Italia: Lucca and Rome

It seems as if I must begin with two apologies.  First, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to post this update.  It takes a ridiculous amount of time to go through hundreds of photos and some very sketchy iPhone notes and turn it all into something semi-coherent.  Second, I must apologize for how long these updates have become.  Feel free to take breaks while sifting through this monstrosity.  Maybe get yourself a cup of coffee or take a walk around the office between Lucca and Rome?  I’ve never been known for brevity.

Oh, and if you’re just joining us…previous journal entries from my fabulous trip to Tuscany and Rome can be found here, here, here, and here!

Thursday, October 20

9:26

All week long, Susanna’s been warning us that we’re forecast for rain today.  Now we’re almost to Lucca and the sky just opened up.  Glad I grabbed my little duckie umbrella on the way out the door!

What could be happier than a duckie umbrella?

What could be happier than a duckie umbrella?

Moreno drives us through modern Lucca to the edge of the walled city.  On the way, Susanna tells us that it’s possible to rent a bicycle and bike around the city on top of the walls.  They’re that wide.  Not surprisingly, we’re not going to have time for that today.

We hop off the bus to a gentle drizzle.  While some of my tourmates buy umbrellas from the street merchants who mob the bus on our arrival, I open up my snazzy duckie and Pierra snaps a pic.  Thanks, Pierre!

Who's afraid of a little rain?  Not me!

Who's afraid of a little rain? Not me!

10:12

I will remember Lucca as a city of bicycles.  Only a few cars are allowed inside the city walls so there are bicycles everywhere.  Nobody bothers to lock them up.  There are bikes leaning against almost every building.

Blue bikes, red bikes, orange bikes.  Pick your color.

Blue bikes, red bikes, orange bikes. Pick your color.

Like everywhere else we’ve been in Italy, there’s graffiti in Lucca.  I’m obsessed with the way the ancient walls of the city contrast with the bright colors of the street “art.”

I'm sure this guy was very friendly.  Really...

I'm sure this guy was very friendly. Really...

Our local tour guide takes us to the outer edge of the Roman amphitheater that was once on the outskirts of the city. Once the Romans left, the locals started building houses on top of (and inside) the stadium. There are still a couple of spots where you can see the ancient Roman stones. Of course, they’re not nearly as photogenic as the kitten peeking out from one of the windows above.

Here Kitty, Kitty!

Here Kitty, Kitty!

Our tour guide explains that in the 1800s the city elders decided they needed a centerpiece to their city. So, everything that had been built inside the amphitheater walls was demolished, leaving an oval ring of buildings that took up the exact footprint of the ancient stadium. As we walk through the archway into what’s now called the Piazza Anfiteatro, the sun has finally burned off the last of the clouds and we’re bathed in beautiful golden light.

It doesn't take too much to imagine those buildings replaced by stadium seats for thousands of enthusiastic Roman citizens.

It doesn't take too much to imagine those buildings replaced by stadium seats for thousands of enthusiastic Roman citizens.

Lucca is a gorgeous city. How is it that each place we visit in Tuscany is more beautiful than the last?

At its height, there were 70 churches in Lucca. There are still quite a few.

At its height, there were 70 churches in Lucca. There are still quite a few.

As the tour is ending, a few of us duck into the cathedral of San Martino. But, as soon as we arrive, they close for the day. No worries. The real story is in front of the church, where two little girls are entertaining themselves by chasing pigeons. Cindy suggests a slow shutter speed to catch the action, and I’m thrilled with the results.

Looking at this picture, I can still hear the little girl's giggle.  So cute!

Looking at this picture, I can still hear the little girl's giggle. So cute!

We have a few minutes to wander the city before it’s time to head off on our next adventure. I take the time to do a little shopping. Don’t be surprised if some treasures from Lucca turn up in your Christmas stocking!

Having trouble deciding what to buy me for Christmas?  Anything in this window will do just fine, thank you!

Having trouble deciding what to buy me for Christmas? Anything in this window will do just fine, thank you!

We leave Lucca and drive a short ways to Villa Baldaccini, a small olive oil producer. We’re greeted by Mr. Baldaccini and his dog, Felipe. (For a while, I thought the dog was named Flipper. Felipe makes so much more sense!) It’s a beautiful, serene place and we can barely bring ourselves to go inside, where a fantastic spread of Italian snacks await us.

Ahhh....what fantastic tourmates.  I'll miss them.

Ahhh....what fantastic tourmates. I'll miss them.

After lunch, Mr. Baldaccini takes us out to his orchard, where two workers are harvesting the olives. Green nets have been laid out over the ground to catch the olives as they fall from the trees. Before we can make it over to the part of the orchard where the workers are harvesting, we run across a small herd of miniature ponies. Mr. Baldaccini explains that they keep the grass from growing too high and leave “presents” that fertilize the ground. We all walk a little more carefully as we continue our tour!

Hey there, pretty pony!

Hey there, pretty pony!

The workers use blue plastic rakes on long poles to reach the top branches. The rakes vibrate back and forth very quickly and shake the olives from the trees. It’s loud, but very cool.

More traditional farms just wait for all the olives to fall from the trees, but since the olives must be pressed into oil within 24 hours that can be a tricky proposition.

More traditional farms just wait for all the olives to fall from the trees, but since the olives must be pressed into oil within 24 hours that can be a tricky proposition.

On our way out, Franka notices some very color-coordinated laundry on the line. Once again, we all line up for the same photo, so I decide to play with my aperture and go for artsy. I really did make the laundry blurry on purpose, I swear!

Blurry laundry.  I think it's kinda cool.

Blurry laundry. I think it's kinda cool.

19:01
Headed off for our farewell dinner at a nearby villa. Should be a rousing good time, except that our bags must be packed and ready to leave for Rome by 6:30. I’ll have to be careful not to indulge in too much vino!

It's cool, baby.

It's cool, baby.

19:26
Black on black in a modern jazz club for dinner. It’s beautiful, but I don’t feel like I’m in Italy anymore!

The band played their first set a half hour early, just for us.  How fun!

The band played their first set a half hour early, just for us. How fun!

21:26
Once again, three luscious courses and the dessert might just be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Bella. Everything is bella.

That's a candied orange slice, folks.  Incredible.

That's a candied orange slice, folks. Incredible.

22:26
Headed back to the hotel after our farewell dinner. After such a wonderful meal, I’m wishing Villa Pitiana wasn’t all the way up a twisting, winding road. I’m grateful to have found such a perfect tour full of fun, creative, laid back people. Thanks to the Internet for sending them my way…

Gotta get Moreno back in time for his beauty sleep. He's not allowed to drive on less than 8 hours rest, and we've gotta get folks to the airport in the morning!

Gotta get Moreno back in time for his beauty sleep. He's not allowed to drive on less than 8 hours rest, and we've gotta get folks to the airport in the morning!

To Rome tomorrow, where the locals have been rioting, the streets are filled with sewage from rain flooded gutters, and the train drivers are on strike. I can’t imagine the next three days will be half as lovely as the last seven!

Eeek!  So much for that "super convenient" hotel room right by the main train station!

Eeek! So much for that "super convenient" hotel room right by the main train station!

Friday, October 21

05:28

The wake up call came a few minutes ahead of schedule this morning.  I guess that’s Villa Pitiana’s way of making up for the morning that none of the wake up calls were made at all!  I will miss this place…especially the shadows the beautiful bathroom light makes on the high ceilings.  I wish I could take it home with me!

I love my life, but it would be so much better if it included this light fixture.

I love my life, but it would be so much better if it included this light fixture.

07:41

We’re treated to the most beautiful sunrise as Moreno drives us down the mountain for the last time.  Susanna puts on the CD of Dean Martin, and Pierre and I turn ourselves into pretzels trying to get a good shot of the medieval tower on the way down the hill.

Not bad for an iPhone.  I wish I had tried with the real camera!

Not bad for an iPhone. I wish I had tried with the real camera!

09:40

On the way to Rome I’m torn between getting some desperately needed sleep, doing some even more desperately needed planning for the next three days, or soaking in my last glimpses of the Italian countryside.  I try to snap some pics, but always get my camera out just seconds too late.  The iPhone is more convenient…

It's like a painting!  Why, oh why, didn't I use my real camera?

It's like a painting! Why, oh why, didn't I use my real camera?

11:38

We’ve dropped the Merit peeps off at the airport and Susanna’s found me a bus to Rome.  Six euro instead of 55 for a taxi.  Thank goodness for Susanna!  She showed me exactly where to go and even confirmed with the driver to make sure I was on the right bus.

I was still a little worried about being on the right bus, but the lettering across the window was quite reassuring!

I was still a little worried about being on the right bus, but the lettering across the window was quite reassuring!

Of course, my first subway ride in Rome is in a car completely covered with grafitti.  Cool!

All of the cars on this line were covered.  I wonder if the city encourages it?

All of the cars on this line were covered. I wonder if the city encourages it?

15:24

After dropping my luggage in my room, I decide to walk to the Coliseum.  But, along the way I get distracted by an archeological sight so unimportant that it isn’t even on my map.  I get the sense could explore this city for 10 years and still not see a fraction of it.

Seriously.  This is not important enough to be on my map.  And, yes, I double checked.

Seriously. This is not important enough to be on my map. And, yes, I double checked.

I learn from eavesdropping on a British tour guide that this was Trajan’s market.  I check…it’s still not on my map, but maybe I could look it up later?

16:10

I’ve been looking for the Coliseum for an hour.  I found the Jewish ghetto instead?

If I could always find so many fascinating things while lost, maybe I wouldn't mind getting lost all the time!

If I could always find so many fascinating things while lost, maybe I wouldn't mind getting lost all the time!

18:12

Eureka!  I finally caught sight of the Coliseum!  Turns out when I got distracted by Trajan’s Market on my right, I should have just glanced to my left.  It was right there!  I was very happily lost for these last two hours in Rome, but if you ever travel with me…don’t let me hold the map.  It’s just not good.

The rain was two days ago, but it's never good when the sewers flood.

The rain was two days ago, but it's never good when the sewers flood.

I arrive too late to go in, but it turns out the area’s been closed all day due to flooding anyway.  And I couldn’t have arrived at a better time.  The sun is starting to set and the entire area is bathed in a warm glow.  I can just hear Cindy in my head saying, “Look at that sweet, sweet light!”

Bella!  It's really gorgeous, as long as you don't think about all the people who were tortured and killed here!

Bella! It's really gorgeous, as long as you don't think about all the people who were tortured and killed here!

18:42

I had planned to take the subway back to my hotel, but its closed due to flooding as well.  No worries.  A few blocks from the Coliseum, I find a nice cafe with outdoor seating and the sweetest words I will see in Rome, “Free WiFi.”  I’ve eaten like a pig since I’ve arrived in Italy, so I decide an Insalata Caprese is exactly what I need.

Yes, the tomatos are bright green.  But, they're tasty.  I promise!

Yes, the tomatos are bright green. But, they're tasty. I promise!

And some ice cream, of course.  Have you ever wondered what a 9 Euro ($13) bowl of gelato looks like?

Not as good as the gelato in Florence, but still better than the (very good!) gelato in Boston.  I love gelato.

Not as good as the gelato in Florence, but still better than the (very good!) gelato in Boston. I love gelato.

Just one more update and I’ll be done.  My last two days in Rome were amazing. Stay tuned to learn all about them!

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One Comment to “Italia: Lucca and Rome”

  1. This was a wonderful read and gorgeous pictures Karen! Thank you for sharing this part of your life! Makes me want to visit Italy even more than before!

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