Monday, June 22, 2009

Cycling old city walls & a toppling tower! Lucca & Pisa, Italy


Destination: Lucca and Pisa, Italy

Where we stayed: Crown Princess

Best of: We met Rick Steves!

Worst of: Pisa is a tourist trap, get in, see it & get out!

Livorno, much like Marseille, France, is an unattractive port town that serves as a gateway to so much more. Since we were planning to come back to Florence and the Tuscany region, we decided to head north to the towns of Lucca and Pisa - of leaning tower fame.

We set off on the train with some friends from the ship to Lucca to start the day. Peter had done some research and learned that there was a Pinocchio show that was going on at 11 for free...our kind of price! After finding the place that it was going to be held at, we had a cup of coffee with the locals and stumbled upon a little market where we had some young Parmesan cheese, a rarity in the states. We returned to the church to watch the show that happened to be the 6 of us from the ship and a bunch of school kids in attendance. The show was entertaining in a cute way. This rendition of Pinocchio was a one man traveling German!

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After the show, we parted ways with our friends and headed to the walls of Lucca for a little bike ride. The completely intact wall circles the city and is wide enough for cars to drive all the way around. The original 16th century walls helped to protect the city from the powerful Medici family in Florence among others and kept Lucca an independent state up until just over 130 years ago with the unification of Italy. The wall is only two and a half kilometers around (about a mile and a half) and flat and smooth on top making it enjoyable to either bike or walk. Every 500 meters or so the wall juts out. These extensions were once lookout points, but are now nice parks for all to enjoy. With great views of the city and a mostly shaded path, it's an excellent way to spend the afternoon strolling or pedaling and taking pictures as you go.

We pedaled around for about an hour and when we returned the bikes, the lady mentioned that Rick Steves was in town yesterday! We had already decided to try one of the pizza joints he recommends in his book so we kept our eyes peeled as we walked to the joint. After ordering and sitting down outside of the bench, down the street came strolling Mr. Steves! He caught that we recognized him and chatted for a few moments before we got him to sign our 2009 Italy guide. Sadly, we didn't get a photo as we didn't want to keep the man from his work, but it was a memorable experience.

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Since we had to go through Pisa to get to Livorno, we decided to make a quick pit stop and see the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Set on what is known as the "Field of Miracles" this vast and well kept green space houses a spectacular cathedral and baptistery to go along with the bell tower. While the church is nice, the main star here is the tower. Leaning to one side about 14 feet, the tower has always leaned and constant efforts to solidify the ground underneath have been taking place here for 100's of years. Galileo was said to have worked on the theory of gravity and acceleration by studying the tower. Today, computers do most of the monitoring and checking to ensure the tower remains erect and thus continuing to provide a steady stream of tourists and all important Euros. We joined the countless others in posing and doing our part to hold up the tower, or push it down. It's a tourist trap, but hey, sometimes you just have to give in a little!

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After doing our mime parlor tricks, we returned to the ship and set sail for our 6th country in seven days, Malta!

To see more photos of Lucca click here! To see more of Pisa click here!

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