So Connie, Sophie, and I decided to take a day trip this weekend to Pisa and Lucca. We bought tickets the day before, checked the train schedule, and decided to be there 10 minutes early just to make sure we caught the train. Guidebooks in hand, the pages on Lucca and Pisa dog-eared, we boarded the train and settled in for the hour-long ride to Pisa. We would stay there until lunch, and then head to Lucca later in the day. We passed Lucca and then a stop called Pisce (pronounced Pee-shay), and thought that it was Pisa. We asked the Italian lady sitting next to us and she shook her head emphatically and said “No, Non Pisa!” She then started gesticulating with her hands, repeating, “Non Pisa… noooonnnn Pisa!” We were like, okay, we get the point! Only later did we find out that she was referring to the train that we were on, which indeed did not stop in Pisa. We were approaching the end of the line, which was a town called Viareggio. Since we didn’t have another option except to go back to Lucca, I made the executive decision to go and explore this beach-side resort town. I looked it up in my guide book, found out where we needed to go, and led the group to the city center. There was not much to see in Viareggio, but I sure am glad we stopped in for a spell. It was beautiful! We sat on the beach for awhile soaking in some much-needed sun and just watching the ocean. If you looked off to the right you could see the snow-capped Apuane Alps, which was especially beautiful (you can see pictures on my Shutterfly site at trishinflorence.shutterfly.com). After that, we had a coffee and a snack, and then decided to hop back on the train to Lucca.
This time I checked three times to make sure the train we were taking went to Lucca. Sure enough, it said it was the second stop, so we boarded. Several stops later and still not in Lucca, we realized that we were coming up on Pisa. So we just stopped in Pisa and vowed to visit Lucca another day. I have heard from several people that Pisa is not worth a visit. I always pictured it as a drab little town with a big, slanting eyesore of a tower planted in the middle. I was pleasantly surprised, as I found Pisa quite lovely. The leaning tower was certainly impressive, as was the main cathedral in the central square (Piazza dei Miracoli, which means “Square of Miracles”). However, it was a tiny little church on the other, less busy side of the Arno River that really caught my attention. Sophia spotted it and we got curious, so we went to peek in. It was called Santa Maria della Spina, which literally means “Saint Mary of the Thorn.” It is thusly named because it preserved the reliquary of a thorn of Christ’s crown (1300’s), which is now housed in another church. It was a 2 Euro entrance fee, which no one besides me was willing to pay. Having spent so much time in Europe, I have seen my fair share of churches. I am least impressed by the huge, dominating presence of churches like the Duomo in Florence and San Pietro in the Vatican. Though they are beautiful, they feel empty and cold to me. There is no overwhelming sense of religion in these places, just more than a fair share of marble and Pietas by Donatello. It’s often in the smaller places that I feel the presence of God more acutely, along with the prayers of everyone who has come before. Santa Maria della Spina was such a place, and I will remember it long after the memory of the murals in the Duomo has past from my mind.
We ended up in Pisa on the first Sunday of the month, which is when the antique market comes to town. I just love antique markets, particularly those in Europe. I had to fight against myself not to buy too many things; I almost came home with an entire set of very charming glasses, which were darling but useless because of their tiny size (we’re talking half a shot at best). I escaped with only a single tiny purchase for our California neighbors because I simply couldn’t resist. The market certainly added to the charm of the place, but I thought Pisa was charming in its own rite. I am glad we made it there.
I don’t know where I will go this weekend. I sort of told myself that I would travel somewhere every weekend, even if it is just a day trip. Of course I will update this site once I decide, and will also add it to the calendar on my shutterfly site. I still have two days to dream something up…