Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day Six -- Lucca and Levanto

Thursday, March 26

I think we both slept much better last night now that we figured out how to shut the heat off and leave the windows open.  Nevertheless, I was still up about 5:15, ahead of the alarm.  We had to eat at 7 in order to be on the bus by 8:15.  I think it's a drawback of being on a tour, having to factor in how slowly and amorphous a group moves.  I certainly wouldn't have gotten us up that early if we were on our own.

Breakfast was the same as yesterday.  Enough to get us out the door but not necessarily anything to write home about.  Overall I liked the hotel.  It was in an excellent location and well appointed, comfortable once we figured out the heat and friendly staff.

We left Volterra for Lucca at 8:15 and arrived there at about 10:40.  We had one stop en route at yet another rest stop where I picked up a cappuccino in a bottle, a tube of Smarties and a bag of Fonzies (think white cheese curls).  By the looks of what everyone else bought, we all needed something salty.

Lucca was different from Volterra in that it seemed bigger, is definitely more commercial and is not on a hilltop isolated from its surroundings.  It's a walled city but the walls just let you out into the city around it.

Our guide for the morning was the very dashing Carlo.  What he was lacking for in palpable excitement he made up for in the visuals.  He led us through Lucca, showing us various churches, squares and towers and explained to us the history of Lucca.  It is both Renaissance and Medieval, and you can see that as you walk around.  From one corner to the next, you can be crossing through a couple hundred years.

The cathedral was interesting in that it held a cross that Nicodermis (took Christ down off the cross) claimed in a letter was THE cross, however Carlo felt it was somewhat too Middle Eastern to be that.  In any event, that cross, and the story of how it somehow wandered on its own by boat and donkey cart without drivers to Lucca, was the reason why Lucca became a major pilgrimage destination, right up there with Rome and Santiago de Compestella.  Who knew.

Also in the same cathedral was a Tintoretto that was pretty stunning (The Last Supper) as well as a tomb made of marble of a young girl who died. The tomb was one that Michelangelo studied for its beauty.

We left the handsome Carlo and went off on our own for lunch.  We found a pizza shop that also makes Cecini, which is a garbanzo bean flatbread.  It was tasty but not necessarily a meal, so we also had a slice of margherita pizza.

After lunch we strolled a bit, bought some Laudree macarons (only $16, which is down from $25 in NYC!) and I climbed the tower with a garden on the roof for a nice view of the city.

I think as a whole, it was a good experience to see Lucca, but we both definitely like Volterra better, as it was a lot less commercial and more "doable" in the time we had.

We took off on our bus at about 2:45 and arrived in Levanto at about 4:00.  Passing near Carrara on the way, we saw lots of large lots full of enormous blocks of marble just waiting for something to be done with them.  Although our guide says that what usually happens now is that the Carrara marble ends up in the Middle East, and not Europe or even the United States.  Depressing.

Once we got here and checked in, we went out on an orientation walk.  I really only wanted to see how to get to the train station to get to the other towns.  Once we found that out, we bailed, and just in time too as it became a heavy mist and better to spend in our room with a bottle of limoncino that we'd just picked up at the market.

I spent the hour before dinner dissecting the trail maps between the five trails and deciding how we are going to tackle the five towns tomorrow.  The sad truth is that only one of the four coastal routes between the towns is open.  Mudslides and flooding in recent years have washed out routes that they can't safely reopen.  But within each town there is enough hiking to panoramic overlooks and promontories that I think we'll get to see what we came here for and get the workout that we've been training for/toward all winter.  Still hoping for the best for weather.  That light rain seems to have stopped tonight. Fingers crossed.

Tonight we had a pesto making demonstration by the hotel chef that as just amazing.  He told us that you never should use a food processor to make pesto because the basil leaves need to be ground and not cut and burnt like they get in a food processor. After tasting the fruits of his labors, I'd agree.  Good glory was it amazing.

We had an apertif and snacks and then a glorious buffet put on by this same chef Carlo (yes, another Carlo).  It was predominantly seafood, pesto and veggies:  fish soup (9 kinds of fish), seafood salad, pesto lasagna, artichoke risotto, fried crab claws, stuffed sardines, fried veggies (like tempura style), fried calamari and roast beef and rabbit.  I tried everything but the meats, and it was all wonderful.  This could go down as an epic meal.  There was local white and red wine, both of which were really good, and for dessert profiteroles with chocolate sauce and homemade limoncino (as the Ligurian limoncello is called).  I wonder if it's unreasonable to have extremely high expectations for breakfast tomorrow if Carlo's in charge of it....

At some point toward the end, someone put the Village People on the PA in the hotel restaurant and we were doing a conga line to YMCA.  I will deny it when I'm sober again, but it was fun.  We sat with still another group of folks and found them great to talk to.

This hotel feels like your typical beach resort city hotel.  There are actually three beds in our room and we have a balcony that, when you look hard right, you can see the sea.  We are maybe four hotels in from the water.  We have lost a towel warmer in the transition to Liguria, though.  That's tough as I think we've both grown to rely on it!

Early to bed, we're hoping to be on the 8:40 train to the next town to start our hike!

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