Popping Over to Pisa

At breakfast this morning there was a new treat.  It looked like a lemon square (could I be so lucky?) but when I asked Verusca, she said, “riso”, with  finger to cheek adding “buono”.  Ah, rice…I’ll try.  It was good and subtly sweet.  I asked Verusca to write the name of it in my book.  She thought for a moment and then said, “Ah…Torta di Riso”.  Cake of Rice…ya don’t say.  Finger to the eye here in a sarcastic way.

Today, I am heading over to Pisa.  I was trying to decide whether to take a day from Lucca to do this or use one of my many days in Florence to make the journey?  Lucca is a wonderful town, no doubt, but as far as things to do and see…so I chose to go today.

First let me say that Pisa seems to have a bad reputation.  Florentines really don’t care for Pisa.  When I told Massimo that I would be visiting Lucca,  he was happy, gave it his stamp of approval.  But when I mentioned a day in Pisa, his face contorted and his voice changed.  “Aaooo…Peeezzzaaa.”  Some hand gestures underscored his opinion.

Ma, I’m less that 30 minutes away, I need to see for myself.

I ask Verusca to call me a taxi.  I am going to need one tomorrow to go to the stazione and I want to get a feel for the price, plus I don’t want to start my journey hot and sweaty.  She calls, I wait.imageWell…I learned that taxis are expensive in Lucca.  When he arrived, there was already a 5.30 charge on the meter.  I questioned this a bit and then the 10 euro bill when we made it to the stazione.  The driver pulled out his laminated price sheet and tried to explain all the different charges to me.  I know I will be walking home from the stazione this evening.

While at the stazione, I decide to buy a 2nd ticket to Santa Marie Novella Firenze for tomorrow.  The original one I purchased from home home isn’t to depart until late in the afternoon, not arriving in Firenze until after 22:00.  It is worth the 5.40 euro to be settled in my last place well before then.

I also learned, at least I think this is correct, that the stazione at Lucca does not have validation machines on the individual tracks.  Because the ticket I purchased can be used on this route for 30 days, you must validate before you board.  I was rushing to get to the treno that had just arrived on the track, thought I would validate there and could not find one.  So…turn around, run down two flights, through the tunnel, up two flights, around the corner to the validation machine.  THEN back the same route, trying to get there before that treno leaves.  I will say my legs started to give out a bit, and I kept having to tug at my “undergarments” (washing with no dryer, they are growing a bit…you probably don’t want to hear that, but it’s Life on the Road). All this made me chuckle between heavy breaths.  In situations like this I just play like I am a contestant in The Amazing Race” and I will make my son proud if I make it to the next check point.

During the short ride to Pisa I catch my breath as we pass fields and fields of sunflowers.  Che bella!imageI am seated near 2 english couples.  I know they are also headed to the Leaning Tower because it is ALL one of the women can talk about.  She sounds just like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…before her transformation.  I wish I could mimic it through text, but I just can’t.  Entertaining though.

I had read the Tower et al was closest to Pisa’s smaller stazione, so the 5 of us exit there.  I have no mappa and no clue where to head, but with comfort in numbers…I silently follow the voice.image

When we turn a corner and the Tower comes into view, I can’t help but announce to the woman, “There it is.  You wanted to see it and there it is.”  Just like with seeing any iconic building for the first time…it is pretty cool.image

As I approach The Field of Miracles, I join the masses and head for a ticket booth.  I knew the tickets to climb the tower were timed and I wanted to get one as early as possible.  I buy a ticket to see all 4 of the main buildings here; the Duomo, the Baptistry, Camposanto and The Leaning Tower…certo.

With an hour before my Tower Time, I head to the baptistry then the duomo. The medieval cathedral is named Santa Maria Assunta.  Its construction began in 1064.  The mosaics inside show a strong Byzantine influence.  These tend to be my favorite depictions of Christ.  I do not think I  have seen any mosaics more beautiful than these.imageimage

My third stop, and the real reason I came, was Camposanto.  I first learned about Camposanto when Mom and Dad shared the movie The Rape of Europa with me.  Since then, I show it every year to my Art II students.  It is a wonderful documentary detailing the fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War.  If you have not seen it, I highly suggest it.   imageCamposanto, or Holy Field, was constructed in 1278 around sacred dirt brought back from Golgotha during the Crusades.  In 1278, one of the architects of the Leaning Tower designed a marble cloister to enclose the holy ground.  Frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, Benozzo Gozzoli, Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano and Piero di Pucci decorated its walls.  Tragically, the frescoes were almost completely destroyed by an American bombing raid during WWII.  The wooden roof caught fire, its lead panels melted and the hot metal ran down the frescoes. Camposanto was the burial place of the Pisan upper class for centuries.

Below is a photo of Camposanto showing the destruction of the air raid.imageHere I stand in the same place the above photo was taken.imageimageThe fresco below is shown in the documentary and when I first saw it, I was taken with it. In my opinion, it is so contemporary for the period created.  I love this piece.  It was very moving to me to turn a corner and see the original.  I have researched a bit and cannot locate a name or artist.  I was also disappointed to not find a postcard of the piece.  Oh well, I guess a photo taken by me is better than a postcard anyway.  You can see that I am off center a bit.  There is a pillar obstructing the perfect angle.imageOK…now onto what most would consider the Main Event.  Walking around The Field of Miracles is quite commincal.  Almost EVERYONE is striking a pose attempting to get a shot of them keeping the tower from falling.  The dialogue between taker and poser is also very funny to listen to. “A little right, no… move a bit, wait…no…come forward, no…ok…no…” And when the poser goes to look at the “original” photo of them and the tower, NOT A ONE is happy with their photographer.  NOT A ONE.  “You held the camera crooked.  Now the tower looks straight.”  “You are a horrible photographer.”  “I’m not even touching the tower!”  My favorites were the ones that would strain their faces for the photos.  Funny, Funny, Funny.imageAbout 20 mintues before my scheduled time, I go take my borsa to the locker room.  They will not let you carry any bags up the tower.  I did take my wallet out and brought my cameras, certo.

I will not waste your time on my dissertation on the lack of line respect and etiquette in Italia…and it is usually NOT by Italians by the way.

Once inside the center of the tower, the effect is very strange.  It is like being in one of those Fun Houses at a carnival.  Add to the mix that the stone is slippery and I’m wearing leather bottomed sandals…After a brief history of the Tower, we are allowed to begin our climb. image

You can see we are not the first to ascend.image

Andiamo…only 294 more to go.

This video doesn’t exist

The view from the top, although obstructed by wire barricades, is lovely.  As many writers note, the green of the grass against the white of the marble is striking.imageOnce down, my day in Pisa is pretty much complete.imageAlthough I arrived in the lesser Pisa stazione, I decided to make the longer walk and depart from Pisa Centrale.  My sole reason is to be able to see and share Tuttomondo (The Whole World) painted by Keith Haring.  Much of what I read states this was Haring’s last mural before his death in 1990.  In Art III this year, my students chose a Haring piece to replicate for a photo op at the studio602 Art Show.  So I walked this extra mile or so for them!image

imageWhen I arrive back in Lucca, I am starving, sticky and hot.  On the way to rectify some of those things, I pass this window again.  I had passed it my first day and then that night, those fish were in my dreams.  I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  So I bought due.  Their purpose is to remove the yolk from an egg…I’m sure I’ll use it for that but bottom line, I thought they were cute.imageIn the evening before dinner, I make good on my promise to Antonio and go for one last spin around the ramparts.  Tonight the wall is full of runners, kids playing, people rehearsing for a play, and friends relaxing after their day.  A heated discussion is going on here, obviously about some aspect of their game.  I feel like the wall is Lucca’s crown.  It is a place that sets them apart and holds them together.image

For dinner tonight, I turn to Rick Steves.  He highly recommends Trattoria da Leo.  I seek it out and as he suggests, I arrive early.  Steve says it is a “mom & pop” kind of a place serving traditional Tuscan/Lucchese dishes.  I am the first seated, then blink and all the tables are full, disappointed people being turned away.  Grazie Steve!imageAt my waiter’s recommendation, I chose the Tortelli al Ragu di Carne.  Blaine and Dalton would have love it.  With that, I had a basket of bread (they lost money on me there), a bicchiere di vino rosso locale and acqua frizzante.  I ate it very slowly so I could enjoy the comings and goings of others.imageHere is another dining tip I would like to share with you…when asked what you would like for dolce, linger a bit over due choices.  Convey with sounds and body language that you cannot decide between two,  in this case Tiramisu and torta al cioccolato.  If you’re lucky, your waiter might begin a sentence with, “Eeeefffa you-a would-a like-a,” …I’m thinking, “come on”…  He continues, “I could-a take-a you-a half-a and half-a so you-a could-a try-a.”  Oh, what a great idea!  That would be molto bene, grazie!  In the end I joined Team Torta al Cioccolato with my waiter.

imageHappy and full, I stroll through the streets comfortable with the way back to my room.  When I approached the Felice pizza shop I went to my first evening, I find the street blocked with wood, men and the lady that is usually behind the counter.  I begin to turn around and then I decide I want a photo of this.  I walk up and say, “per le pizze?”  She nods “si” as she sweeps up behind them.  I love these little glimpses of their real lives.imageAll is quiet at the piazza tonight.imageI open my window and am lulled by the clinking of glasses and plates and the low hum of conversation.  Buonanotte.image

Mi Piace Lucca

imageThe morning began as most, just a new place and a new office.  Breakfast here is offered until 10:00, so I walked out my door and into the cute little eating are at 9:00.  Verusca made me uno of my due cappuccinos and I enjoyed my usuals.  imageCouples sat sharing tables, planning their day.  About midway through my breakfast, a last couple entered but with no where to sit.  Verusca asked if a single lady might join me, freeing the table she just sat down at.  Certo.

After a few minutes of silence, I asked, “How long are you in Lucca?”  She said she did not understand.  I asked, “Quanti giorni a Lucca?”  Still she made it clear she did not understand.  A woman at the next table leaned over and loudly translated my Italian to English for the woman.  I just thought that was so funny.  I can make my self not understood in my mother tongue all by myself, Grazie!  No I am not being mean…it’s just that several started laughing a bit, knowing I had already tried English.  As I said…it was funny.  The remainder of my breakfast was in silence.imageI roamed about until the sweet sound of a choir lead me to this church.  Ilaria and I had visited the outside of it last evening and she had said the frescoes inside were quite beautiful.  I found myself in Chiesa di Sant’ Anastasio.  The old church is used by the Romanian Christian-Orthodox community of Lucca.  The inside was packed with families standing during the homily.  There were no chairs except beautiful, gilded thrones of sorts along the side.  In the back, there was a counter to buy candles.  People were coming up to do this during mass.  They would purchase, go outside, light the candle and add it to  a collection burning out there.  I assume it was a special day.  I think perhaps honoring those who have passed.image

Last night, when I asked Ilaria what some of the symbols of Lucca were, this tree topped tower made the list.  The tower was built in the 1300s by the Guinigi family.  The trees planted at the top represented rebirth and renwal.  imageMaking the easy climb (230 steps) grants you a beautiful, 360 view of Lucca.imageimageSpeaking of 360 views, there is another on my list.  I head to one of the many bicicletta shops around the city.  I choose Poli.  The Poli family has had this shop since 1934.  When you walk in, they simply ask for your driver’s license or a form of ID for them to hold onto, choose a bike for you, and you’re off.  image I am happy with the bici chosen for me….Ecco….the Italian flag!image

I ride up the ramp from the shop to the wall, and am off, enjoying the views, the freedom, the breeze as so many before me have.

Very little remains of Lucca’s first fortification circle of walls built by the Romans.  In the 11th and 12th centuries the construction of the first medieval walls began.  The last expansion was in the 16th and 17 centuries.  The walls are formed of eleven ramparts joined by curtains for a total length of over four kilometers.

When I return my bici and pay my 2 eruo….yes due.  I walk from the shop area (If you are from Fredericksburg and have ever been into Rode’s welding shop, it is what springs to mind here) to the “showroom” (wink, wink).  I am walking dodging half opened boxes, slipping on plastic wrap and admiring the enlarged black and white photos hung haphazardly around.image

Antonio, the owner, sees he has a live one and comes to share narration for the stills.  The previous is a photo of his father and mother.  He looks just like his papa.

Below is one of his papa with members of Team POLI.imageWhile I am in Poli, there is also a young Russian couple.  They are enjoying listening to the stories shared in broken english and spurts of italian as well.  At one point, Antonio grabs my camera from me and thrusts it at the Russian girl, telling her to take a photo of him and la signora.  As you can see, he is happy with himself and I am tickled by his tactics.  It is HIS shop after all.


After my triathlon (walking, climbing and biking), I have worked up quite an appetite.  I want to eat light so I can eat again later…is that bad?  (If you say si…we can never travel together.)  I choose panzanella and a bicchiere di vino bianco.  Perfetto summer lunch.imageAt this point in the trip I am embracing the vino/caffe cycle.  One relaxes for the moment, the other gets ya going again.imageI head back to the room for a bit to regroup.  If you visit Lucca, be sure not to buzz the wrong buzzer.imageIt is obviousthe Renato family deals with this issue all the time.imageExiting in the late afternoon, I notice there will be some sort of something in the anfiteatro tonight.imageMy main goal on tonight’s short list is to revisit Santa Cristina…the cool enoteca Ilaria walked me through last night.  However, when I first walk by, there is no one there, so I go do a bit of research at the Arts and Crafts festival.  There I find several pieces I would like to take home with me.  My favorite is by an artist who takes reclaimed wood, paints it then crudely carves in simple objects.  I really wanted a silver one of a moka machine, but knew it was much too heavy to lug home.  I made some notes and will try to replicate.

In my pocket, I always try to keep a few spare euro to applaud the very talented street musicians and artists.

wpvideo Nh5aIlDu]imageAfter 19:00, I return to Santa Cristina.  Still the only one there, I decide to start a trend and order a spritz.imageSTILL the only one there, I move on to my meal of the night, prosciutto e melone.  I am molto felice at this point.  Look at this presentation!  They seem to do many thing right here at Santa Cristina.  imageCristina, the owner (she adds, “no Santa”) is from Scotland and has been in Italia tre anni now.  She has has this place for due.  I look forward to creating my own Aperitivo Hour at la CONN terra.  All of you reading this now are invited!  The concept is so rich and the preparation so little.

I enjoy sitting, sipping and eating, watching the world go by.imageLeaving Santa Cristina, I head in for the night.  It is early, but I am tired and need to write to you.  At about 22:00, my room starts thumping.  I can hear, let’s call it “music” muffled with a steady beat.  For the first hour and a half, I try to ignore.  It is not bothering me, just making me curious.  Finally at about 23:30 I head down (in my pjs and scrubbed face) and around the corner and witness for most, the night is still young.


Passing by the gelateria on the corner, I succumb, grab a dolce and call it a notte.image

Arrivederci Monterosso, Buongiorno Lucca

During my stay in Monterosso, I never unpacked, so repacking was pretty easy.  Last evening, I decided to purchase an earlier treno to La Spezia.  My connection there was only 10 minutes and that makes me a bit nervous.  So instead of spending the morning on the terrazzo, I will make a quick exit and spend my time at the La Spezia stazione.  Not apples and apples I assure  you.

Checking out at Hotel Margherita, the desk girl was her rude self.  I usually try to consider that a person might be having a bad day, but the due desk girls this year are the same due desk girls as two years ago…so, I think it’s them.  She would rather twirl her hair and look at her computer monitor than clarify the treno schedule.

Although I like the location of Hotel Margherita and I LOVE the terrazzo, between the maddening internet connections (and reconnections and reconnections and reconnections and….you get the idea.  If I had a euro for every time I had to reconnect, I could buy this place and have all hire my congenial friends…who’s in?) and having to put out the desk girls,  I might research a different place for a return trip.  In the hotel’s defense, the manager/owner is very attentive and kind.  My assumption is that the majority of the staff here are family.

But another point in the + column is it is down the ramp and due steps to the sinistra to the focacceria.  I grab a couple plain pieces for the treno.imageimageJoining the roller bag group heading out, I dodge the roller bag group heading in.  When stopping to take this parting shot of la spiaggia, I hear a girl declare, “THIS is what heaven looks like.”imageFor those of you who followed in 2013, I know this very similar to my “National Geographic” shot then.  Sorry…it’s hard to take a bad photo here.  The water is especially clear today…certo.imageI board the treno to La Spezia, standing in the baggage area for the 15 minute journey.  I intend to say Arrivederci to the sea at the last Cinque Terre stop, Riomaggiore, but my carriage was stops in the tunnel, so this shot through the grimy glass will have to do.image

My “reserved” spot.image

Two couples board the train in Vernazza.  They stand in the baggage section as well.  They are German.  When the ticket guy comes around to check our validations, theirs are not validated.  Remember a tip I gave you from the last trip…ALWAYS validate your ticket.  Even if no one has checked your tickets in your last tre treno rides…ALWAYS validate.

This shot shows his weariness from listening to every excuse under the sun, in every language under the sun.  He is SO not interested.  Each of the quattro try their hand at an explanation.  He keeps the same look and the same posture.  He points to the sign that says there is a 50 euro fine, but tells them he is charging them 5 euro each.  They finally pay.  When he leaves, although I don’t understand German, I am sure they are talking about him.  And I’m thinking “ya,ya, ya” and chicken sounds can’t be a compliment.image I arrive in La Spezia and wait.imageOh, have I shown you my new charm from Storie in Italy?  I got mom one too.    It is the window at Chiese di San Giovanni Battista.  Bella no?  It adds a bit more jingle to my jangle.image

I arrive in my connecting stazione of Viareggio.  Boarding here to Lucca seems the most hectic yet.  People hesitate to board.  People hop off once they have hopped on.  Everyone is asking someone.  I realize all it takes is for one person to say, “Si Lucca” and we all end up somewhere else.

A woman in a Trenitalia jacket walks by.  She is on the phone and gives me the universal signal of “NOT NOW” when I lean out the carriage.  I blurt out “Lucca?” anyway and she give me an almost imperceptible nod.  That’s going to have to be good enough for me.imageArriving in Lucca, I walk out of the treno stazione and make a decision not to grab a taxi.  WIth no mappa, and no prior knowledge of the town…how hard can it be?  Oh silly Paj!

I cross a couple of streets and head towards the wall surrounding the old city.  I seem to remember my hotel is inside the wall.  imageAs I approach the wall, it curves and from a distance, looks like it deadends.  Then I see a girl stoop and go through a small opening.  I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I follow.  That leads me to a tunnel…you might remember, I’m not a fan of tunnels…through a small courtyard, up a couple short staircases that zig-zag.image

And I arrive atop the wall.  Now, destra or sinistra?  A girl passes me dragging her roller bag along and asks if I need her to look up my hotel on her phone.  How kind.  She does, and it says to head straight.  After she heads left, I decide I’ll head that way too.  I’d rather have an overall view from the wall, than get in the mix of the buildings just yet….Anyway, straight over the edge of the wall is not an option I’m entertaining… at this point.image Around the wall I go, note a little trattoria I might want to come back to, and then approach a gelato vendor for guidance. imageThrough his very italian directions, I do get “canale” and his arm pointing forward and forward then “grande statua”.  So I head straight looking for the large statue.  image

Straight along the canale, by the family of anatra, past where the lady lives that likes pink, and sure enough, there is a grande statua.  Sinistra there. imageI wind around a bit, ask a few more locals, consult my italian phone (by the way, every time I try to use google maps, it closes down) and there…it’s that easy.  B&B Anfiteatro.imageI told you I had not researched Lucca at all.  Well I had found out there were Puccini music festivals here and have a ticket reserved for tonight…but that is ALL.

The owner of the B&B marked the ticket office for the concert for me on a mappa.  While I am waiting to be checked in, I also grab a leaflet for a night tour of Lucca.  They are offered Thursday and Saturday nights…today is Saturday right?  I think if it works into my plans, I will pay the 10 euro to get acclimated a bit.  The concert is scheduled for 7:15 and suppose to last about an hour.  The tour meets at 9:00 in front of one of the major chiesas.  That might just work out.

On my way to the Puccini ticket office, there is plenty to look at…although I don’t know what any of it is… image

I pay 18 euro for the Puccini biglietto and find a spot to wait.  I order a spritz and watch and listen for the next 45 minutes.image

I arrive at the concert one of the first 10 or so.  I choose a spot in the front.  Within minutes the church it is held in is full.  We are given a program which includes bits of operas from other composers along with Puccini.  Lucca is Puccini’s birthplace.  But from the information, it sounds like his success was not welcome here for years.image

First the pianist enters from behind the panels, then the first of the due tenors we will be hearing.  The acoustics in this small chiesa are amazing.  The strength of the performers’ voices doesn’t hurt.  The following video is poor visual quality.  I think photo were allowed, but most people were trying to be discreet.  This was the encore of the evening.

This was a special experience.  I suggest working a concert in if you are visiting Lucca.  They perform every evening of the year.

Now for some cibo.  I have not eaten since my torta this morning.  Earlier I passed this pizzeria and there was quite a crowd.  I have learned that crowds indicate good food…most of the time.  So with 30 or so minutes before the night tour begins, I pop in.  I tell the older woman behind the counter, “Due pr favore.”  Luckily she did not ask “due what?”, because I do not know the italian equivalent to “Whatever”.image

She hands over two piping hot pieces of margherita on a little silver tray, I add a piccolo Moretti to my bill and it comes to under 5 euro…my kind of place!  I sit on a stool in front and enjoy.image

I look at the time and it is 5 til 9:00.  I walk around to the front of the church to see if I see anyone congragating.  My plan is to ask if it is not too late for me to pay and join those who have reserved.  I’m still not 100% dedicated to the idea.  I do not know the area well enough to find my way back to the B&B in the dark, so that is a question I will need to ask as well.

When I arrive there are about 7 or so women standing near a woman with a little guide sign.  I walk up and ask if I might join.  The very friendly guide tells me, “certo”. I then ask the 2nd question of where the tour ends.  She tells me they end at the Anfiteatro…perfetto!

Then, the really lucky news comes.  I am the only english speaking member so the others will go with another guide and I get this one all to myself.  Another great decision Paige!image

My guide’s name is Ilaria (Hilary in English).  She is a middle school English teacher and part time guide.  Our first stop is to find a restroom.  She takes me into this way cool enoteca.  They are kind enough to allow me to use the facilities and take a couple of photos.  I will definitely return here during my stay.image

Love their shelving system!image

During our “tour” Ilaria and I basically just walk and talk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about Lucca.  I do know one of their symbols is the tower with the trees growing atop it.  Also, there is this symbol by one of the churches.  It was a reminder to the merchants and bankers that use to deal here to keep a straight, honest path. image

This, Ilaria says is a version of the Volto Santo or Holy Face of Lucca.  There were several of these decorating a medieval wooden door.image


Ilaria also pointed out a few places I might want to eat and recommended some of Lucca’s traditional foods.  Our entire walk, I kept telling her how lucky I was to have this private tour.  She said it was nice for her as well.  I did consider she might be missing out on tips from a larger group, so I made sure to share my appreciation in euros.  At the end of the tour, Ilaria deposited me at the door of by B&B and bid me a buonanotte.image