Lifestyle & Culture

Carla Bastos’ Greener Pastures, Pt. 5: Train-hopping through Tuscany and supporting your adopted community

The village of Pistoia from the train

(Editor’s note: This post about her challenges in Tuscany is Pt. 5 in a continuing series of posts about Carla Bastos’ efforts to start a new expat life in Italy. You can jump to Pt. 1 herePt. 2 here, Pt. 3 here and Pt. 4 here.)

My househunting trip to Italy has thus far proven hilarious, ridiculous, productive and maddening all at once. Largely my own fault since I probably scheduled too many property visits in too short a span, these first few days have also been soooo exhausting.

Trip to nowhere

Lucca (All photos by Carla Bastos)

One of the early problems I encountered was train trouble. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in Tuscany back and forth between Florence and Lucca this week, viewing several potential abodes. But, in trying to keep appointments with realtors and property managers, the trains have not cooperated.

On one day alone, the train made an unscheduled stop in a small village for no apparent reason and passengers were urgently told to get off and board another train on a far-away track (which was actually headed in the opposite direction and would later circle back, thereby causing me to miss an appointment that day).

The amusing upside to this was that I was forced to figure out what the announcer was saying. It was either that or get hopelessly lost or left behind, or maybe just follow the other passengers to somewhere I didn’t want to be. While I’ve been diligently working on my Italian for a while now, I’ve always contended that the only way to fully grasp another language is by immersion—trial by fire, if you will.

My point was proven that day.

Another positive was discovering several hamlets in Tuscany I’d never heard of, like Montale and Montecatini. These became contenders for my new home. And, because my original village of choice, Santa Fiora, ended up having no rentals that would fit my needs at this time (although it’s still hopeful for the future), these discoveries were crucial.

To qualify the train issue, I must say I’ve never encountered problems with Italy’s rail system before, albeit most of those past trips having been just point A to point B and not zig-zagging about. We’ve heard a lot about infrastructure lately, and I don’t see Italy as having major problems. Yes, the region is thousands of years old and crumbling as we speak, so there’s that. But, relatively speaking, the country overall has always struck me as well maintained given the ancient ruins it has to work with. And, taxes are such that infrastructure seems to be one of its
clear priorities.

I’m convinced the internal travel troubles here at this time are the exception, not the rule.

It just so happened that they followed an awful day-and-a-half of travel from the States, hence the exhaustion. And, my day of Lucca madness happened to be on my birthday.

Coming home

From left, Mimmo, the author, Elisabetta and Rahmah (Photo courtesy of the author)

All of that said, being back in Italy has been glorious. Christmas decorations are already out, so evening treks around the piazzas are festive. At the end of my day of birthday blues and frustrations, I stopped by an old favorite restaurant in Firenze, Ristorante da Mimmo, to treat myself to a nice dinner.

It was like coming home.

It’s hard to say what it is about the place that makes it special. After all, there are so many first-rate establishments to grab a quick bite or settle in for a leisurely four-course feast accompanied by superb wines and followed up with the requisite limoncello. But for me, Mimmo’s is just different. Housed in a theater built in the 17th century by musician Domenico Milani, the musical theme is maintained with ancient instruments mounted on the walls throughout.

The owners, Mimmo (also the cook) and Elisabetta, along with their brilliant, multilingual young hostess Rahmah, have quietly, steadily and expertly remained standing through Covid. Their food is second to none, their hospitality sincere.

As Rahmah chatted me up while taking my order, I happened to mention it was my birthday. Of course, at the end of the meal, I was treated to an impromptu mini-celebration, complete with the trio’s rousing birthday chorus.

We all have our favorite haunts, be they in our hometown, in vacation spots we may frequent, or in our adopted homeland. They need our support. If you are an aspiring expat as I am, consider that this is what it means to become part of a community. It’s not so much about what they can do for you. What do you bring to the table? (Whatever it is, it won’t be as good as Mimmo’s!)

A few days in, and I still haven’t settled on a temporary apartment in Tuscany. But, I’ve gotten a lot done, made a few new discoveries, narrowed down my choices and I’m close to signing a lease agreement. Once all the business stuff is out of the way, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner at a vineyard outside of Florence, then back to the U.S. to begin packing up and preparing for the big move to Tuscany.

Is this really happening?!

Next up: The great escape.

About the author:

Carla Bastos is a freelance writer and former journalist and newspaper editor. Having lived in developing countries and covered wars and natural disasters, she has written extensively on a variety of related topics.

Her many years of world travels and humanitarian work continue to inform her writing, which can be found at carla-bastos.com.

See more here about Italy’s various programs to repopulate villages.

See more in Dispatches’ Italy archives here.

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