As soon as we got off the ferry in Livorno, I immediately felt like we were in Italy! The architecture of the town, perfectly described an old Italian port, surrounded by colorful, picturesque, and rustic buildings. However, that was not the main thing that made me feel our change of scenery. As we were driving to our village, Santa Maria a Monte, I saw on the highway a man and his lady riding a motorcycle. The whole time they were throwing their hands up in the air, using various gestures to communicate. Their hands were in the air more than on the steering wheel of that motorcycle! This scene was super funny, sweet, a bit scary, but mostly, very Italian! Every car we passed, we’d take a peak and see the same, people gesturing to their partner, friends, and neighbors! I remember watching the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" when Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) arrived in Rome and tried to learn Italian, without much success. One of the local barbers told her that you don't learn Italian in school or from the books, but rather from walking around, observing people and their gestures. And here I am, in Italy witnessing all of this with my own eyes. Italy, I already feel in sync with you!
We were supposed to take an overnight ferry back to Savona and then drive to Tuscany. A week before our departure, we received an email stating that our ferry was canceled and we had to book a new one, ok no problem. We decided to book one from Bastia (Corsica) to Livorno (Italy). It really worked out in our favor as the drive to Tuscany from Savona was 4 hours, while Livorno was only 30 minutes away. However, the new schedule put us in Italy during the day, therefore, we had to find a place to stay. Our host did not have the house available one extra day, so we found another one in the village of Santa Maria a Monte. We arrived there late in the evening and were greeted by a wonderful family. First, they showed us everything around - their horses, goat, rabbits, chickens, apple and walnut trees, olive trees and many more. Leo and Mila were in heaven since the host had two little boys and plenty of outdoor toys. They served us delicious espresso - it was about 8pm and we had problems falling asleep that night, but it was totally worth it. They showed us our house, located right above them. It's beautifully Italian - quite old but super charming. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I felt as if I was in my grandmas house. We were supposed to stay there only one night and then relocate to a little town called Buggiano, however, after such a warm welcome and our kids loving this place, we decided to stay here for 6 days. (Luckily, we were able to cancel our previous reservation and only lost out on the AirBNB service fee & cleaning fee, so it worked since we were so comfortable here)
The following day, we didn’t have anything to eat, and we’re in Italy, so we wanted a Scene from an Italian Restaurant. We decided to go out for lunch and surprise surprise, pretty much all of the restaurants were closed! It’s July, and its hot, and most businesses in the non-tourist areas take a week, or two, or maybe a month off! We finally found a super cozy and authentic place in Massa e Cozzile. The name of the restaurant was Peperno Ristorante & Pizzeria. It's a small & cozy, seats maybe 30 guests, with no English menu and no English language. Immediately you feel like a local. The chef politely explained to us that there were only a few dishes to order. Right away, we knew we were at the right place. After scanning the very short menu, we decided to order two pasta dishes, caprese salad, soup, roast beef, and espresso. Let me tell you, it was one of our best meals, EVER! The food was simply delicious, the service impeccable, and the ambience was true Italian home cookin’. When the kids were done eating, they wanted to play and started fighting for the same toy. The lady in the kitchen saw this and came running towards Leo and Mila. She looked at us and asked if she could take them to the back of the restaurant, and of course, we agreed. I guess she told us to relax and enjoy this peace and quite (I'm not sure since I don't speak Italian but from her gestures that's what I understood). It was 10 minutes of just Rick & I enjoying the last few bites of our meal. The first time in 40+ days we’ve had time for just each other. We’ve got a blog post coming for parenting on the road but honestly, that 10 minutes felt like 2 hours in our books.
After we finished our meal, we went around to the back where Leo and Mila we’re playing nicely together in a kids kitchen! They had a little play area for children set up in the back!? What!? Once again, she told us to leave and go back to our table and enjoy our espresso. She stayed there with them and played the whole time, while Rick and I were pretty much enjoying our peace & quiet. It really felt like an unplanned lunch date, much needed and soooo much appreciated.
We started to plan our week long stay in Tuscany and first, we decided to drive to the famous city of Pisa (about 30 from our current village). The drive was very smooth and easy, but as soon as we reached Pisa, it was bumper to bumper. We parked our car not to far from the main attractions and took a short walk to the city center. The view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was very cool, however, the view of thousands of tourist surrounding it was much less pleasant, but we expected that in Pisa. Our trip to followed the famous Classical Latin quote "veni, vidi, vici" meaning "I came, I saw, I conquered". However, in our case it was more like "we came, we saw, we left", literally! After all, it is one of the main attractions in this region of Italy and of course, it would be very crowded and busy. We ate some gelato, hey, we were in Pisa and it was an obligation. Then, we drove to Lucca!
Lucca is a gorgeous town, located only 25km away from Pisa and it's famous for its Renaissance walls, that surround the city. What is even more amazing is the fact, that this wall has been transformed into a biking path! How cool is that!? We decided to rent a bike and experience this city from a cyclist point of view, and let me tell you, it was a wonderful experience. We rented a double bike with two child seats up front, for Leo and Mila. The whole path is about 5km and leads you through a wide alley of trees. As we cycled around, overlooking this gorgeous city, we spotted several playgrounds and had to stop. Leo and Mila ran around releasing some energy, while we relaxed on the bench and people watched. After returning the bike, we took a stroll through the beautiful streets. Compared to Pisa, it felt like a breath of a fresh air. Way less touristy and crowded, rustic, colorful and picturesque. Of course we stopped for more delicious gelato and it was the best we’ve had! The city of Lucca was a perfect afternoon destination for our family. If you are even in Northern Tuscany put Lucca on your list, its beautiful and family friendly.
Once we returned to our house, Leo and Mila ran straight to play with the kids of our hosts. In a matter of 24 hours, Leo has become close friends with the younger boy, Samuel (7) and they constantly chase each other, race bikes and goof around. Samuel doesn't speak English and Leo doesn't know Italian, yet, they found a common language in the form of play. Listening to their giggles and laughter outside is a music to my ears, I should add, a very loud and wild music, haha!
That night our hosts invited us to their garden for a drink. Lucia served us her homemade chocolate liquor that was simply delicious, very rich and I could literally drink the whole bottle, haha. Salvatore speaks English but his wife Lucia only understands it. And once again, it did not matter. We managed to get to know each other pretty well. We talked about our families, different dishes and cooking recipes, languages, travel, pretty much everything. We laughed a lot and you could feel the positive energy flowing in the air. I am so amazed about the generosity and hospitality by these people. Earlier that day as we were sitting on the balcony Lucia shared with us her speciality called “Polpette Siciliane” - made of flour, ricotta, salt, pepper and mint, and let me tell you, it was melting in our mouth, unbelievable dish! As we travel through this world each day we see different places, new attractions and views, however, the best part of this adventure is meeting people who open their hearts to us as we were their own family. They play with our children and treat us if we were their most important guests. There are not enough words and pictures to describe those interactions with the locals. I am surprised that my heart has not exploded yet from all of the love and kindness we received along the way…and for that, I will be forever grateful.