David Coveney

Italy – Lucky in Lucca, and more….

I’m now back from a couple of weeks touring in Italy. Shattered, and surprised at my lack of internet access. It simply wasn’t an easy thing to sort out in some places, and I didn’t have my usual phone as it’s broken, so I was relying on an old mobile for access.

I’m struggling, actually, to give words to this country. Usually beautiful, sometimes ugly, almost always friendly…

The Statistics:

The car, resting for a moment3200 miles driven; 3 new dents on the car; about 100 gallons (378 litres) of petrol used; highest speed travelled – daren’t say but speed limiters may have been touched; speed cameras triggered: 1; chats with police officers: 1

The Places – In (very) Brief


Gallery in Milan

Nicer than expected. Friendly folk. Food ok. Lovely but pricey hotel in the centre appears to be something of a secret. Shall I keep it that way? Ask and I might add the name… heheh!

Parking in places could be challenging, like many Italian cities, and expensive, but at least the city itself proved easy to navigate and we found the hotel quickly.


VeronaWe stayed in an astonishingly pretty campsite in the fortress overlooking the city. Food excellent where available but watch out – it would seem late eating isn’t a big thing here.

Taking a walk through the narrow streets at night is enchanting, and in the day you can visit the balcony where Juliet reputedly greeted Romeo. A lot of people rub the breast of Juliet’s statue, in particular her left breast which shines golden compared to the rest of her body. I’m still not sure why but I guess it brings luck, love, or just horniness to those who touch it.


So pretty, and (mostly) doesn’t smell as bad as some had suggested after all. Food good in one place, distinctly mediocre in another – so pays to search out a place that’s obviously popular with locals. Campsite turned out to be next to the runway at the airport – as are many of the other campsites. Watch out. Pricey too, at £20 per night including a car.


cobbled street
There was something strange about this town. It was almost deserted, car hostile, and difficult to navigate. We couldn’t find a hotel in the centre that looked even vaguely approachable late at night and ended up resorting to the Holiday Inn near the airport – expensive rack rates so use Amex or a similar travel service to phone ahead and get a decent price on your room.

We discovered that it’s a student city, which may have explained the summertime desertion. Perhaps it’s vibrant in term time?

Tuscany in general

I can see why people fall in love with this area. It can be cheap, but the combination of good weather, good food, friendly people and varied landscape make it irresistable. Throw in pretty villages and girls and you have a region that begs to be explored. Sedately.

Watch out for travelling packs of Americans and middle-class English retirees who may sniff at you getting noisily drunk in their unspoilt bit of the country.


View of Lucca showing tower with trees growing from it

I’d never even heard of this town before coming to Italy, but a barman recommended it to us… so why not? And it’s great! Best bet is to park in one of the reasonably priced car parks outside the old town then take a cycle to travel around the town – either hired or, as with some car parks, take a courtesy bike. You can also cycle around the city walls. Great little place, though packed with tourists so it can end up a little expensive and tiresome – but it’s not as packed or overpriced as other cities. And anyway, if there are tourists, there are facilities….


Surprisingly straight tower of Pisa

If you approach the famous tower from the right angle it looks perfectly straight. Which could be a disappointment if that’s all you came to see. It was British engineers who stopped it falling over, apparently, and for a moment you might think they did too good a job. The plaza the tower is in (it’s the campanile for the Duomo) is very beautiful and although the tower is the reason people come, it’s a little bit more than just that. However, it’s also true that few people explore the rest of this city. We didn’t either. I feel a little guilty.

San Gimignano


This little gem of a town has a lot going for it and must have been something of a medieval Manhattan. It’s very pretty, full of towers, and has an awful lot of tourists. Lacked the charm of Lucca, but well worth a visit.

San Miniato

We stumbled upon this very pretty and friendly little town and we asked in an osteria for a room. It was at this point we learned that an osteria is just a type of restaurant. But this is Italy so phone calls were made by the proprietors and before we knew it we were checking in at a charming little B&B in the town centre. Anna makes a wonderful host – but she doesn’t speak a word of English, so take your time with bookings.


We accidentally turned up on the day of the Palio trials. The Palio is a crazy bare back horse race in the main square of the town – quite possibly the most ancient and yet least professional horse race in the world. Shame we missed anything exciting, but the main square is beautiful and ancient.

Florence (Firenza)

Statue on a tomb, Pisa

Florence is beautiful but, for me at least, not something that I found as beautiful as expected. What it is good for is art galleries. You can see some incredibly famous artworks in the city’s art galleries.

Genoa (Genova)

Don’t bother! Never seen quite such an ugly mass of concrete building. There are beautiful parts, of course, like most Italian cities, but they’re not necessarily easy to find. The guides say the city has a ‘gritty realism’ which I always think is travel guide speak for “you’ll be lucky not to get mugged.”

But on the whole – what a great country!

Driving in Italy

Driving in this country is actually a great experience. The road surfaces are smooth, the drivers skilled, and the weather generally good.

But there are things to beware of.

Speed bumps appear to have been randomly placed on the autostrada. Some people claim it’s down to subsidence or lorry damage, but I think it’s just to keep you awake.

The distance and direction markers towards towns and cities were the inspiration for some of Heisenberg’s greatest work. You might see that your town is 25km away. The next sign, 1km down the road, will say 20km. Then it’ll revert to 25km and you may well conclude that you’re going round in circles. Or getting closer, because as you continue the next sign will say you’re 18km away. The actual distance may be less. Or more.

If you park in the wrong place you’ll get a ticket, but working out how to pay isn’t simple so I’m ignoring my ticket and waiting to see what happens. Anyway, parking places are colour coded – white means you can park there freely, except when the signs say you can’t, yellow means you can park there freely except when the signs say you can’t and blue means…. well you get the idea. I think blue is pay, white is free, and yellow is residents but the reality is that you need to check as different towns have different rules.

Italian Food, In Italy

Glass of wine, with strawberryI’m a vegetable, as many of you know, so obviously can’t eat meat. Italy at least has a good range of vegetarian food available so there’s no need to spend too much time scrutineering the menus.

The food itself range from great to mediocre but there was nothing so amazing that I’m going to make a special mention. I did enjoy the white truffle and artichoke tagliateli I had in Verona – something I’ve never had before and which was delicious.

Next Time

It’ll be Rome and the south. And more slowly – the furious pace we set meant we covered a lot of ground, but it was tiring sometimes. Still… we had a great time.

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