Jake’s Sunday Post: Splendid

Jake’s Sunday Post challenge this week is “Splendid,” so I thought I would tell you about the splendid and charming jewel of a Tuscan town called Lucca.

It’s the only town in Italy which is entirely surrounded by walls, and these massively thick walls built in the 16th century to protect the town from invaders, are 4 km around. Today they are very well-preserved, and you can walk right around on top of them, although we didn’t have time to do that.

Our local guide was a diminutive young woman who was so enthusiastic about her splendid town. What she lacked in height, she made up for in energy and verbosity. She kept rising up on her toes as she waved her arms around, extolling the virtues of her home town.  She knew that we had just come from Pisa, and told us that the Pisans and the Luccans have been feuding since Medieval times and were not about to stop any time soon. She made us laugh when she said that compared to the splendour of Lucca, Pisa was just a “dirty nappy town.” This was obviously the ultimate insult. 😆

Her pride was certainly well-founded, as we were to see on our walk around this lovely place. This 13m tall Renaissance entrance, leads to the ‘Piazza Anfiteatro’,  which is built on the site of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, dating back to the 2nd century AD.

The amphitheatre was built on an elliptical plan with two rows of fifty-four arcades, and had a maximum capacity of 10,000 spectators. It was of course originally used for the staging of gladiator fighting, of which the Romans were so fond. There is a beautiful fresco painted inside each of the archways.

The town features some of Italy’s finest Medieval and Renaissance architecture and the colourful piazza was restored in 1830. It has many shops and restaurants around it, and is widely used for cultural activities, music festivals, and fairs. The amphitheatre was built on an elliptical plan with two rows of fifty-four arcades, and had a maximum capacity of 10,000 spectators. It of course was originally used for the staging of gladiator fighting, which the Romans were so fond of. During the Middle Ages, houses were built over the ruins, and today one of these three-roomed homes, with each room on a different floor, over the top of the shops, will set you back about 500,000 Euros.

As with most Italian towns, the streets are narrow lanes with very tall buildings on either side. There is hardly room for two vehicles to pass one another, and pedestrians quite often just have to take their chance, pressing themselves hard up against the walls to avoid getting brushed by vehicle wing mirrors. As you can see, the bicycle is the favourite mode of transport.

The town of Lucca  gave birth not only to composer Luigi Boccerini, but is also the birth place of Giacomo Puccini, born 1858. He frequented this coffee bar, “Di Simo Caffe,” and as a young student, used to earn a bit of pocket-money playing piano there.

His family house, is situated off the Piazza Citadella, at no. 9 Corte San Lorenzo, and outside there’s a statue of the great composer, very typically portrayed holding a cigarette in his hand.

Just around the corner is a small restaurant, cashing in on Puccini’s name.

There are so many shoe shops in this town, which was a very big plus for me, and I was thrilled to find my lovely Italian leather boots waiting patiently for me in one of them. 🙂

The Piazza San Michele has a magnificent 7th century church which was built on the ruins of a Roman temple. There are sculptures of the devil on the outside, but of course, the angels all get to reside inside,

except for the Archangel Michael, who is perched right on the very top, keeping watch over the citizens.

We sat for a while at the “Da Gherado Cafe,”  watching the world go by; one of my favourite relaxing pastimes,

and whilst I rested my feet, I couldn’t resist a slice of their delicious “Frutti di Bosco” tart, a fragrant pastry, filled with Chantilly cream and decorated with choice blueberries, blackberries, red currants, raspberries and strawberries. A splendid dessert indeed.

When I went inside to use the toilet, it was up a steep flight of wooden steps, and I was able to sit looking out of the open window, right across the rooftops of the town. I found in Italy that none of the public toilets have seats, which might be acceptable for the gents, but is rather cold for us ladies.  It also took me a couple of minutes to work out how to turn on the tap to wash my hands. You had to step on this foot pedal thingy on the floor; very strange indeed, but I was very proud of myself (being blonde), to be the one to solve the mystery which was baffling  a couple of other tourists too. 😉

We spent a very happy couple of hours in this splendid town of Lucca, before setting off on the long drive to Venice, our last stop on this fantastic tour.

Trying to straighten up the Leaning Tower.

Continuing on with last October’s Italian trip:

After leaving ViaReggio, we were taken to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. On our arrival in the Tuscan city of Pisa, we boarded a cute little train which took us to one of the most famous towers in the world.

This is the sight which greeted us as we walked through the entrance to the grounds on which the city’s cathedral and bell tower stand. It was such a thrill to see the leaning tower for myself.

The beautiful Baptistry of Saint John, completed in 1363, the largest in Italy. The lower part of this 55m tall building is built in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper registers are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. It is made of marble, which was so typical of Italian architecture.

I had often wondered about the leaning tower, and why it leans sideways. Our guide told us that it was because it was built on unstable soil. Construction was started on the 180-foot bell tower in 1173, and the building began to lean as soon as the first three floors were completed. Building continued however, and the seven-story structure was finished between 1360 and 1370. The tower leans a little bit more each year and was closed for repairs in 1990, when it was leaning fourteen and a half feet to one side. Engineers worked to stabilize the foundation, straightening the tower only slightly to help prevent irreparable damage without taking away the uniqueness of the structure.

Hubby is a great DIY fanatic, and tried to push it upright with his finger, but without much success. 😉

The tower is apparently the only thing of interest in Pisa, so once we’d seen it, and wandered around for about forty minutes, we were back on the train, after running the gauntlet of the inevitable street traders, selling all the usual rubbish, mostly made in China.

Our next stop was to be in the beautiful town of Lucca, which I’ll tell you all about next time.

Jake’s Sunday Post “Vehicle.”

Jake’s Sunday Post theme, this week, is ‘Vehicle,’ so I decided to post a few pics of the more interesting vehicles I’ve seen and ridden in, on my travels.

“I left my heart in San Francisco,” a few years ago. What an interesting and fascinating city. We explored it mostly on foot, but of course you can’t visit this beautiful city without taking the opportunity  to leap onto one of these vintage trams. A really unique experience.

One day whilst driving on our way back to New York from Florida, via the scenic route, we stayed overnight in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was tickled pink to actually see the famous ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ which was made famous by Glen Miller and his Big Swing Band in 1941.

Here at Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, we were intrigued to see buses and taxis, bedecked with ribbons, lined up outside a church, and waiting to be blessed by the priest, for a fee of course. Wink

In Riobamba, Ecuador, the most popular ride is the idyllic trip called ‘Nariz Del Diablo’, (The Devil’s Nose.) It takes you through stunning natural areas in the Andes and is considered one of the best train rides in the world. Sitting on the roof of this freight train and absorbing the Andes must be very exciting if a little uncomfortable. I believe you can rent cushions. Hubby and I didn’t go on this train. It was crammed to the gills with exuberant youngsters, and their perches looked to be very precarious indeed.

We, being more mature and ‘dignified’, opted for the relative comfort of a specially adapted coach fitted with railway wheels. Here am I with our young guide and the driver, waiting for the exciting ride to begin. Some people did sit on the top, and for part of the journey, hubby was one of them. I was very relieved when he climbed back inside.

On our Italian tour last year, this cute little ‘train’ took us from the coach park to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

My last photo was taken in the car park at JFK on a rainy evening. This vehicle has to be the last word in luxury taxis.

The stretch Hummer Limo, has comfortable seating for up to 18 passengers, a full bar and entertainment centre, two fish tanks, hardwood floors, six flat screen TV’s, CD Player, DVD Player, and Surround Sound. I wonder who it was picking up. I just knew it wasn’t waiting for us. Laughing

This morning, I go for my first eye operation. I’m feeling very positive, but you may wish me luck, anyway.