Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pisa at Sunset

I almost didn't go to Pisa because if you've seen the tower once, you are set right?  Others tried to convince me though, that there was much more to the town than the tower AND it is only a 25 minute train ride from here.  People fly around the world to see the tower and I can't ride a train 25 minutes to see if the tower is worth a second look?

I also remembered that the last time I was in Pisa I was using disposable film cameras because I'd dropped my camera two stories onto concrete on the Italian Riviera.  See, the Riveria is not all fun and games and romance. 

With a fully functioning camera, I headed off after class one day to catch a bit of the golden hour in Pisa.  A lot of people comment on how far Pisa Centrale is from the tower (just about a 20-30 minute walk). If you are coming from Lucca, that train will often stop at Pisa S. Rossore station which is just a couple of blocks from the Field of Miracles where the tower stands. 

I tried walking around the city, I really did, but I just wasn't getting the "I love this place" vibe.  Sorry Pisa. 

I admit the tower itself is a pretty phenomenal site--you can't help but wonder how this thing hasn't fallen over.  I didn't climb it again but it's a nice little climb if you haven't done it.  The steps are grooved and worn from hundreds of thousands of visitors climbing up.  

I'm actually growing to like the electronic view finder in the Fuji X-E2 that I hated, hated, hated at first.  Technology evolution right?

I've heard many a photographer rave about Fuji's black and white settings.  True enough that you can change any photo into black and white in post processing, but black and white is more than desaturation of a photo.  In camera, it was pretty interesting to see shadows, darks and lights that are not always as obvious in color. I found I did adjust the settings differently in B&W.  Funny how I type that and then lead with a B&W that is mostly grey and sadly missing some whites.

Side story--I had an Italian cut and color this week...what an experience.  Eight weeks is a long time without any hair lovin and so I asked for a recommendation from my teacher and headed off to make an appt.

Filippo spoke minimal english and started out the appt asking in broken english if I was ready "for a really big change" and motioned an above the ear cut.  That was almost the end of the Italian hair adventure there.  After he reassured me that he would only cut off the dry ends, we were good to go.  I walked away with great color but sadly minus 5 inches of hair.  It was relatively painless except for when Filippo pointed to the hair graveyard on the floor and asked quite pointedly, "Why?!"   I had managed to to surprise a veteran hair guy with my over-the-top, dry-as-the-sahara, feels-like-straw-and-twigs hair and you know he's seen some pretty bad hair.  After explaining to him in caveman Italian something about Beyonce caramel highlights and blondish ends, getting a bit of ombre on last year, and all the other words that sounded pretty stupid as I said them out loud, I hung my head in shame as he told me "No, only natural color for you."  Ouch, but I have to admit I love having healthy shiny ends again.

If I tilt my head to the side, my hair looks longer. 

The crowds thin out around 6ish as the last tour buses pull out.  It's a bit of a shame really because Pisa at sunset and at night is definitely worth a visit.   

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hiking in Cinque Terre

I bought my plane ticket home.  I won't confirm or deny whether a little 20 lb piglet is the driving force behind that decision or not, but I did find this photo on one of my memory cards recently and it made me pretty sad.  She's having the time of her life with her new puppy buddy that she's staying with though so I'm guessing that the agenda looks something like this: fly home, find a place to live, get Brooklyn a puppy buddy.  

I get to see this smushy face in a mere 6 weeks.  Hopefully.  My path home is from one country with a little independence referendum up for vote next week and goes through another country with an active volcano.  

According to my tickets, I have just three weeks left in Italy before I head over to England and Scotland for a few weeks.  Three teeny, tiny weeks.   It really doesn't even seem real.   Knowing that my time here has a foreseeable end means I need to kick it into gear on the weekends.  Last weekend, it was back to Cinque Terre for a bit of hiking. 

I think a majority of people take the Riomaggiore to Monterosso route (south to north) but I started in Monterosso because Monterosso to Vernazza is supposed to be the hardest section of the hike.   I admire those that have those late bursts of energy when hiking.  If I came to a bazillion steps at the end of a long hot day on the trails, I'm not going to lie, I'd park it right there at the trailhead.  

Monterosso is relatively flat in comparison to her sisters and seemed more of a Riviera beach town type place.  Who wouldn't want to just spend the day on this beach instead of hiking right?

But alas, I followed the sign towards Vernazza.  The trail from Monterosso to Vernazza is indeed a bit of a physical adventure.  There were times when I'd look up and see stairs without any visible ending.  Imagine this site going on forever and ever and ever.  And ever. 

Once you summited though, it was a pretty easy hike from there.  The trail continued with inclines and declines but none as strenuous as that first effort up.  The trail was a little narrow in places and without railings so if you don't like windy mountain roads, you probably wouldn't like this section of the hike. 

But oh the view.  While this was the hardest section of the direct 5 city trail, it was also the most stunning in my opinion.  Direct, overhead sunlight and haze made for poor photography conditions for me, but this is a view you'll want to see for yourself anyway if you haven't already. 

Monterossa's beach left far behind.

Vernazza coming up. 

 I did say in a previous post that I'd reserve judgement on favorites until I'd visited all of the cities.  Manarola wins it for me.  

Aside from being obviously gorgeous, this city was more peaceful than her sisters (except Corniglia because she's on a cliff and fewer people are up for climbing up to visit).  The town had fewer restaurants and shops, but it had perfectly awesome caffe, gelato and focaccia.  What more do you need really?

What I especially liked about Manarola was this trail up high--you can walk around the city near the vineyards and see her from all different sides. 

Manarola also had the most perfect swimming spot.  If you take the paved trail along the water, you end up at a swimming hole where the water is pure turquoise and locals are sunning themselves on rocks.  Throw your suit in the bottom of your backpack because when you come upon places like these after hiking along a really hot trail, you'll want nothing more than to jump in.  

And if you are in Manarola, this is exactly how you should jump in.  Seriously, so sad I did not have my suit.

When all is said and done, hiking Cinque Terre is beautiful and definitely worth the effort, but there is also an easier way to see that cities that is pretty beautiful as well.  Buy an all-city boat pass in any of the towns except Corniglia and let the cool sea air blow through your hair.   It is a little crowded but the views can't be beat. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lazy Sunday Mornings in Lucca

There's just so much to see and do in here that I'm constantly seeking out new places to visit.  Somewhere in all these towns and places visited, I've neglected posting about Lucca more--the one place I spend at least part of every day.  After a pretty busy week that included a wine festival and finally hiking Cinque Terre, I opted for another lazy Sunday morning in Lucca.  It's the kind of town that is made for lazy Sunday mornings.  

Of course, my favorite time in Lucca is early morning...I love to bike on the wall early before the crowds are up and then walk through town as the cafes begin to open.  

This little one is la bicicletta that gets me to and fro.  I've become a good friends with her despite the fact that she doesn't have gears and makes me stand up to pedal up hills.  Do you remember summertime bike races and pedaling while standing up as a kid?  It was much easier as a child for sure.

And this is Lucca's famous wall.  I think I mentioned in a former post that Lucca's old town/center is completely encircled by a wall.  It's not just any wall either, this one's a super wide wall with parks, picnic areas, tables, benches and a big biking/walking path.  It's really more of a town park than just a regular 'ole 4km long wall. 

Any time of the day you can find runners, walkers and bicyclists up here.  Lucca has bike rental places galore which makes this popular with locals and tourists.   I will say that I still struggle with the lack of rules when it comes to walking here...there is no walk on the right--pass on the left, or take only half of the walkway, or any other rules.  If there's a crowd of 5 people walking together, they will walk 5 people across and will not necessarily move for you or your bicycle.  Aside from relearning the art of pedaling while standing, I'm still working on the craft of balancing on a bike while traveling 0 miles per hour, waiting for a gap in the path.   Interestingly though, once you are on the street with your bike, you suddenly have a bit more clout--I still hesitate in traffic circles wondering if that ginormous delivery truck really is going to stop and yield to the bike already in the traffic circle and so far they have.  Lucky for me. 

Obviously the views from the wall as you are circling the city are pretty fun....Cattedrale di San Martino from the back.  

Learning to ride la biciclette in a dress or skirt is essential in Italy. Check.  I didn't bring heels or I'd try that next.

The third weekend of each month, Lucca hosts the second oldest flea market. I was able to visit a few Sundays ago after my morning bike ride around the wall--it really draws a crowd.

This morning there was a small craft fair near Piazza St. Michele and, well, another little event. 

I've often thought that being here sometimes feels a bit like being in a WWII film as the buildings and countryside are timeless.  In light of having this thought rather frequently, you can imagine my surprise and millisecond of panic when I  walked around a large crowd of people and saw this...

This week was the anniversary of the Lucca's Liberation during WWII.   As you already know, Italy formed part of the Axis during WWII but this resulted in a civil war within Italy ending in Mussolini being deposed by his people.  The Nazis and Mussolini's remaining supporters/troops were obviously not thrilled about this turn of events and fought hard to retain Italy.  Sept 5th marks the anniversary of the day that the Allies entered Lucca.  

My WWI and WWII knowledge is a bit lacking and so I learned something new today.  Sadly, during WWI and WWII, the US segregated military divisions.  The 92nd Infantry Division (Buffalo Soldiers) was one of the African American units--one of the few that saw combat action during WWII.  It was this unit, fighting with Allied forces and the Italian Resistance, that liberated Lucca.  It was pretty awesome to be able to view this living memorial in person.  

After a little biking, walking and history lesson, Piazza Napoleone is the perfect place to sit with a cappuccino and pastry and take notes from passersby on how to ride a bike gracefully and effortlessly in a skirt.  As you can see, it does not involve standing and pedaling full speed ahead like a 6 year old boy.