Day 18 – La Spezia, Italy

HA! You only Thought I said Livorno in my last post. 🙂

Actually, I did as that was where we were supposed to drop our next anchor (so to speak). However, the captain made an announcement over the intercom late in the day advising the change. Due to higher than expected winds, Livorno was not going to be doable safely. So, we headed north to La Spezia.

This adjustment really didn’t adversely affect our plans. We were going to take a train to the town of Lucca which was now south of us instead of north. In Europe where trains run rampant and cheap (unlike Canada where you need to pledge both legs and your first born just to from a limited point A to an equally limited point B), this is still very easy to do.

Our driver from BellaItalia Tours (see the first Livorno post in this adventure), Massimo, was someone we had hoped to meet with as his home town is Lucca. Unfortunately he had to work but Lucca remained an area we wanted to see so we took a free shuttle to the train terminal which was actually quite a distance from the ship. We didn’t realize it at the time but there are 2 places to get train tickets. Being the experienced travelers we are, we immediately chose the wrong one. The other one soon became obvious so we paid our €16 each, return (remember, Cheap!) and arrived without issue. I can’t get a taxi across town at home for that let alone 75 kilometers, by train.

But wait, there’s more! One also has to get the tickets validated Prior To getting on the train. Back down from the platform, find a validation machine, get it done, back up to the platform. And let’s add the fact it is Not a direct route. We need to stop in Viareggio to transfer to another train to actually get to Lucca.

Naturally when we get to Viareggio it’s almost an hour wait as we had just missed our second. Così è la vita! (Such is life!)

It’s a beautiful day to take the train but the windows are so dirty taking pictures is really a lost cause. The first stop along the way is Saranza. Between here and the next one, Carrara, there sits an alluring mountain range backdrop for many of the houses along the way. And yes, it is That Carrara as evidenced by the white patches scattered down the mountain sides. The many marble workyards displaying large chunks of marble beside slabs, that I’m sure belong on my kitchen island, is another dead giveaway.

In the end we do manage to get there (in spite of our best efforts). Leaving the train station, we make our way to the tourist information office and have a nice chat with the lady there. She very kindly points out where we are and where we’re trying to get to. As well she highlights some things we might like to see in the Old Town. (See? Another Old Town…it’s a thing in Europe!)

Directly across the street is the wall that surrounds the Old Town. What can I say? It’s…massive!

As we get closer it becomes more and more obvious how little we are compared to this wall.

Let me illustrate. Last picture is me beside the wall.

This wall is big enough to have a municipal park built on top of it. Very walkable and provides a good view of both the old and new town. However, in order to get to the top, we walk through a tunnel that is a series of very wide stairs going about half-way. This leads to an open courtyard which in turn leads to a set of stairs going the rest of the way. At the top is the park and a view of the Cattedrale di San Martino and the bell tower.

Down to street level starts a stroll around the Cattedrale di San Martino which is only 1 of about 100 churches in Lucca.

Further down and around the corner we meet up with Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general, who contributed significantly to uniting Northern and Southern Italy in the 1860’s. As we’re taking the requisite photograph another opportunity almost passes us by.

All this walking and riding the rails has encouraged a bit of nourishment.  Not really wanting anything heavy, we came upon a small street-side restaurant.  It had 2 windows, 1 for ordering (and allowing a view of their pizza/focaccia oven), the other for picking up what you had ordered.  There was also an option to eat indoors, with about 10 or so tables, where a more inclusive meal could be ordered.  We opted to sit outdoors, given the weather.  And we like to people watch.

One of the other things that suggested we stop here was the aroma.  Mouth-wateringly fresh smells coming from the oven makes it almost mandatory that you at least pause for a moment.  We ordered a focaccia sandwich (€ 5) and 2 bottles of water.  The guy at the till then said to slide over and pick our sandwich.  Choices…at least 6!  All fresh.  Choice made, this gentleman then suggested he heat it for us and asked if we would like it cut in half.  Perfect combination as 1 would be too much for either of us alone and heated is a great idea.

Sitting down and taking the first bite immediately proved our selection of both restaurant and sandwich to be spot on.  Likely the Best focaccia I have Ever had.  Totally crispy on the outside, light and airy inside, filled with prosciutto crudo and mozza(?).  It would be easy to please one’s stomach with a sandwich like this on a more regular basis.

Now its probably best we walk off that fabulous lunch at least a little.  Onward we stroll through the town.  As is so common in Europe, the shops are all contained in, effectively, 1 or 2 ‘bulldings’ along any given street.  Each shop is immediately next door to neighbors on either side so 1 block is really just 1 building (in many cases) that has been expanded over time with a multitude of storefronts.  They rise to anywhere from 4 – 5 stories and flank very narrow streets.  One car (or small delivery van) is all that can physically drive within the small confines so the entire Old Town is almost exclusively pedestrian.  There are some exceptions but it is meant to be, and in fact is, very walkable.  And pretty much impossible to get lost in.

There are no shopping ‘districts’ per se.  Any store front could have any other store front right beside it.  Gelateria beside jewelry which is in turn beside tourist trinkets which happens to be next door to a leather goods shop.  Shopping becomes an adventure all its own.

Another couple of hours slip by and thirst and a nature break have both arrived.  Another little store magically appears that will serve both needs.  And, as luck would have it, one other one.

Coffee and the smallest cannoli I have ever seen.  Not being nearly as well versed in either Italian or Italian dessert (not for lack of trying I might add) I didn’t know they are often this size.  No matter, they are insistent with the call to be devoured.  So, we did…one each (still Some measure of control).  Now I’m not sure I ever want to go back to the more familiar size.  These were Perfection on a plate.  🙂

Our trek continues.  Lunch time is now past (from an Italian point of view) so many more stores are re-opening.  Our wandering takes us to the town’s main square where several shops and restaurants make their home.

We make our way through more of the city, slowly heading back to where we came in.  Up the wall and pass through once more, we eventually make our way back to the train station.

Our transportation luck continues – we just missed the 3:30 train.  However, another is due at 4.  It is, due to the 2-train requirement, an almost 2-hour trip back.  Fortunately, all abord time is not until 6:30 so we have some time to spare.

The day was very well spent.  Leisurely walking around, weather cooperating (a little cool given the breeze through the streets and blocked sunlight), no rush to do any one thing or another.  When your turn to visit Italy comes around, you may want to consider this beautiful little town as a delightful pause in what will likely be a hectic schedule.

Tomorrow, baring any other oceanic/weather surprises, we will be in Genoa.

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