Subject: May in Italy, Part 3
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!