Tag Archives: Tuscany

A Life in a Year – 11th August, Train Ride From Pisa to Lucca

We had a little breakfast across the road from the hotel and then we walked to the train station because today we planned to go to Lucca.  On the way it started to rain so we looked for a bar to shelter in until it passed.  The menu was reasonably inexpensive but hidden in small print was information that we would be charged nearly €2 each for service which was going to double the price of the drinks that we were intending to order.   In the old days it was customary to leave the addition of a tip to the discretion of the customer now many bars and restaurants just add it on anyway and then still expect you to leave a few extra coins as well.  This represents customer fleecing on a grand scale and not being prepared to pay this extortionate sum we got up and left and with some difficulty found a bar without this arrangement.

The train arrived on time and we took the short thirty minute ride to Lucca.  Once we were out of the city we passed through fields of arable farm land and were pleased to pass through acres of sunflowers all bobbing their heads in the sun and shining like a swaying cloth of gold.

Lucca is everything that you expect from a Tuscan medieval city.  It is the largest Italian city with its medieval wall still completely intact and inside it has a number of attractive piazzas and a labyrinth of narrow streets to get confused and lost in and we explored some back streets and alleyways before settling down at a pavement café for lunch in a side street near the Piazza St Michele. 

We liked the Cathedral Square and the buskers entertaining the crowds, the spacious Piazza Napoleone and the Piazza San Michele but our favourite was the Piazza Anfiteato that was built on the site of an old Roman amphitheatre and had retained its elliptical shape.

Lucca is also famous for being the birthplace of the composer Pucini whose best known works include La Bohème, Tosca and Madam Butterfly, but most people will be familiar with Nessun Dorma which has become an opera standard.  It is an interesting fact that Pucini contracted throat cancer and he was one of the first people to be treated by radiation therapy.  This wasn’t a great success and he died shortly afterwards from complications that caused continuous bleeding from the treated area and finally a heart attack.

Later in the afternoon we walked back to the train station, stopping for ice cream on the way, and took the train back to Pisa.  After some quiet time on the hotel terrace Sally and I returned to last night’s restaurant where I enjoyed a tasty seafood pasta and Sally had the tiramisu that she had been promising herself all day.

After dinner it was time for me to go and despite thje hectic traffic I made it back in one piece and then caught the train to the airport where after an effortless check in I waited for the plane and then slept the whole way home.  It had been a good two days and I had satisfied myself that I had no need for concern for the girls as they continued their grand tour of Italy.

A Life in a Year – 23rd March, A Visit to Florence and the Ponte Vecchio

In 2006 I visited Tuscany in Italy and on 23rd March visited the city of Florence and crossed its famous bridge.

The Ponte Vecchio that crosses the river Arno in Florence is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only bridge in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating armies as they cleared out from Florence in their withdrawal from Italy during the Second-World-War.  Knowing how the Nazis used to like to blow things up that must have been a one-in-a-million fluke! 

The first bridge on this site was built back by the Romans and was constructed of wood on piers of stone.  It was ruined in 1117 and later reconstructed but destroyed again in 1333 by flooding and rebuilt once more in 1345, but this time more sensibly in stone.  Due to the high volume of traffic using the bridge, a number of shopkeepers set up shop to catch the passing trade. The first merchants here consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to travelling soldiers but when the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth and an appreciation for the finer things in life they promptly cleared the bridge of all the dirty trades that were probably a bit of an eyesore anyway and certainly responsible for polluting the river below. 

They replaced them with goldsmiths and more similar upmarket shops and today it remains lined with medieval workshops on both sides and some of them precariously overhanging the river below supported only by slender timber brackets.  A number of these shops had to be replaced in 1966 when there was a major flood that consumed the city destroyed some of them but this time was unable to destroy the bridge itself.  The flood story is an interesting one and a good account can be found at

www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/c-d/cities06.html

Running along the top of the bridge is a corridor that the Medici had built so that they could cross the river without having to mix with the riff-raff below and is now an art gallery.  When I visited the bridge it was busy with street traders and shoppers and the ever-present scrounging beggars of course.  Along the bridge there were many padlocks locked to the railings and especially in the middle around the statue of the Florentine sculptor, Cellini.

This, I found out later, is a lover’s tradition where by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.  This is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed it later.  Apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year.  To deter people there is a €50 penalty for those caught doing it and that is a much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this tale because according to ‘Eurostat’ even though the divorce rate has doubled in the last five years Italy has one of the lowest rates in the European Union.  Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for a fact I’m willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!