The nice thing about getting to know some people in a foreign place is suggestions - restaurants to eat at, museums to check out (or not), etc. Today we took the suggestion of one of our new friends on a town to go and visit: Lucca. We'd never heard of it before we came to Florence and may not have made a trip there, but we took the suggestion and we're glad we did.
Lucca is known for its city walls that are still completely intact (well, known by some people - we obviously didn't know about them or we'd have already had an interest in the place and wouldn't have needed new friends to find out the town existed). Now these walls aren't like the walls you just pictured in your head. You know, the ones that are about three feet across. The ones where two people have a hard time passing if they've had too much pasta for lunch. No, these are large walls. I'm talking drive a couple of cars on them while a group of bicyclists pass an elephant kind of walls. It looked like you were walking in a city park when you were on them. I read that they were used for a number of years last century for racing cars. The city has since grown and expanded outside of the walls, but the interior is still very much like it was in the days of the Renaissance. The streets are really narrow (they have a crazy one way system) and there are
only six gates you can drive through to get into the walled portion of town.
We walked along a section of the wall and then decided to get down and explore a little, promising ourselves we would do the complete circuit before we left. We went into a few of the many churches that Lucca is home to. It's amazing to me that each church, basilica or cathedral we go into is different in its own way. Each has something striking about it that makes it unique. In the case of The Cathedral of St Martin, it was a little octagonal shrine that was off to the side of the main nave that housed a black Jesus on a cross that, legend has it, was carved by Nicodemus. That's certainly unique.
Speaking of unique, you'll never guess what's on the top of one of the towers you can climb in Lucca. Ok, maybe you will guess since the title of this post kind of gives it away and I'm going to shove a picture somewhere nearby of the tower. Yes, there are trees growing out of the top of the tower. It was a very cool thing to see as we were walking around and given the strangeness of it (and our addiction to climbing tall things) we went up to check it out. There are large planters up there that the trees are growing out of. The funny thing is that the planters take up most of the area on the roof not leaving much of a walkway for us tourists. We were able to get an overhead view of an interesting area of the city from up there. Where once was a Roman amphitheater there is now a complete circle of buildings. To get inside of it you have to walk through one of only a few arched gates - kind of like a microcosm of the city itself. Whoa, that's deep.
We had done a lot of walking up to this point and we weren't sure we could tackle the complete lap of the city walls on foot, so we rented bicycles. We wanted to get pictures of all six of the gates while we were riding so we would come down off of the walls when we got to any that we missed while walking around. Well wouldn't you know that we finished our lap and realized we had missed one. Dagnabbit. So we cut across part of the city by following the river that crosses it. I even risked life and limb (well, maybe just limb) to take a video of part of our riverside ride from the bike. Once we had captured the image of the last gate, we returned our bikes and headed for the train for the ride back to Florence.
For me, I think Lucca was one of my favorite experiences so far. I don't know if it was the relaxing bike ride on top of the ancient walls or the unique sights around each corner. Or maybe it was the unexpectedness of how much I liked the place. I knew Paris and Rome would have amazing sights to see because they're famous for them. Lucca is like an underdog town. It may be small and out of the way, but it's a fighter and it can certainly hold its own against the big boys. So let me pass on a suggestion to you: if you get a chance, check out Lucca. J