Russ and Elke's European Travel

It's not only what you see, it's how you see it

Russ and Elke's European Travel is a small company run by husband and wife team Russ and Elke Beck, a professional travel agent.

Over the years we have experienced some fantastic places, people, food and wine.  Out of our love for travel developed the idea to create very exclusive, intimate and interesting itineraries and let our clients experience, taste, smell, touch and hear what has given us so much joy in our travels. 

Sightseeing (and more) in the Charming Medieval City of Lucca



     Our visit to Lucca, Italy, a city and commune in the north-west part of Tuscany, situated on the river Serchio, in the fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea, turned out very differently than what we had planned.

     After a lovely continental breakfast at our charming B&B, about 2 km outside the famous old Renaissance-era city walls where we were staying with our fifteen year old son, the three of us set out on foot to tour the historic Centro. One of the reasons we had wanted to visit Lucca was its antique market, which takes place the third weekend of each month.

     The walk seemed unreasonably long, and I was wondering if the map I was using dated back to medieval times since the walls seemed quite elusive and my family began to protest. It was the middle of July, hot and steamy even though it was still early in the day.  Just before I had a full revolt on my hands I spotted the gate to the Centro Historico.

     The flea market was first on our agenda and we got there early enough to see the vendors setting up their stalls. For those interested in old things, this is the place to look for them, frankly the whole city is an antique.  The small streets were crowded with stall after stall and industrious locals trying to sell their wares.  Our own enthusiasm was crushed within the first few requests of "Quanto costo?" (how much?) the answer usually ended in "...mille" (thousand).  It would have been much more reasonable if the Italian currency had still been Lira.  Had that been the case I would have smiled and handed over my wad of wrinkled old Lira without a second thought, but with it being Euros I had to pass on the many beautiful things. Disappointed, we left the old, expensive stuff behind and went to explore the town instead. 

     There are many richly built, basilica style churches in Lucca with rich arcaded façades and campaniles, a few as old as the 8th century. We first went to the Duomo di San Martino and, as expected, were impressed by the architecture. An old legend we had heard explained why all the columns of the facade were different. According to the tale, the inhabitants of Lucca announced a contest to find the best style of columns to decorate the facade of the Duomo. Artists from all over the region each made a column, but the inhabitants of Lucca decided to use all of them...without paying the artists...and each of them now adorns the gracious exterior of the Duomo. 

     After exploring and taking pictures, our next stop was the top of Torre Guinigi.  We climbed the steep, stone stairs to the top and were rewarded with amazing views of the old city below and distant countryside. This was the only tower in Lucca,and frankly the only one I ever saw, with live oak trees on top. I was simply amazed at seeing the hanging garden on the roof of the tower.  

     Taking in the view from above we spotted another landmark of the town, a curious oval piazza. The 'Piazza dell'Anfiteatro' was originally a Roman amphitheater, which was apparent due to its shape. During medieval times, houses were built on the Roman remains; and later, from 1830 on, the area was used as a marketplace. Nowadays it is a lovely meeting point with cafes and restaurants for both locals and tourists. We strolled the piazza and visited some of the stores until our stomachs announced it was lunch time.

     Following a delicious pranza we purposefully got lost in the narrow streets of the old town. This is a favorite pastime of Russ and I and a wonderful way to explore new places - by simply stumbling upon the sights and sensations of daily life. At the end of the day, on our way out of the old town, we  talked about coming back the next day to ride rented bicycles around the promenade on top of the wall.

     All started out well the next day, with the three of us heading out on our biciclette.  My lower back had been hurting the night before, but I figured it was from all the walking on the uneven cobble stone streets the day before. With Russ and my son in the lead, I turned from the ramp onto the promenade atop the city wall and torqued my back, which resulted in all the muscles of my lower back seizing.

     The pain was excruciating.

     I screamed, collapsed and, minutes later, passed out to the horror of my concerned husband, son and the sizable crowd of Italians that had gathered around me. One of the locals called an ambulance, and before I knew what was happening they had me strapped to a backboard, immobilized my head and were rushing me off to the hospital. Russ and our son returned the bicycles and went back to our room to get my passport and travel insurance information. The hero of the day, Rosa, a very kind and generous local woman provided invaluable assistance by riding my bike back to the hotel and then giving my men a ride to the hospital.

     In the meantime, I was trying to give the paramedics basic information in English, German and Italian. They rushed me into the ER only to park me there on the backboard with the neck brace securely in place under a drop ceiling which I came to know very well, since staring at it was my only entertainment for the next couple of hours. By the time they finally rolled me out for x-rays my behind,hips and shoulders were protesting the hard unforgiving board, which was a far cry from a cushy pillow top mattress.

     A doctor told us in a combination of Italian and English that he thought I had torn some ligaments and wanted to keep me in the hospital overnight for pain management. We informed him we were traveling to Rome the next day and were leaving for home the day after. In typical Italian fashion the doctor dramatically threw his hands up in the air, shook his head and wrote me a script for some strong pain medication. He then left us with his nurse, confident he'd done all he could for me.

     The nurse instructed Russ to pull the car into the ambulance bay to load me in. I was terrified to receive the bill for the services and ambulance ride. While I had been strapped to the backboard Russ had been in contact with a friend in the states who was helping to work with the travel insurance company.  We weren't sure what to expect at check-out, but a handshake and a wave in the rear view mirror was least expected.  Thanks to socialized medicine in Italy a bill never materialized. The nurse and Russ loaded me into the car and we drove off.

     We will return to Lucca for a fabulous day of sightseeing, hopefully with a bit less drama.  We would like to invite you to come with us and stroll on the lovely town walls or explore the narrow streets of the ancient Centro, join us on our Bella Toscana Tour!

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