We departed colorful Cinque Terre following a road leading us south through the foothills of the Apuane Alps. The scenery is beautiful but driving can be nerve wracking for everyone. Italians drive fast. Really fast. Even when I was the passenger, it was impossible to relax and shoot photos out the window but I did get two.
The left lane is for passing only. If you get into that lane usually within 1-3 seconds suddenly there is a car going faster than you are on your tail. I should also mention that on a small two-lane road that Fiat coming at you, head on, attempting to pass someone is not playing chicken. Be sure to give that car some room.
As we neared our next side trip, Cararra, the Alps came into view dazzling us with the sparkle of snow. Or so we thought. It was not snow. Definitely not snow. What we saw was marble!
Cararra is the home of the famous white marble that Michelangelo chose for his sculpture of David. This is the same marble gouged out of the mountain since Roman times.
Cararra was an enjoyable, and dusty, side trip.
Our drive continued toward the town of Lucca that lies behind an imposing wall built by the Etruscans during the Renaissance in the 16th and 17th centuries. Lucca, as a Roman colony, dates back to 180 BC and prospered in the silk trade. The walls are 30 feet wide allowing for a bicycle path, park like areas and plenty of trees.
San Pietro Gate:
Once inside the walls we headed to the Piazza Anfiteatro, which is built on the ruins of an amphitheater dating back to the 2nd century AD. Too many hours came between breakfast and our arrival so we stopped for lunch immediately.
A simple yet delicous fresh tuna salad:
A rosemary foccacia panini with prosciutto, arugulla and cheese:
After lunch we headed out to explore through the narrow streets where even miniature vehicles had to park askew to avoid collisions.
Walking narrow streets in the medieval neighborhoods in the shadow of towering buildings, we spied Guinigi Tower. This tree topped tower, and adjoining palace, stands as one of the only remaining homes of Gothic nobility. This tower is approximately 144 feet tall.
I must not forget to mention that Lucca is also the birthplace of Giocomo Puccini. Here his bronze statue sits in from of his home, Torre del Lago, where he spent his childhood.
Lucca happens to have about 100 churches. We managed to see three. Each one distinct and different from the others. The first is the Church of San Michele (Saint Michael). It is an imposing church in a piazza of many medieval and Renaissance buildings. The church is constructed of white limestone and has been rebuilt over an ancient 8th century church. The façade reaches high until your eyes finally rest upon San Michele the archangel.
Apparently, San Michele’s wings are articulated. That means he can flap them during festivals. Or maybe someone helps him along.
These churches demand attention so nothing is overlooked as you stroll through their impressive interiors. As we learned, every church required quite a bit of time to enable us to see everything.
When in Italy one is bombarded with the aroma of bakeries, ristorantes, trattorias and the window appeal of each is impossible to resist. Don’t even think about dieting in Italy. You really don’t need to since all this walking works off those calories.
I sort of went crazy when we found the shops with the cooking tools!
Oh and knives galore!
I found several signs in Italy that were reminiscent of signs I found in Hawaii years ago. It's refreshing to know that the world shares a sense of humor!
After a short (and sweet) walk, we arrive at Duomo of San Martino, founded in the 6th century. This duomo is also made of white limestone with three levels of loggias.
In the nave on the left side of the church is the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix. Since the Middle Ages people make pilgrimages just to view the Volto Santo. As an aside, Dante referred to the Volto Santo in the Divine Comedy. I highly recommend reading it.
Due to the obstructed view through the little temple housing Volto Santo, I trespassed into the construction area to get a better shot. Lucky for me the security people never noticed.
Our last church of the day was the Baptistery of Saints Giovanni and Reparata, created in the 5th century. It was the first seat of the Bishop.
The fresoes captured my interest. I had no idea how thick they were:
The church was built over an archaeological area. Visitors can walk the whole area.
Era upon era of building:
Let's not minimize my penchant for graffiti. Here we have some of the earliest graffiti recorded:
By the time we finished viewing the churches it was time to begin the quest for dinner. Tuscan food, surprisingly, is not as impressive as the food in other regions of Italy. Tuscany is primarily an area that grows grapes and olives but little other agriculture. However, the exception is the food in Lucca. (Lucky for us!) We learned that one of the ways to identify the affluence of an area is by the types of pasta they serve. Every pasta, whether flour and water or flour with a few eggs to flour with many eggs is indicative of wealth. The yellower the pasta the better—and richer.
Our first stop was for our now traditional apperitivo.
For dinner, we found a quaint ristorante, Osteria Vecchio, where we satisfied our evening appetites.
A rich (notice how yellow) papparadelle with wild boar ragu:
Another rich pasta, macheroni e funghi:
Fried Chicken and Zucchini, Lucchese style:
Beef steak with pasta and funghi:
Next we move from Lucca to Siena. Stay tuned.
Find Part One Here: A Hungry Traveler Meets Italy
Find Part Two Here: A Hungry Traveler Meets the Coast of Liguria
Find Part Three Here: A Hungry Traveler Arrives in Levanto
Find Part Four Here: A Hungry Traveler Hikes Cinque Terre