My weekend trip to Tuscany was quite spontaneous – found cheap tickets and thought that I may need a short break. That not
I didn’t have problems with finding hosts in chosen cities, actually got quite many good looking offers. For the first night, I found a host in Empoli, a small town in the middle between Pisa and Florence. Empoli doesn’t have anything special to offer, but it’s a transfer city to Vinci, the birthplace of famous Leonardo. My initial plan was to check the Leonardino Museum and then spend some time with my host. Although finally, he was too busy to show me around and instead, so instead I set up a meeting with another traveler to spend that time in Pisa together. The second night was planned in Lucca and the third in Pisa, as my return flight was quite early.
Around Pisa in a good company
I arrived in Pisa early in the morning and met with my CS companion just after reaching the city. He was an Italian guy from Trani (small city in Apulia region), also visiting Pisa for the first time.
My travel style is mostly based on spontaneous decisions – I often leave without any specific plan or itinerary. I love to wander aimlessly around unknown streets of the new city, with a paper map to check some must-see spots on the way. It’s a perfect way for solo travels and longer stays, although this time we didn’t have much time for sightseeing. Fortunately, my companion was quite an opposite – with a preplanned map on his phone and advice from his friends.
Based on his itinerary and a few suggestions of mine, we spent half-day on intensive sightseeing. If you’d like to know which places we’ve visited, check my previous post. Besides admiring the sights, we talked a lot about our life and previous travels. I got really inspired by his “at least one trip per month” plan, which as I can see he consistently realizes. Would love to have enough time to implement it in my life!
Lunch and goodbyes
After sightseeing, we decided to eat a late lunch in one of the restaurants. Based on good reviews, close distance and a discount from my companion’s mobile app our choice fell on Capodimonte restaurant. There we ordered a plate of Tuscanian meats for an appetizer, which turned out to be a delicious, yet enormous portion for only two people. For the main dish, we chose ravioli al
After our very late lunch, the time to part away and go our own ways has come. However, it turned out that although our destinations differ, we are going in the same direction. I was heading to my host in Empoli, while my companion had to change train in the same city on his way to Siena. Therefore we shared a train ride talking about our further plans and said farewells at the Empoli station.
Short stay in Empoli
At the Empoli Station, I got picked up by my host and his mum. After a short ride, he showed me his apartment and treated me with tea. It was already close to the sunset, so we’ve decided to visit the center just after a short break. The city didn’t have much to offer, 30 min visit was enough to see all interesting places (main church, square with the lion fountain and Arno river). Not to bother his mum asking for another ride, we decided to take a walk back. On the way, we took a peek at “crazy cat lady” house, but as it was quite cold and rainy we managed to spot only two felines, from the usual dozen.
Not the best CS experience
My host turned out to be much less interesting than I thought and very self-focused. Instead of sharing our travel and life experiences, or at least his interests, he was talking almost only about his problems with finding a girlfriend and Tinder failures. He even admitted using Couchsurfing Hangouts (feature for spontaneous meetings with travellers in a few km
While the time spent alone with my host was quite uncomfortable, thanks to his mother’s hospitality I was feeling safe and welcomed enough to leave him a positive reference. I’m not sure if it was just my false sense, or if his main purpose on Couchsurfing was really only to find a girl, but I’m really not sure how would I act if he were living alone. In fact, just a few days after my stay he has deleted his account, so maybe he really didn’t feel the spirit of this community?
Italian mamma’s hospitality
Despite the problems with my host, the biggest highlight on that stay turned out to be his mum. Although she wasn’t speaking English at all, she showed me true Italian hospitality. She not only baked me a delicious home-made pizza and was encouraging me to eat cookies, despite being already full. But also was trying really hard to get to know me better with small talks in basic Italian and nonverbal communication. Also when I was leaving the next day she treated me with even more cookies and offered me an umbrella (which I couldn’t have given her back), as it was raining outside.
Rainy day in Lucca
I left Empoli at noon with a train to Pisa to head straight to my next host in Lucca. I got interested in that city during my previous trip to Tuscany. Back then while looking for a host in Florence I received many offers praising Lucca and recommending to pay a visit there.
Around the city
My host picked me up from the station and took me for a short walk around the city. Unfortunately, I had really bad luck with the weather and for the whole stay in Lucca, it was raining heavily. Despite the terrible weather, he showed me all interesting spots in the city, such as the round Piazza Antiteatro or San Martin Cathedral.
I really liked Lucca, with its narrow streets and medieval atmosphere, and would love to visit it again. Maybe next time I’ll have better luck with weather and will get an opportunity to try cycling on the city walls…
Couchsurfing in Lucca
After the tour around the city, we took a short ride to my host’s house, located outside the town. Besides the beautiful house, he even had his own olive orchard! Thanks to that he treated me with focaccia with olive oil made from his own olives and for the dinner prepared a delicious pasta with tuna, tomatoes, garlic, and more olives.
As the weather outside was terrible for the whole stay, we spent a lot of time talking on the couch in his attic. He told me many interesting stories about his last trip for skiing in Austria and past travels around different places. He also showed a lot of interest in my travel experiences, especially last trip around South America, as well as my in my home town and everyday life. Despite a big age difference (he was a middle-aged man) we easily found common topics and the conversation went very smoothly. I really enjoyed his company. Also, the “couch” turned out to be a big bed in a separate room with a nice view. Definitely a positive experience, which I would happily repeat!
Pisa one more time
On my last day before leaving, I went back to Pisa around noon. My hosts invited me for a late lunch, but first I wanted to check the Botanical Garden of Pisa. After small problems with catching the bus (confused the bus stop and couldn’t find a place to buy tickets), I finally reached the place. Fortunately, while I was a bit late we still had to wait for the second part of my hosting pair. I was staying with two young students from Liguria, who despite the exam session happily agreed to share their time with me. For lunch, they served me a home-made carbonara and, as they needed some time for learning, they lend me a bike and more comfortable cycling clothes, so that I could spend more time around the city.
After spending a few hours cycling around Pisa, I came back for dinner. Just after I entered the house, my hosts’ friend arrived with a bottle of wine. Quite unexpected, but when it comes to meeting locals – the more people, the better the experience. The dinner turned out to be a great feast – bruschetta with anchovies and crostini neri for a starter, meat-stuffed peppers and salad for the main dish, and even a home-made tiramisu for the dessert! Not to mention a coffee at 1 am… All together with Italian wine and lots of talks and laughs. Talking both on serious and totally absurd topics we spent amazing time till the late night. I learned a lot of new things about regional differences across Italy and their home region – Liguria.
Finally, we had such a great time that I was almost late for my flight back at 9 a.m… Too much talking during the breakfast and missing the bus, but fortunately made it on time, as the plane was delayed a bit. And of course, on that day the weather got better… from the airport, I saw the sun and surrounding mountains for the first time of the whole stay.
Couchsurfing? Totally recommend!
To sum up, besides not the best host choice in Empoli, the whole trip turned out amazing. Despite traveling solo, the only time that I spent alone was a few hours of cycling around Pisa (on the borrowed bike, in borrowed clothes). It wasn’t my first Couchsurfing experience, but for the first time, I spend so much time with my hosts. I also hardly imagine what would I be doing on this trip, if I chose to stay at the hostel – the weather definitely wasn’t encouraging for sightseeing…