Sunday, June 26, 2011


Big change to a Small City

Though we slept in this morning to recover from our previous day of travel, we headed downstairs to sift through some antiques and found that breakfast was still up for grabs. Quite a nice spread had been set out by Claudio and his wife Claudia. Yes, Claudia. Oddly enough, she is Scottish, or something similar, which you can hear in her accent. In addition to the selection of cereal, bruschetta, sliced meats, croissants, and yogurt, they offered us tea and coffee, and fried eggs, which we kindly refused but enjoyed a hearty breakfast of the rest of the selection. Their black and white mild-mannered terrier, Jerry, lurked below the table hoping for scraps. Fueled for a day out in Lucca, we thanked our hosts and descended to street level in the tiny elevator. The antiques market was still going strong, and as we explored further into the surrounding area, we realized that it spread throughout much of the city. I spent time pursuing my Venice postcard, and Erik searched for an object to take home. We meandered through the lines of tents, the tables beneath each loaded with hundreds of unique items. We took our lunch on a shady bench on the edge of a piazza lined with huge birch trees, cafes, and stores. At one end there was even a carousel playing Disney songs in Italian. Thanks to our hosts, we paid for neither breakfast nor our lunch of apples, meats, and croissants.
After perusing the seemingly endless expanse of the antiques market, we decided to take a break from our hunt, and went to rent bikes, as the museums and churches we wanted to visit were closed. I can easily say that this was the most enjoyable activity in Lucca. The rentals were cheap, €2.50 per hour, and the bikes were smooth and easy to ride. The most unique characteristic of Lucca is its medieval outer walls, which are now beautifully maintained pedestrian/bike paths, lined with the same birch trees seen throughout the city. The breeze and dappled shade from the trees made the ride absolutely ideal and perfectly beautiful. A ride around the city on the walls takes less than 30 minutes, so we were on our second trip when I suggested we stop in town to grab some snacks. The downhill slope took us back to the piazza where we had eaten lunch. I stayed with the bikes while Erik scoured the section of the antiques market we hadn't seen yet, then he stayed with the bikes while I got some candied peanuts and candy from a vendor. After a final stop for reasonably priced gelato, we resumed our second round on the walls. On the back portion of the city is a gorgeous green open area beyond the wall, bordered by evergreen trees. We pulled in to one of the battlements which juts out from the wall, now made into a shady park, where we enjoyed the delicious peanuts and the view.
We returned the bikes with time to spare, and headed toward the center of town to find the icon of Lucca, their Chiesa San Michele. Essentially, we spent 15 minutes finding the piazza San Michele, which ended up being only a street down from our apartment. It is where much of the activity- if one could call it such- happens in Lucca.
For the remainder of the evening we resumed our hunt at the antiques market. We saw a great many interesting things, hundreds upon hundreds of items, though nothing really caught his eye. Just as we were ending our day and heading toward a recommended place for dinner, I glanced at one last vendor as the rest were closing up, and spotted a collection of keys in a box. At first glance, they looked like ordinary old keys, nothing remarkable, but as I dug deeper, I found not one, but three beautiful old keys. One was very ornamental, but the key itself was very short, so I decided on the one with the most gilded design. I am very happy that I found something to take home, though I wish Erik had been as fortunate. We enjoyed the hunt all the same.
Dinner was outside a small trattoria, where cars and trucks came within inches of me, though the osso bucco with mashed potatoes and raspberry panna cotta was worth it.
We got lost on our way to the circular piazza called the anfiteatro, though saw a side of the city we hadn't seen. Among the quiet streets, we felt more like locals than tourists.
Our second day in Lucca was essentially a replay of the previous day, though in the morning we climbed their tallest tower, Guinigi, which has a great panoramic view of the city. It was a beauifully clear day, and the entire valley and surrounding mountain ranges could be seen. Piano music wafted faintly up to us as we took in the view. We visited the other large church in Lucca, San Martino, which is completely white inside, dim, though lighted with many stained glass windows which cast amazing hues on the colorless marble. We passed up the cathedral museum and instead rented another round of bikes, returned to the apartment for a nap, then set out to find dinner. We spent a good hour and a half out in the streets scouting the list of recommendations Claudio had made, though only one stood out to us, a place right off of Piazza San Michele called Trattoria de Leo. It was a crowded little restaurant, though we arrived shortly after it opened at 7:30, but the roast chicken and potatoes were prepared in minutes, and delicious. We ended our last night in Lucca with flute music behind us, and large gelatos in our hands. How else?

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