Florence, Lucca, and Pisa

Saturday night after all the eating we stayed in an incredibly hostel-y hostel in Florence that Anna picked out. By that I mean there were items from various countries plastering every surface (example above) and we shared bunk beds with strangers (well, Jamie did).

That was pretty uneventful because the 6am meeting time for our field trip and all the eating pretty much wiped us out (how I felt, illustrated above). So we all crashed early, me with Rick Steves Italy 2008 by my side, open to the pages on Lucca.

We woke up and caught our train, got out of the train station, walked a few hundred feet, and then it happened. I fell in love with Lucca.

Maybe it helps that we arrived on il giorno di San Valentino (Valentine’s Day) and love was clearly in the air, but what really got to me about Lucca was it’s glorious walls.

Lucca is a walled city, but not in the way that Perugia is a walled city, with the broken remains of cold stones girding the city up onto a mountaintop. No, Puccini’s birthplace doesn’t have “walls” per se, it has ramparts. They are wide and paved for bikers, joggers, and people out strolling with friends of dogs. They are dotted with benches and grassy areas for playing and picnics, and each of the main sides is lined with a different kind of tree for shade or to cuddle under with your Valentine. It didn’t hurt that the weather was gloriously sunny yet crisp, giving the illusion that spring was coming fast.

Inside the walls, it was quintessential Italy. Few cars and copious amounts of bicycles, sunny piazzas, an incredible 99 churches (says Rick Steves), Roman ruins, and plenty of towers to be climbed, now prized for their amazing views, rather then their defensive advantages.

After sharing the most delicious braided chocolate chip bread any of us had ever had, we climbed one of the towers with trees growing on the roof to check out the glorious views of the city and the surrounding mountains. We also went into the Basilica di San Frediano to see the mummy of Santa Zita, patron saint of household servants, spent some time in Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, shaped and named that way because it was built over the ruins of a Roman Amphitheater. In the afternoon, we walked along the walls with gelato and chocolates and laid in the grass and generally basked in the sun. It was incredibly pleasant, just relaxing and taking pictures and people (especially couple) watching.

That night we had an unremarkable dinner at a pub because most restaurants were both pricy and fully booked for the night. The morning brought more sun, more chocolate chip bread (2 loafs this time), and a fairly short train ride to Pisa. Instead of taking a bus to the famous tower we opted to walk approximately half an hour from the bus station to the Piazza dei Miracoli. It was a nice walk, crossing the Arno river. Everyone said Pisa was only worth visiting for the tower but I think (and Rick Steves will back me up on this) that there was plenty more to see there. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have time to see it…

After a bunch of pictures and a braided chocolate bread picnic on the lawn, we power walked back to the train station only to find a mess of delayed and cancelled trains. After waiting around for a while, Jamie, Jenna, and Anna decided to join me in skipping San Gimignano and heading straight back home to Perugia.

Because it was Stacy’s birthday, I bought her some silly gifts at the 1 Euro store in Florence to supplement her real gift and yet another loaf of amazing chocolate bread for her “cake.” When we eventually made it home she enjoyed all of it. I cooked some pasta with white wine sauce and red peppers and we just had a mellow night in.

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