Friday, March 31, 2017

3/17/17- In and around Tuscany

View from Lucca
We decided to rent the car for a day like today. We had an ambitious agenda set.  We wanted to see Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, Sienna, and San Gimignano. Difficult, yes?  But we wanted to see it all.

Our ignorance and ambition were soon put in check by the insanely challenging streets of Italy.  We ended up taking the route to Pisa instead of Lucca, our original destination.  We wound up taking a 45 detour through a series of industrial parks to locate the right freeway.  On the bright side we probably saw a side of Italy that not many tourists encounter.

Looks like a pretty intriguing music festival coming to Lucca
We pulled into Lucca around 10am, a good hour behind our anticipated arrival.  To top it off we hadn't really charted out the right parking zones and we soon found ourselves funneled into the historic center, a sure fire way to draw a ticket thanks to the ZTL madness that I mentioned in an earlier post.  We finally settled down and were able to spend some time meandering through the narrow streets of this medieval town.

We were glad we made the effort to drop by.  Lucca is often overlooked by visitors in favor of Siena or Pisa.  It is their loss.  The historic town is entirely walled in which adds to its charm.  A personal highlight was a climb up the Torre delle Ore where I was rewarded with a great view of the surrounding area.  All in all this was a great chance to get an authentic taste of Tuscany without the typical tourist artifice that is attached to so many of the bigger draws.

Meh on the tower and horray to everything else
We grabbed a quick lunch and were heading west to Pisa.  This time we did a little more advanced parking planning.  My expectations for this town were pretty low.  The Leaning Tower and the insane crowds it draws can really sour the overall experience.  We arrived and yes there were crazy crowds of people that only seemed to want to take a selfie with the tower.  But if you were able to see beyond that annoyance you'd discover some very intriguing architecture, a great museum and a rare grassy open space from which you can sit down and relax.

It was once again a headache to get out of town.  Our intrepid navigation system had us going in one big circle.  At this point in the day we realized that Siena would be out of the picture.  No worries, we still had time and I was very excited to visit the underrated gem of Volterra.

I wonder if Antigone was ever performed here

Soon we were driving through the bucolic and intoxicating Tuscan countryside on roads free from traffic and tourists. Volterra is situated on an isolated hill and has a history that dates back to the Etruscans.  Yes it had all of the charm and narrow streets of most other hill towns but the real draw for me was the Roman theater built into the side of the hill.

We arrived in the late afternoon with not much daylight to spare.  We did have the town to ourselves.  I meandered through the narrow streets in a hurry to the theatre.  I wanted as much time as possible.  I was rewarded with a site all to myself and plenty of time to ponder its history.  Afterwards I spent some time admiring the view and the original Etruscan walls.  As dusk was arriving I couldn't help but appreciate the quiet charm of this place.  I was beyond pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this out of the way and unheralded gem.

We left Volterra relaxed and appreciative of the beauty of this area.  That state of mind was tested soon after as we tried to navigate our way back to Florence with a fading sun.  We did manage to see the towers of San Gimignano from a distance which gave us a little comfort for not having been able to see them up close.  We also missed Sienna. but felt it was better to enjoy three towns instead of rush through five.

All in all a good day that was capped off by another good meal at Da Ruggero.

The view from Volterra

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