How fortunate to miss the train in Siena! Today we biked to the town of San Gimignano. Nosed around a few hours and rode toward the town of Certaldo. Which was only a train station on the map. But riding into town Certaldo turned out to be a perfect Tuscan hill town perched on a hill with walls and a castle. So tempting. So we found the old mid-evil cobblestone path and hiked up to explore till it's time to catch the last train to Lucca. Which we won't miss this time. Really. And now I am sitting in a cafe fortifying before exploring this gorgeous town I'd never heard about before. And the not knowing makes it so much better.
I'm not here long enough.When you spread out the map and think of all the possibilities Italy suddenly seems huge. Today is sufficiently rainy and cold and Seattle-like that I've finally started planning the rest of my trip.I have a place to stay in Lucca till Saturday if I want. Our crowd is starting to disperse Friday morning and dribble out to catch the flights back home. At this point I think I may leave Lucca on Thursday and venture out on my own.I've decided to start my travel alone by taking the train to Parma in Emilia-Romagna. This is the heart of foodie Italy. I am very excited.My basic plan is to take the train to Parma (of Parmesan cheese fame) and stay for three days and bike around the area and tour and eat. Then ride South East to Modena (of balsamic vinegar fame) and bike and tour and eat. Then bike to Bologna (well, you get the biking/touring/eating theme), and then on to Ravenna, which is on the Adriatic coast and a town I've always wanted to visit.After that I'm not sure ... I'll have at least another week before I have to be at the airport in Rome. And inevitably interesting opportunities pop up along the way and you meet people who have suggestions or are good companions for detours.Friends flying out Friday are generously taking my bike box with them to a hotel near the Rome airport and will store it there for me so I don't have to come back to Lucca to pick it up and then spend another torturous day dragging the packed bike around on train. At least, this is the plan ... we still have to convince a near the airport in Rome to participate.Doing all the research and hotel
Obligatory Leaning Tower of Pisa Cheesy PhotoSo much for easing into the riding.The first two days here in Lucca I've been out riding with friends for between 20 and 30 miles. Today ended up being a 65 mile day. I was planning to be doing between 30 and 40 miles a day this week ... but I'm riding with a group of friends and it's so easy to say, "Yes. Let's ride to the beach." We started out from Lucca this morning and road to Pisa to see the duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa. It was packed with tourists ... the best part was the bike ride there - beautiful and just so gratifying to ride in to a place where others are more limited by parking or train schedules to come and go.When we were done, we went back and decided to detour to the beach just south of Viareggio, which ended up more the doubling the mileage of the day. Beautiful riding, and a beautiful day. Castles and ruins of watchtowers on hilltops. Wildflower-lined one-lane roads - buttercups and red poppies and Queen Anne's lace. Earth colored homes. Broad fields of bright yellow blooming mustard. Yellow iris blooming along riverbanks. View from a hilltop castle in Nozzano on a rainy day rideBut a familiar problem for me ... I have a hard time not pushing too hard physically if the reward is good enough.One post-cancer challenge I have is lymphedema. Part of my breast cancer treatment included removing the lymph nodes under my arm. This has a long-term risk associated with this surgery of edema, or swelling, of the trunk and arm because the nodes that drain the lymph fluid (which is part of your immune system) have been removed.I have lymphedema in my trunk. It
I expected to see somber celebrations of Easter and find the city shut tight as I wandered around Lucca late afternoon Easter Sunday.Instead I found the evening passeggiata in full swing and a huge antiques fair bustling in the square in front of the cathedral. Shops open. Restaurants and bars bustling. Everyone was out in the sunshine enjoying the end of a beautiful holiday Sunday.Lucca is just north of Pisa in Tuscany. It's a beautiful city that still has it's walls intact with the narrow streets and earth-tone colored buildings and towering Romanesque style marble churches and cathedral..It feels very different than Rome ... Lucca feels wealthier and is certainly cleaner. It's decked out and fully equipped for tourists. It's an easy place to be and will be an easy place to stay for two weeks as a base for cycling.I am renting a house with a group of people who cycle from Seattle. It's a beautiful home inside the walls with marble floors and decoratively painted walls and an outdoor patio and marble kitchen sinks.I arrived in Lucca yesterday afternoon schlepping my bike and two stuffed panniers of gear and clothes. I'd avoided the schlepping in Rome by taking the train from the airport directly to Termini, Rome's central train station, and checking my bag in baggage deposit. That was arguably the smartest 34 Euros I ever spent.Hauling that bike from Rome to Lucca - a four hour train ride with a transfer in Pisa through holiday travel crowds - made me decide that in the future I would try do any trips like this sans schlepping by packing the bike in a cardboard box, ditching the box at the airport when I land, and riding straight out of the airport fully loaded. I'm travelling with a new touring
These women were part of a procession for Good Friday. Twelve straining men carried an image of the Virgin, while eight more carried a prone wooden Jesus. The women walked backwards facing the virgin singing. The priests led hymns and call and response prayer. Good Friday Procession Pasqua is everywhere in Rome, and the city is packed with pilgrims who have come to celebrate Easter and the new Pope.Pasqua Street Performances have been my favorite part of the last few days of roaming the city. I've seen magic, classical musicians, grey headed garage rockers covering Pink Floyd, illusionists and clever performance art meant to inspire the imagination. This performer is taking a break - possibly pushed out of a lucrative area where thousands of visitors are crossing the bridge to the Vatican.Street performer on a breakThe fun goes on, regardless of the somber Good Friday procession that just passed. A street performer plays and entertains.Too Much fun in the Piazza in Testeverde Narrow streets, bright colored buildings and the ever-present motorbikes mark urban living in Rome.Street View in TesteverdeAn Angel guards the bridge to the Vatican. There is art at every turn, and the fun of roaming the city is coming across surprises.
"Are you a teacher?"My cab driver had already covered politics (do you like Obama or Republicans?) and religion (Are you Catholic or Protestant?) in our short cab ride from the central train station to my room in Trestevere, a neighborhood on the opposite side of the Tiber river from Central Rome. I had learned in-between outbursts and emphatic hand gestures at traffic (this seems standard procedure in Roman driving) that he was Pagano (pagan)."No", I answer, "but I work with teachers and education."He nods ... "there are many teachers who visit here. It is because they are more ... cultured?." He searches for the right word in English.I say, "Well of course! Rome is an ancient center of culture, so of course the educated are curious want to come visit.". I can tell this answer pleases him.And it's true. Rome today still has a gritty, rough feel to it that I can imagine being the same as in ancient times ... a surliness that must have sprung from when its residents wore togas and Rome was the center of a global empire of trade and slaves and competing gods and power-struggles between wealthy families. Wandering around the city and ancient columns and remnants of temples hide between modern buildings and medieval church towers. They all share the same sky. Sometimes they share the same footprint ... the Christian church has always built over previous religion's monuments ... literally co-opting the sacred ground and grandeur for themselves. I was again struck by this today looking at Trajan's ornately carved column from topped by a bronze statue of St. Peter. I've also been struck by the dirt and trash and graffiti everywhere ... clearly the economic downturn has hit Rome - and Italy - hard. There are people who look poor and
Italy.Italy was where I traveled the first time I ventured away by myself for a weeks-long trip over 15 years ago. Italy was where I learned to use my travels as time to think through all the things in my life that my daily routine prevented. I scratched out my thoughts and revelations and ideas and “I wishes” in a battered notebook over quiet dinners or on train rides between the sites I’d always heard about but never visited.My first trip to Italy was defiant. I had quit a job that I’d grown to hate. I was searching for what was next. And I was bent on making up for lost time from working too much and holding myself back from doing the things I wanted – like travel.So I charged through the country determined to see everything on the “List”. Guidebook firmly in hand. Snapshots of all the important effigies. If I couldn't take a picture I would buy a postcard to put in the scrapbook – as if to document I had been there. I had been there. See? Quitting my job was worth it because I WAS HERE.That scrapbook disappeared years ago. What remained were the insights learned during hours of journaling. Life choices for the next decade sprung from that journey. I've now traveled to Italy cumulatively seven weeks in two separate trips. I've seen the monuments of Rome, the canals of Venice, the masterworks of Michelangelo, the black and white checkered Tuscan cathedrals, the ashen ruins of Pompey and Herculeum and the remnants of the Greeks in Paestum and Sicily. I've traveled with friends. I've traveled alone. I've met companions along the way.And now I’m back to Italy a third time for another five weeks. It’s fitting to come back now. I’m at another big