until I verified that the train stopped at Lucca. But all was well.

    On the train ride we could see bits of the lowest hills of the Apuan Alps to the north. This is an area I really want to visit. The Garfagnana region is supposed to be lovely and there are lots of intriguing blogs by people visiting the village of Barga (only one hour by bus or train from Lucca). We saved this for another time.

    We pulled into Lucca in the early afternoon. The train station and the immediate neighborhood was (a replay of the Arezzo story) heavily bombed in World War II and attractively rebuilt. We had reserved at the B&B Il Seminario, in the southern part of the historic centro, just inside the huge Renaissance walls which completely surround the centro. In the weeks before our trip, using the wondrous Google map system in preparation for the trip, I had “walked” and “flown” from the train station up to the boulevard in front of the station and then noticed a clearly marked walking path across the broad lawn leading up to the southern bastion of the ramparts. Could not figure out if we could get through. Our B&B was just on the other side. Out of stubbornness, I did not want to walk over to the Porta San Pietro, the main entrance to the west. Wiggling Google satellite this way and that I angled over the bastion and saw, lo and behold, that the path entered a tunnel in the bastion and popped out the other side and, ecco! We were on our way to Il Seminario. How did we travel before Google?

    A pause here to ponder Lucca: visitors seem to fall into two camps. Some don’t connect to the town at all. It seems blah and bland, nothing much of note to see or do. Others rave (we fall into this camp). I suspect that it has to do with the absence of massive Baroque-ness, or the overall gentle, measured pace of the place. Who knows. We stayed four nights and luxuriated in Lucca. It is outside Etruscan-land, it was founded by the Romans, although some historians say there might have been Etruscan foundations. It is strongly early medieval, 11th – 13th centuries CE, heavily Pisan-Romanesque. These medieval buildings are the first major constructions after the region recovered from the Longobards or whoever swept down before and decisively crunched the last few remains of the Empire. And many of the centro building walls are a patchwork of bits and pieces of Roman temples, ornaments, all used up again. One has the feeling that in 1127 CE there was a huge yard sale of Roman stonework and the church architects salvaged whatever they could. The church facades and some of the interior frescoes and sculptures are strong and blunt and have a near-pagan feel to them.

    On to B&B Il Seminario. What a delight. It was in fact a seminary. It is located on Seminary Street. Gracious Irene met us at the front door and showed us our big airy room (the Puccini room) facing the garden, with 7-foot hedges in front of our two tall windows for privacy. Good wifi. And gracious Manuela served us breakfasts in a shaded garden nook. Paulo the manager helped us out with questions and lent us his bike lock. We were pampered unobtrusively. A totally relaxing base for exploring the town day by day.

    I got up early the next morning and walked up to the ramparts and into the San Colombano bulwark (the Baluardo San Colombano), which we had tunneled through the day before. The massive stonework of the bulwark and the walls was beautiful in the early morning sun. Early bird Luccans were jogging and walking their dogs. Then I walked over to the Duomo just as the sun was rising behind the façade. The piazza was quiet and the Romanesque pillars and arcades and statues were just emerging in the early morning light. Then back to the B&B, into the garden nook for Manuela’s awesome cappuccino and pastries.

    Sights: Lucca has two dozen or more churches rich in history and art, for the dedicated lover of Romanesque. Brian Lindquist has published an exhaustive description of every major building in the centro, “The Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca,” and he covers 37 churches and 87 palazzi of the wealthy Luccan families, plus an examination of the three successive walls surrounding the centro, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance. So I will leave it to interested Fodorites to go to Mr. Lindquist for a really fine, in-depth coverage of the centro.

    Herewith, an unorganized list of our favorite things in the centro:

    Walking and biking on the ramparts. We did this slowly, enjoying especially the beautiful views of the roofs and towers of the centro and of the hills and palazzo in the distance beyond the ramparts. Manuela has a friend who rents bikes near the Porta San Pietro. Ask her for directions, mention her name, and he will give you a good deal!

    As I mentioned briefly in the intro to this TR, I passed at one point one of the old barracks buildings on the ramparts and someone was singing arias inside. Poking my head in the doorway (along with other passersby), I saw some type of music class, with a young American woman singing part of an aria, then pausing, receiving critiques from American music teachers grouped around her, beginning again…more critiques…. This was fascinating. I don’t know anything about the mechanics of singing a beautiful aria, but these teachers certainly did. They instructed her how to open her mouth more effectively and where to put her tongue in order to pronounce a crystal-clear Italian “a” and “e” and “o”, etc. Then a very slender young man stepped onto the stage for his lesson. I thought, aha, here comes a high, thin, squeaky voice. Wrong. He boomed out a huge baritone voice and his aria sort of rattled the roof. When they paused, I turned to the Italian woman and her teenage daughter next to me, who were also listening. I said “Excuse me, but what do you think about the singing of these young Americans? Is it good, bad, just ok?” She said “Well, it’s very good and if you had not told me, I would never have guessed that they were not Italian.” How impressive.

    We broke for lunch and had a picnic on one of the tables on the ramparts. We had gone to a deli-cheese shop near our B&B, Il Forno, Via della Rosa 2, just across from Santa Maria Forisportam. It was recommended by Manuela. We organized our panini with all kinds of salumi and cheese. The mortadella here was especially good, melting in the mouth. We shared the picnic table with an English teacher from Ohio who was attending the opera singing training seminar. Opera was her passion and she did this from time to time just for the joy of it.

    Will take a break here.

    Next up…Lucca Part Two: Santa Maria Forisportam and beyond

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    I am enjoying your trip report very much - nice details, descriptions & information! Thanks for sharing! We will be staying in Orvieto, Lucca and Rome this fall. So, I am reading with pen in hand!

    I look forward to hearing more about your trip.

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    I suspect that architecture historians could spend many weeks exploring Lucca’s churches. I will just say a few words about two or three that we visited, starting with Santa Maria Forisportam, a couple of blocks away from our B&B.

    Santa Maria Forisportam: this church and the piazza and the single Roman column standing all by itself in the square form a good starting point to get the feel of Lucca’s complex history. The eastern Roman gate was at the northwest corner of the piazza, where Via Santa Croce passes. This street was the Roman “decumanus,” the major east-west street of a Roman settlement. The eastern Roman wall ran along the Via della Rosa, the western side of today’s piazza (where our panini shop, Il Forno, is located). The single Roman column is a survivor of some temple or other, apparently no one knows which one. It was used in medieval times as a marker for horse races. The church itself has been built, taken down, built again, over and over, starting in the 8th century CE. The marble facing and the Pisan Romanesque arcades halt abruptly two-thirds up the façade. This is sort of appropriate for the higgledy-piggledy feeling of this square.

    Duomo di San Martino: As I wrote earlier, I walked around the façade early in the morning and came back several more times to visit the Duomo inside and out. The Duomo has so many fine works of sculpture and painting. The tomb of Ilaria, with a delicately sculpted statue of the young wife of a wealthy merchant and her pet dog, is lovely.

    San Frediano: we walked to San Frediano late in the afternoon of a brilliantly sunny day. This very early medieval church is the only Luccan church to have a mosaic (done by Byzantine-trained artists) on the façade. It is splendid. Many treasures inside. Just inside to the upper right is a beautiful della Robbia ceramic portrayal of the Annunciation, with baby angel heads, lemons and garlands, and of course Mary and an excellent angel delivering the message. Glowing with blues and greens and yellows. I always wonder when I see this kind of early Renaissance ceramic work: how in the world did they form and sculpt and color the clay and fire it to produce such a thing?

    Okay, so I fibbed above and I am going to talk about more than three of the 37 surviving churches in Lucca but this is okay because the next two are linked with some great music which we heard….

    We bought tickets to the Puccini recital, “Puccini e la sua Lucca,” which is performed nightly in the church of San Giovanni. Puccini was baptized here. As I mentioned in the intro to this TR, some folks have complained that it is too brief and too expensive. It’s an hour of arias by Puccini and Verdi and others, depending on the evening (but there’s always some Puccini). We thought it was definitely worth the ticket price (18 euros for non-EU people). Two singers and a very good pianist. For this kind of thing and for other things on the trip (e.g., good wine), we had budgeted periodic min-splurges. Why drop big bucks on an air ticket and miss Puccini in Lucca because the ticket is $4 more than I would like to pay? So we were content.

    The church of San Giovanni is now used for concerts and other events, not for Catholic services. Archeologists have excavated deep below the church to uncover the Roman streets and the foundations of houses, shops, and baths. You descend to Roman Lucca by stairs on the left of the apse. It’s fascinating to walk down below, look at the huge steel beams and columns holding up the church, and then walk on the metal walkways all through this part of the ancient town which is below the church. I assume that all of the buildings of the centro are sitting on these Roman streets and building remains.

    One night we went to hear the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Voices Abroad chorus. This group of young singers, age 16 to 22, was visiting a dozen Italian cities this summer and giving free concerts. You can visit their web site and hear their music. The concert was held in the church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini, medieval on the outside façade, gorgeous and extravagantly Baroque on the inside. Not only were these young singers outstanding, but the Italian lay leaders of the Santa Maria congregation and the priest were so welcoming and appreciative, giving certificates and presents to the chorus and the very expert chorus director (named Margaret; charismatic and professional, clearly adored by her choral students). Many people in the audience were moms and dads and brothers and sisters of the singers and we enjoyed chatting with them afterwards and telling them to be terrifically proud of their kids.

    Some very pleasant non-church sights in Lucca: we visited a Renaissance palazzo of one of the wealthy merchant families, the Palazzo Mansi, now a museum. This is especially interesting because the furnishing are intact, giving a vivid impression of their lifestyle. One morning I went to the botanical garden in the eastern part of the centro. This garden was founded in the early 19th century. It has some fine specimens of trees, shrubs, and flowers. This was a good break from churches and palazzo. The garden also has Braille tablets for the sight-impaired in front of the major specimens with sculpted images of the tree or shrub and the name in Braille. This is a great idea!

    Now on to food: our favorite places in Lucca were very diverse…

    -> Cantine Bernardini: Love this place. We ate lunch here one day on the terrace and doubled back for dinner the next evening. Food was excellent; the owner trucks in fresh seafood from the coast regularly. Good wine list. Friendly, relaxed, and very professional owner and waitstaff.

    -> Ristorante K2 – La Triestina: this place was bought by new managers three years ago and its new name is “Ristorante K2” but sometimes you see the old name in reviews on the web. Just outside the Roman amphitheater, which now consists of an oval of medieval buildings built on the outline of the original Roman structure. Good, fresh standard Luccan, Tuscan menu, including good pizzas. Carafes of good house wine.

    ->Bistro Paris Boheme: right on the little piazza in front of Puccini’s house. This is the only restaurant we visited during our entire trip which attempted slight variations on the traditional Tuscan offerings. Most of the time you can almost predict what the major antipasti, primi, and secondi will be on a menu and that’s fine by us. That’s why we came to Umbria and Tuscany in the first place, to eat the time-honored standard fare. But we did enjoy the subtle variations of Paris Boheme. We met a Norwegian couple whom we first assumed were British because of their flawless English (it is always so depressing to meet these Scandinavians and Dutch and Swiss who speak our tongue absolutely perfectly, while we stumble along trying to absorb some French or German or Italian). He is an engineer, she retired from the Norwegian foreign service. I bumped into them the next morning as I was biking around town and invited them to come visit us in Key West this winter, although our skiing in Key West is a little different from Norway’s.

    ->Canuleia: on the street of the same name, half a block from the amphitheater. This has a beautiful garden. Great for a cool, relaxing long lunch break. Very fine lunch offerings, including a cold mint pea soup. But pricey. Oh well, just remember: why pay big bucks for the air ticket and then deny yourself a treat every now and then during the trip.

    ->La Tana del Orco: this place is a real hoot. I would recommend that you go here IF you enjoy a verrrrry slowwwwwwww dinner, very authentic Luccan food, excellent draft beer from Germany, Italy and elsewhere (as well as wine), and a Charles-Laughton-type faux-grumpy-but-actually-cuddly owner-chef. The name of the place means “The Lair of the Ogre” and in the middle of our verrrrrry slowwwwwwww dinner, I said to him “I think the Orgre is YOU!” to which he replied “Si!” A chance to eat some really good food in a little hole in the wall, where everything is cooked to order by the chef-owner. Just a final word about the generous good will of the owner: a young Slavic couple (Czech? Slovenian?) enjoyed their dinner and then had difficulty paying, I think because he did not take the credit card which they had. They profusely apologized and one offered to stay there while the other would run to an ATM, but he waved them away like a kind uncle and much time passed. I didn’t think he would ever see his money. But sure enough, they returned with the cash and all three of them became fast friends. La Tana del Orco is located just outside the walls, about opposite the Porta San Pietro on the boulevard that runs outside the southern section of the ramparts, not too far from the train station.

    ->Gelateria Veneta: a block from the Porta San Pietro, this was our favorite gelato place. It also was apparently the favorite hangout place for every teenager in Lucca at 10:30 p.m. So interesting to see mobs of teenagers doing their teenager thing hanging out in the street in front of Veneta….over gelato. Something you don’t see often in the States.

    Favorite dishes: I did not write down what we ate and where we ate it, at least not very methodically, but our favorite dishes in Lucca included: tordelli lucchese (big versions of meat-stuffed ravioli covered with meat sauce, very filling), arancini with beciamella (béchamel sauce), more anchovies, and gelato from Gelateria Veneta.

    We had originally planned to take one day outside Lucca, going by train to Pisa in the morning before the tour buses arrived, then going farther to La Spezia and then by water taxi out to Portovenere, and then returning to Lucca in early evening. But on the appointed day we looked at each other and said “You know what? Naaaaah. Next time.”

    So we finally pulled ourselves away from Lucca after four nights and took the train to Rome for the last four evenings of the trip. Regional train for one hour, change to a Freccia in Florence, arrive in Rome less than two hours later.

    Next bit: Rome

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    EYW - you could count me in the class of people who were underwhelmed by Lucca until I read your TR. now I'm reconsidering.

    BTW, we found a restaurant in Siena that though Tuscan in nature, served more than standard tuscan fare. Sadly, I've never been able to work out on a map where it is!

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    What more can one say about Rome, that hasn’t already been said? Well, I’ll just make a few comments about one small church and one big palazzo and three good places to eat that we enjoyed. These have not been extensively described so far on these forums so the information might be useful to future travelers.

    We arrived in Rome from Lucca in mid-afternoon and walked 10 minutes from Termini to our hotel, the two-star Hotel Italia on Via Venezia, half a block from Via Nazionale. This is the third time we have stayed in this simple, comfortable little hotel. Kind and efficient staff. Good breakfasts. Good rates. And you are just steps away from the bus stop “Nazionale-Quattro Fontane” where you can catch the handy and infamous Bus 64 as well as other buses to get deeper into the centro, over to Castel Sant Angelo and St. Peter’s, down to the Trastevere, and other parts of town.

    Ristorante Abruzzi: We visited the Borghese at our scheduled 5 p.m. time slot (Borghese = awesome = no further comment needed). Then at closing time we started a slow lazy walk down to Ristorante Abruzzi, which is just about three blocks northeast of the Victor Emanuel wedding cake monument. We ambled by the Trevi Fountain and got a kick out of the crowds taking thousands of photos. And there, in the midst of the crowds, we saw two dozen familiar faces. It was the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Voices Abroad chorus. We shouted hello and laughed about the odds of this happening (we had had some good conversations with Marge, the director, and some of the singers at the end of the concert in Lucca and had learned that their next stop was Rome, smack in the middle of our time in Rome, so we had already planned to hear their Rome concert but we did not guess that we would bump into them before then). Then we continued to Abruzzi. A very comfortable place, delicious food, friendly service, with English-speaking waiters, and good prices. To begin your meal, you can choose to have a self-serve antipasto platter and enjoy a buffet with a wide variety of choices.

    San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane: we had walked by this little church during our trip to Rome three years ago but never got around to visiting it. This time I put it on the to-do list. This is a dazzling geometrical tour de force by Borromini. It is quite small. One reads in the art history lit that it could fit inside one of the massive pillars of St. Peter’s. Entering the church, we found half a dozen people sitting in the pews, almost dazed, staring up at the walls and dome. Looking up and around, we felt that Borromini had carved up space as if it were soft clay, creating ovals and half circles moving in, out, up and around. The oval dome ends up in the center with a glowing triangle, representing the Trinity (the religious order of the Trinitarians oversaw this church). The dome itself glows with clear light streaming in from windows which are not visible. The interior shell of the dome is composed of rows and rows of octagons and crosses which diminish in size as they move toward the center. The design of this church makes Frank Gehry look like a rank amateur. We wandered around for quite a while, going out to the adjoining cloister and then down to the crypt. An amazing structure.

    Enoteca Provincia Romana: for a welcome break one day while doing the Colosseum – Forum – Trajan’s Market – Palatine waltz, had lunch here. This enoteca is run by the regional government of Rome (would this be Lazio? Don’t know.) It highlights the produce and wines of the region. Outstanding light lunch food and wine presented in a couple of cleanly designed and furnished spaces. Located in the big building just behind Trajan’s Column, on the ground floor on the left corner if your back is to the Column.

    Osteria del Pegno: we went here for dinner the second and the third nights. We had visited the restaurant twice before. It is our favorite place in Rome, a couple of blocks west of Piazza Navona, deep in the old old part of the centro. Massimo is the formidable waiter and I forget the name of the chef-owner but they are a skilled and simpatico crew. Simple and sublimely good pure food. Salumi, cheese, anchovies, pasta. Massimo’s suggested wines are always spot on. And he guided me toward his favorite amaro (=a slightly bitter digestivo for after dinner). I had been erring by ordering Avena but he showed me the true way, which is Montenegro amaro. Thank you, Massimo.

    Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj: I had stumbled on information about this palazzo somewhere on the web when I was looking for lists of concerts in Rome. It is a huge Renaissance palazzo, on the 300 block of the Via del Corso, a few blocks from the Victor Emanuel monument. The Doria-Pamphilj family tussled for wealth and power and the papacy with the Borghese, Colonna, Aldobrandini, and others. The family still lives in this enormous palace (as well as in their other 27 homes, I suppose). The original furnishings, silk wall coverings, chandeliers, etc. survive. The palace is open only on Saturdays. We had bought tickets weeks before for a guided musical tour (limited to 25 persons per Saturday), with an art historian and a trio of two musicians and a soprano who performed in five different rooms as we were guided through the palace, ending in the throne room. The art collection here is of such quality and quantity it’s hard to grasp: Rembrandt, Bellini, Coreggio, Brueghel, Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini, and Velazquez’ astounding 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X (a member of the Doria-Pamphilj family). Go to this place! You won’t be disappointed.

    Monday July 1 we hopped the Leonardo Express back to FCO for an easy early afternoon return flight to Montreal and then home to Burlington, Vermont. What a nice trip!

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    hi again, EYT andBYT [sorry to miss you out, first time round, BYT!]

    Nice to end your report with one of my favourite places, too! we found the Doria Pamphilij on our second visit to Rome 3 years ago, and i couldn't resist going back with some of the members of my italian class when we were there in Feb - they were SO impressed! one thing though - i don't think that it is right to say that the palace is only open on Saturdays. we went on a Monday, and the website says it's open Mon-Sun, 10 -17:

    thank you for your restaurant recommendations, they are always welcome for future reference especially round the colosseum which is a bit of a culinary desert. would you mind giving us an idea of price? I discovered on this recent trip that people have very different ideas about what it is reasonable to pay for a meal on holiday!

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    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your trip report. Thanks for all the effort you put into this and your restaurant recommendations. We will definitely be bookmarking for our return to these areas next year. I'm in your camp - loved Lucca.

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    Hi again Annhig,

    Just checked my notes for Enoteca Provincia Romana. My partner and I each had one light dish (he, a salad with various things in it, perhaps potatoes? can't remember; I had I think octopus and things?), and three glasses of excellent white wine (2 for me, 1 for him), 2 desserts, 1 espresso = 55 euros. The bright rooms and soft jazz and thoughtful waitress all made this a hit in a neighborhood which is, as you say, the planet of the living dead as far as a good lunch is concerned.

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    Wonderful to continue along with you on your journey!

    I am anticipating that we will be amongst those who rave about Lucca! I found it interesting that you opted out of daytrips to Pisa and the Cinque Terre. Although both are on our itinerary, it won't be the first time we've changed our minds! It sounds like Lucca has lots to offer: sights, restaurants & music!

    Just wondering about the Orvieto Underground Tour ... I am slightly claustrophobic although I'm not sure whether I am fearful of enclosed spaces or the idea of being underground. It is reassuring that the tunnels have been reinforced. However, you described the tunnels and caves as being 'deep' and 'penetrating'. Are you able to give me a sense of the space and light in the tunnels? Should I send my husband on his own and find myself a nice little above-ground café OR should I give it a try?

    We also had a wonderful dinner at Abruzzi on our last trip to Rome! The restaurant was kind of tucked away, wasn't it? But it was oh, so worth seeking it out!

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    Hi 2010,

    I would advise you not to go on the underground tour. Find a nice cafe on the earth's surface while your husband burrows underneath Orvieto.

    Imagine a baby mountain whose sides are practically vertical and the top is sliced off neatly horizontally. That's the "platform" on which the upper old town rests. The underground tour meets in the Duomo piazza, walks to the garden terrace about a block to the south of the Duomo then walks down a broad path along the vertical rock side of this baby mountain. We walked about halfway down this 950-foot mountain (I keep saying mountain because I don't know what else to call it.) Then the guide opens a door and you enter the beginning of the first tunnel. You follow tunnels up and down. You enter larger "rooms" and then you go back into a tunnel to access the next room. You are sort of in the middle of this mountain, halfway up, that is. I felt like the town of old Orvieto was halfway above me, through the stone. Not quite claustrophic, for me, but almost. At times you walk up or down some very narrow, steep stairs cut into the rock and I had to hold on to the iron railing bolted into the rock and pull myself up or slow myself as I was descending. I am a late-sixties male in good physical shape, I walk a lot, etc. and my partner is mid-sixties, also in good health. But we still had to squeeze around and clamber up and down carefully. So I don't think this is for you. It is a great experience, however, because you are entering some spaces which were carved out 2500 years ago, as well as medieval spaces. If your husband likes poking around in ancient sites and is not claustrophobic, I think he would enjoy this.

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    2010, I agree that the underground tour is not for you if you are claustrophobic. Most of the chambers are relatively large and high, but you walk through narrow connecting passages to reach them, some quite low. At times I had to turn sideways to get through. I recall laughing with my friend as we made our way through some really tight spots, joking how this would be illegal in the U.S.

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    Hi EYWandBTV and Ellenem:

    As I read your descriptions, I could feel myself getting anxious about entering the underground, making my way through narrow passages, climbing up steep steps, squeezing around and clambering up & down places. Goodness ... not my idea of fun! So, I will heed your advice and NOT take the tour! DH can decide for himself.

    Thank you both for your replies!

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    Skip Lucca. There is nothing there but a wall, which takes about 30 seconds to see. If you are going to that area, go to Pisa instead. The Field of Miracles is quite a place. The leaning tower would be an amazing site even it it weren't leaning. The cathedral and baptistry are among the best sights in Italy. Nothing in Lucca comes close to this.

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    thanks for the link to the Enoteca. it looks like just our sort of place, and very reasonable. sadly we have no trips to Rome in the offing, but i note that they are doing some special dinners there in September and October which might be fun.

    as for the underground tour in Orvieto, my major reason for not doing it would be that it was pretty tedious. but on a hot day it would certainly provide relief for the heat above.

    I tend to agree with popov about Lucca, and about Pisa. Even with the hoards of tourists and hawkers, the campo dei miracoli remains one of my favourite places of all time.

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    Hi Annhig,

    At the risk of sliding back into the interminable "Lucca or Pisa" discussion which pops up from time to time, just a clarification: I've been to Pisa, love the Field of Miracles, all the structures are wonders, yes yes. It's just that this particular trip, having seen Pisa previously and relaxing and enjoying Lucca, we did not feel like hopping on trains for a day trip. Everybody who has the time, budget, and energy should consider seeing both Pisa and Lucca, IMHO. :)

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    I wasn't suggesting otherwise, but just referencing popov. I can well understand that having seen it before, you might not see the need to go back. We did go back after a gap of over 20 years. The second time we took our kids and though it was a lot busier, it was still wonderful and interesting to experience it through their eyes. We also went back at night when all the tourists and hawkers had gone, and that was a revelation - the illuminated buildings are simply beautiful.

    unlike the hotel that we stayed in which sadly did not live up to our memories.

    I can see what you mean about Lucca and I'm up for giving it another go!

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    Really enjoyed you sharing your insights and discoveries. Your writing style is most enjoyable to read.

    Should you go to Lucca again, one of our favorite little haunts is Nona Clara right on the main Via as the single Roman Column; their house-made pasta, especially with the seafood sauces, are excellent and traditional. It looks a little kitsch-y/touristy, but a lot of locals eat here too.

    I have been to Lucca 4 times and still have not discovered all its nooks and I guess that makes me a "fan". I don't find Pisa and Lucca comparable at all--they are totally different personalities. Glad you enjoyed your stay.

    Thanks again for such a nice report.

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    Annhig: am interested in your impressions on the prossimo viaggio to Lucca.

    Klondike: thanks for your restaurant tips, I've noted them for the next time!

    I finally posted my photos; they are in the photo book marked "Italy 2013" at this site:

    Also there are videos of the Giostra procession into the Arezzo Duomo, the chorus in Lucca, and the Baroque trio and art tour of the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Rome, on the right hand side of this "photos and videos" page of my website:

    I am on the same page with you--really enjoy the small semi-kitschy corners to have a meal, and also the humble slightly tumble-down Romanesque buildings. That's why I enjoyed Lucca so much I guess. I figure that I have done my duty in life by seeing St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums three times in the last few decades and thank goodness I don't have to do that again! :)

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    Annhig: am interested in your impressions on the prossimo viaggio to Lucca>>

    not sure I'm with you there, EYW&BTV!

    Sadly my "viaggio scorso" to Lucca was more years ago than I care to remember, and co-incided with my first trip to Pisa. my second trip to Pisa [which omitted Lucca] was rather more recent, but still, not recent enough.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that I could manage very well without another route march around the Vatican Museums! St. Peter's itself is always worth an hour or so, though, if only to admire the beauty of the dome and the juxtaposition of the vileness of the canopy over the main altar. am I the only one who thinks that huge dark wooden structure ugly?

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