Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Italy, Day Three: Lucca and Pisa

Our third port in Italy was in the beautiful town of La Spezia.  Of course, I'd gotten on an up-before-sunrise schedule, so here's the sunrise shot of the day:

While it doesn't have the charm of some of Italy's more touristy waterfront towns--there was a naval ship in the harbor, and there are high rise apartments all over, rather than cute old homes--La Spezia's waterfront boasts a beautiful garden area.  We booked a private driver to take us to the medieval town of Lucca, rather than joining the ship's tour to Florence (I've been to Florence before, and couldn't envision spending two hours each way on a bus to try to cram the city's sites into one short day.)  Since we made it to the dock well ahead of our scheduled meeting with the driver, we walked around La Spezia and enjoyed the gardens.  It was the last bit of outdoor time we had before it started pouring rain!

I even tortured myself by perusing the town's real estate ads.  Someday...maybe!  Once we met our driver, he took us to the beautiful walled city of Lucca.  I'd never been to Lucca, but being history geek and the House Hunters International geek that I am, I loved the episode that was set in Lucca and looked forward to seeing the town for myself.  On the way, we went through the city of Carrara, famous for its marble, and looked at the hillsides where Michelangelo had selected the blocks he used to make some of his famous statues.  By the time we reached Lucca it was raining, but our driver had us covered (literally...he brought umbrellas for everyone, and he managed to park in a spot that was close to everything we wanted to see, so we'd spend less time hiking around in the rain.)  If you are ever in Florence, or are arriving at the ports of Livorno or La Spezia, and you're considering hiring a driver to take you around the area, consider this an A+ recommendation for Tuscan Sunshine Tours.  I travel a lot, and Franco's one of the best drivers and tour guides I've ever had the joy of meeting.  He has an easygoing personality--just what you want when you're on the go all day--and an amazing knowledge of and love for the region.  He offers a number of tours in and around Florence.  (If I'm back there again, I'm calling Franco!)

We spent the morning walking around Lucca, admiring its many cathedrals.  Even with the rain, the city is breathtaking.  Every time you turned a corner in the alleyways of the walled portion of the city, you saw another cathedral.

We walked through the Piazza Anfiteatro, a restaurant-filled square that used to be a Roman amphitheater.  Over the years, as the ancient amphitheater fell into disrepair, homes and churcheswere built on its stone foundation.  On the exterior of the square (which is actually an oval shape, due to its original construction) you can see some of the ancient stonework from the amphitheater.

My photos of Lucca don't do it justice.  The narrow alleys, beautiful cathedrals, and quaint shops are--to me--Italy at its finest.  I love poking my nose into little shops to see what's for sale.  This was one find, filled with all kinds of olive oils, wines, local mushrooms and tomatoes, and--of course--locally made pasta.  If you click on the photo to see it enlarged, it'll make you hungry!  (You'll just need to click your browser's back button to return to the blog.)

Franco gave us some time to wander on our own, so we explored a few more alleys and shops before making our way back to the car.  He'd staked out a parking spot near the monthly antiques market (we lucked out to be there on the right day) which gave us a bonus spot to explore.

Franco took us through a few of the smaller hill towns, stopping at two overlooks to let us get a sense of the area around Lucca, and giving us the chance to see acres and acres of sunflowers (the area near Lucca is well-known as a supplier to many of Europe's flower markets.)  He answered all of our questions about the farms, and even showed us a spot in a medieval wall where capers were growing (who knew?)

Finally, we made a quick stop in Pisa to see the Field of Miracles.  By this time it was pouring rain--tourists were fighting with collapsed umbrellas--so we ducked into a restaurant for a quick pasta and pizza lunch in hopes of waiting out the storm.  It was still pouring when we finished eating, so I snapped a few quick photos of the tower (yep, it leans!) and Duomo before we hightailed it back to Franco's car.  Since I've been to Pisa before, it wasn't a big loss to give it a quick glance and move on, given the weather. 

Franco took us back to La Spezia along a scenic route through the area's towns, rather than on the crowded highway, which suited us fine.  We made it back to the ship in time to dry off and clean up for dinner.  (Thanks, Franco!)

No sunset pictures this time, since it was getting dark.  But just wait until the next stop:  Corsica!

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