lucca - june 6th - 8th
The time came to leave Montebenichi. It was difficult. We exchanged hats. We gave Marco and Arnaldo Ophir Wines tee shirts and even an apron. We’ll be back, we said. And we will. It is too wonderful a place to visit just once. But on to Lucca. We went the back way. Way west and then north. We went through the castle town of Volterra. We didn't stop for much there except for lunch and a bathroom. But in Volterra we encountered our second room full of an Italian family celebrating something and my first taste of wild boar (spelled boor) with black olives. It was really good!!
Fields of red poppies on the way to Volterra.
The walled city of Volterra is one of the highest Tuscan hill towns, commanding spectacular views of the countryside, dotted with towns and villages and colorfully divided into fields, olive orchards, vineyards and forests.
You cannot talk about Volterra without mentioning alabaster, which is mined in the area. You'll find alabaster shops all over in Volterra..
But on to Lucca. No way to avoid it. Can’t get around it, we are going to have to get on the Autostrade, the toll freeway. We have heard horror stories. Take a ticket when you get on and that’s simple but getting off is the trick. There are three ways to exit.... telepass which is automatic (like our Fast Track); a lane wherein you stick your card in a slot and then throw Euro at the machine or a real, live teller person. We wanted to avoid the telepass at all costs and to look for the latter, a body. We did good but the exits around Lucca were so goofy to our western eyes that we got on and off the Autostrade twice while looking for our hotel. Thank God we never got into the telepass lane which would have been, according to fellow travelers certain humiliation if not death.
Lucca itself is a cool city. The interior, the old city. is a massive fortress with a wall about 3.5 miles in diameter around the original city. The wall is of brick and is probably about 35 feet high. It is massive, gigantic, solid. I said ‘massive’ twice because that’s the best word to describe the wall. Really big. You’d have had to have been an idiot to ever attack this place. Lawns and trees are now planted on the outside of the wall and the wall itself is breeched by medieval portals allowing one lane of traffic in or out. No signals, no convex mirrors, no cops directing traffic.... just luck and common sense. Driving in old town Lucca is a really bad idea as we discovered first hand. Ooops! Lemme outta here! So we parked in a big lot outside the wall and hiked in. Mellow place, the city center. Very few cars. Lots of people having a good time. Good music. Best street band on the trip award goes to Lucca. Good eats. And, at the top of the wall, all around the city, is a flat area from 50 to maybe 200 feet wide with grass which is a park, a 360° park along the ramparts, for the people. Very civilized.
We dropped off our rental car in Lucca that afternoon and cabbed it back to our quaint country inn. We were tired and in no mood to be humiliated again by some Bentley-driving, Armani-wearing-upscale-color-blind-bozo so I decided to take a walk and try to find take-out. And so I walked down the only quiet, safely walkable road that led away from the place and about a mile and a half later I came to a small eatery selling pizza and focaccia The guy spoke zero English and at last I had a chance to exercise my pidgin Italian. I managed to get two focaccia and a couple of cold beers and these I carried back to our room. On the way, I was passed by a very few cars but each time I had to exit the roadway and get well off in to the weeds to avoid being hit. “I've seen this road before”, I thought.... ”I've been on it!”.... and then it hit me.... the “road” on which I was walking and on which traffic was flowing, if slowly, was the very equivalent of the American River Bike Path. That gives you an small idea of how narrow some of the Italian roads are and why may Italian drivers get a little whacky when stressed by a slow moving scooter that won’t pull over to let others pass. I would too.
The focaccia was the best. And the beer too. All the more so because we stuck it to the Locanda and spent €12.50 for dinner instead of €150.00 plus bad vibes. What a deal!