Lucca, Italia

July 22, 2012

We arrived in Lucca late afternoon and took a brief tour within the old, walled section of the city through piazzas and narrow streets to the beautiful Duomo di San Martino. Lucca is a charming little city with narrow streets broken up by open squares. The city hold many concerts and events to keep local intrigue and the stores and cafes have a certain level of charm. While Lucca is a city and flooded with tourists ever year, it manages to hang on to its own character and identity without being lost in the shuffle of touristy knickknacks and false goods.

San Michele in Foro

Tower of San Michele in Foro and modern art display of golden fist

Street in Lucca

A street vender selling sweet treats including nut barks and marshmallow candies

I did not dine or stay here, but I was told by a reliable source that it is an excellent hotel and restaurant.

Duomo di San Martino

Pretty side street in Lucca

This shop was very unique and sold fixtures of various materials with classic and artistic designs.

After our brief walking tour we were free to roam the city. As it was Sunday the majority of stores were closed, but we managed to find a few interesting storefronts as well as a good number of twisting, turning, mazes of backstreets that took us wandering through the quiet residential areas of Lucca.

Once we tired of the tight mazes, we strolled out to the wall which has been transformed into a cycling/walking/running path. The path extends the entire length of the wall in one big circle and actually runs on top of the wall with tree cover and benches. It is beautiful and provides wonderful views of the Tuscan countryside.

We headed back to the hotel for a delicious 4 course dinner before falling into bed.

Pisa, Italia

July 22, 2012

In route to our third night in Lucca, we made a brief stop in Pisa for a look at the Leaning Tower and a quick lunch. Before exiting the bus we were warned of gypsies and pickpockets who have taken up the appearance of fellow tourists, usually young girls traveling in a group of 4 or 5. We managed to avoid any theft despite the immense crowds.

There was not much to see in Pisa. The central square contained the Leaning Tower, Basilica and an indoor cemetery as well as a many vendors and a few side streets with cafes. Outside of this central area held more venders (note 95% of vendors both outside and inside the square sold knockoff products made in China) and a few more restaurants.

Central square of Pisa

Classic photo holding up the tower

Side street lined with ristorantes

First pizza of the trip with prosciutto di parma

Roma, Italia

July 20th -July 21st, 2012

The first two days of my Italian adventure were spent in Roma. The large, sprawling capital of Italia, filled with ancient ruins, master artwork, and home of the Vatican, welcomed me with honking scooters as I shuttled from the airport to our hotel with my Father and two brothers.

Traffic rules in Roma are practically nonexistent. Oftentimes intersections did not have traffic lights, but relied solely on the aggression of drivers and lulls in traffic flow. Cars were parked in No Parking zones, on sidewalks, and even perpendicular to the curb.

Our hotel was in the heart of the business district in Roma. This section was wealthy and home to most of the lawyers and business men of Roma. Being right around the corner from an ancient castle and the Vatican, we spent our first afternoon fighting off jet lag and roaming the area.

We wandered over to the Tiber River to find tents of venders selling tourist trinkets, gelato, scarves and jewelry. Following the river to the Castile S. Angelo, we entered the premises and took our time walking through the ancient corridors admiring the art, stonework and views from the top alongside the angel.

After a quick stroll over to the Vatican to admire the basilica and the square, we headed back to the hotel to relax and refresh before a group introductory dinner with our tour group.

Our tour group consisted of 42 people who all got along splendidly. The tour is through Globus, a very reputable company that runs excellent tours with great accommodations, guides and transportation. This specific tour is Italian Treasures.

Day two in Roma began with a very early wake up call in order to make it to the Vatican Museums right at opening. We had a local guide, Marco, take us through the highlights of the museums explaining the history of the art and architecture as well as the symbolism of the art and structures.

Ancient tapestry from the Vatican Museums

Ceiling fresco from the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museums

Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museums

Detail of painted map in Hall of Maps in Vatican Museums

Marco took us through the museums and into the Sistine Chapel. Sadly no photos were allowed but the work was breathtaking. Michelangelo worked wonders both on the ceiling and his very controversial piece done many many years later above the alter. It would take days to view the complete detail and thought put into every part of the chapel and even then the viewer would still lack complete understanding.

After the Sistine Chapel, we entered St. Peter’s Basilica home to two styles, Renaissance and Baroque, as the construction occurred during both periods.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Michelangelo’s Pienta in St. Peter’s Basilica. Sadly kept behind bullet proof glass after a loon smashed part of her with a hammer.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Bernini’s Alter in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

From here we drove to the ruins of ancient Roma where excavation sites have brought forth history from the depths of the earth covered in sand and dirt as time passed.

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum

Ancient Roman Forum – It appears as nothing but a pile of rubble and ancient stones, but our guide Marco painted a grandiose image of what once existed on the sands of the ancient forum. The temples, architecture, and greatness that once took place here. The air was ripe with history and a ghostly presence of things long past could be felt with every breath.

After hours in the sweltering heat and intense sun, absorbing as much knowledge as we could from Marco, we refreshed at the hotel and left in search of a midday meal. Finding a nice cafe a few blocks away with zero tourists, many local Italians, and no menu, we struggled to order by pointing in the glass counter and explaining as best we could. I manged to use a handful of words I learned in Italian and a few minutes later we were seating eating our meals, mine an eggplant tower with mozzarella and tomatoes. Delicious!

Later that afternoon we met up with Marco yet again for a walking tour in the older central district of Roma.

View from the top of the Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti)

Spanish Steps

Historic Cafe Greco open since 1760

Cafe Greco

Trevi Fountain – It is customary to throw three coins into the fountain over the left shoulder. The first is to come back to Roma, the second a wish, and the third a wish for either marriage or divorce.

Pantheon

Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of Four Rivers)

Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of Four Rivers)

Our final dinner in Roma was at a ristorante a few blocks over from our hotel that was recommended by our guide, Caterina. I do not recall the street it was on or the exact name, but it was Ciao something. The food was incredible! I enjoyed a dish of homemade gnocchi with a basil pomodoro sauce.

Ciao Ristorante

Homemade gnocchi with basil pomodoro sauce