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Stories from our Travelers

Life in Lucca, Week 1, September 5

The Palazzo's courtyard
by Melissa Cicci
[First in an ongoing series of stories on 3 months living in Lucca]

On the basis of a 3-hour speed tour through Lucca two years ago, my husband and I decided to do a trial run in living in Italy. Something we’ve talked about for 25 years, since the earliest days of our marriage. Careers, kids, finances and other obstacles prevented us from taking that leap.

And we’re still not sure that’s a leap we are able to take – for the long term. So as a test of our adaptability, we’ve rented an apartment for three months in Lucca, a small city in northwestern Tuscany. Apartment is probably not the right word for this flat in a 16th-century palazzo. The current owner, an American expatriate whose understanding of women’s needs is remarkable (there are flat irons in each of the two bathrooms!), is only the most recent in a long line of interesting people and history that tell the story of the Palazzo Arnolfini.

The Palazzo – built in the early 16th century for the prominent Arnolfinis, a patrician family that accumulated its wealth through silk manufacturing, banking and diplomacy – was later sold to the Church, which used the structure over the centuries as a seminary, a home for oblates (those who live a monastic life dedicated to God or God’s service, without formal religious vows), an orphanage, and a homeless shelter for illegal immigrants. In 1990, the Church sold the building to private interests, who developed the palazzo into spacious apartments.

Back to our choice of Lucca. After considering larger cities such as Rome, Venice or Milan (as former New Yorkers, we are comfortable with millions of people), we decided that a mid-size city would best suit our current tastes. Lucca’s historic center is largely a pedestrian zone, and is surrounded by massive Renaissance walls. The top of the walls has been re-purposed into an elevated park (think New York’s High Line) where locals and visitors jog, bike and stroll. The thought of doing daily marketing and errands on foot or by bike had great appeal to us. We've decided not to have a car full-time, and will rent a little Fiat Panda for day trips and exploring the countryside.

Our first days in Lucca have been spent learning where to find must-haves: wine, cheese, the train station, the TIM store for mobile phone credit, wine, paper products, water (sparkling and naturale), the Esselunga supermarket, fresh produce, and oh, more wine. Our accommodating landlord loaned us a nice bicycle for the duration and, upon her recommendation, we visited the bike shop around the corner and bought our own blue cruiser with basket. As the friendly bike shop owner told us, blue is il colore dell’ anno (the color of the year!) We’d love to ship our Italian bike home at the end of our stay, but we’re certain that the airline would charge us more than its original cost to box up the bike and fly it home.

Until our next update….a presto!

More on the Palazzo Arnolfini
For information on renting the apartment, visit VRBO, property # 391245.

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