Pisa, Viareggio, Lucca, Collodi, and San Giuliano Terme

Some of us were slower than others moving this morning so first order of business was to feed the parking machine which clocked on at 8:00 am. Breakfast followed that. Hotel La Pace had ts own variation on the continental breakfast and I managed juice, coffee, muesli with yoghurt, prosciutto, cheese, a roll, 2 slices of rye bread with cheese spread, and a piece of cake (no cheese cake here) for good measure. Majella had coffee, muesli, and toast with hard boiled egg. Joel limited himself to cornflakes – he was having a slow morning.

After breakfast we went back upstairs briefly to prepare for the day. Once we ere ready, we fed the parking machine enough to hold it for a few hours and headed off in the direction of Campo di Miracoli to see the tower, duomo, and baptistry. We arrived there at about 9:30 am, decided to check out the tower tour and were able to book in for one that started just after 10:30. We bought our tickets, took the obligatory photos of pushing at the tower, and spent the rest of our waiting time checking out the stalls. Majella and Joel managed some more small purchases.

The climb up the 300 steps of the tower wound around the outer shell for the first several levels but the higher levels were reached by two progressively tighter small spiral staircases. Throughout the tower, the steps were well worn by previous visitors and the marble was quite slippery. The lean on the tower caused the stairs to be more awkward at some points around the circumference and they could have been dangerous in less ideal conditions. We made it to the top without difficulty, enjoyed panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside, limited a little by the haze, and then made our way back down. From there we headed back to the hotel, intending to pick up the car and head off to the beach at Viareggio and a couple of other destinations Majella had selected from the guide books.

Because we made it back just as our parking time ran out and we needed at least the minimum time  to prepare for the rest of the day, we opted to feed the machine a little more and took some time to  eat some snacks (olives, bread and fruit) and rest briefly before heading out.

We started what ended as a very busy day with a visit to the Campo di Miracoli in Pisa. We did some shopping and climbed the tower.

TomTom did a fair job of getting us to Viareggio by a route without tolls. Once there we found the beach, parked, and Joel took a short swim in the Mediterranean. Although the beach was covered as far as the eye could see with chairs, tables and umbrellas for the use of patrons of the establishment holding the swimming concession, there were not actually many people swimming, just a few lazing on the beach, mostly in the full sun. There were lifeguards on duty and one of those moved quickly to point us in the right direction when he noticed Joel heading into the water outside the flags.

Once Joel’s short swim, restricted by the parking limitations and grandparental concern to return him safely, was over, we went back to the car and pointed TomTom toward Lucca. Although we specified ‘no toll roads’ when asked we did finish up on a toll road through the mountains that cover much of the 20 or so kilometres between the coast and Lucca. Given the number of tunnels on the autostrada through the mountains, using that road probably saved us some time and some hairy roads at minimal cost. Still, it will take TomTom a while to live down that broken promise.

The major feature at Lucca is the city wall. Majella had read that it was possible to walk along the top. In fact, you could drive a couple of large trucks side by side around the city atop the wall. The front of the wall is constructed of brick and stands 5 to 6 m tall but that is backed by several metres of soil and topped with trees and a full width sealed road. Once e had found a parking space just inside the city wall, we joined the crowd of walkers and cyclists enjoying the shade and breeze on top of the wall. We walked part way round from the Elisa gate where we entered to opposite the duomo where we descended to look at the old church and then make our way to the other area Majella had shortlisted, the old Roman amphtheatre that had been largely mined for building material but which defined the oval shape of a piazza and where portions of the original building were still visible in the walls of the buildings fronting the piazza. We had gelati from a store in the piazza before heading back toward the car. Because we had no map and had been relying on those occasionally appearing around the city, we managed to head in the wrong direction after walking part way round the old amphitheatre and became lost. The sun suggested we were heading in the opposite direction to what we needed but it took some time, with Majella asking directions and trying to interpret the Italian and me checking what maps I could find, before we realised where we were and that the surest way back was to walk some more along the top of the wall.

From Lucca we had Tomtom lead us to Collodi, the home of Pinocchio. The author of the original story had grown up in the area and used the name of the town as a pen name in his writing. On arrival we checked out the Pinocchio Park but decided that it was probably best for a younger age group. We checked out the store at the park and some on the streets and Joel picked up another gift or two.

That finished up Majella’s short list for the day but it was only 5:00 pm and we faced the choice of going back to the hotel, parking, and walking to dinner or finding something interesting along the way. We chose the latter and directed TomTom to take us to San Giuliano Terme (terme = hot springs), a town on the back road between Lucca and Pisa. Majella, Emily and I had driven that road when returning from Pisa to Prato in 2006 and had enjoyed the scenery but had not stopped along the way. This time we went the opposite direction along the road and stopped in San Giuliano Terme at abut 6:30 pm. We managed to find a parking space near a small park that featured the local pine trees and across the road from the Terme, a health spa. We walked through the park and along a shallow canal at the back, down to the town piazza. There was a ristorante setting up their outside tables by the canal, just off the piazza. We walked past to the end of the town area and then back, asked about the menu and opening time, and were advised that they opened at 7:00 pm which was just a short time away. Having checked the menu we decided to stay and have pizza. Based on recent experience with pizzas ordered by Joel, we guessed that 2 would be sufficient for 3 of us and ordered accordingly. The pizzas were tasty and went down well with a glass of beer.

Dinner finished, we had TomTom lead us back to the hotel where we arrived around 8:30 and managed to find a vacant parking space in front of the station. We retired to check photographs and email, and to rest in preparation for the next day which would be our last full day in Italy.