Has anyone else ever read a book/watched a movie and absolutely wanted to go to the place described? There are so many inspirations behind my wander-lust for Tuscany, but the one that clearly stands out is Letters to Juliet. Literature, food, and quiet countryside - no wonder I fell in love with the proposition. Some day I'll come back and drive through Tuscany (like, when they allow self-driving cars on the roads), but for now, I found that public transport worked just fine to see quite a few places. I based myself in Pisa & Florence, and did day trips to lesser-known Tuscan towns, including one in Chianti. I was a little sad to skip Verona, but there wasn't a compelling enough reason to put up with the travel time and logistics of fitting it in.

Pisa: I expected to dislike Pisa, and I couldn't be more happy to be so wrong. Yes, I don't really know because I used it as a base, and walked over to the Leaning Tower in the morning, before anyone else was there. But to me, Pisa's about more than just the Tower - or the entire Field of Miracles, for that matter. I loved walking by the Arno river, checking out the 16th century graffiti on the walls of St. Michael's, shopping at the historic market square, and imagining Galileo lecturing at the University of Pisa, one of Europe's oldest. The town center's really small, you can walk it in less than an hour, and you'll be very surprised how quiet it is (everyone's over at the Tower all the time). 

Lucca: A small Tuscan town which has had a wall from 2,000 years ago - a Roman one, then a Medieval one, and the final one built over the Renaissance period. 1/3rd of the city's income went into building the latest walls to defend themselves from potential attack - it's kind of funny that the only time it was under attack was from floods in 1812. In 1799, when Napoleon came to Italy, he liked Lucca so much that he gave it to his sister as a gift. It later passed on to his widow, who's credited with turning the walls into the walk-able parks that are there today. Apparently, even before this, the military had a hard time getting people to respect the walls as being strategic; people kept wanting to bike & picnic there. Unfortunately, the day that I went, it kept raining, and so the trip was a literal washout. I dutifully tried seeing the sights, but I think the real draw is in the walls.

Florence: Everybody loves Florence. I can't comment, since I was only using it as a base, and spent about a day sightseeing. That said, it's sad that the churches/public spaces have reproductions rather than original works... pollution's the cause, apparently, but can it really be that much worse than Rome which does have originals in most places? It irks me to see things outside where they naturally belong, stuck behind glass cases. I was also annoyed that restaurants and bakeries all had clearly inflated prices, regardless of how far they were from a tourist attraction. I can find cheaper food close to the Colosseum than I can three km from the Vecchio.

Panzano in Chianti: Have you ever watched Gilmore Girls, or just any show featuring a fictitious small town where everyone knows everyone? Hello, Panzano. I swear, in the day that I spent there, I met the same people and by mid-afternoon, they all knew my name, what I was doing there, and what my travel plans were next. I knew about some of their children and grandchildren, their careers, their lives.

And I was one of about ten tourists there that day. I've no idea why they all flock to Greve, but I'm so glad they do. I stopped at Greve briefly (you can walk to Panzano from there, it's about an hour uphill), but for the views, the charm, and the complete incomparableness of it all, you can't really beat Panzano. It was easily my favourite day through my entire Europe trip.

Tips & planning info are here and here. Photos + stories are here.

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