Shhh…there’s a place called Lucca.

On May 1st, we left the beautiful  La Spezia and took a train to Pisa to check out the touristy Leaning Tower and to see if we wanted to spend the night there or to go to Lucca afterwards. We missed the Pisa San Rossore stop and arrive at the Pisa Centrale Station. There we grab a quick bite to eat at the stations small food hall which had a cafeteria, a pizza oven and a McDonalds. I grab an espresso and a diavola pizza for myself and my dad a burger. We then make our way towards the famous tower. At first, my impression of Pisa around the station looked kinda rundown but as we continued walking down Via Cesare Battisti and crossed the Ponte della Cittadella bridge I began to find it quite charming. It had some nice shady areas, parks and some street art.

We pass by a cathedral made of bricks and walk down some streets that were lined with cafes and restaurants. As we approach closer to the Square of Miracles, the amount of tourists was becoming very noticeable, which was a very stark contrast from where we were coming from. At the square there are four religious buildings which are owned by the Catholic Church: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistery, the Campanile (Leaning Bell Tower) and Camposanto Monumentale. The whole area is actually fairly big with bright green grass all over and the four beautiful white buildings. Obviously, the star is the leaning bell tower and everyone there was trying to take a thousand photos of it with their hands leaning up against it, many of them teenagers and mostly standing on the surrounding columns to get the perfect shot…So, of course I tried to squeeze in and get my own shot.

After taking a couple of photos and admiring the beauty of the square, we stroll around a bit blending in with the thousands of other tourists there and decide to head to Lucca. I kinda wanted to climb up the bell tower but there was a three hour wait, so we walk out of the square and look back at it one last time. We go through an outdoor market selling all kinds of cheap souvenirs, hats and leather goods. I actually found a good belt there for 8 euros. We walk into a small restaurant nearby where we have some cafe corettos con sambuca and begin our way to the Pisa San Rossore train station which wasn’t too far off. We pass some fences and buy two tickets for the next train to Lucca and out of the annoying tourist zone. We wait around for a while for the train and in thirty minutes we arrive in Lucca.

At the Lucca train station, we walk to a small shady park and look for a place on our phones to stay for the night. We settle on the Eurostar hotel which had a great price, wasn’t too far and had breakfast. We begin our walk and realize that the historic city center is completely surrounded by a large stone wall lined with trees and with people walking and cycling around on top of them. Next to the walls there were large grassy areas, tall trees, old statues and a small moat encircling the city. We walk along the city wall down to a roundabout and a highway and continue to Viale Europa where the hotel was. After walking for 50 minutes and getting a bit lost we finally find our place. We were greeted by a friendly guy a the reception named Francesco who spoke very good Spanish. We check in and he explains the city a bit and how to enjoy it the best, which is by bicycle. At the room we rest for a bit and go out later that night to a Turkish spot, since there was some kind of holiday going on and most everything was closed. We chit chat about how beautiful Italy is and how hospitable everyone has been to us. Which made me reflect a bit…

I’ve been to Italy a couple of years back when I was traveling with my girlfriend at the time. She was a beautiful and kind girl from Tehran and we had met in a hostel in Istanbul years earlier when I was living there. For our trip we had started in Milan, then went to Venice, Bologna, Florence and ended in Rome before we flew to Barcelona, Madrid and then Porto. We had a wonderful time seeing the sites, doing some museums and enjoying some of the cuisine (although she didn’t care for pasta, crazy I know.) I remember having to get by with my basic Italian and although some were nice, some of the natives seemed to be a bit indifferent. Not rude at all, welcoming enough but not as helpful as I had hoped for. But I definitely cannot say the same thing this time around. Quite the opposite in fact. On this trip just about everyone was extremely polite, helpful and engaging. Everyone was always saying “Buongiorno” with a smile at a restaurant or cafe, making us feel welcome each time and some young kids even called us a taxi on the streets of Rome because we were lost. And of course we will never forget our kind host Samantha in La Spezia, who made us feel completely at home in her B&B and in Italy. You can easily see that the Italians know what they have and that they are proud of their country, their culture, their food and their work; whatever it may be. Waiters, baristas, taxi drivers and anybody else on the street. They all shared that same sense of pride.

The following day I took one of the bikes and went to the center of the city. My father went at his own pace and decided to walk instead. I bike down the street and through a tunnel specifically for bicyclists and pedestrians, where I come out the other side of the street and right in front of the city center. I bike through it and see what the small village has in store for me. Inside the city walls there were locals walking around, other bicyclists, vendors selling all kinds of meats and cheeses, small cafes selling espressos and Aperol spritzes, boutiques and little vintage shops. As I bike through the labyrinth of Lucca I come across this one area called Piazza dell’Anfiteatro which was circular and had restaurants all around offering regional cuisine. The center of the plaza was completely empty, yet there were two musicians playing contemporary music, one with an accordion and the other with a muted trumpet.

In Lucca one would find some tourists surely but definitely not a lot. Lucca is the perfect escape from Rome and other big cities where the tourist route can be a bit suffocating. It is a true breath of fresh Tuscan air and it’s where you visit Casa di Puccini, the house of the Opera composer or climb the Guinigi Tower, where you can get a gorgeous 360 view of the entire city. Here you can try authentic local cuisine with delicious pastas and seconds while sipping on a glass of fine white wine and waste the day away in leisure or as the Italians sometimes say, “Dolce far niente.”

Which is exactly what I did.

Lucca is a definite if ever in Tuscany.

It’s my little secret.

And I know I’m telling you now…

but please do not tell anyone else.

But I will leave you with some pics.


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