My Name is (Lucca), I Live on the 2nd Floor...
My name is Luka
I live on the 2nd Floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes, I think you've seen me before
I couldn't resist kicking off this final Italian blog post with a highly popular song verse from the 1980s. For those of you who are not familiar with this Suzanne Vega tune, I included a link to her original music video for your listening pleasure.
If you didn't figure it out by now, Suzanne's Luka is not the same Lucca my friend and I visited during our weeklong Tuscany road trip. Since these lyrics were on mental repeat throughout the entire 6-hours inside this walled town, it was only fitting that I give it the 5 seconds of blog post fame it sorely deserves.
Now that I have, I'll move on and describe several things to see and do inside this charming Renaissance-walled enclosure.
Exploration Choices: Walk, Bike, or Gallop
Option #1: Walk
Lucca is commonly known for the ring of fortified walls that encircle its city center. Originally erected for defense purposes, these walls were eventually demilitarized by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s. Today, they function as tree-lined, pedestrian pathways (the Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane) connecting 11 bastions and 6 portas. I suggest walking along this historic perimeter before navigating the medieval streets encased within.
Once inside, you can stroll towards one of the outdoor marketplaces selling olive oil, scarves, purses, sweets, and other local knick knacks. My luggage was completely packed so I sped past several vendors to avoid any tempation.
While there, you can grab a bite at one of the adjacent restaurants serving affordable 3-course Italian meals - antipasti, primi, and secondi. Ale's Bar offers quick, outdoor dining options for those who simply want to fuel up (and carb load) before continuing to zig-zag through this medieval maze.
Directly across from Ale's Bar is an Italian men's clothing store selling beautifully tailored, men's clothing. Since I didn't want to spend a ton of money during my Italian getaway, I opted to live vicariously through my friend, Hardip, as he selected numerous outfits to add to his executive wardrobe. I couldn't help but think of that "Pretty Woman" Rodeo Drive shopping scene as Hardip tried on outfit after outfit at Franco Montanelli. We met the owner as well, which was rare treat.
Option #2: Bike
While Lucca is primarily a pedestrian promenade, there are alternatives to exploring its many cobblestoned pathways. If you prefer riding to walking, you can easily rent a biciclette for several hours. Just look for rows of bicycles stacked up against one of Lucca's many storefronts.
While my friend and I didn't choose this option, I felt it was worth mentioning since
biciclettes are popular among tourists/locals for traversing Lucca's relatively flat landscape. I read somewhere that it only takes 20-minutes to complete the entire 4km circuit around the city's perimeter. I don't suggest doing that alone since there are many quaint streets to cycle through while making pitstops along the way.
Option #3: Gallop
We wanted to explore as much of Lucca as possible before our metered parking expired, so we opted for a 1-hour, horse-drawn carriage tour for 80 euros. This was actually the most enjoyable way to see key sites such as Puccini's house, Palazzo Ducale, Teatro del Giglio, Torre delle Ore, Torre Guinigi, and dozens of piazzas, medieval towers, and Romanesque churches.
During the tour, our guide explained that there are 99 churches in Lucca - a staggering amount considering how small Lucca is relative to other Italian cities. As our horse galloped through the meandering pathways, he pointed out several dating as far back as the 6th century. I couldn't possibly remember the names of all of them so I am only listing popular ones below.
San Martino Cathedral (built in 1063) - Located at the east end of Piazza San Martino, this Roman Catholic church juxtaposes a Romanesque exterior against a Gothic interior.
Church of St. Michele (built in the 12th century) - This Romanesque-style church showcases a statue of St. Michael flanked by 2 angels gracing the top of its marble facade. The adjacent campinile was completed in the 19th century and is one of several bell towers throughout Lucca.
Church of San Paolino (constructed and finished in 1500) - This church was built during the Renaissance period and is made entirely out of marble.
Church of San Frediano (built in the 6th century) - Construction was initiated by Lucca's Irish bishop, Fridianus (Frediano), and is one of Lucca's oldest churches. You can easily identify this basilica by its 13th century mosaic highlighting "the Ascension of Christ the Saviour" and his apostles.
A horse with a mind of its own
As we passed church after church, I couldn't help but cringe as unsuspecting pedestrians quickly removed themselves from harm's way to avoid getting trampled. If I had a horn, I would have used it as a warning siren, but that would have spoiled Lucca's quiet ambiance. I don't think anyone would want to hear an American yelling, "RUN, people, RUN" everytime our horse intermittently decided to lunge forward, right?"
There were times, however, when our horse slowed down long enough for me to film one of Lucca's must see squares, the Piazza Anfiteatro - an oval shaped, Colosseum-esque piazza housing numerous boutiques and restaurants. This 16-second video doesn't do this beguiling spot much justice, but it will give you an idea of what to expect while you're visiting this highly popular destination.
If you're not staying overnight, this was undoubtedly, the best way to see Lucca while listening to detailed narration from a seasoned guide. While I highly recommend this method of exploration, I have one last cautionary tale before you board that horse-drawn carriage.
Impromptu wedding in Lucca?
Many tourists and locals were smiling at us as we trotted across the city. I didn't think anything of it until one of these onlookers asked how long my childhood friend and I had been together. We responded that we've been friends for many decades. Perplexed, the stranger then questioned how long we've been married. Huh?
None of this made sense until we discovered this overflowing white bow at the back of the carriage (and a smaller version around the horse's neck) once our lovely tour ended. Mystery solved. My advice? Check the carriage for matrimonial accessories beforehand or be prepared to receive congratulatory waves and remarks as you pass the crowded piazzas.
Birthplace of the Italian Maestro - Puccini
While it would have been more appropriate to highlight one of Giacomo Puccini's operatic masterpieces at the beginning of this blog, I waited until the end to honor his musical achievements. Puccini began his incredible career in Lucca's Teatro del Giglio, a historic opera venue that was rebuilt in 1818. As most of you know, this maestro composed some of the best known Italian operas such as Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and La Boheme. While touring Lucca, you'll have the opportunity to not only visit the theatre, but see his home as well.
Puccini's musical legacy must have made such an impact on Lucca that they decided to continue his artistic tradition by hosting annual concerts at Piazza Napoleone. Many flock to this small town each year for Lucca's Summer Festival - an intimate gathering of musical enthusiasts and musicians. For additional information on this year's lineup, click here.
Overall, my brief half-day trip to Lucca was quite memorable. So much so that I devoted an entire blog post to this charming city. This blog is part 3 of my 3-part Italian series, which began in Venice and ended with Typhoid Myra in Florence.
I can't possibly describe (via words alone) Lucca's beauty and charm, so I have created the following video montage, which captured images and video footage during both our walking and galloping tours. Whichever exploration option you choose, I hope you enjoy this remarkable city as much as we did. Ciao for now.
Original Trip Date: September 21, 2015