Rain, rain Go Away!

Posted by Madeline on April 12, 2018 in Lucca, Pisa

Besides just being a nuisance, and depressing my mood, I realized when talking to my friend, Lacey, the other night, that there are even more reasons why the rain puts a damper on the day here. Back home, we basically drive everywhere, so the worst part when it rains is running to and from the car. Here, we walk EVERYWHERE. So, when it rains, you have to deal with it your whole 15-30 minute walk to wherever you’re going, or simply choose to not leave the house! Also, half the time, the umbrella does not keep you fully dry, so you end up with wet shoes and pants, maybe part of your jacket. And we’ve been having LOTS of rain this semester :/
With my rant over, Florence has had some glimpses of amazing weather. Bouts of 60s and 70s with loads of sunshine, which I can feel a complete change in how I feel: motivated, awake, happy to be alive, and wanting to go out and do, do, do! I love those days. It’s shocking how much impact the weather has on my mood and feelings. This past weekend was one of those good weather days. It was perfect, as I was visiting Ubaldo (the family friend’s friend from past posts) who showed me around the small cities of Pisa and Lucca nearby his home.
I arrived by train midday Saturday, where we began a walk through Pisa -across the same Arno River that runs through Florence, along the street: Via Borgo Stretto with loggias on either side, and my favorite part: no cars! In the older section of Pisa, most areas are solely pedestrian access, which made it so much easier and enjoyable to walk than Florence. I also liked how the buildings were shorter, so the streets felt less claustrophobic and the sky and sun were more visible. We went to lunch at a fish restaurant (Pescheria), L’isola Dei Gabbiani owned by a friend of Ubaldo’s. I had tagliatellini with tomato and snapper and a dessert with mascarpone and pineapple. Oh, and white wine, which Ubaldo told me is usually paired with fish.
After, we continued to Lucca. We started with a walk up along it’s walls that wrap around the small downtown area of the old city center. I had pictured the walls to be old and medieval, completely of stone, like a fortress. My image was really off! The walls were much more natural, the outer part was stone, but the paths for walking and biking were more of a dirt trail or pavement on soil, with a grassy park area outside the walls.

We passed people biking, families with kids walking or couples strolling in the sun’s soft afternoon rays. A nice setting for a “passeggiatta” (walk). We walked down off the walls to see the downtown area. Just as in Pisa, Lucca’s city is pedestrian-only with small, beautiful streets of fancy shops and nice restaurants. Ubaldo told me the city was historically quite wealthy. He said families used to marry off their first daughter to a son of another rich family, and the second daughter often became a patron for a church that the father had sponsored the construction. It did appear to still be doing well, for it was clean and well-kept. My favorite part was the circular piazza in the center: Piazza Anfiteatro, located inside a restored colosseum, giving it the circular shape.

We made our way back up to the top of the wall for a drink and apertivo to hold us over until dinner. I had a glass of prosecco and they brought out a tray of small bites. The fresh air and simply sitting outdoors felt so wonderful. That’s one thing I miss living in a city. Although it got chilly sitting there, I was content and felt relaxed outside. Walking back to the car, the colors of the setting sun were mild and gentle. It felt like the setting of a movie.

At home, Ubaldo started making Risotto al Nero di Seppia, rise with squid and squid ink! –Earlier at lunch, I’d mentioned that my dad had tried squid ink pasta on one of his past trips to Italy. Ubaldo asked if I wanted to try it, and I said sure, if he was okay with that. As I figured he would, he agreed, saying it’d been a while since he’d made it!– Before starting to cook, he turned on Spotify and poured a glass of wine with a small bowl of an equivalent to chex-mix, his own little apertivo! The rice was really tasty, but was definitely turning my whole mouth black because when I used my napkin, it came away with black smears! Next, his neighbor Pauola, who he considers his local mom, made us carciofi fritti (fried artichokes) that looked like chicken wings! They were surprisingly good, and nice and chewy! He said he’d forgotten to get dessert, but had some Pana (cream) flavored ice cream and an apple pie another neighbor had made him. I happily agreed. And finally, we finished with a small glass of limoncello, a strong bitter and sweet liqueur that I can only take in small sips!
The next morning, we stopped for the Italian style breakfast of a croissant and cappuccino, on our way to the beach. He took me to a somewhat wild beach at the Marina di Vecchiano only reachable by car. I loved how the distant violet-blue mountains trickled down the landscape to meet the water’s edge.

People were also using the driftwood that had collected on the sands to build teepees! We walked up and down the water then sat for a bit on a log and talked some more. He asked what I plan to do as a nurse, and I explained I didn’t know yet. I talked about how I like the idea of being involved with maternal and newborn health and nutrition to give children their best shot at a healthy life. But I said I’m also interested in geriatrics because I usually enjoy the elderly, but also I’m passionate about taking care of people at such a delicate stage of life, and learning how to treat them in a safe way. I told him how I didn’t think my grandma received good medical care at the end of her life. It was horrible to watch her suffer, and I think some of her suffering was partly due to or accentuated by the choices of those in charge of her care. Because of that, I have an interest in learning more about how to treat the elderly in a way that the horrid side effects of drugs do not outweigh the apparent “treatment”. He listened, and advised me to have an open mind, and simply try to keep learning and gain more experiences to figure out where I belong.

We then returned to his house, where we had lunch at his neighbors’: Gigi and Nina, along with his two local “parents,” and their son, Luca who is Ubaldo’s good friend. Gigi and Nina invited us for Pasqua, Easter for them was that Sunday because they are Orthodox. Although they spoke in Italian during the meal, Ubaldo at times translated for me, or they asked me a few questions that I responded to in my basic Italian. Even in only sharing a few words with them, they felt so welcoming and kind; putting their hand on my shoulder or smiling. I hugged each of them goodbye and gave the typical Italian two kisses on each cheek. I hope to see them again someday.
Our last event of the weekend was to see the cathedral and oh so famous leaning tower of Pisa. Ubaldo’s friend works there, so he gave us a tour of the church along with some history, and then we climbed the tower.

We sat at the top enjoying the view for a bit, before heading back down. And as many of my trips include, we stopped for gelato at his favorite place in Pisa, La Bottega del Gelato (bottega=shop), even though I was still quite full from lunch! I asked what his favorite flavors were and he said pinoli, pine nuts. So I ended up getting Pinoli and Pistacchio, and we sat up on the wall of the river: “at the best bar in town,” Ubaldo said.

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