A Ride Around Lucca and A View of Pisa

Having passed by Lucca a couple of times, only stopping for a moment in 2010, I knew I wanted to visit again. The plan this time was to ride bikes on the wall encircling the town, built in the 11th and 12th century. https://brunelleschi.imss.fi.it/itineraries/place/TheWallsOfLucca.html Lucca sits in Tuscany, a region known for its rich history, great wines, and amazing food.

For 8 euro an hour a bike can be rented just outside the wall. It comes with a bell and a map of the old part of town within the walls. The wall is now a place to take a leisurely walk, bike ride, or sit and have a picnic under one of the plentiful trees. The ride should take 25 minutes, but of course we had to stop and take pictures.

Puccini, one of my favorite composers was from Lucca. Puccini is famous for the Operas La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and Turandot. I especially love to hear Andrea Bocelli, and Pavarotti sing his music. As I rode the bike I pictured Puccini taking a stroll on the wall to bring him inspiration, or just to clear his head before heading back into work. I plan to one day make it back there to visit inside the walls.

It is a short ride to the town of Pisa. Though we did not tour the city itself, there is much to see. Pisa was also ruled by various groups over the years; the Greeks, Etruscans, Venetians, Romans, Vikings and many more left their mark. Its proximity to the sea made it a good place to occupy for trade, and warfare.

Pisa is known for the leaning bell tower. The leaning is due to the unstable earth below it. There are bands around it to assess any movement in it. Tourists can be seen having their photo taken, looking as if they are holding it up. The climb of leaning tower of Pisa is not for the weak hearted and they warn you of this. The nearly 300 steps to get to the top circle around the tower. The view of the city is spectacular; a nice reward for the climb. There is a cloak room to leave your bags behind, and they insist you do so. A ticket can be bought there, but it is recommended to buy online. They have many time slots to chose from and you should get there early to get in line.

There are many restaurants close by to get a bite to eat while you wait for your time. We opted for pizza. It was fabulous!

The Cathedral, according to a guide I overheard, said there were once Roman ruins here. The builders used the ruins in the building of the church. If you look, Roman writing can be seen on the marble that was used. Look for more pictures in the gallery.

The Riviera

France and Italy make up the Riviera along the Mediterranean and Ligurian Seas, with the Maritime Alps and the Apennines mountains in the background. The Riviera was a haven for painters and writers in the early 20th Century. With its temperate weather and beautiful views, its a vacation destination worth pursuing. Bridges and tunnels make up most of the drive. Vineyards, gardens and houses on the side of the mountains and hills defy gravity.

The beaches standout from high above the towns, with all hues of blue making the Riviera earn its name of Cote d’Azur. Though driving is my preferred method of travel through here, the train and bus are also options. Some even enjoy a good hike between towns.

Cinque de Terre, is made up of five hamlets along the coast of Italy, between Genoa and La Spezia. I recommend parking in the garage of the La Spezia Rail station, then taking the train for 4 euro to whichever hamlet you choose to visit. Be sure to hold onto your ticket or a reasonable one will turn into a 40 euro one to get out, as it did me. On several occasions I have stayed in Vernazza. The streets, other than the main thoroughfare, are stairs that ascend to homes and accommodations above. In the evening it is nice to sit outside having a nice dinner at one of the good restaurants, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks and watching the sunset. Most of the tourists have left with the exception of those of us staying for the night. Sweet music fills the air as a couple of musicians serenade happy guests eating and enjoying good company. I have stayed in Rina Rooms twice, and the guesthouse I Limoni di Vernazza most recently. Both are a few minutes away from the train station. The host of I Limoni was very kind to meet us at the station and walk us to our place for the night.

The Riviera will surpass what you dream it will be, no matter what town you visit.

Road Trip to Barcelona and the Fast Train to France

The Highway from Valencia Spain to Barcelona has many sites to see. We stopped in the seaside town of Peniscola, and the Town of Tarragona to see the Roman Ruins.

The city of Barcelona sits with the Pyrenees mountains to the northwest and the Mediterranean Sea to the east in northern Spain. Its influence comes from the Romans who had the first settlement there, as well as the Visigoths, and Muslims.

When I first decided to visit Barcelona in the fall of 2016, I was told the architecture of Gaudi was a must see. Gaudi is considered to be one of the first abstract artists with his oddly shaped structures. One does think of Dr. Seuss when you see his works. A character in one of his books would fit inside fine in one of the buildings. Gaudi died in 1926 when he was struck by a tram. His vision still lives on to this day with the construction of La Sagrada Familia he started in 1852, said to be completed in 2026. The Catholic cathedral is the site of tomb of the artist.

I have had two different experiences with accommodations in Barcelona. In 2016 I stayed at a hostel for $52 for the two night stay. The hostel was in a nice building close to the old part of Barcelona.http://fabrizziosterrace.com/ I stayed in a room for 8, but you could get a private. The hostel had a kitchen where there was freedom to cook if so desired. For a small fee they would do your laundry. This year we stayed in a bed and breakfast, with much of the same look. https://casadiagonal.com/?lang=en We had a private room for three with a view, and a terrace. It was a short walk to the metro and all we wanted to see was within walking distance.

The harbor is the port for ships cruising the Mediterranean. Sailboats and yacht’s fill in the slips nearby.

If you are lucky a festival will be happening during your visit. As I walked the narrow streets of old town in 2016, I came upon a parade. Further along the street a group resembling a circus act made a human tower, balancing on one another as they climbed higher and higher with confidence. That night a few of us went out for the music, food, and light shows, with images bouncing off of the old historic buildings. It was a festive atmosphere for friends and families; tourists and locals alike.

After an evening of exploring the city again this year we boarded a fast train to Montpellier France to rent another car. Be sure to leave a little early for your train in Barcelona. There is a security checkpoint and they do check passports. The high speed train ran effortlessly along Spain’s countryside. In just a couple of hours we were at the station in France. It is cheaper to rent a car in each country verses picking up in one and dropping off in another. Shop around for the right fit. There will be more about car rentals in future posts.

Valencia Spain

Valencia is a large city on the east coast of Spain, but has a small town feel. Life is at a slower pace, and people seem happy. We stayed at La casita de Palomar. https://www.lacasitadepalomar.com/en-gb The apartment was perfect,and was located on a quiet street near the edge of what was once a walled city. Two gate houses from days gone by still exist to explore for a small fee.

Just around the corner from our apartment was the famous Mercado Central. https://www.mercadocentralvalencia.es/ The huge market has everything you need: fresh fish, other meats, cheeses, fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, candies, and many more goods. What fun it would be to go to the market everyday for fresh food.

The bull fighting ring resembling the Roman Colosseum is fitting with Valencia’s history as a Roman City over 2000 years ago.
We only had a day in Valencia, but made the most of it walking around looking at the architecture, and soaking in the sun. Later in the evening I had dinner with a wonderful person, and talented writer Sion Dayson. She has her first novel coming out in September. It was a treat to meet up with her and a friend of hers for good conversation.