“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Paves
Elena our lead guide had looked at the weather forecast for the Cinque Terre. It predicted an 80% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow. When she made this announcement on the bus, my heart sank. Cinque Terre is an outdoor destination. Florence, Rome, you can spend all day in churches and museums, if need be. The reason she brought this news up is she asked did the group want to shorten our time in Lucca so we had more time to spend in the Cinque Terre today? It had to be a unanimous decision. We were all unanimous that we wanted to make the change. Hooray!
Another advantage with Rick Steves tours is that you travel in small groups. All the tours have groups of 24-28 people. Mainstream tour companies have groups that are twice the size of Rick Steves. Having a smaller tour group means that we can do things that other tour companies can not do as easily. It’s far easier to navigate through the tiny streets of the hill towns of Volterra and Lucca with a small group than with a large one. Who wants to be part of a horde invading a village? There is no way that a group any larger than ours could have fit into the alabaster workshop in Volterra. Also, with a smaller group we are able to get booked into charming boutique hotels that couldn’t possibly accommodate a large group. Everything is easier with a small group.
The Amusing Lucchese
Our local guide for Lucca is named Elena too. She met our bus outside the city walls. The walls – that’s what you think of when you think of Lucca. Lucca is encircled by a perfectly intact thick wall. Elena (I’m going to call her the Lucchese from now on to avoid confusion between the two Elenas) proved to be my favorite local guide because she is simply hysterical. Any time something that was negative in her stories she would blame the Pisans. We learned that there is a deep seated rivalry among the people of Pisa and here in Lucca. She would fling her arms about and spit at the mention of the Pisans and blaming them for all that went wrong in Lucca. A very enthusiastic teller of history, she is skilled at involving her audience in a very non-threatening, non-intimidating way. As we walked through the narrow lanes of the town the Lucchese pointed out all the hanging laundry (or as she called it – the flag of Italy) outside of the homes. They even have rules about how you hang your laundry. I would not have thought of it, but you could not have undergarments on the street side of the line. People didn’t want to see what kind of unmentionables you wear.
We had limited time. As soon as we disembarked from the bus with our audio sets we were off and running. We learned all sorts of things from the Lucchese. After an introduction outside the walls we were off on a walking tour of Lucca. Through the Porta Santa Maria we go funneling into the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.
Porta Santa Maria
Transforming the Ordinary into the Extraordinary
We were fortunate to experience an outdoor art exhibition in which the sculptures are all made out of paper, the Lucca Biennale. The use of paper as a medium made the sculptures seem more accessible. Maybe that’s because we all use paper in our every day lives. As I write this narrative it is in a paper journal. So, the medium has an immediacy to my everyday life that Carrera marble does not. Also, these are a complex whole built out of tiny pieces. Isn’t that what we are? A complex whole comprised of small pieces of experiences?
Photo Gallery: My Time with the Lucchese
When Left to Our Own Devices
As I wandered, I peeked into a music rehearsal which was steps away from a music school, Comunedi Lucca Instituto Musicale L. Boccherini. We saw the house where Giacomo Puccini grew up. I wish I had more time. I would have liked to visit. He is one of my favorite composers. I feel like so much of his music is very modern. The overture to the Fanicula Del West sounds just like a movie score. In trying to get to the clock tower, we got a bit lost. Linda would ask someone for directions and it didn’t pan out. Marianne would ask someone for directions and it was in the opposite direction. It was like a goose chase. On top of that Linda and I have an urgent need to use a rest room. It got worse and worse. Finally, we broke down, abandoned our hunt, went to an eatery and we each purchased a bottle of water and used their tiny restroom.
Linda, Marianne, and I are the crazy ones. We climbed 207 wooden steps up the Torre delle Ore to see an incredible view of Lucca, including even the famous Torre Guinigi which has trees and a small garden on its rooftop. It just was an amazing sight. We knew there was a functioning, hand wound swiss clock whose bell rang every quarter hour. We even reminded each other that it was going to ring soon once we got to the top of the tower. And yet. AND YET we all yelped and squealed when it happened! Then we all laughed hysterically. How surprised we all were when we knew it was going to happen. That is one of my favorite memories. The three of us laughing hysterically as we have this amazing view. Bud was dutifully waiting for us below. He and Linda went off on their merry way. Marianne and I walked to stroll along the ramparts of the wall.
Above: The view from the clock tower with Torre Guinigi prominently featured.
Right: Marianne, Me, and Linda atop the clock tower.
New York City has its High Line Park, Lucca has turned its Renaissance wall into a public park. Right before we climbed the steps up to the ramparts we ran into fellow tour member, Debbie. The three of us strolled around on a picture perfect day. Debbie’s daughter, Jackie and her husband Sum had gotten a bicycle built for two with a canopy and rang their bell as they passed us by. It was a great way to see the hill town. It’s a small shame we had to cut our time in Lucca short.
No time for me to get lunch. BUT there’s always time for gelato! De’Coltelli was on the way from the rampart to our meeting spot to depart Lucca. Perfect! This time I had a combination of chocolate with ginger flavors. Somehow Debbie, Marianne and I did not get lost and made it back to our meeting place to rejoin our group. The group gathers and we are all there except two. My buddy was missing! Elena was willing to wait a few minutes but we had a schedule to keep and the bus was going to depart with or without our missing tour mates. But they arrived in the nick of time!
App of the Day
Who knows a place better than its residents? This app offers a community for locals to share their opinions and recommendations on where to eat, drink, and play to help traveler’s experience a city like a local. It helped with my pre-planning for Rome and Florence.
We all climbed back on the bus and we were whisked off towards the Cinque Terre.