On our last morning in Florence we wake up to 3 degrees and ice on the ceiling of the van. It feels like we went from summer to winter in one day. We visit LIDL our favourite cheap supermarket and stock up on wine, juice, beer, chocolate and a khaki hat for me with ear flaps of black fake fur. It’s reminiscent of the movie “Enemy at the Gates”, perfect for the cold nights ahead. John already wears an All Black beanie and Welsh scarf to bed.
We drive to Lucca and park for the night outside the ancient city walls close to a Gypsy camp. After a walk around the ramparts we climb the Guinigi Tower for a superb view of the surrounding area. The Apuan Alps to the north offer a glimpse of white marble.
When it’s dark the Gypsies light a large bonfire.
Next morning we buy matching sets of wool mix underwear then head north, inland alongside the Serchio River. The last of the tomatoes are hanging in orderly vegetable gardens and the bare branches of persimmon trees are laden with ripe orange/pink fruit.
Our journey takes us past the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) where we stop to do the dishes and brew our morning coffee.
After travelling through the mountains we turn south near the coast, then inland to Carrara. The Romans were here from the 2nd century BC, mining the glorious white marble and shipping it to Rome to build the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column. Since then this high quality marble has been used for fine buildings and sculpture, including Michelangelo’s “David” and the Marble Arch in London.
Driving east we’re confronted by the steepest mountains of white marble. As we get closer we see where the mining has taken place, with square excavations standing out like drilled teeth. It’s a perfect clear day, with the mountains stark against the sky.
A steep winding road leads us right up to the action, with massive blocks of marble beside the road and white dust covering everything. The scale and drama are fantastic. We’re amazed to get this close.
We stop in a car park to make a calming cup of tea. John climbs stiffly down from the cab after a long day in the saddle. An old man emerges from the bushes carrying a large bundle of weeds and when John asks him what they’re for he says they’re for his rabbit. He speaks English and is overjoyed to hear that we’re from New Zealand. He says he’s never met any Kiwis before. When I point to John’s All Black shirt he does a little haka. He tells us that his wife is half Italian and half French, throwing up his hands in a way that indicates we should know how challenging that is!
We drive down through the town of Carrara in the late afternoon, with the sun low over the glassy Mediterranean, and find a beach to the north of the port where the marble is shipped out.
A glass of wine goes down well as we cook our dinner on the sand. The sun sets over the sea and the moon rises behind the white Carrara mountains.
Dinner is a new recipe born of necessity:
Tip a can of vegetable soup into a large pot with a can of chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add spinach and ricotta tortelli pasta, and simmer until cooked.
Darkness brings an icy coldness and my new hat is a godsend as we walk back to the van for a night in the car park.
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