Pisa & Lucca: A Tale of Two Cities
Pisa and Lucca are neighboring Italian cities that provide completely different experiences. We visited them both on the same day and enjoyed what they each had to offer. Visiting them as a pair will round out your trip, one for checking off a must-see and the other providing an authentic experience.
Pisa was our fist stop. It was on our “must see” list. I wasn’t going to be within striking distance of the leaning tower of Pisa and not see it in person.
It was clearly on everyone else’s list too! For the first time on our Italy trip we were surrounded by tourists. In addition to the tourists were the street peddlers, in hordes. We parked in a public lot in Pisa. It was full of people peddling facial tissues. Yep, 10 dudes selling packs of tissues. I decided our car was actually probably safe here given the large number of people in the lot. I’m sure they didn’t want police attention or to be moved from their chosen hawking spot. Despite deciding our car was safe, the peddlers were quite aggressive with their selling tactics. The guide books do suggest parking in lots with lots of tourist bus parking, as the city actively works to keep the peddlers out of those lots.
Walking from the parking lot toward the tower we continued to encounter more peddlers. This time they were selling wooden train pieces each in the shape of a letter, selfie sticks, watches and sunglasses all laid out on blankets. At the gates for the tower of Pisa the peddling suddenly stops and is replaced by hordes of tourists.
We made a quick stop a block from the tower at Bar San Domenico for some much needed coffee. We were surprised to find delicious looking pastries and plenty of seating. We ordered two coffees and four pastries and the total was 6 Euros. What a deal!
I was a bit worried with all the peddlers and tourists that seeing the tower wasn’t going to be worth it. I was wrong. It’s amazing how much the tower leans. It’s something that truly cannot be summed up in a picture. I wouldn’t have flown to Italy just to see the leaning tower, but if you’re within a couple hundred miles, go!
If you plan to go up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then purchase those tickets in advance. Even with advanced tickets the line was long and slow. We knew we were not going to make the climb. Kids are not allowed and other than Jeff and I, the other members of our group were not into climbing stairs.
Instead we spent our time perfecting our “we’re holding up the leaning tower of Pisa” pose. In reality it’s just a matter of having a good photographer who is willing to sit on the ground to get the perspective right. Any of these photos with kids is cute, even if the kids’ hands are nowhere near the right place.
I love this photo because it shows the leaning tower against the straight edge of the church. Also you can see everyone on the ground taking photos of their loved ones holding the tower. Ah.. the world is a funny place.
We followed the throngs of tourists around the church toward the baptistry.
The kids were not really keen on seeing the inside of any of the buildings. In fact, they darted across the grass to see what was behind the castle-looking wall. (It’s a graveyard with a large gate, in case you’re wondering.)
I enjoyed the architecture as we walked back toward the gate and then hardened myself to face the peddlers once again on our way back to the car.
Lucca is a town almost no one has heard about. It boasts nothing particularly famous, making it quiet. It is full of locals and other Europeans who have heard about Lucca’s charm from friends.
Lucca is a walled city. Somehow our group parked outside the walls on opposite ends of the city. We met up at Pizzeria Da Felice, a delicious walk-up by-the-slice pizza place. We carried the pizza to Piazza San Michelle, where we sat on the statue and ate our food. Yum!
Lucca’s medieval walls have been turned into a park. The thing to do in this city is to walk the walls. There are also bikes you could rent. I think my one regret of the trip is that we didn’t rent a family surrey bike and explore the walls.
We did find two of the playgrounds on the Lucca wall walk. The Parco Giochi is one of the larger ones and was full of Italian children.
We departed the wall and headed into town to wander the streets a bit. We found this interesting art exhibition with a tunnel of streamers and lights you could walk through.
Eventually we arrived in Lucca’s oval square, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The plaza is built in the shape of the Roman Amphitheater that once stood there.
There was a gelato place, so of course we stopped. In true fashion, our middle little tripped on the stairs leaving the store and broke his cone. They happily offered him a new cone. Amazingly his gelato was fine.
Where as we had walked on the wall one way, we now made our way through the town. It felt much more like a small Italian town than when you are on the more modern park walls.
The narrow roads opened into squares that were full of Christmas decorations, carousels and markets. The lack of tourists in Lucca means it is devoid of street vendors.
We enjoyed peeking in all the shop windows, still dressed for Christmas as we made our way out of town. Honestly, I was sad to say goodbye to Lucca. I felt like there was so much more to explore.
I would highly recommend staying in or near Lucca on a Tuscany trip. Although we loved our location and villa near Florence, Lucca has so much to offer and would have been a wonderful launching point.
Without a visit to Lucca our day would have felt wasted on Pisa. I was glad to have taken a million photos of the leaning tower of Pisa, but Lucca was something you just have to experience.
As the Dutch would say, Lucca is gezellig!
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