Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Day 5: Lucky in Lucca

Meeting the guide at the "pizza place" near the villa with a nice valley view.

Today we got the pleasure of visiting one of Italy's little hidden gems in cities, Lucca. It is located between Florence and Pisa and is a walled city originally founded by the Etruscans, original city inhabitants of the area. They were eventually conquered by the Romans and enslaved around 180 BC, but were in the region from about 3500BC. It is renowned for the preservation of the 16th and 17th century ramparts and the cobblestone streets.

There is a 4km wall that surrounds the Renaiisance area city. Obviously it's burst outside the walls in size. The walls can be walked.

A favorite activity of locals and tourist---walking or biking the wall.

One of the many real treats of the city is that you can get up on the ancient walls and take a walk around the Rennaisance area of the town. Or rent a bike, if you prefer that.  Over one hundred churches are housed within the perimeter.

One of the ramparts

In the 1800s, Napolean conquered the area (possibly with the inside help of the Ligurians since his sister was married to one) and he left his sister Elisa as the governor of Lucca, because she loved it and wanted to live there. I totally understand. It is a charming town with Etruscan, Roman and medieval vestiges and so full of architecture and culture, one could easily spend numerous days here. And it is FLAT, which isn't true of all these small cities in Tuscany, so those of you with aversion to hills will find it even more lovely.  Another great feature is that, unless you have a Lucchesi license plate, you cannot drive in the city, keeping traffic down and foot traffic enjoyable. 

The remains of the old Roman Amphitheater area
 There are SO many attractions here, and of course, in one day, we didn't make it to all of them but here are a few we enjoyed. Above you see the old amphitheater area in Piazza del Anfiteatro. It's a bit hard to recognize as an amphitheater, because it is a conglomeration of shops and restaurants now. But you get the idea from this aerial shot. In fact, it took us a while to find it, because we were expecting ancient ruins instead of Renaissance buildings in a circle around the old site. A good place for coffee or lunch though!

The Black Jesus inside Cathedral San Martino

Cathedral San Martino>it has it's own "duomo"--an homage to Florence...much smaller though!
We continue to be amazed that cities with populations of no more than 10,000 people in Renaissance era built these enormous churches.

Gorgeous inside and out

To think there are 101 churches of various sizes, but several of them quite large is stunning.

Paul on the wall. The spring flowers are really blooming and adding to the overall beauty. We highly recommend Tuscany in April, if you fancy a trip there.

Paul 1. darkening the doors of a church and 2. visiting the marble crypt of a noblewoman. Apparently, the husband was on wife #3 by the time this was constructed fully.

An interesting site is the tower with the trees on top. This was part of a mansion with 4 towers, but this one only remains. You can view Lucca well if you climb to the top.
After doing the once around on the walls with one detour to see the Black Jesus, we decided lunch was in order. And in Italy, if you travel with Paul, lunch is PIZZA. Which is always a good option. We chose from many options a small bistro called Puccini Puccino.

Vegetarian pizza. Scrumptious. We thought it would have a  few pepperoni. And it did. Pepperoni here, we have learned, means peppers, not sausage. Healthier option!

The favorite son of Lucca is Puccini. So we decided to visit his museum which was also his childhood home. Here he is seen outside it in a typical pose, sitting around smoking a cigarette.

Puccini outside his home in Lucca
He was apparently quite a character and Lothario who in addition to writing opera, had a penchant for smoking, eating, drinking and married women. He fell in love with a married woman who bore him a child and he eventually married her. I have heard some people say married should be spelled "marred" and this is true in his case, because this act pretty much drove him out of town and made the woman  and him a shame to the family. They never let him live it down and he spent much time away from Lucca.

Puccini bedroom. If walls could talk apparently...
The house was small but interesting for the costumes preserved from Puccini operas and also some of the personal correspondence. His son nearly quite speaking with him when a young Lucca woman committed suicide when he ended his "goings on" with her.  There are many small personal touches in the letters you see there. 

Puccini died in Belgium where he had gone to seek treatment for throat cancer.

And speaking of things that predispose one to bad health, you could definitely find a place to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in Lucca. This wine store had cave after cave of every imaginable and unimaginable Italian wine (and a few others). Paul is about halfway down just ONE cave of this massive wine enoteca. Amazing selection and variety!

We were able to do a little shopping here for gifts. The city is probably best known for leather wares and silk scarves which you can observe being woven in one store. The primo product is their extra virgin olive oil.

Overall, I think Paul and I would both recommend a visit to Lucca, and even to STAY there over Florence which is wonderful but very crowded even in April.

Lucca is a fascinating and beautiful city full of stunning architecture, but small enough to get around easily on foot. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and we are told the hotels are great too.  The maze of narrow streets have nice little shops and even a museum of torture complete with a guillotine, for those interested in the more macabre.  Limiting traffic makes it easy to navigate by walking or biking.  Give it a try. You won't regret it.

"You may have the universe, if I may have Italy."
                                               ----Guiseppe Verdi

Paul's Ponderings:  Lucca is a fabulous town and not nearly as crowded as Florence.   Plus, the walls make it very walkable all the way around the perimeter.   Likewise, the medieval streets have only auto traffic from locals so you are not dodging quite as much vehicle traffic as in Florence.   As with all these towns, it is also full of options for dining, drinking, and shopping, plus a huge number of cultural attractions.   As it turns out, the city is closer to Pisa (more tomorrow on that) than Florence, being about a 1.5 hour drive from the latter and 45 minutes at most from the former.   We also had another great day weather-wise -- around 70 and sunny.   Lucca is definitely highly recommended!

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