Seaside Alps Highway - Super Supermarket - Walled City - Italian Pickle
A seaside stretch from Nice to Genoa - blue seas taking shotgun. The Alps spill out into the Mediterainian here and at least 50 tunnels duck under its ridges. A half hour out of France to my right is Monacco. I can make out huge hotel buildings cupped around a harbor of white yahts. My trip, nor my clothes are tailored for a visit and I just drive by cringing at what I'd passed up. I begin to notice hundreds of ugly metal pre-fab buildings dotting the hills aside the motorway. They are 'hot houses' for growing all types of botique flowers. The locals farm on the mountains too. It's amazing how they can work a crop at such a steep pitch.
A morning in Pisa, a dirty university town with a tourist jammed square in the middle, was enough. The tower's increasing lean was finally corrected in 1998. It was built in the 1300s.
Lucca from atop the Torre Delle Ore
On a reccomendation headed for the walled city of Lucca but not before a stop at an Italian Chain Supermarket. The cheeses and meats pulled the weight of the place. The cheeses were displayed in a 50 foot row at waist height, double sided, a different cheese every foot or so. There was six feet of fresh mozzerela (the buffalo mozz being the most expensive) marked different producers and in all shapes and sizes. Meats displayed in an oval about the size of a highschool baskeball court. I walked out with sliced procuitto, fresh tomatos still on the vine, and a ball of Mozzerela, which upon tasting I thought I had swallowed a spoonful of ice cream. The trio, indended roadside lunches, felt more like a dessert. Italian food has the crown so far. I really thought I got the wrong cheese. It had to be meant for a cake or something.
a garden to shade the ancient watch guards atop Torre Guinigi, Lucca
Upon arriving at Lucca I was confused by the giant mossy wall surrounding the old city. I turned off the loop road headed for the opening in the wall but had to pull over for fear I was breaking the law passing in. There's no roadsigns. I peak in and see a little vehicular action then drive through the 12 meter high 8 meter thick wall under a narrow archway. The wall was built around the city over the 16th and 17th centuries and for the most part, never had to serve its purpose. Today, the top of the wall serves the town as a 3.5km walking track where exercising locals and tourists with rental bikes mingle.
Lucca was a Roman colony dating back to 180 BC. In the 12th century it became a self-governing state and flourished as the center of the western silk trade. The huge Romanesque churches and existing family owned towers inside the center attest to the city's former prosperity. The Cathedral di San Martino is home to "Volto Santo," a wooden statue of Christ discovered in the 11th century randomly in a port town on the west coast of Italy. Legend has it that it was carved by Nicodemus, who knew Christ before the crucifixion. In the center of town, the Piazza Antiteatro's oval space provides relief from Lucca's 12ft streets. My audio tour device explains that I'm standing on an old Roman ampitheater where gladiators, many of them slaves and felons, used to slash with lions brought up from the cells below. Chills down the spine...
a hopeful gladiator poses in front of his arena, Piazza Antiteatro
Onto Florence. It's a Saturday and gas stations are self serve only taking European chipped credit cards. Bonnie doesn't have a fuel gauge. She's so simple I love her. Instead you watch the mileage and if needed flip the switch when she sputters a little bit. At this point she's breathing on one gallon. I leave Lucca already on reserve and figure I'll find an open station on the road to Florence.
When we run out of gas we're on the motorway but an exit's in sight. We coast to the exit - no sign of a station. I ask around a few shops in the town without luck. Find a guy in headed for his Audi hatchback. He's got long hair and I hope for the best. "Si, prego, you come," he says. When we get to the station, he treats me to the liter. I feel jipped of a challenge.
Then the Italian realizes he has locked his keys in the car along with my tank pack filled with my valuables. Our fortunes are knit. He's shouting things in Italian, pacing around the station literally pulling his hair. Apparently he did this the other day and had to break the window to get in. I'm smiling but try to look sorry when he turns to me each time for my reaction.
The problem is solved in this order: I reveal that with friction the rear window can be pulled down a quarter inch, a flat rock recovers another full inch, a long rod with a hook at the end appears from the cafe next door. The Italian (i missed his name) is a paper manufacturing machine mechanic. He was catching a flight the next morning to Romania for a job. Heading back to Bonnie, I make a joke that we'd make a great team of theives. He gets it by the time he drops me off. Thanks man.