Saturday, April 10, 2010

the one with all the olive oil.

On Saturday, API took us on a day trip to Lucca, a small Tuscan town famous for its production of olive oil. As usual, the morning started way earlier than I personally would prefer. We boarded the buses at 8:30 AM and took off.

Also as usual, we were subject to a historical tour of the town. Normally, I enjoy these tours, but Lucca is a small town, and I personally felt that two hours was a bit of overkill. (I also had a serious yen for some lunch after six hours of not eating). Our tour guide, though, was very personable and maybe just a teensy bit crazy, but it made our tour more interesting.

The entire town is surrounded by a large protective wall, at least 10 meters wide, that was built several centuries ago, when the Lucchese people were afraid that a more powerful city state like Florence would attack and attempt to take them over. Very few people realize that Italy was not united as a country until 1861, and before then, it was made up of many warring states that were constantly fighting for power. It was also a battleground for other powers throughout the centuries such as France and Germany.
The wall surrounds the entire city center of Lucca, and at one point in the recent past, there was talk of tearing it down. But the Lucchese people rose up in defense of their wall, and now it remains a monument and one of their claims to fame.

The tour guide was kind of dissing on the bell towers in the city, and she was right: they certainly don't compare to Florence's tower.

She took us inside the church of San Frediano...

Apparently he was actually an Irish saint, so I don't really know why he is important to the Italians.

Then she walked us to the Piazza Anfiteatro (Square of the Amphiteather), so named because of its round shape and probably for some other historical reason that I missed while I was busy photographing it.

Then we walked some more, and came upon this little Luccan gem: it's a bell tower that actually has several large oak trees growing on top of it, their roots reaching down into the actual bell room. I wish we'd had time to climb it, but by the time we were done with lunch, there simply was no time.

We walked to the main cathedral (of course). If I never go into another cathedral again after I leave Italy, I will be a very happy camper. Don't get me wrong; they are all beautiful...but they all look the same to me.

This one in particular is home to a famous wooden carving of Jesus on the cross, a relic which we were yelled at by a crazy old man for photographing...even though not a single person had raised their camera. Also, it is worth nothing that they were actually selling souveneirs inside the church. Gillian and I were somewhat disgusted by that.

Those two are from Napolean Square. Apparently Napolean's sister actually lived in Lucca for awhile, in an apartment right off of this piazza.

Our tour ended in Piazza San Michele.

We ate lunch nearby, sampling the local cuisine. Gillian and I both ordered the minestra de farro, which is a kind of spelt (grain) soup with red beans. It was good, but I would take Sergio's or Mario's over it any day. We were also sure to purchase a small loaf of bucellato bread, which is a kind of sweet raisin bread flavored with fennel. Even after a whole day, I'm still not sure if I like it or not. We spent our little remaining free time exploring the flea market in the Piazza San Michele, before returning to the buses to head to Fattoria di Poggio, an olive farm known for its production of some of the area's best olive oil.

Walking into the farm.

The olive press. Our tour guide made sure to impress upon us the importance of ONLY buying olive oil that is clearly marked with the words "cold pressed." Otherwise, it is "not worthy of being used to power car."

The olive trees.

After our mini tour of the farm, we were taken to actually taste some of the oil produed on the farm.

They gave us bread, olives, sundried tomatoes, and a couple kinds of salami. We finished our "snack" (er...second lunch) off with some dessert wine (that I hated) and some biscotti cookies (which I loved).

Of course, we had to buy some of the products. I myself got a couple of bottles of oil.
I really enjoyed myself on this trip. It was a very relaxing day, though I do wish we had had more free time in the actual city. We had to get back to Florence, though, in order to see Fiorentina play Inter Milan! Pictures from that as well as our hike through Cinque Terre tomorrow.

Buona notte!

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