We had two days before we were due to arrive in Florence, and wanted to explore the Italian countryside a little bit. At one point, we had intended to visit: Siena, Pisa, Lucca, and the Cinque Terre, but quickly determined that while the regional train system is quite expansive, we wouldn’t really have any time in any of the towns – we would instead spend our days on the trains and at the stations transfering. We decided to go to Lucca, where we had reservations at a hostel for two nights, and stop in Pisa on our way. Lucca is a picturesque little walled town (read a little more about it here).
Taking the bus from our hostel in Rome to the train station went off without a hitch, there wasn’t hardly any traffic and we arrived quite early. While waiting in the station, Riley noticed that on the backs of our tickets, it said they had to be validated. We weren’t exactly sure how to do that, so we got in the customer assistance line to try and figure it out, where we waited, and waited, and waited (for almost an hour). There was only one lady working the desk, and it was moving very slowly. It was frustrating because we had one simple question, but couldn’t get it answered. However, we did manage to ask her (there was an incident involving two old Italian men cutting the line that slowed us down even further) and she told us we had to stick our ticket in the yellow machine by the platform. By that time, our train was leaving in five minutes, and the platform was at the other end of the station – we ran with our backpacks (not a pleasant experience) and luckily made it (with seconds to spare). There weren’t many seats left, so we got separated, but luckily, the train emptied out fairly quickly with various people going to the beach and stuff, so we could sit together and spread out a little bit for most of the ride.
In Pisa, we got off and took a bus to the tower. It does really lean – more than I expected. We didn’t go up inside, because there weren’t tickets left until much later in the afternoon and we figured the coolest part was just looking at it. It was really hot out but the whole piazza area was really pretty and the tower was was definitely worth the visit. The train to Lucca was relatively painless.
In Lucca, we realized that the hostel hadn’t provided instructions or a map in regards to their location. We ended up just wandering around inside the walls asking (many) people for instructions how to get there. Almost all of them spoke little to no English, and would explain in Italian how to get there, so we would head in the right direction and then ask someone else. I was really glad that it was Lucca and not a bigger city though, because it was somewhat managable to wander around and definitely safe.
When we arrived at the hostel, it was a super funky place – like an old hotel or convent, that seemed very empty and had large empty rooms with dim lighting. They just gave us our key, without any explanaiton of pretty much anything, but a girl in our room was nearby and showed us where to go and where everything was. She and a friend were from Austria (they’re our age and students there, fall the semseter doesn’t start until October 1st ) and talked to us for a while, and then invited us to go to dinner with them. On the way, we watched preformance in one of the piazzas because that weekend Lucca was having a renaissance fair. Dinner with the girls was fun – they kept appologizing for their english, which seemed fine to both of us. We chatted about various things, and at one point they told us that they “don’t wait in lines – it’s easier just to walk up to the front and pretend you’ve waited”. We also discussed some fashion (they think it’s weird that American movie stars get photographed wearing tshirts and sweats) and stuff like that. The food was pretty good, and reasonably priced, and it was nice to chat with them.
The next morning, we slept in and spent the morning walking around Lucca. We climbed up the clock tower in the middle of town (lots of steps!) and were able to see Lucca spread out around us, which was neat. I think it’s a really cool place – there aren’t very many cars allowed in the historic district, and there are streets that are only 3 or 4 feet wide. In the afternoon, we went to a gelato place the girls had recommended – it was fabulous. The gelato we’d had before was kinda like ice cream, but this was much richer and creamier and very cheap too. After gelato, we rented some bikes and rode around on the wall. It was way fun, and helped us to stay cool. The wall and surrounding green area is really very pretty.
For dinner we went to a place by the wall (we tried to watch the sunset, which didn’t really work, but was still pretty) that wasn’t very good at all, but oh well. Afterwards, we went back to the gelato place because it was sooo good. It was nice being in Lucca because it seemed really safe, and at night there were always people out and around, so we could stay out later.