Biking the ramparts and a not-quite-vertical tower

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
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Trip End Jun 16, 2007


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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Today I went to two places that are not far apart but are nearly exact opposites of each other.  The first has a tower that probably everyone in the world has heard of and seen pictures of, and the second is a place few outside of Italy seem to know of.  Yet of the two, I much preferred the second one.
 
At breakfast in the hostel this morning, I met two girls from Canada and one from Guatemala.  They were interested to hear about my travels so far, and were planning to head out to do hiking and the beach today.  It was a bit overcast in the AM, but hopefully it cleared up by the afternoon.
 
Leaving the hostel behind (Ostello 5-Terre, a great place, the only weird thing was that they had timers on the showers and it would shut off after 5 minutes - you had to pay 50 cents extra if you wanted another 5 minutes of water), I headed to the train station and took the train back to Vernazza to see if my AC adapter plug was still there (luckily, it was - I would have been "power-less" without it, as the guidebooks all said it is difficult to find them for sale here in Europe).  This put me a bit behind my original schedule, but I still got to do everything I wanted to during the day.  I hopped on a train to La Spezia, then from there took another train to Pisa.
 
Pisa is one of those places, that has become so clichéd (kind of like the Mona Lisa), that you pretty much know exactly what you're going to get, but you go anyway.  I just couldn't pass through the train station twice without going to the Field of Miracles.  The bag check at the station worked out nicely (3 euros was worth it not to have to lug my big pack a couple of miles, especially with the heat here), and I headed out in the general direction of the Field of Miracles.
 
The Field of Miracles (where all, and I do mean all, the noteworthy sites are in Pisa) is not right near the train station.  It's about a mile north of the station, across the Arno River.  Not really caring whether I went the "tourist" way, I took some other streets in the general direction.  I ended up a good distance to the west of the tourist area, and didn't see another tourist almost the whole way there.  They obviously must only spend effort to clean up the tourist areas, since there was a fair share of litter, pigeon poop, and graffiti (I've seen more graffiti in Italy than any other country so far - Switzerland had the least).  There were some good views of the Arno River, though.  I saw absolutely no tourists for a long time, so I was beginning to wonder whether I was lost, when suddenly I turned a corner, and there was an archway through which were hundreds of tourists.  It was actually kind of surreal walking through the arch, going 1 block from nobody to suddenly huge groups of Japanese tourists (by far the most I've seen so far on this trip - cameras: "click, click, click"), long rows of ultra-tacky souvenir stands everywhere, and a whole bunch of African guys walking around selling sunglasses and other trinkets.  It's named "Field of Miracles", but has become the "Field of Tourism".  I spotted a good many people doing the "propping up the tower" or the "leaning against it" while someone else snapped their picture.  I hung around for a little while, but the whole atmosphere was ruined by the touristy shlock.  To go up the tower required a reservation (plus an outrageous 15 euros - it's not even very tall as towers go), so I didn't hang around long.  I grabbed a cold drink (some Italian brand of Lemon Ice Tea, it was good, better than the usual Nestea), and headed back toward the station.  This time, I went back the "tourist" route, and walked back through the Corso Italio, the main shopping street.  It was the exact opposite of my walk to the Field of Miracles: people everywhere.  Since it's a Saturday, lots of Italians probably had the day off and were out shopping.
 
Back at the station, I got my pack from left luggage, and headed for where I thought the train left from: Track (Italian: Binario) 2.  Unfortunately, it didn't leave from Track 2, but from Track 2 Ovest (West).  Unbeknownst to me, sometimes train stations expand by adding more tracks to the other side of Track 1 from Track 2, but they can't name them "Track 15" or whatever since people would think it was past Track 14, so they name them Track 1 Ovest, etc.  Anyway, after missing one train, me and another gentleman who also missed the train (I think he was from a Scandinavian country) figured out our mistake and found the right track.  The train to Lucca was a really small train with just 2 cars, but even so it wasn't very full at all.
 
Got into Lucca around 5:15 PM.  Lucca is a great little city only about a half hour from Pisa.  It still has its complete medieval wall and ramparts fully intact, and today they make an excellent park for walking, jogging, biking, or just hanging out.  Everyone I talked to, when I told them I was going to Lucca said, "What's in Lucca?", or "I've been there, there's not much there".  That's the beauty of it: what is in Lucca is Italians, and not tourists.  The whole time I was there, I only heard English spoken once or twice (as opposed to almost as often as Italian in the Cinque Terre).  I had to lug my pack a good distance to get to the hostel, as the train station is south of the ramparts, and the hostel is at the northern edge.  On the way, I got to see parts of the ramparts, and walk through the narrow streets of the city inside the walls.  The hostel, Ostello San Frediano, is unlike any hostel I've stayed in so far.  In the front, is a nice big garden, and inside, it's huge!  The common rooms are really big, and all contain nice furniture and paintings.  The hallways seem to go on forever, and the rooms are the biggest hostel rooms I've seen so far.  There's also a nice restaurant.  The only drawback is the showers: shared and water all over the floor (pretty standard for hostels).  In some ways, it tops even the hostels in Copenhagen and Interlaken.
 
For one hour between 6:30 and 7:30 PM, on a warm evening in late Spring, I biked the ramparts of Lucca.  In that time, I was able to go around 2 complete loops (once in each direction).  People of all ages were out for a stroll, a jog, or a bike ride.  One particular part of the rampart must have been "the" hangout spot for all the young people in town, since there were hundreds of them there.  There are 10 places where the ramparts jut outward from the wall in spade-shaped bastions, which make perfect spots to relax.  After returning the bike to the rental place, I went to one and watched the sun set.  I also wandered through the narrow streets for awhile, seeing the former Roman Amphitheater (filled in now and used as a town square) and the tree-topped Guinigi Tower.  Oh, yeah, remember how "Dukes of Hazzard" was on TV in a shop in the Cinque Terre?  Well, I just happened to come across an entire "Dukes of Hazzard" themed store called "Generale Lee".  No joke, that show must really be big here.
 
I finished off the day with dinner at the little restaurant inside the hostel.  The waitress didn't speak any English, but luckily there was another customer there who could translate, so I was able to order just fine.  It was quite good, with Italian bread (practically a whole loaf), pasta with tomato sauce, breaded pork, potatoes, and a white wine.  I was stuffed and happy.  This is the Italy to remember.
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