Una Passeggiata a Lucca

By the time I got back to Lucca it was, happily, l’ora di pranzo (lunch time).  The most delicious thing I’d eaten on my last visit to the city was pasta con funghi (mushrooms).   I wanted to try and find the restaurant again.

Given that many of its streets are laid out on a rectangular grid, legacy of its Roman origins (180 BC), and given its fairly small size – the ramparts we saw earlier are only 4 km long – you would think it would be fairly easy to find your way around the centro storico.  I have no idea why I had such a hard time.  Per fortuna (luckily), the place I was looking for is along the alley that encircles the Roman Amphitheatre, so all I had to do was make my way to the amphitheatre and then walk around it until I came to the restaurant.


As you walk through the dark tunnels that lead to the amphitheatre – there are four of them – it is not too hard to imagine the gladiators and beasts – I don’t know which were more wretched – that once took the same route to their death or a temporary victory.


But once inside, it is hard to imagine it as anything but the cheery gathering place it is today.


From one window, hangs a flag bearing the word PACE (pa-chay) – peace.
From another a woman tends to her plants.

The restaurants in the arena were tempting, but I suspected the food might not be all that good.  On the touristy side.  Now you may be thinking, “Well what does she think she is?”  And you’d be right.  Of course I’m a turista here.   There are even times when I  feel like a tourist in my own home town,  but that’s another matter.   And sometimes I do eat in the “touristy” places.  I know the food is going to be mediocre and over-priced at best in a place like Piazza Navona in Rome, but I eat there anyway because I love the feel of the piazza.

But in this case, even though they say you should “never go back”, I know the food will be better and there’s the sheer fun of trying to find a place you’ve been to a long time ago.   One of the many things I love about Italy is that, unlike where I come from, a place where age is most often measured in decades and demolition routinely trumps restoration, your chances of the place you’re looking for still being there, even years later, are pretty good.

By the time I found the restaurant, it was late and there were no free tables left inside.  But there was una tavola libera outside.  I took it.

Maltagliati (badly cut) con funghi

Maltagliati (badly cut) con funghi.  Delizioso!


Tree-topped Torre Guinigi

Torre Guinigi is close by, but it was way too soon after eating to even think of climbing the 227 stairs to the top, so instead I set out along Via Fillungo towards Piazza San Michele.  There was sure to be a good table for people watching in one of the bars that surround the piazza.  The perfect place to have an espresso and let things digest a bit.


It must be a bumpy ride on those cobblestones, but everyone seems to get around by “bici” (bee-chee).

Via Fillungo is Lucca’s main shopping street. It also strikes me as the city’s main social meeting place.  When the Sunday evening passeggiata is in full swing, you can barely make your way through the crowds.  Even on a normal day it must take ages to get all the shopping done when there are so many friends to stop and chat with along the way.

If you can't find the colour you're looking for here...

If you can’t find the colour you’re looking for here…


The Gelateria on the edge of Piazza San Michele.  The perfect spot for watching life unfold in the piazza.

No helmets in sight for the bike riders.  But lots of casual chic attire.   Did you notice the shoes?

No helmets in sight for the bike riders. But lots of casual chic attire. Did you notice the shoes?


May, 2013.  It’s easy to tell the locals from the tourists. The locals are the ones wearing leather jackets and scarves.
The tourists – like me – are the ones shivering under layers of light spring clothes packed for a normal Tuscan spring.


The wings of Archangel Michael are attached by wires. Normally they don’t move. Except on one occasion,
centuries ago, when a couple of priests, perhaps thinking a miracle would spur on the masses to greater devotion,
climbed unseen up the back of the façade and started flapping the wings.

There was one more place I wanted to visit besides the tree-topped tower – Lucca’s Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden).  Both are at the other end of the city, so I headed back again along Via Fillungo towards the amphitheatre.


It’s not as high as the Campanile in Florence, but it’s still a long way up.

A good place to check out the view - and catch my breath.

Partway up a place to check out the view – and catch my breath.



You can even make out the contours of the amphitheatre from up here.


As well as many of Lucca’s hidden terraces

I wasn’t sure about the opening hours at the Orto Botanico and I had learned a long time ago not to take posted schedules at face value, so after a while I reluctantly dragged myself away from the stunning views.

One of the “problems” a traveller in Italy has to come to terms with is the sheer volume of things on offer.  If you want to stay sane, enjoy yourself and get something out of your trip, let alone remember any of it by the time you get back home, you just have to reconcile yourself to making some hard choices.   A kind of tourist’s triage.  You make a list of the things you absolutely want to see and the rest goes on your “If time permits” list.  This takes a lot of discipline, since you’ll have a nagging suspicion that anything that goes on that second list is going to have to wait for a return trip.  But really, alla fine (in the end) what’s so bad about that?

And so it was that on the way to the garden, I passed by Lucca’s magnificent cathedral and the museum dedicated to Lucca’s native born prodigal, Giacomo Puccini.

Posters along the way advertise a festival featuring Puccini

Casa natale di Giacomo Puccini. Il Maestro torna a casa.
(Home of Giacomo Puccini. The Master returns home.)


The cities and villages of Tuscany are filled with intriguing doorways.
As you pass by, you cannot help wondering what lies beyond.



Cedar of Lebanon at the entrance to Lucca’s Botanical Garden.

For me, of all the trees, the Magnolia has the most beautiful shape.   After that it’s a toss-up between the Dawn Redwood and the Cedar of Lebanon.

Dawn Redwood, Edwards Gardens, Toronto

Dawn Redwood, Edwards Gardens, Toronto

Enormous base of a European Beech.

Another ‘shoe shot’.  Base of a European Beech.


Detail of a cycad. Fossilized parts of the tree have been found next to dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic Period.
After surviving millions of years it is now on the endangered list. The cause?  Poaching.


In May the Rhododendrons along the wall by the ramparts were spectacular, but my favourite part of the garden was the pond nearby.



I love water lilies. They are so – improbable.  Such elegance and beauty emerging from the murky depths.  And I love the Italian name – Ninfea, for the ninfa (nymphs), the elusive creatures who inhabited the ponds and grottoes of Greek mythology.


It’s not so much what we look at. It’s what we see.

You probably spotted them right away, but I was so focused on getting the flowers in focus I must have gone around the pond at least three times before I first ‘saw’ one.


And then I started seeing them everywhere.


“Ninfea e tartaruga”.  Sounds like a painting – or maybe a play.


I walked back to my hotel along the ramparts.  It was easier to figure out where I was and with all the wonderful views of the places I’d visited, the kilometres seemed to melt away. Maybe that’s the thing.  It’s a lot easier to go for that daily walk the fitness people are always haranguing us about if we have something interesting – or beautiful – to occupy our mind along the way.


And before I knew it, it was l’ora di cena (chain-uh).   Time to eat again.  Another wonderful day.