September 8, 2013: We’d heard rumours that it was supposed to rain today. Lightning too. So we woke up expecting the worst. But the morning looked a little brighter and more promising than we’d hoped.
It would be a fair distance back to Sesto Calende, even if we did decide to go the most direct route. But we’d already driven that on our way down, so we opted for the coast road back via Genoa instead. Seeing as Pisa was on the way and Chris hadn’t been yet to see the Leaning Tower, we set that as our first stop.
Staying off the major motorways meant far less traffic as we meandered along country roads through farmland and numerous quaint villages. I kept a lookout for castles and other interesting places of interest while Chris took the wheel.
Sunday seems to be a popular day for road bike races. We encountered a couple of them, once even getting pulled to the side of the road just a minute or two before a peloton whizzed by complete with police escort and a cameraman astride a motorcycle. The stragglers had to make their own way through the traffic.
Finally arriving in Pisa, we parked downtown only to discover that the tower was clear across town. Rather than driving closer, we decided to hoof it. It was only a 15-20 minute walk.
Such an iconic sight doesn’t need much additional commentary from me, but the Piazza del Duomo was even more crammed full of tourists than we expected, and lined with even more souvenir shops than I remembered. Everybody was vying for the perfect photo. We thought the ones trying to prop up the tower looked more than a little silly. Nearly everyone was doing it.
Here was my big oops moment. I thought I had fully charged the camera last night, but turns out I didn’t. Sure enough, this is when the battery decided to pack it in. And our spare was…you guessed it…sitting way back across town in the car. Good thing we had our phones with us or it could have gotten messy.
After that fiasco, we set our sights on Lucca, a small fortified city with a lot of history dating back before the Romans. Its Renaissance-era walls that completely encircle the old city are its claim to fame. Now a pleasant promenade atop the walls, it’s a popular walking and biking path around the city.
Inside the walls, there’s an oval plaza, marking the site of the old Roman amphitheatre and more old churches than we could count, plus the innumerable shops and cafes catering to us visitors. Somewhat surprising for a popular tourist town, most of the shops were closed on Sunday.
We never did find an information centre or a map detailing the location of all the main sights in Lucca. Given that the city is a maze of old narrow streets and alleys, we were lucky to see anything at all. That’s when we took to following other tourists around. It worked reasonably well, although we never did find Palazzo Pfanner.
The rain decided to put in an appearance right at the time we stopped to enjoy a gelato, and continued right up to the moment we returned to our car. Oh well, it was already three in the afternoon and we still had a long drive ahead. Time to get moving.
Attempting to make up some time, we got onto the coastal motorway. Wouldn’t you know it, that backfired on us. We only crept along because of all the traffic. At this rate we wouldn’t get home until tomorrow. At the next exit we escaped the crawl to take our chances on the winding coast road, the one we had already driven back in July. What a difference this time. Far less traffic and far fewer sun worshippers about. Add the weather into the mix and it certaining was beginning to feel like fall was just around the corner.
Epilogue: We drove the old coast road and made good time all the way to Genoa. From here, it was up and over the coastal mountains in the rain, still managing to avoid the motorways until we reached Alessandria. With the sun setting to our left and a big lightning show to our right, we decided it was finally time to speed things up. Good thing the Audi was just as much fun to drive on fast roads as on twisty ones. We were back in Sesto just after nine. Still plenty of time to get a late pizza.