Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pisa and Lucca

I had no idea that the "Leaning Tower" of Pisa actually leans as much as it does. At the top, until some major construction/restoration work was completed, it leaned FIVE meters from the vertical...that's 16.5 feet off vertical!! Now, it "only" leans 4.1 meters (or 13.5 feet). However, I can tell you that it's simultaneously totally awesome and somewhat disconcerting to be standing at the top of a 180 foot tall tower that's 13.5 feet "off". When you climb the sloped interior stairs to the top, you are required to leave all bags at the baggage check, but for some reason you can bring water bottles. However, they have water bottle police watching like hawks because when a stupid tourist sets down their water bottle to take that special photo, that bottle is going to fall over and roll until it trips someone and causes them to plummet to their death. Trip had only set his water bottle down for about a millisecond when the woman screamed at him from the other side of the tower, from behind a wall of tourists. I have NO idea how she could've seen him do it...but she had the radar on for sure!

Surprising for me was to see that the leaning tower is only one small part of a much larger and impressive piazza - the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Plaza of Miracles. This was the first piazza we've seen here that has copious amounts of grass for people to lounge on and take in the grandeur of the scene. The white buildings are set OFF by the deep green grass, and the whole scene beckons one to just sit and reflect - on our smallness, of the splendours of ancient Italy...AND of all the f$%&ing tourists clamoring to buy the infinite and ridiculous Pisa trinkets being hawked along the boulevard or to take the perfect photo of their loved one "holding up" the falling marble monstrosity, preventing it from toppling over and shattering.

Lucca was, by comparison, a quiet oasis in the middle of the tourist desert of Pisa. Yes, there were a couple of streets of high-end shops in Lucca, but it's vibe was super chill. It's a beautiful, old town surrounded by a 15 foot high city wall, on top of which now there is a path for people to cycle, run, walk, or whatever. Whatever pretty much means "to make out", because it seems that that is the primary Italian pastime. I thought they loved soccer (futbol) above all, but now that I'm here, I believe that kissing is their number one activity. Everywhere I look I'm faced with lovers publicly displaying their undying affection for each other. On one hand, it's beautiful and inspiring...on the other, it just pisses me off because I'm not a part of it!!

We stayed in a hostel located in a cavernous, old building that we learned was a former convent. Actually it was a little creepy because the staff was unfriendly, it smelled super musty, it was not particularly clean (I actually stole into and showered in the woman's bathroom because the mens' room smelled of years and years of fermenting urine). We were glad to get the hell out of there after only one night...but the building was cool, anyway!!

Lucca also had a very cool piazza...tall, brightly colored buildings and restaurants constructed in an elliptical shape and surrounding a large open space that used to be the space inside an elliptical Roman amphitheatre. Though the amphitheatre is long gone, visions of it are still immediately evoked when gazing upon the surrounding buildings.

We had one afternoon, one evening, and the following morning in Lucca. On that morning, I woke early and went for a run on the city wall. The entire wall that surrounds the city is only 2.5 miles around, so it was a very pleasant and easy trip, though it would've been surely easier if I hadn't been traipsing around eating pizza, pasta, cheese, and salami for the last 2 weeks...

A short walk to the Lucca train station later that morning found us then heading for the Cinque Terre. This literally means "five lands" in Italian, and it is a series of five coastal towns built right on the water in valleys or high up on steep cliffs overlooking the sea. All five towns are connected by a series of walking trails, and hiking from the bottom town to the top town is totally doable in one day. We decided to get a room in the bottom town, Riomaggiore, and chill there for a night, and then take the next day to hike to Monterosso, the town at the top. We had no idea of what was in store, only that many, many, many folks, both here and at home, had told us that missing the Cinque Terre was simply NOT an option on a one month excursion through Italy...

Until next time...