Saturday, December 26, 2009

Livorno, Lucca...Heard of either?

12th October 2009- Livorno, Italy
Overnight, on predominantly north-westerly courses we transited the northern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, passing by the Island of Giglio and on towards the Island of Elbe. Leaving Elbe to port, we left the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and entered into the south-eastern part of the Ligurian Sea and continued to parallel the Italian mainland. Prior to entering the port confines, we boarded the local harbour Pilot off the breakwater at 06:10. Shortly before 07:00 we were alongside our berth with both gangways ready for use.

Not a pretty docking area again. When choosing a shore excursion for this port, we took into consideration that many attractions in both Florence and Pisa were closed on Mondays, the day of our visit. We did drive by these cities on the bus and glimpsed the famous leaning tower. We had a wonderful guide, an English and Italian history teacher, who gave us a great deal of information as we traveled to Lucca.

Livorno is Italy's third-largest port, serving as a gateway to Florence and Pisa. It replaced Pisa, which had silted in. It is that whole silting process that made the ground under Pisa so unstable. Towers were build as fortification for defense, and most were built with stone walls, but wooden interior structures. The most famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, was built entirely of white marble, including all interior staircases and structures. Thus, it was incredibly heavy, and built on unstable, silt-produced ground. Result? Leaning!

We disembarked our bus at the entrance to Lucca, where we were greeted by vendors offering omberellis . No umbrella for me! Oh, no! I whipped out my trusty emergency poncho! Ahhhh, nothing like walking around a foreign country in a trash bag. At least it was our only day ashore in rain.

Until the late 18th century, Lucca was a small, but totally independent state. It was able to withstand the ambitions of the Florentines and the Medici largely due to the earthen, brick encrusted fortified walls. The walls are over 12 meters high and about as wide. The city is on flat ground with the old grid of Roman streets making it fairly easy to navigate, even in the rain,

Among Lucca's claims to fame is the house where Giacoma Puccini was born. He is honored with a small museum and an annual festival.

In addition to the honors afforded those who made civic and artistic contributions, it's easy to once again appreciate the wealth, power and influence of the Church. One of my favorites was not necessarily the largest, but so gorgeous!

The church facade is remarkably ornamented. During Lucca's golden age, the finest silk and woolen fabrics in Tuscany were produced here. The varying designs on the many pilars represent fabric patterns.
Another 12th century cathedral features Tintoretto's painting of the "Last Supper," a wooden crucifix with a folkloric history, and decorative and educational exterior facades. Bible stories, months of the year, and historical events depicted on the outside of the cathedral served as educational aids for poor people who lacked books.

At the conclusion of our walking tour, we had 45 minutes of free time, enough time for a bit of refreshment...
Found a nice, little outdoor cafe, and a break in the rain. Wandering around after we finished, we came across a bit of American influence.... First, fancy dancing in Rome; now, "Dukes of Hazard" in Lucca. The General Lee was never so surprising!

We may have done a bit too much wandering... had to run for the bus. Actually, we were 5-10 minutes late getting back, and other happy tourists weren't too happy with us. OOOOPS! Almost broke one of my two rules, the one about making it back to the boat. Anyway, we made it and had a lovely bus ride through the Italian countryside back to the ship.
The afternoon was free to do laundry. Yea!!! On vacation, but clothes still get dirty. Washers and dryers aren't plentiful, and I think we made a good decision not to wait for an at-sea day. It cleared off around 4:00 P.M., and I spent some quality time reading on our balcony. The balcony is well worth it for a long cruise; might not be for three days or so, although it would still be nice. In addition to being a fairly private outdoor area, last night when we couldn't get to sleep, we went out on the balcony in jammies to look at the stars, the distant lights on the shoreline, and the water passing by. Surprisingly, there were some little, twittering birds flying around. I don't know what they were, but I didn't expect them.
With confirmation of all passengers and crew onboard and all the pre-departure checks complete, Ruby Princess let go all lines and maneuvered slowly off the berth. Once clear of the breakwater and with the Pilot disembarked, the ship turned to the west-south-west and commenced her fast passage across the Ligurian Sea towards Marseille.