Sunday, September 19, 2010

Magic in Lucca

Along the bike path atop the city wall in Lucca.

Lucca is one of my favorite small towns in Italy, and I've stayed there several times, once for a stretch of ten days. I always stay at Ostello San Frediano, an expansive, beautiful hostel. I usually stay in a dormitory room with other women, but this time I had a private room, and it was just like staying in a hotel. In previous incarnations, the building served as a monastery and a school, and there are marble floors throughout the vast building.

Many tourists come through Lucca for the afternoon, but do not stay overnight, so it's a very different experience to be there at night and in the early morning hours, when the city streets are empty.

A view of the back of the hostel, beneath storm clouds.

One of the main features of Lucca is the mura, or medieval wall that surrounds the city, which also serves as a 2-mile bike/run/walk path that is constantly in use by both the cittadini (citizens) and the tourists who frequent Lucca.

A view of the wall, outlined by trees.

A view of the wall/path from my room at the hostel.

When I was in Lucca two years ago, I happened upon the annual Volto Santo, a religious procession that proceeds from Chiesa San Frediano (a church near the hostel) to Cattedrale di San Martino, the Duomo across town. Along the processional route, the streets are lined with luminaria, candles in glass vases, which outline every building along the way. It was such a magical experience that I wanted to see it again this year.

Luminaria in Lucca

In the afternoon, a storm blew through town, bringing a drizzling rain, and I wondered how the evening would turn out. At one point, half of the sky was dark with rain clouds while the other half was bright with sunshine, which provided the perfect ingredients for an arcobaleno doppio (double rainbow) to appear. It must have lasted for nearly an hour, giving me plenty of time to take photos and videos of the incredible vision it created.

The photos simply don't do justice to the vision I saw: the colors were quite vivid and distinct.

I needn't have worried about the storm: rain or shine, the festival goes on, as many Lucchesi (people from Lucca) who have moved to other parts of the world return to celebrate this special event together.

Chiesa San Frediano lit up with luminaria.

I had watched the procession from beginning to end two years ago, and since it was still drizzling, I decided to walk across town to the final destination, the Duomo, and wait inside. The procession is a two hour affair, so it was a long wait, culminating in a 15-minute moving performance by the church choir. By this time it was about 11 pm, and I headed back to the hostel, only to be reminded by the loud noise of exploding shells that fireworks were still to be seen. Fortunately, I had a perfect view from my hostel room of the 30-minute display, one of the best I've ever seen.

With perfect weather the next day, I enjoyed tooling around Lucca for several hours on a rented bike, climbed the Torre Guinigi, and then walked along the bike path.

Torre Guinigi

I visited the Orto Botanico, a quiet garden that many people pass by. I came across a huge city market in an area outside the wall, with a wide variety of items for sale, including food, clothing, birds, plants, even rugs. I discovered Buccellato di Lucca, a sweet bread, flavored with anise seed and raisins, made during the festival season, and quickly became addicted to it.

Anyone need a bird?

The Lucchesi love their candy! There are stalls like this all over town, which feature a kind of peanut brittle, also made with sesame seeds, almonds or hazelnuts.

My stay in Lucca was all too short, but I know I will return again and again to this lovely Tuscan town.


LindyLouMac said...

We spent our honeymoon near Lucca, so this was a lovely reminder, thankyou for the tour.

marybeth said...

Prego, LindyLou,
Have you been there since? How has Lucca changed over the years?

LindyLouMac said...

Yes but not for a long time, last time it did not seemed to have changed at all from our memories.