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.