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Lucca

Arriving in Lucca just in time for lunch, we took an 11 euro ( roughly $15) taxi ride from the train staion to the hotel.  Not realizing the hotel was a mile away, the taxi driver took advantage of our ignorance, and we were, literally, "taken for a ride.". Following a gathering for Alan's watercolor workshop, we set out to explore.  The workshop was organized by Tom Ruggio of Studio Borgo in Tuscany, in conjunction with one of Alan's instructors from the Vero Museum, Joel Johnson, a Floida Watercolor Society and Transparant Watercolor Society signature member.  Alan was set for a week of plein air painting in Tuscany.  

One day he worked at his easel in the Piazza Napoleone, which is graced with a statue of Napoleon's sister, Elisa Bonaparte, who ruled Lucca from 1805 until 1813.  Another day was spend on the city's wall (more about that later) painting overviews of Lucca.  The remaining 3 days, the artists boarded a train from Lucca to Tom's studio in Borgo a Mozzano.  Painting initially in Tom's studio, but later moving out to a nearby historical bridge and then an old convent, they had some truly unique painting opportunities.  Finishing off their week with a homemade classic Tuscan meal, the artists all had a fabulous experience.

Settlement in Lucca began with the Etruscans in the 8th century BC, the Villa Guinigi provides exhibits of artifacts from these first settlers, including ceramics, jewelrey and coins.  The former Villa belonged to Paolo Guinigi who ruled from 1400 to 1430.  It houses art from the Middle Ages through the first half of the 20th century.  The powerful Guinigi family also erected the most famous tower of the 9 remaining in Lucca, there were once 250.    At 192 feet tall, the tower is topped with oak trees, which are said to be centuries old.  For 4 euros, you can climb to the top for an overview of the city.  

The completely intact city wall, for which Lucca is famous, was built in 200 AD, but was modified substantially 3 times to create the wall which now stands.  From the 11th through the 13th century medieval walls were erected over the Roman remnants.  Starting in 1544, and for the next one hundred years, the walls were extended on 3 sides.  In the 1600 and 1700's further modifications were made to stenghthen the wall.  The current wall has 7 gates, is about 60 feet wide, 40 feet tall, and about 3 miles around, and has century old chestnut trees lining much of it.  The wall was demilitarized during the early 1800's, and has been a popular public walkway ever since.

During Alan's workshop days, I headed out within the walls of Lucca to get lost.  Purposely not pulling out the map, each morning I took off to the city's wall to start the day.  Dropping down off the wall into different portions of Lucca each day provided a variety of experiences as I explored.  Numerous  churches are located within the walls, and in addition to the beautiful interiors, they provided a wonderful respite from the heat, which had soared into the mid 90's.  Quite a change from the 50's just a few days earlier in England.

Music is an important aspect of life in Lucca.  Street musician are found daily near Piazza St. Michele, but more impressively, there are nightly professional opera concerts offered at the desanctified San Giovanni Chuch.   Productions typically offer works from a variety of composers, with the works of Puccini, who was born in Lucca, somewhere on each night's program.  During our selected evening the arias and duets were from female characters of Puccini's works, La Boheme and Madame Butterfly.  Following the concert, the audience was invited to attend a performance by the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra the next evening, for free.  Works by Mozart were featured during this program with the symphony accompanying a soprano and baritone on a few of the selections.  Both concerts were professionally executed and thoroughly enjoyable.  Lucca is also home to a Summer Festival each year which features big name acts, such as, The Eagles, The Backstreet Boys, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder and many others, who perform in the little piazza next to our hotel.

Another evening we ventured to a free jazz concert within the uniquely oval Piazza Anfiteatro.  By selecting seats at one of the restaurants inside the oval, we had advanced seating for the show.  Three talented musicians, featuring a multi-talented lead man, who enthralled the audience with his vocalizations, in addition to his talent on the sax, provided entertainment for the evening.  Nightly jazz programs were being offered at this venue through the week, 3 of the shows without an admission charge.  Current buildings, which now house shops and restaurants, were built over the ruins of the Roman Ampitheater where gladiator battles were held in the 1st century AD.  Some signs of the ruins are still visible if you look for them.  

During my explorations, I visited the opulent Manzi Palace.  Though rather plain on the ouside, the interior is housed with original or period pieces, including gorgeous wall tapestries.  The second story provides an extensive inventory of paintings from Lucca from the 18th to the 20th century.  Wandering into a church across the street from the city's music institute, I enjoyed the music of 3 young harpist.  Another day, 10 student violinists and their professor providing a mini-concert, as they practiced a few pieces.  My wanderings were full of discovery.  Speciality stores lining the narrow streets selling everything from leather goods to jewelry and olive oil to chocolate candies, made window shopping a delight.  Numerous gelato shops provided a refreshing snack, and bakeries, displaying their tasty products in the windows, drew you inside to make a purchase.

Now we are moving on to Cinque Terre, the "Italian Rivera," for a few days.

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