There’s a certain masochism in pilgrimage walking. We separate ourselves from the comforts of home and family and friends. We walk blistered, taped and braced. Sometimes in discomfort, too cold or too hot. We sleep in simple rooms, accompanied by the snoring of strangers. We delight in a stamp on our pilgrim passport at day’s end, then our name on a certificate when the journey is over. After we are home and healed up and our photos are merged into the forgotten recesses of our hard drives, we long to deprive ourselves again, to push our physical limits, find another pilgrimage, and let it pull us out the door. More kilometers. More strange languages and creaky bunks. More blisters. More pain. More deprivation and discomfort.
So I admit to some pilgrim guilt when I booked a room for a second night here in Lucca. It didn’t help any that Daniele was out the door to Altopascio at 05:00 or that Paolo texted a few minutes ago to report that he’s reached San Miniato today with a total distance walked of 45 km (27 miles).
Me? I walked a couple of km — at most –inside the walls of this lovely Tuscan town, then took off my shoes to let my feet luxuriate in the sunshine. I gazed at a cathedral. Studied a basilica. Sat in a caffe drinking tea, and in general worked diligently to squeeze as much rest as possible out of this day.
Lucca is a smaller, quainter and more accessible version of Florence. Its big buildings lack the ambition of Renaissance Florence, but it is likable. The town feels like that bargain jacket you found at the store. You paid less and it’s not the famous brand, but it fits perfectly and feels better on you than the fancy one.
Here the restaurants and hotels are cheaper and the tourist rush is not a stampede. Florence is so First Class in its art (Michelangelo) and architecture (Bruneleschi), while Lucca combines its Second Class together in a thoroughly livable and lovable way. People live here and work here. And is happens also to be beautiful. Plus this is Puccini’s hometown, and Napolean’s sister lived in a palace here. So they’ve got cool stuff, too.
I read an article recently lamenting that Florentines cannot even buy a loaf of fresh bread in their city. Here there is bread aplenty, and local cheeses and wines and handicrafts. You wander, joyfully aimless in Lucca, almost like in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
So I can barely remember how guilty I’m feeling for taking a day off to enjoy Lucca. Does it really make sense to breeze through one of Italy’s great towns just to obsessively follow a masochistic pilgrim timeline?
“I think not,” I say to myself, as I slowly stir my tea at a cafe in the sunny piazza.
Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow, I will get myself back on the trail.
I am enjoying your walks, in the comfort of my octogenarian home.
Thank you for your inspiring notes. I am enjoying following your travels very much! But I wonder why you do not walk only 10-12 miles a day? When we walked on the Camino de Santiago that is what the general person did. My husband is deaf and blind so walking the 10 miles will be a challenge, but we do plan to walk the last 200 km of the Via Francigena next summer. What is your opinion? Why is it better to walk 25-30 miles?
Good question! On the Camino de Santiago you are blessed with a small town about every 3-4 miles. Because of the large numbers of pilgrims, there are restaurants, bars and hostels in each town. On the Via Francigena we are not so lucky. In some stretches there is a town only 8-10 miles away. And it may or may not have pilgrim services.
Thank you. Are there more frequent services as you get closer to Rome? We plan to do the last 200 km before Rome (approx.) I doubt we could do more than 15 miles at the most as we walk very slow. (Fellow pilgrims would cheer as we arrived to the destination on the Camino. hahaha!) This is my feeble blog from our trip: https://thedevlins.wordpress.com/ It was also a fundraiser for Hear See Hope. So, all in all, I hope we are able to do the Via Francigena with it’s fewer restaurants, bars and hostels.
We stayed for over a week in Lucca a few years back and used it as a base for visiting Tuskany.
A really peaceful place. Glad you got to enjoy Lucca
This is a must visit on next trip to Tuscany. Your words work perfectly with the pictures.
It sounds like you had the right idea by exploring Lucca! I love to get to know the towns instead of just walking through them! I gotta go the mosquitos want me, ciao fratello
I visited Lucca in 2004 with my wife, when we enjoyed Toscana for a week. We where allso invited by e businesfriend to visit the powerstation (driven by natural vaporstreams) of ENEL in Lardarello.
Buono itinerario, Sandy