Bike Tour Around Lucca and Pisa

Trip Start Jun 03, 2012
Trip End Jun 14, 2012

Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

During our 45-minute drive to Lucca, we were able to view the true beauty of Tuscany. There exists only one route to Lucca and Pisa and man is it a beauty. Alongside the 2-lane streets, we passed farmlands consisting of the finest cypress trees, distant Mediterranean mansions, and green mountains (the epitome of a Tuscan landscape).

Upon arriving in Lucca (pronounced Luke-a), we met with Carlos, our guide for the day. He is a native Italian from Lucca, and he was avid to begin the day at the bike shop. After choosing our bikes, we began our bike tour on the walls around the city. As odd as it may sound, we rode on the actual walls surrounding Lucca (Lucca was in war with Florence and Pisa in medieval times and these walls acted as secure barriers for the city). The walls are approximately 30 feet high and are built on compacted soil, leaving a concrete slab for biking on top. Not only does the pathway provide a beautiful sight of the city, but it also allows natives to walk and jog. As we rode along the path, the cool breeze provided a sense of relief and relaxation, unlike any other. The atmosphere of Lucca was crisp, dry, and clean, to say the least. It was an unforgettable experience and will be an event that I eventually return to in the future.

We then rode the bikes around the actual city of Lucca, passing several other native bikers (many Luccians travel by bike). We passed through the piazzas and restaurant centers and were eventually led to a church in the area. Inside the church, we were able to view a replica of the cross that Jesus was crucified on.

Pisa was a 30-minute drive from Lucca, but it was worth the while. The drive was along the same Tuscan pathway that consisted of cypress trees, open green fields, enormous mountains, and mansions in the distance. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was a worthwhile experience since we were able to snap the tourist, cliche shots around the Leaning Tower. Although the Tower was closed in the 70s due to a dangerous foundation, it was reopened recently after a Japanese architect discovered a weight bearing solution. This was vital to the scummy city because the Tower is Lucca's only source of grand revenue (tourist contributions). At the Tower, we were able to purchase coconut slices and large, seeded grapes.

After a 30-minute nap in the hotel, we walked to a local restaurant for dinner. We were served ribollita (a bean, potato vegetable soup), beef tips with vegetables, and flan. The beef was succulent and very tender but concentrated in fat. Delizioso, nonetheless.

It was here that Elena, our 24/7 Casterbridge tour guide, and I discussed the differences between the American and Italian lifestyles. Since she lived in Wisconsin for 20 years and now lives in Bologna, I recognized that she would be a reliable source of information. She stated that living in both countries is completely different. The Italian lifestyle is much more relaxed, whereas the American lifestyle is much more fast-paced. The group and I recognized that too many Americans are focused on achieving financial success and generally define happiness by wealth. Chasing financial success causes many Americans to miss a great amount of what life has to offer. Italians recognize that there's beauty in the small, simple things; they simply enjoy life and its daily occurrences (as do Americans, as well). She admits there have been times where she's been frustrated with services (Italians are very strong willed), but the country's beauty is incomparable (no lie). The Americans focus more on customer service, whereas the Italians serve what they believe is best. For instance, the Italian consumer and Italian university student's opinion is minimized greatly. Elena also mentioned that there is much more opportunity for personal career growth and success in America.

By night, we walked the city of Florence. Maha was given a list of popular places to visit in Florence by her friend (he studied here last summer). We visited "The Secret Bakery," an "underground" bakery that opens at midnight and serves the best pastries and Italian items (video attached). Finding the place required a keen eye and ear. After turning among the streets and searching by street clues, we walked down an alley and found a set of clear doors, as the description stated. After knocking and waiting, we realized it was the wrong spot. Finally, a car drove up and two men dressed in aprons stepped out of the vehicle. We asked them, "secret bakery?" (not so secret by that time). The man replied, "20 minuti." Although he asked us to return in 20 minutes, the description stated that they opened at 12 AM. We returned 20 minutes later and knocked, no answer. A group of 6 other American study abroad students showed up and filled us in on the spot- they, too, heard about it and were returning for seconds. Later on, 5 other American tourists appeared, hungry for a snack after leaving a local club (one of the girls was born in The Woodlands, Texas). By 1:05 AM, he finally set up shop, peaked his head out the window, and supplied us with the chocolate filled croissants. They were amazing. I suggested that they tasted like Shipley's chocolate-filled donuts, but the group argued that this claim was far-fetched. We then walked and returned to our hotel.
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