Lucca

We were picked up from our hotel in Florence at 8.40 and piled into a waiting taxi with all our baggage and headed off for the station. Our train to Lucca left at 9.40 am and we weren’t sure whether the train just went to Lucca or whether it was a stop on the way to somewhere else. We asked a railway person who told us that we needed to catch the train that went to Viarregio.

It was too early for the train to be listed on the departures board so we stood around in a group watching the board intently until just 10 minutes before departure time the number came up showing that the train was leaving from platform eight. I think that everyone one else must have been waiting for the same train as there was a sudden exodus to the platform.

This was just a local train. Somehow we managed to get all our gear on the train before it pulled out of the platform. It stopped at seven or eight stations on the way to Lucca. Here’s we found the advantage of travelling light. Dennis & Maureen found it a little difficult having more than one bag and Junene & Ken had one big hard-shelled suit case between them.

Somehow however, we managed to get on with everything and got all our bags into the overhead racks. We knew the train wouldn’t stop for long so when we thought that it was time to get off we began to pull everything down again and make for the door. Eventually we pulled in to a narrow platformed country station and lugged everything down under a subway where we found a taxi driver waiting for us to take us to our B&B.

Our accommodation was at La Ramea, a B&B on the second level of a 12th Century house, right in the middle of the town. We climbed up three flights of stairs into a large central room about 10 metres by 7 metres in area with a ceiling 14 feet from the floor. Like all old buildings there wasn’t one square corner in the whole building. La Ramea has 5 rooms – each of a different colour & decor. We stayed in the (Tuscan) yellow room with twin beds and lots of room to put things. Other rooms are the Blue, Ivory, Red, & Pink Rooms. The owners are a nice young couple with two children. They purchased the place in 2000 and then spent a year renovating it.

On our first afternoon we wandered around the town taking in the sights.

Lucca is an interesting medieval town. Narrow streets and old buildings. It seems that in the medieval days it was a sign of wealth to build a tower house (5 – 6 metres square and five or six stories high with the ground floor occupied by a shop) and plant a garden on the top. A small number of these still remain.

Near the center of the town is the site of a Roman amphitheatre. It is now an oval shaped piazza encircled by narrow multi story houses. I thought that these had just developed around the circle, but I later found out that they were architecturally designed which is obviously why thcy look so aesthetic.

Lucca was originally settled by the Romans as it was on the silk trading route between Europe & Asia. The original amphitheatre was destroyed by the Barbarians when they arrived in the Middle Ages. The level of the original Roman town is now buried under 7 metres of earth & rubble.

The town was surrounded by an earth wall/embankment faced by bricks. These took over 100 years to build. They are behind a moat but much broader (20 metres) than the typical city wall as by the time that they were built, gunpowder was well in use. The walls are about 5km long, but now only 1/4 of the cities population lives inside the walls.

On our first night we had dinner at a little restaurant recommended by Guilio at the B& B.

In the morning we had a spectacular breakfast of cereals, fruit, eggs, cheese, ham and all the components of an Italian breakfast. Good strong tea and coffee with fresh orange juice and hot tea.

Our morning activity was a walking tour around the town by a fabulous guide named Carlo. He was born in Lucca (of whlch he was very proud) and had a superb knowledge of the town and its history. He was able to provide us with a good explanation of the things that we had been looking at on the previous afternoon.

One of the good things about Lucca is that it is missing most of the junkie tourist shops. The main street is only about 3 metres wide and now in the central pedestrian area of the oity. It is full of fashion shops – many up-market shoes and clothes that are simply stunning. We did find the cafe where Puccini (the really famous identity of Lucca) used to drink coffee. It (the cafe) still has its original curved glass art-deco windows.

We had noticed a small jail at one point along the city wall. Carlo explained that one of its more famous inmates at one time had been a jazz trumpeter named Chad Baker. He had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for heroin use. Apparently he used to play his trumpet in his jail cell and all the locals would gather on the city wall (behind the jail wall) and join in a jam session. We finished the walk in the amphitheatre where we had lunch. For the rest of the afternoon we walked through the town, rode bikes around the city wall or rested.

At night we were picked up in a taxi and taken to a villa named Villa Pisquini for dinner. This villa is about 20 km from Lucca and because it was wet the windows in the taxi got very fogged and it was hard to see much of the view. When we stopped and opened the door we found that we were at an impressive villa with a long drive lined by cypress trees. The villa operates as both a hotel and reception venue. We had a great Italian dinner of about 10 courses – Apertizers, Primo, Secondo, Main, Desert etc – sometimes with multiple versions of each.

By 11.00 we were back at the hotel to pack up and get ready to leave for Venice tomorrow.