Thursday, June 19, 2014

North Tuscany

After Cinque Terre we traveled into the mountain region above Lucca and enjoyed a beautiful Villa near Barga, IT for a couple of days.
 When we were driving up the Autostrade towards our destination, we had to exit in Lucca. As we drove through the place we couldn't resist turning our steering wheel into this OLD walled city.
 New shops presented in an old way, this was a very well preserved old Roman town. Churches, town assembly squares, and of course hundreds of alley like streets took us all around the busy city.
The picture above is from the top of the wall, which is 30 meters wide and has bike paths, walking paths and spectacular trees all around. Linden (Tilia) trees and sycamore trees grown to park size were beautiful.
We continued onward after a couple hours of discovering Lucca toward Barga. We had a beautiful Villa booked for the next couple of days near the town and this was the view from our window.
 That evening we drove into the town and walked around and through this hilled area. We are now getting used to walking on old cobblestone streets that are on steep hillsides. We found a great pizza in town and then headed home.
Next day we headed up to Carrara going the short way (longer time, shorter distance) over the mountains. Here is a pix of Castelnuvo di Garfignana town which we drove through.
 And through the mountains more Linden trees guarding our way. One other thing that we found interesting was the number and length of tunnels found in Italy. On big roads, mountain roads, railway tracks, pedestrian walkways, you name it there was a tunnel involved. When having dinner this very night we ate with a newlywed couple from NYC and he was a Civil Engineer (more on that later) who said that the Italians are known and hired around the world for their tunnel engineering skills.
 Coming out on the other side of one of these tunnels, we stopped and took pictures of the beautiful mountains and the drop below us. You could see them cut away for the carrara mining. For thousands of years these mountains have mined this beautiful marble. We drove down and met our guide Gabriele who then took us in his old Range Rover Defender back up another canyon to the extensive mining operations.
 Everything below, on the sides and above us is pure Carrara. The dust is used for various products in the form of calcium carbonate. Some of those products could include Ca vitamins, cleanser, and food additives. The broken rock is used for pathways, roofs, and various other things. Blocks are used for marble slabs, sculptures, tiles and all sorts of home and industrial building finishes.
The Italians in this region (Linguria) have been mining this marble for over 2000 years and it is ramping up even more in this century. They also manufacture many other rock slabs from all over the world because they have all the machinery, saws, and labor located here. The cost is fairly low for Carrara because of the ease of extraction and the endless supply.
 Check out how tiny this large backhoe tractor looks against the mountain of marble. Each step in this staircase is about 6 feet high. Crazy huh?
 Gabriele was full of information and he spilled out as much as he could knowing we needed to get back to Barga for a cooking class.
 Here he drove us literally 6 feet away from the side of this tractor whose wheel was as big as our entire SUV, and so we could see how the block is placed on the truck for carting down into town.
 The driver of the truck got right under the fork of the tractor and directed which way to go in placing the tonnage onto the bed. No hardhat, our truck next to them, no problem.  Apparently no OSHA.
We were also allowed to go underground to see another way they are mining from the inside of the mountains. This is a little harder and time consuming for each block, but seems to be making progress.
On the way back to the Villa, we spotted a few really cool bridges, and a purple Maserati with the license "33LA." Do you suppose Kareem has a place in Tuscany?

We then attended a cooking class given by the chef at one of the restaurants in the Villa. We had 4 people in out class and we made bread salad, homemade pasta, biscotti and pudding dessert, and zucchini/sundried tomato sauce for the pasta. The other couple in our class was fun and we ate dinner with them that evening, eating our prepared food as well as some other fun things the chef threw in for pleasure. Since I mentioned earlier in the post about the guys job, I should throw in that he is working on the huge Manhattan project digging another railway tunnel between Queens and Grand Central Station. She works as the online store manager for the Metropolitan Museum ofArt. Really enjoyable dinner companions. All in all a great time.

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