Our first stop was Pisa. We took a morning train and before no time, were in the famous city. Like many visitors, I was surprised to discover how big Pisa was. Apparently it’s a college town, and like Florence straddles the Arno river. Unlike most of the people who got off the train with us, we decided to walk from the station to the leaning tower. It’s about a twenty minute walk and pleasant, though I wish we had allowed ourselves more time to really enjoy it.
After not very long we got to the leaning tower. We didn’t go up it (for financial reasons), but did eat a picnic on the grass nearby. It was also impressive to see the whole tower area, which also has a baptistery and cathedral. For some reason I had always imagined the tower in a grassy field by itself, but in fact it’s quite close to church.
Not long after we arrived in Pisa, we headed back to the train station. And while I liked the tower and adjacent buildings, I would actually be interested in coming back to the city to see other sites.
Next, we went to a town called Lucca. It’s not far from Pisa, and has huge renaissance walls. Apparently the the citizens of the town decided to build extra strong fortifications at one point, and they ended up making them so strong that no one bothered attacking for hundreds of years. Today, the thick walls are more like a park, and from on top it’s easy to think of them as just an elevated pedestrian and bike road. There are tall trees and cheap bike rental places (which we didn’t use because we had spent so much in Florence).
We strolled the old walls for a while, climbing on old crenelations and turrets, then ventured into the town. In many ways, it reminded me of Aosta; there weren’t a lot of tourists, but there were some interesting sites. We visited several old churches, and saw the city’s characteristic towers (including one with oak trees famously growing on top of it). Apparently, the Pope and the town bishop had some sort of rivalry going on at some point and they both built impressive churches. The Pope’s was designed to remind pilgrims that while Lucca was cool, the real objective was in Rome. Another interesting thing about the churches was that they were decorated hundreds of years ago by paintings by local artists, and those artists painted the city in the background. So while the images ostensibly depict standard religious fare, it was possible to watch the progression of the town in the paintings.
For the most part, however, we just wandered around Lucca. Because there were some people out, but not huge crowds, I’d say it was actually one of the more pleasant places we visited and, like Pisa, I’d be interested in coming back if only to take in more of the laid back atmosphere and historic vibe. At one point, we also found parts of the old medieval wall. Before the Renaissance, the city had an older, not-as-strong wall. I think they replaced it because it couldn’t with stand the new technology or something along those lines, but parts of the older wall still exist. Some were worked into the newer wall, but others have been appropriated for other uses (homes, stores, etc.) in town. (I think there is also an even older, Roman wall in the town).
As the sun began to get low, we decided to head back to Florence. We walked back to the train station, and then spent the evening strolling through the city, looking at the Ponte Vecchio, and eating gelato.