Looking back at 2016

It’s February already and this blog entry has been rattling around in my mind since the end of last year. It’s time to stop procrastinating!

In a word, 2016 was wonderful!  Casa La Pace welcomed more guests than any prior year. We made many new friends and welcomed into our home many old, gold ones. (“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”).

As I recall the second half of 2016, a series of images flash.  Most of all, I remember the smiling faces. Pepper and I are extremely proud of the happy times we have created with our guests.

Here then are some of the memorable moments:

As often happens, old friends bring along their friends, who then become our friends. A couple from central Arkansas invited two of their friends to rendezvous with them at Casa La Pace. The new acquaintances were hysterically funny.  Irreverent and brash, they remind me that the stereotype of Southerners is entirely unfair.  We come in all colors of the rainbow and have more than our fair share of wit and wisdom.


In the newspaper I recently read of some new stage plays opening in London.  I immediately thought of the guests who are university professors.  In the past, they lived in London. Each morning in our breakfast room she recounted, to my envy,  her passion for the London stage.  It seemed she knew almost every theater in that wonderful city and had seen many, many productions while they lived there.


Three girlfriends who have known each other for more than 30 years came to stay with us for a week.  They each now live in different parts of the world and hadn’t seen each other in many years.  Casa La Pace was their chosen point of reunion. During the week we got to know each individually and also be included temporarily in their circle.  An interesting coincidence provided the solution to a mystery.  One evening as we strolled to dinner, I pointed out several “Liberty” houses along Via Nazionale.  I pondered aloud why the Italians use the English word “Liberty” to describe this architectural style from the early 1900s.  Jan quickly piped up with the answer:  Liberty is an iconic department store in London. Even more astounding,  she whipped out here cellphone and showed me several photos of the interior and exterior of the store!


A wonderful California couple came on the recommendation of a business acquaintance. As often happens, Pepper and I felt an immediate connection.  He is a lobbyist and she is a scientific journalist and they were as engaging and fascinating as it sounds.  They defyed appearances, too, as they are both motorcycle afficionados and she has won many competitions! They were with us only a few days, but our bond was so deep and quickly formed that we were thrilled to meet up with them again in Lucca at the end of their vacation.


A couple from Connecticut surprised me. Being from the South, I have an idea of what a Yankee is. Not surprisingly, my narrow definition did not do justice to these two people.  He is buff and meaty, built like a former linebacker. She could be a former beauty queen. (In fact, I can easily picture them at their high school reunion, on the stage as the returning Homecoming King and Queen.)  Unlike his tough exterior, he expressed great sensitivity and compassion.  And she was astute and witty, the antithesis of a “dumb blonde”.


I am no longer star-struck, but I get weak in the knees in the presence of writers.  Two brothers with relatives in Ghivizzano stayed with us. One is a Jesuit priest and the other a writer for the Associated Press.  The latter spent several years in Russia and we had breakfast discussions on the state of journalism, the fall of the USSR, and the book that he is writing.  After leaving Casa La Pace, the priest was headed to Assisi, where he would be guide to a pilgrimage group.


Because Pepper went shopping in Denver a family group stayed with us at Casa La Pace.  Does it surprise you that he struck up a conversation with the sales clerk?  And because of his enthusiasm for Ghivizzano and Casa La Pace, she came to visit – and brought her relatives  All were delightful, coming from various points on the map and sharing their diverse lives – and love of family – with us.


November was a real surprise this year. We had only 1 day without guests during the whole month!  All of the guests were friends (some because they stayed at Casa La Pace) and several were returning for another visit.

Two ladies, long-time friends, left behind their husbands and came to Casa La Pace for an extended visit.  They seemed polar opposites – blond and brunette, thin and not-so-thin, corporate go-getter and office secretary, regular traveller and first-time voyager.  But they had been friends for many years and shared their friendship with us.  I recall that during our tour of Lucca, they paid close attention to the details and each asked perceptive questions that let me know they were really interested in the tour.


A family that we met when they lived in Italy returned for a too-short visit.  During their sojourn in Italy, they regularly visited Lucca. So when they came to Casa La Pace, we didn’t need to introduce this exquisite walled city to them. Instead, we strolled around, visiting their cherished spots, chatting and laughing as we walked.  To end the day, we rented bicycles and rode atop the walls of Lucca. It was a truly memorable day of golden autumn sunshine and friends.

The biggest group of the year arrived in November, members of a tango-dancing club.  Pepper had arranged for them to perform an exhibition dance in Coreglia and so I have several images burned indelibly in my mind:

Sabrina, the liason for the commune, invited us all to her home for a delicious home-cooked meal. Afterwards, she recounted the history of the house, including the suffering and deprivations of her grandfather during WWII.  It brought us all to tears to step into the shoes of the Italians in one of the dark moments in history.

As we were returning to town on the winding, narrow mountain road, I encountered an elderly woman driving a large (by Italian standards) SUV.  As I squeezed between her car on the left and the precipice on our right, I breathed a sigh of relief –  until a heard a quick screech and then a thump. I stepped out of the car and trudged to the back of my car the blinding rain. I looked down at my car bumper, rocking slowly on the asphalt, whole but desolate.  I had no choice but to push it to the side of the road, carry my guests on to their destination, and return an hour later to load the bumper into the back.

Another returning couple brought along their newly-wed friends.  The large majority of the guests of Casa La Pace are closer to retirement than to high school. So it was thrilling to be surrounded by the energy and excitement of young people starting their lives together.



Our final guests are a wonderful couple who wanted to share Italy and Casa La Pace with their nieces.  Once again, it was delightful to see Italy through their eyes.  The girls are still teenagers. So they sometimes acted as though they know everything already. And other times, they were sweetly naive. Both fell in love with Pepper, who carries the spirit of youth in him in spite of his age.


As I raked the garden in my mind trying to remember these things, I am sorry to say that names and faces get mixed up and fade quickly. In 2017, I promise to take notes along the way!

Pepper and I hope that you will come to Casa La Pace and make memories with us in 2017!




Our neighbor Lina – RIP

I learned today the sad news that Natalina Zafferri, better known as Lina Nizza, died yesterday.  She was in an RSA (nursing home) since 2014.


Guests of Casa La Pace from 2011 – 2013 may remember her as the old lady who sat in our courtyard and spoke very loudly.  And Lina didn’t care that our guests didn’t know Italian, she would have a long, loud discourse with anyone.

When Pepper and I first arrived in Ghivizzano, Lina was in the courtyard to greet us.  She seemed to be there always: any time we walked out the front door or walked into the courtyard returning home.  She had a sixth sense about new arrivals, coming out of the passageway from her house just as our guests were rolling their suitcase to the front door.

For a very long time, I tried to avoid her.  Lina had a severe face, a loud grating voice, and a ‘blue’ vocabulary that few other Italians could match. When she saw me, she’d yell “O, Americano”, and then follow with a long discourse. I would respond politely – and then make a quick exit.

One day, as we were loading our dirty laundry into our car, she rushed to the gate and yelled, “Where are you going?” in an accusatory manner.  I responded that we were going to the laundrymat to wash our clothes.  There was silence for a moment, and then Lina yelled, “Why are you going there? I have a perfectly good washing machine that is going to waste. Use mine!”

From that point on, we were fast friends.  As she became less mobile, I sometimes dropped by and sat in her cozy kitchen to chat for a few minutes.

Our neighbors told me we were lucky to have met Lina in her declining years, when she wasn’t so cruel and annoying.  I am lucky to have known her and to have been a friend.

Pepper e Lina


2016 – Best year yet!

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It doesn’t seem possible, and yet the calendar tells me that Casa La Pace has been welcoming guests for 5 years.

This year’s weather has been almost perfect. As I recall past years, I remember many days of beautiful weather. But I must say that 2016 has been almost the textbook definition of normal weather.  The exception was winter – which there was none, as the cold temperatures rarely dropped below freezing. But as typical, February was a long stretch of rain and gray.  Yes, I suffered and moaned. But that is normal for the Serchio Valley. And we had just returned from a wonderful 6-week visit to the U.S. So I tried to keep all things in perspective.

March was sunny and bright. I remember that the gardens were full of flowers, with plants often blooming ahead of schedule (I blame the warm winter).  Azaleas and wisteria, apples and cherries, the bees were buzzing and I was humming.

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April was gorgeous!  Everyone says it rains for Pasquetta. But this year was the exception. And it rained sparingly, giving us longer days of sunshine.

May continued the trend of little rain.  By now the snows had disappeared from the mountains. But we weren’t ready to pack away the winter clothes, as the nights were deliciously chilly.

June started rainy and continued the unusual weather for most of the month. We had sunshine at least part of each day though, so it was never dreary. And then, amazingly on the first day of summer the clouds vanished!  As the month ended, the march of days got gradually warmer. So by July, it was truly hot at midday.  As in years past, there were about 10 days of hot weather and then a sudden cooling.  For the rest of July, the days were moderate and we opened the windows at night.  Funny enough, several of our guests closed their windows and slept under the quilts!

clp 2

As August ends, I also think back to our guests.  2016 has been a wonderful year in this way, too. We’ve had more guests than ever before and for longer stretches.  The other day, we reviewed the calendar for September and October. I couldn’t believe we have guests almost every day during these two months.

In our first year, friends and family were our primary guests. Happily, we had quite a few people find us on TripAdvisor and the Internet. As our list of guests (and new friends) has grown, so has the word of mouth. Now we are welcoming people who were recommended by previous guests.  I couldn’t ask for a better compliment.  And Pepper and I couldn’t be prouder!

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Spring Festivals 2016

As the valley wakes up from its winter slumber, its pe ople begin to shake off their lethargy, too.  As though a long hibernation is over, more bicyclists whiz along the highways.  The terrace of Bar Sport and other sidewalk bars and caffe’ are more crowded.  And villages and towns hold festivals to mark the arrival of spring.

Decorating for spring

Flowers, flowers, everywhere!  Every market, every greenhouse, and even on the side of the highways, roses, geraniums, azaleas, and petunias are for sale.  Their bright colors in the golden sunlight are a perfect counterpoint to the gray days of late winter.


Chiesa delle Azalee
Chiesa at Borgo a Mozzano

Everyone is ready to get out of the house, too.  The festivals we have visited so far were more bustling than past years. It could be because Easter came early this year, and so everyone is more mentally prepared to be outside. I think that it is because this has been a picture-perfect spring. All of March and most of April were without significant rain.  Days of endless sunshine and warm temperatures have brought the valley to full flower earlier than years past.

Azaleas and the wheel
Along the street in Borgo

This year, we went to Borgo a Mozzano in April for the bi-annual Azalea festival.  The single long road that winds through the town is blocked off. Banks of flowers and imaginative arrangements appear as if by magic, softening the cold stone corridor with the bright colors of azaleas and camellias.  We avoided the traffic by taking the train, only 2 train stops from our station.  We arrived in time for lunch, sitting outdoors at the local pub.


Azalea piazza
Central piazza of Borgo a Mozzano

Afterwards, we strolled for a couple of hours, including afternoon coffee in our itinerary.  I boarded with train for home with only a small azalea, resisting the temptation (mostly) this year to fill the courtyard with these early bloomers.

May 1 is International Labor Day in Italy as in most countries (except in the United States).  This year was the 56th year that Fornaci di Barga was the center of activity for ‘Primo Maggio’.  Perhaps because it fell on a Sunday or again because of the gorgeous warm sunshine, but it seemed that everyone from Ghivizzano was there.

Roses Fornaci
Roses for sale
Fornaci decoration
Primo Maggio Moto

And there were more people than I have seen before. People from throughout the valley were in attendance.  I spotted a several foreign tags and a few steering wheels on the right side of the car. Once again, the Lucca-Aulla train line allowed us to avoid the headaches of parking and traffic.

Fornaci street
Crowd of Primo Maggio

Too soon, the sun will become hot during midday and everyone will retreat indoors for the afternoon siesta. In the meantime, we are celebrating this wonderful spring of 2016 out of doors.

Fornaci Piazza
Fornaci in Bloom

First Snow!

The Segone

Pepper and I have been in the Serchio Valley since June, 2010.  We have
enjoyed 6 autumns, some prettier than others.  This year’s edition has been incredible!  We’ve had long stretches of sunshine and very little rain.  If anything, it has been a little warmer than I’d like – but I’m not complaining!  It took a while, but the trees finally began losing their leaves a couple of weeks ago.


Last Saturday brought our first heavy downpour.  It rained all day, becoming ever wetter as the day progressed.  What a surprise, then, to wake up to crystal-clear skies and cooler temperatures on Sunday.  Since then, it has been “sweater weather”.


Even more thrilling was to discover that the mountains were blanketed in snow, both the Appennini and the Alpi Apuane.  An afternoon or two has been overcast since then. But most days, like today, are sunny and cool.  The perfect end to a perfect autumn.


We can only hope that winter is as “picture perfect”!

Pania della Croce

150 TripAdvisor Reviews!

When Pepper and I were preparing to open Casa La Pace, my cousin mentioned a website named ‘TripAdvisor’.  I told her that I’d never heard of it. She responded that she used it extensively to plan her trips.  When I mentioned this to Pepper, he of course knew all about it – and had already put Casa La Pace on the website, ready for our first review.

We’ve been delighted and honored to read the reviews our guests submit to TripAdvisor. We enjoy welcoming guests to Casa La Pace, and would do our best in any case. But it is a great feeling to know that our efforts are recognized.

We recently reached 150 reviews.  This may seem like a small number, but to us it’s a thrilling milestone. Not every guest submits a review, of course. It represents a small sample of the wonderful people who have stayed with us since we opened in 2011.

My experience has been that someone with a complaint is ready and willing to share it with others. So we are doubly proud that the reviews are almost exclusively top-rated.

We are grateful to each and every one of you who has shared your review on TripAdvisor.

Please check out our TripAdvisor page.  Casa La Pace


2015 Guests – so far

As summer comes to an end, I’m looking back on the year so far. Casa La Pace had a terrific spring and summer. As I remember this year’s guests, it is a mix of old and young, but each fascinating in his/her own way. I can honestly say we were sad at each departure.
* An old schoolmate. Rita had already been here once, bringing along a nephew. This time she treated her niece, a lovely girl who was open to new adventures.
* A couple from central Arkansas and his sister from Kansas. Husband and wife were recently retired and we were delighted to learn of so many friends in common. Janet is also retired (from the postal service) and is also a very talented artist. She honored us by giving us a few pieces she created in our courtyard.
* 4 ‘crazy’ ladies who had been long-time friends. They filled the house with more laughter than we’ve ever had before.
* Another 4 ladies from central Arkansas, wealthier than our average clientele. One owns a car dealership and another used to own a golf course. But they were as sweet and interesting as any of our other guests.
* 2 single ladies, one who celebrated her 70th birthday with us and the other a retired newspaper owner. Judith is passionate about criminal justice reform. Kitty has promised to write a profile of Casa La Pace.
* Relatives of a neighbor. They were with his sister most of the time, so we didn’t get to spend much time with them. Breakfast was our opportunity to learn more about this young couple from a different region of Italy.
* Father and wife, daughter and husband, all from Arkansas, but none from the Little Rock area. All 4 had fascinating stories and I felt like we just scratched the surface, even though they were with us for a full week.
* 20-something couple from Louisiana (soon to be Texas). I got to know them better during our day trip to Firenze. How surprised was I to their response to my query of what they were listening to on their shared earphones: not the latest pop or country hit, but a podcast from NPR!
* A German and his family. Pepper and I met Bernd when we lived in Colorado. It was wonderful to catch up on his life from when he was a young, eager college student and meet Isabelle and their two adorable children. It was a memorable week and I was on the verge of tears when they left.
* Arkansas girl and her former-exchange student friend from Germany. Abbie and Pascale remind me that spending more time with ‘the younger generation’ is a wonderful way to sweep away the negative perceptions that I can allow to develop.
* 7 ladies, 5 older and 2 younger, from Mississippi. They found us through our great friends David Taliaferro and Norma. They now have a terrific story that could be entitled ‘the delights and dangers of Italian train travel’.
* A redhead and his wife, recently retired, who sail during their vacations. They made a brief visit to Casa La Pace on their way home from a sailing adventure in the Seychelles.
* Our dear friends from S Florida. This is Bernie and Toni’s 3rd visit to Casa La Pace and definitely the most satisfying (for me, anyway). More generous and loving friends you won’t find.
* 5 Italians from Toscana and Emiglia-Romagna, in Ghivizzano because of their common passion for vintage motorcycles. Their days were preprogrammed, so we hardly got to see them. But they’ve all promised to return to Casa La Pace for a longer visit.
* An Arkansas family who, at the same time as our move to Italy, they moved to Mexico for three years. Katherine and Mike, Matthew and Russell were a marvelous, fascinating group. We are honored that they included us in their month-long travels throughout France, Italy, and Spain.

We are excited that September, October, and November will bring a fresh wave of guests. I’m looking forward to reflecting on them at year-end.

Casa La Pace – new and improved!

Since ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, I won’t write a lot in this blog post.  Instead, I’ll let the images tell the story.

We bought the house in 2009 and don’t know how long ago the house was last painted.

This was the front of the house before we began.

Casa La Pace before

The first step was to patch the cracks.

Casa La Pace during 1

Then the workers applied an undercoat, which should limit cracks and impede mold growth.

Casa La Pace during 2

Then the new color was applied – it was so exciting to watch the transformation.

scaffolding 3

After finishing the front of the house, they moved to the side facing Ghivizzano Alto. Scaffolding 1

Thank goodness the road next to the house is now closed.

Scaffolding 2

And now Casa La Pace is more beautiful than ever, inside and out.

This is the front of the house as seen within the courtyard.

Casa La Pace After 1

And this is the house as you see it when climbing the path from the train station.

Casa La Pace after 2

We hope you’ll come see for yourself how beautiful Casa La Pace is.

Exciting changes at Casa La Pace

When we bought our house in 2009, we recognized that many improvements would be required.  Since then, we completely renovated the interior. We also made important changes to the outside, including replacing the two roofs on the front of the house (one is pictured here) and installing solar panels.


But we postponed ‘cosmetic’ changes until we were satisfied that Casa La Pace was structurally sound and as comfortable for our guests as possible.

Finally, though, we have begun the work to repair and repaint the outside of the house.

Check back soon for pictures of the new-and-improved Casa La Pace!


I love springtime in all its colors, sounds and smells. 2015 promises to be a spectacular one. Winter in the Serchio valley was very nice this year. It was cold, especially at night. But that is a welcome development, as last winter was one of unusucamelias1al warmth – which led to a wet, mild spring and summer.  This year, the mountains around us are blanketed in heavy snow.  Fortunately, it hasn’t fallen in the valley, so we are able to enjoy the beauty without the inconvenience.  We’ve had a moderate number of rainy days. But we haven’t had long stretches of gray, dreary weather and I remember many days of sunshine so far this year.


With the passing of the spring equinox, the valley appears to be still stuck in winter. But small signs of the season are springing up (pardon the pun). While the mountains are still austerely brown, the shrubs that grow in the stream wildflowersbeds and alongside the Serchio river are flares of bright green leaves. Today, we drove into the mountains nearby. I noticed an occasional tree that had branches whose tips are pregnant with new growth; not yet ready to burst forth, the trees are holding their breath, waiting for warmer days. The meadows are already green, even in the higher elevation, and low wildflowers are sprinkled about.


The courtyard of Casa La Pace is in bloom, as are many ornamental shrubs and trees incamelias 2 our neighborhood. Our camelias are especially beautiful this year (I like to think it’s because I learned from my mistake of two years ago and pruned at the right time in 2014).  Fragrant hyacinth hyacinthstems dance in the afternoon sun. And the pansies, which I planted in the fall, are beginning to bloom again. The rose branches are sprouting bright red growth, bursting with new life.  I don’t expect rose blossoms for another few weeks, but the new leaves are colorful additions to the courtyard.  It is exciting to measure the progress of spring by the reawakening of each plant, flower, and tree. quince

Spring also represents the beginning of the season for Casa La Pace. We’ve taken advantage of the slow winter days to make more changes to the house. (Most of the improvements are for comfort, improved efficiency, or normal repairs,  and the majority will be invisible to our guests).  We’re excited that our first guests arrive on March 22nd, only a couple of days after spring officially arrives.  We’re looking forward to an even more exciting year in 2015 and the joy of making new friends and welcoming previous guests and old friends back to Casa La Pace.