The long gap between this blog and the last is due to my twelve day immersion into the Italian Language. Going to a language school in Italy is a fun way to meet more locals and get a better introduction to an area. It’s like having a host family in your town.
I finally landed in Lucca thanks to the Studentessa Matta aka Melissa Muldoon, who writes a fun blog and organizes groups to study in Italy. When I saw the trip to Lucca, I decided to sign up. I knew that Lucca was a beautiful walled town between Florence and Pisa, and not far from the western coast of Tuscany. It was the perfect base for gaining more skills in speaking the bella lingua.
In the mornings, we attended classes at Lucca Italian School, located just outside the city walls. The school offered many levels of Italian, so we joined other international students for morning classes. The classes were lively and engaging and the mornings flew by. In the afternoons and evenings, we participated in a wide variety of experiences around Lucca that were organized by Melissa and the school staff.
One day we visited a winery in the countryside just outside of Lucca. After a tour of the winery, we stayed for a hands-on cooking class in the large kitchen. Eva, our instructor is also a language teacher, so our lessons were in Italian—slow Italian, with lots of great gestures and animated demonstrations. After we finished making fresh pasta and other Tuscan dishes, we all sat down and enjoyed our wonderful meal with the excellent local wines.
Luckily, we enjoyed two cooking classes with Eva, who tailored the dishes to our interests and tastes. She also provided us with printed hand-outs, so we can repeat these wonderful recipes when we get home!
Another afternoon, we rented bikes for a special tour of the walls that surround Lucca. The beautiful medieval walls protected the city for centuries, but after 1799, it was determined that they would serve as a place to walk. In the early twentieth century, cars were allowed, but now this wide, pedestrian-only path serves as a perfect promenade for the locals. For most of the 4 kilometers, the walkways are lined with tall trees that provide shade on hot summer days. There are also several large park spaces for picnics and events. We circled the city with Susanna, who gave us a short history of the wall and some local folklore. Then we stopped for a delicious picnic, Italian style, with LOTS of wonderful small cold plates and fine wine.
There are plenty of small hill towns just a short drive from Lucca. On these excursions we had the opportunity to practice our Italian and learn more about the surrounding area. Most of our guides from the school were from this area and many had relatives who had grown up in the small towns we visited, so we heard some great stories. Each town has an interesting history, a beautiful setting, and of course, their own special foods and wines. We always ended up at a wonderful osteria or trattoria for a delicious country meal.
Lucca was the perfect base for our twelve day stay. It’s big enough to provide a wide variety of eateries and stores, and most of them are small and locally owned. There are several interesting museums, including Puccini’s home, a tall tower and a few villas and gardens. But best of all, there are plenty of beautiful piazzas, large and small, for relaxing and watching the world go by.
Although this is a popular tourist stop, the larger tour groups seem to visit a few places and move on. On the weekends, Lucca is a popular spot for Italians to visit and rent a bike for the day. During the summer, the larger piazzas are busy hosting all sorts of events, from concerts and Renaissance Festivals to health fairs and sporting events.
But during a typical week, Lucca feels like a real town. It’s small enough that people know each other and stop to chat. It also has a lively passeggiata (evening stroll) most evenings. If you walk into a shop and start speaking your basic Italian, they don’t switch to English. You might even strike up a conversation.
For me, Lucca was just the right size—the perfect Tuscan town for hanging out and learning the Italian language.
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