Our last visit here was in 1991. In winter. It's a very different place then. I am feeling a little sheepish actually. Any time recently that the topic of travel to Europe has arisen and opinions have been called for, I have been quite vocal about not visiting Italy in summer due to extreme heat and extreme tourist numbers. Well, look where I am right now. If I'd had a choice, and I didn't, I would not have chosen July to visit Italy. Simple. Now that I am here. I am loving it with reservations. I distinctly remember that during our last visit we had the place to ourselves. The tower also had more of a lean then. Well it seems like it anyway. Perhaps I'm imagining that. I do know that visits to the top of the tower were temporarily suspended back then and construction work has been undertaken since then to underpin the gradually sinking building.
We remember the place we ate pizza and return there purely for nostalgia value. It is located within view of the tower and is air conditioned - a definite plus today. I feel as though I have ticked off an obligatory checkpoint. Yes, the leaning tower of Pisa is iconic and also beautiful but I feel no emotional pull here as I have in other places. Perhaps it is the crowds. Perhaps it is the endless tourist stalls which line the piazza, every one of them selling the exact same identical stuff; some of it mildly interesting, most of it rubbish.
Our next stop however is a delight. I can't say I'd actually heard of Lucca until I read a book recently which mentioned it. It was one of those descriptions that sends you off to find out more so I had placed it high on my list of "hope-to-visit' destinations. Since it is only 20 minutes from Pisa it would have been mad not to.
My first thought when deciding to hire bikes to ride along the top of the medieval wall that encloses Lucca was, "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do this." The last time I tried to ride a bike I'm ashamed to admit I gave up through lack of fitness. The time before was twenty years previously when Richard and I took bikes across from Portsmouth to St Malo, France and spent a week riding to Mont St Michel and back. So I know I CAN ride a bike. The question is purely one of fitness and stamina. I am pleased to say that I came through with flying colours and didn't let the team down.
The wall is like a broad tree-lined avenue and riding along it, even in the heat of a July day is a very pleasant way to spend an hour. We took our time and stopped halfway around to get gelati from a three wheeled cart. We peer into gardens from our high aspect and wonder at how green this city is.
Go to next article: Wildlife of Tuscany