A recent post on Italy caught my eye: “A day in Lucca.” Even before I finished reading, memories of Lucca came back sharply–memories more than 10 years old that still contain the pang of disappointment and the hope of consolation. Flavia describes Lucca’s charms: the 400-year-old wall; the cathedral and museum; the tower from which the entire town can be viewed. But, for seven American tourists, Lucca was the town where a small dream died.
Our day had gone well at first; we’d encountered minor problems like missing tickets and mystifying directions but nothing insurmountable. While visiting Florence, we had decided to give the children a respite from art galleries with a day trip to the tower that, by virtue of its architectural failings, has become one of Italy’s most recognizable landmarks: the Campanile di Santa Maria, commonly called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Because my daughter was younger than the minimum age of eight required by the tour, we bought tickets to climb the tower in two separate groups. After a lunch of sandwiches and pizza at a cheap place in the university district, my sister, older daughter, and I began our self-guided tour of the Torre di Pisa.
Not only were the 600-year-old marble stairs slippery and uneven, but there were no handrails for the safety-conscious Americans. In the words of my daughter, who was 10 at the time, the bell tower was “really high and really leaning.” The amazing views of Pisa and the surrounding countryside more than repaid our efforts on the precarious ascent. Emily was impressed with her glimpse of a soccer field!
By the time we had carefully wound our way down nearly 300 slanting steps, I was apprehensive about how safe the climb would be for my adventurous eight-year-old son. His father had the same thought and kept him under close surveillance while they took their turn. Meanwhile, we took a quick peek in the Baptistry.
The day began to go awry when we spent too much time in the Baptistry and the Duomo. Italy has a tendency to trip up inexperienced travelers (especially those who hope to learn all there is to know about Italian art in 12 days). Despite my sister’s efforts to whisk us past less important paintings and frescos, we left the Piazza del Duomo later than planned. Next, we just missed hailing a taxi large enough for all seven of us. Then, we discovered that all the tobacco shops were closed due to siesta, making it impossible to get bus tickets for a ride to the train station. Weary from our climb, we trudged back to the train station in the rain.
All day long, I had kept in the back of my mind a special plan for the return trip: a visit to Pinocchio Park, which I had read about in Italy with Kids. This would be especially nice for Julia, who had been so sweet about not getting to climb the tower. Located in the mountain village of Collodi, this sculpture garden inspired by the classic children’s book seemed a lovely place to conclude our tour of Tuscany.
While the guidebook noted that Pinocchio Park was more easily reached by car, we could take a bus to Collodi from Lucca, which was a 25-minute train ride away from Pisa. Optimistically, we bought tickets for Lucca at the train station (wisely, my husband also bought tickets to Florence). As we munched on snacks, we discovered that the train left 20 minutes later than we had thought. The clock was ticking.
Once in Lucca, we splurged on taxis to the bus station, but we arrived after 4:00, and Pinocchio Park closed at 6:00. At the bus station a helpful girl, whose spoken English was no better than our Italian, wrote out for us which bus we needed to catch for Collodi. At last, we grasped the sad news: the bus wouldn’t get to Collodi until 5:42–and Pinocchio Park was a mile from the bus stop! At this point, two of us were in tears. Later, my eight-year-old wrote in his journal, “After Pisa we were going to go to Pinocchio park but we were to [sic] late. Julia Emily and I were sad. Mom cried.” My sister tried to alleviate the situation by buying drinks for everyone from a vending machine in the bus station. Clearly, the time had come to salvage what we could from the day. Outside the dark little station, we began to look around at Lucca itself.
What we saw was delightful. My younger son had discovered a pedestrian path running along the top of the old city wall, which was at least 60 feet wide and 40 feet high. Despite the cold, many residents were out jogging or walking their dogs in the late afternoon sunshine. On our way back to the train station, we found a playground where the children went down the slides and swung. Was it Pinocchio Park? No. Was Lucca a far less touristy Italian city than any we had yet seen? Yes. We didn’t have time to explore the attractions that Flavia describes in her post, but we boarded the train for Florence with a desire to return to Lucca and its medieval beauty.
The arrival of a fifth child, the purchase of a larger house, costly home repairs, economic slowdown, college tuition, and busy schedules have prevented a return trip to Italy. Time has softened my perspective on the ill-conceived attempt to squeeze yet one more thing into an already full day. The words “Pinocchio Park” have become a family byword, a symbol of that elusive extra goody just beyond one’s grasp. Lucca itself has become synonymous with a glimmer of light in a dark hour.
One day, I hope that Julia will have an opportunity to ascend those winding marble stairs for a splendid view of the city of Pisa and the Italian countryside.
Note to the Reader: this post was written in response to a Blogging 101 assignment. All photos in this post were taken by my daughter Emily, my sister Christie, and myself. Please do not use them without permission. Special thanks to Christie for generously giving me access to her photos of Pisa and Lucca–and for being such a wonderful traveling companion in March 2004.