Il Bernino Restaurant and Cafe

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It seems as though with every stay in Lucca I discover a new restaurant to add to my list of favorites. On my most recent trip my discovery was Il Bernino, a small restaurant and cafe with a wide variety of delicious offerings. I wanted to try it because one of the new owners is a friend and also because I'd heard rave reviews from my Lucca Italian School classmates.

I kept returning to Il Bernino because the food is so good, the service friendly, and the prices reasonable. The setting is also beautiful. It's clear that the chef and owners care about the quality of the food - with an eye to using fresh local products and making seasonal changes to the menu.

The pretty counter is a perfect place to sip your espresso Italian style, standing at the bar.

The pretty counter is a perfect place to sip your espresso Italian style, standing at the bar.

An after lunch macchiato - these cups made me smile!

An after lunch macchiato - these cups made me smile!

I first stopped in late one morning for a quick cappuccino, served Italian style, standing at the bar. It was a good espresso with just the right amount of steamed milk - a perfect mid-morning pick-me-up. An after lunch macchiato was also tasty on another day! 

The panini (sandwiches) in the display case looked so good that I grabbed one "da porta via" (to go) for an impromptu picnic on the city walls. It was simple but oh so tasty - a good prosciutto and a bit of cheese on a fabulous olive-studded filone (a long thin baguette). A great picnic lunch.

 

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My next visit was for pranzo (lunch) with a friend (Judy, whom you know as the co-writer of this blog). We both ordered the same thing - spaghetti con vongole e limone (spaghetti with clams and lemon). This was a unique presentation in that the clams were chopped (as opposed to served in the shells) and the dish was topped with fragrant lemon zest. It was delicate and delicious - a dish I can't wait to have again and will certainly crave when I return home to New Mexico.

 

 

 

 

Next up (remember, I was in Lucca for almost two months) was another lunch, this time a Caesar salad with a juicy, perfectly grilled chicken breast on top. Grilled chicken is not a common dish here in Lucca, so finding this on the menu was a real treat. It was artfully arranged, with lettuce, radicchio, and small tomatoes  lightly topped with the chicken and a flavorful dressing. Another wonderful meal.

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Il Bernino is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (closed Mondays). It's also a great spot for an aperitivo. There is a pretty outdoor seating area. For more formal dining, or on chilly days, head inside and up the stairs to the inviting dining room with it's attractive art and soft music.

Il Bernino is situated at the corner of Via Fillungo and Via Mordini. The outdoor seating is just a bit off busy Via Fillungo - close enough to watch the activity on what is Lucca's "Main Street" but at enough of a distance to feel quiet and relaxed.

Add this wonderful little place to my list of favorites in Lucca!

-post by JMB

 

 

The pretty upstairs dining room.

The pretty upstairs dining room.

Contact information:  Il Bernino Via Filungo 86, Lucca.   

Arrivederci Lucca

Piazza Anfiteatro (the Roman Amphitheater) 

Piazza Anfiteatro (the Roman Amphitheater) 

Last days in Lucca are always bittersweet. I look forward to returning home, to reconnecting with family and friends. I miss my kids and grandkids when I'm away; I'm sure the little ones have grown inches taller while I’ve been in Italy. And yet, I am terribly sad to say goodbye to Lucca, which feels as much like home to me as does New Mexico. Returning to Albuquerque for the late fall and the holidays means missing those wonderful seasons in Italy. Staying in Lucca would mean missing them in New Mexico. This is the challenge of a life divided by place - just where is home, and where is away? Which is "here" and which is "there"?

By necessity my last day was partially spent sorting through things I've accumulated in the last weeks, clearing out the refrigerator and kitchen in my apartment, and packing. But I also spent a lot of time wandering through Lucca and saying arrivederci to people and places. As I wandered, I tried to commit to memory my favorite views - rooftops, gardens, towers, statues, churches, medieval streetscapes, cafes, and squares. 

A favorite bar / cafe just off Piazza San Michele, Lucca

A favorite bar / cafe just off Piazza San Michele, Lucca

I stopped for a late morning cappuccino - an Italian ritual I will sorely miss at home. I tried to absorb the sounds and scents of the city and the magical sound of the Italian language (oh how I will miss my classes at Lucca Italian School).  And of course I took a long walk on Le Mura (the walls) and sat on "my" bench overlooking the back of the church and bell tower of San Frediano and the gardens of Palazzo Pfanner.  Of all the views of Lucca from Le Mura, this is my favorite.

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A delicious farewell lunch at Gigi Trattoria.

A delicious farewell lunch at Gigi Trattoria.

I had a long, slow lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Gigi Trattoria. They served a fabulous autumn dish, risotto con zucca e salsiccia (pumpkin and sausage), alongside delicate verdure fritte (fried vegetables), a vino bianco frizzante (sparkling white wine)  and 2 little homemade cookies (Biscotti di Gigi). Knowing I would be gone for the next 4 months, they wished me not only Buon Viaggio but also Buone Feste (happy holidays), Buon Natale (Merry Christmas), and Buon Capodanno (Happy New Year ). We parted with the traditional Italian kisses and a "ci vediamo in Marzo" (see you in March). This welcoming friendliness, this willingness to embrace a straniera (foreigner) is one of the many reasons I love Lucca.

Late in the afternoon, because looking ahead makes leaving a bit easier, I walked past the apartment I have already rented for spring. It's right across from the Torre Guinigi (the tower with the trees on top) and around the corner from the Boccherini Music Institute. I know that I will hear music from the  student rehearsals drifting through my windows when I return in spring. Until then, I will be writing about my experiences in Italy this fall, daydreaming about Lucca, cooking Italian dishes at home, trying to build stronger language skills, and doing all I can to remain in an Italian frame of mind.            post by JMB

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The Torre Guinigi, near the apartment I have rented for Spring 2018.

The Legend of the Volto Santo (Holy Face)

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

Italy is a country full of mysterious legends. This is certainly true in Lucca - there are legends about deals made with the devil, of a saintly housekeeper and her miracle, of stone pillars mysteriously bent but not broken, of rivers diverted by prayer. Not far from Lucca is a stone bridge supposedly built with help from the devil himself.  Fascinating!

Perhaps the most important legend in Lucca is that of the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix said to be carved by Nicodemus shortly after the resurrection of Christ. As the legend goes, Nicodemus carved the body of Christ, but fell asleep before carving the face. When he awoke, the face was miraculously completed. The crucifix was then hidden for some 700 years at which time it was discovered, loaded onto an unmanned ship, set to sea, and eventually landed on the coast of Italy. From there, a cart steered only by oxen brought the crucifix (another miracle) to Lucca where it has remained ever since. Many miracles have been associated with the crucifix and pilgrims traveling the Via Francigena, between Rome and Canterbury, often included a stop in Lucca to see the Volto Santo.

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

 Today, this unique work of art is housed in a small gated chapel within the San Martino cathedral and has a dedicated celebration, the Festival of Santa Croce (Holy Cross), held every year in mid-September. This is the most important festival of the year in Lucca and during this time the Christ figure on the crucifix is dressed in gold vestments, including a gold crown, collar, belt, and shoes. It is also the one time of year when the gates to the chapel are opened, allowing people to pass through right in front of the crucifix. 

 

 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

The highlight of the Santa Croce festival takes place on the night of September 13th with a stunningly beautiful procession in which luminaria (candles) outline the windows and arches of the buildings along the route. The procession includes townspeople, priests and bishops, the misericordia and red cross, community leaders, school children, people in medieval costumes, musicians and singers. Many carry candles, torches, or other religious objects. There is also a special mass in the cathedral the following day.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

I was fortunate to be in Lucca for this year's Luminaria di Santa Croce. Whether here for the history, religious significance, or sheer beauty of this event, it is a moving experience to witness a procession whose history reaches back to medieval times.              Post by JMB

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

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Settling In

Via Pelleria - my current home in Lucca

Via Pelleria - my current home in Lucca

The first few days after arriving in Lucca are all about settling in.

This involves getting used to a new apartment, often in a slightly different neighborhood than on previous visits, revisiting favorite places, reconnecting with friends, taking a slow stroll through town, and discovering the inevitable changes that have taken place since my last visit.

 

I enjoy the settling in process - making the transition from the me that lives in New Mexico to the me that lives (temporarily) in Italy. Being here for a long stay means that I have the luxury of slowly overcoming my jet lag, of taking time to reacquaint my ear (and my tongue) with the sound of the Italian language, and of adopting my Italian identity - here, they call me Giovanna. 

A view of the city from  le   mura  (the wall), always one of the first places I visit on a return trip to Lucca.

A view of the city from le mura (the wall), always one of the first places I visit on a return trip to Lucca.

I arrived here a few days ago and am now fairly well settled. I've unpacked and organized. I've stocked my apartment with groceries and caught up with some old friends. This morning I walked the short distance from my apartment to the ramp leading up to le mura (the wall which surrounds the historic city) and made the easy 20 minute walk to the school where I will study Italian for the next 6 weeks. Although I am definitely not a superstar when it comes to learning a new language, there is something very special about studying Italian in the place where it was born - here in Tuscany - and then getting to use it as you go about daily life.

Walking on le mura (the wall).

Walking on le mura (the wall).

The tower with the trees on top is the Torre Guinigi, a famous landmark and symbol of the city. 

The tower with the trees on top is the Torre Guinigi, a famous landmark and symbol of the city. 

As I wandered around today I was reminded of how beautiful this town is with its classic Italian architecture, its towers and piazze, and its wide wall full of bicyclists, walkers, runners, and endless vistas.  For now, this is home, and I'm delighted to be a part of it all.

I'll be experiencing (and writing about) many things while I'm here in Italy, beginning with the festival of Santa Croce which I'll write about next week. For now, here is a sampling of some of the views I found as I walked along le mura this morning.      Post by JMB

Biking the wall is a popular activity in Lucca. 

Biking the wall is a popular activity in Lucca. 

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Piazza Santa Maria, a good place to rent a bike or a 4 wheeled surrey. 

A beautiful unrestored building as seen from le mura (the wall). 

A beautiful unrestored building as seen from le mura (the wall).