Next stop - Lucca - an elegant gem of a town surrounded by a medieval wall
that is always busy with strolling families, bikers, skaters, and joggers
along the cool tree-lined path. A wonderful town to walk around (or rent a
bike-it's flat, unlike most of the fortified hilltop towns), and shop or
stop for a bite in the lovely Belle Epoch cafes. The streets are lined with
lovely homes and impressive palazzi and churches. The little (14 room)
Piccolo (I'm repeating myself!) Hotel Puccini was a charmer - nicely
decorated rooms on a quiet side street. We can look to the right out of our
window and see the amazing facade of San Michele - with 4 tiers of
fantastically carved marble columns, each one unique! The afternoon sun
flashes off the golden angel at the top like a beacon.
The San Frediano church was a favorite, with it's stunning golden exterior
mosaic -gorgeous in the sunlight, the colors even more intense when spotlit
at night. Inside on the right is a beautifully carved marble baptismal font
in front of a wall graced with some of Della Robbia's (a favorite of mine)
wonderful bas relief in blue and white. The row of plump infant's faces,
each one different - and each one kissable! - was adorable. We did not find
much in our guidebooks about this church, but found it full of interesting
treasures - with written descriptions, another rarity, beside each one. As
the sun set, painting the sky above the mountains to the west with
rosy-golden streaks, we walked along the wall, looking down into the
beautiful gardens inside.
After an inexpensive but very good dinner at the unpretentious Da Guido
(fresh tortellini, rice with porcinis, roast veal) on Via C. Battista we
continued walking through the town. Every turn uncovered a gift to the eyes
- from a beautiful Renaissance palazzo, a canal leading to a fountain, a
flower-bedecked balcony or balustrade, to an ornate lantern or intricate
corbel under a roof overhang - lovely by day or by night. The narrow streets
give the same feel as Venice after dark - snatches of conversation or song
bouncing up from the cobblestones, mysterious and intriguing.
A pastry and coffee in the Antica Caffe di Sima, a favorite of home-town boy
Puccini, followed by a leisurely walk along the wall started our next day.
We descended from the wall into the weekly market - always irresistable!
Planning ahead for lunch on the road, we bought a couple of panini di
porchetta - carved off of the roast pig right before our eyes. Strolling
through the streets toward our car, we looked into several antique shops and
artisan's workshops... wrought iron, gold-leaf, intricate frames and more.
Lucca is almost as good a shopping town as Florence! Passed a bakery and
bought a loaf of buccellatta - delicious raisin bread with secret Luccan
spices, a local specialty. Now we're stocked for the trip!