We’d heard and read so much about Tuscany before we left home, but we still didn’t know what to expect.  I’d done my research and knew that Lucca was a walled city and comune surrounded by intact Renaissance-era city walls. Seven thousand people live inside; another 40,000 live in the area surrounding Lucca.

It was a surprise when we lugged our bags out of the train station to the street because there were few taxis. We later found out that vehicles have to have a special permit to drive within the city walls. Driving to our apartment was an adventure – the streets are basically one lane wide, with two body’s worth of space on each side. Life in Tuscany is more laid back. Surprisingly, the Lucchese don’t toot their horns as they do in Rome. They wait patiently until someone notices and eases to hug the buildings lining the street. I mention bodies because that’s what brushes against the doors of the cab as we squeeze by bicycles and pedestrians. No one seems to mind.

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Everyone rides bicycles for transportation – old, young, mothers, dads. There are as many bicycle rental stores as there are gelateria. Then there’s the glorious wide paved road along the top of the protective wall. We walked it one day – more than 10 kilometers bustling with cyclists, parents pushing strollers, kids going back and forth to school, joggers, dog-walkers – you name it.

Our host Paolo Columbini was waiting in the lobby, thank goodness. We faced seven flights of seven narrow stairs to get to our third floor home away from home for a week. He looked young and fit – so he got to carry up our 20 kg. bags.After two days, we could do the stairs without puffing. The downstairs hallway smelled of damp, which is a charactistic of the centuries old buildings in Italy. They paint over the peeling walls but ina few years, the moisture pushes through and they have to do it again.

The apartment in the heart of the town was a wonderful base for our travels around Tuscany – spacious, very clean and bright. The view over the clay-tiled roofs made it clear why so many painters were enamoured of Tuscany. The afternoon light had a golden limpid quality that held even as the intensity of the sun shifted from hour to hour. I never tired of staring out the window. Our bedroom overlooked the street, which was always busy. As you know, sound travels upwards. At times, it seemed like we had guests in our room, the conversations were so clear. After a few days, though, we grew accustomed to the chatter, the daily recycling pickup trucks and the wail of EMS vehicles on their way to somewhere else.

Away from the buslte and incessant noise of Rome, we finally started to relax. And walk and walk and walk.