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Eric: A day in Lucca

May 30, 2010

Imagine you live in a foreign country. What is the most important thing you should bring with you if you are going out? You should NOT be bringing your passport, since the chance of it getting lost is pretty big. Instead, it should be stored at somewhere secure at the place you are staying, and you should have a copy of it with you. I walked out of my apartment this morning, realizing that I managed to forget any money, which then led me to realize that I forgot to bring my keys to the apartment. All these realizations happened after I closed the apartment door. Bad choice and almost a disaster. Fortunately one of my apartment mates was still in there, sleeping. I was very glad to see the door open after I rang the bell twice and he came, not very happily.

Repeating the almost-panic pattern, I bought a train ticket to Lucca with the screen displaying “This train leaves in 2 minutes.” After getting change from the ticket machine, I ran to find the right platform and found out that the final destination of the train  was not Lucca. So I ran to the nearest timetable to make sure that the train actually stops at Lucca, and at the same time tried to validate my ticket. (Italian train system requires passenger to validate their tickets, which just means taking your ticket to a yellow box near the platform and have it punched and the time printed, before boarding the train.) But I ended up making it.

Another thing about trains in Italy: the announcement, if any, on the train is usually only in Italian. This means that you have to listen very carefully for the name of the station, or look out the window to see whether the station is the one you want to get off at. However, some stations, such as Lucca, don’t have that many signs and you couldn’t see them on the train. I got off at the right station only because I heard people sitting nearby talking about it.

Lucca, according to my travel guide, is known to be Europe’s leading producer of toilet paper and Kleenex (next time I sit on a toilet I will think about that. As not many tourists visit Lucca, it was a quiet little town that is really nice to walk in. The city is surrounded by city walls that stretches for 2.5 miles and are mostly undamaged. Lucca’s first wall was built nearly 2000 years ago, and since then expanded in the 16th century, and looks pretty much the same today.

The walls are 100 foot wide and faced with bricks, designed to absorb any kind of canon attack in the 16th century. Today people can walk and ride bikes on top of the walls. The walls kept away both Florentines and Pisans. It wasn’t until Napoleon came along did Lucca finally fall under foreign rule.

There was one feature that made Lucca a little more interesting: towers. There are a lot of towers in the city: next to cathedrals, being part of the city, or even part of someone’s house. I didn’t climb any of them, but my postcards tell me that up there the city looks like, and probably is, a tightly-packed fortress. It’s no wonder that the Florentines and Pisans didn’t even bother to try to invade Lucca.

For lunch I found this pizzeria and ordered foccacine ripene con cecina. According to the translated version of the menu, foccacine ripene is supposed to be some sort of pizza with white sauce, which sounded pretty good to me. When I got my order, I didn’t find any sauce on the thing, and I though cecina looked like some kind of flat omelet. After I got home, I found out that cecina is actually almost another kind of bread made with chickpea-flour. No wonder I thought the entire thing tasted pretty dry. But since I was hungry, and the entire thing just came out of the oven, hot with crust on the outside, it was a good enough meal for me.

I spent the next one hour or so walking on the city wall, occasionally coming down into the city to see a cathedral. I walked a full circle on the walls, and came down to see if there’s anything else to see. There is one famous composer from the city of Lucca: Giacomo Puccini, who used to play organ in a church in the city. There is also a Roman Amphitheater in the center of the city. Well, at least there used to be. Now on top of the ruin is a piazza with shops.

After about one more hour of strolling, I took the train back to Florence, and, I have to shamefully admit, had dinner at McDonald’s. My defenses were that I was really thirsty, the markets weren’t open, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, and it was really close to the train station. I did find out that unlike in the states and like Taiwan, the drinks are not free to refill, and you get to choose salad instead of fries. The price was pretty European though.

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