A few hours can make a lot of difference in a place like Lucca. Last night the town was jammed packed with tourists. We wondered whether it was still possible to discover some little restaurant unknown to the tourist hoards so that we could talk about it for years to come. So we strolled just outside the walls and came to such a place. There were no tourists to be seen, nor locals for that matter and we went inside. The only other diner immediately transformed into the waitress. I ordered pizza.
The meal wasn’t particularly poor; it was just dull like the restaurant. We might have been dining in a quiet part of Basingstoke. As we walked back to our apartment through the town, I felt envious of the crowds jammed into the little streets eating fabulous food under the stars, the air thick with fun, laughter and conversations in many languages while waiters hurried back and forth with plates of exotic Italian food and more wine. My advice: eat with the tourists. It’s much more fun.
A few hours later, at 5.30am, we were on our way again. We walked from the Church of St Michael due east. The town was deserted. If you want to see Lucca as it might have been hundreds of years ago, walk at 5.30am from St Michael’s church along the straight Roman grid road, which defines the town plan, through the walls and away. And if possible do it on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Italy is closed all day. I am going without my daily gelato but fortunately I had two yesterday.
Today’s walk is very easy for the modern pilgrim. We soon reached Altopascio with its famous 11th century hostel and bell tower. In those days the bell was rung at dusk to guide pilgrims lost in the surrounding marsh fogs and woods to the safety of the hostel. Nowadays with GPS it’s a CAT1 approach whatever the weather.
We made a Frizzante stop at the bar and while I was waiting to pay the bill, H and C grabbed me for an update. H and C are two young British ladies who walked in Tuscany for four days and are now on their way to Florence. I previously met them in similar circumstances while waiting to pay for lunch on the way into Lucca. After briefing them on our walk, they told me quite a lot about themselves. H has just graduated from Manchester and C from SOAS, after studying migrations. If I could start again I would choose to study at SOAS but admission is as difficult as anywhere in the world. So I probably wouldn’t get in. C had a SOAS tote bag so I thought I might drop by in the autumn and pick up one with a prospectus. And not to be outdone, H told me her father is a professor at SOAS. What a shame not to be able to engage these two to share a bottle of wine.
We walked on to the small village of Galleno along an ancient Francigena stone path which was built on an even older gravel path. Nothing gives you a greater sense of playing your own small part in the history of the Via Francigena than walking in the footsteps of pilgrims of 1000 years ago.
We are no longer in the wilds of the Po Valley so we have to wait at railway crossings
Unfortunately I didn’t photograph the huge Lucca cheese which is central to the cheese throwing competition. But for all of you who love cheese, especially Cheeseywoman, here are some Italian cheeses.
Chianti added to the cheese on the left
The old 11th century pilgrim hostel in Altopascio and its bell tower with the “Smarrita”, the Bell of the Lost.
The Porta dei Vettori was and is the main entrance into Altopascio for pilgrims to Rome.
The ancient footpath of the Via Francigena
The owner of our hostel said she’d leave us some salad in the kitchen because everywhere is closed today. She told us to help ourselves. What a great feast awaited us.