Tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

From Lucca to San Vivaldo, San Gimignano and Abbadia Isola

October 31, 2016 · 18 comments

Just to re-cap, I had been invited on a press trip via Italian Wonder Ways to be introduced to the pilgrim route called the Via Francigena. This was our second day.

 Date: 23rd September 2016

Location: Tuscany, Italy

Distance: If  we had been walking on the Via Francigena then this would have been a trek around 66 miles. But apart from strolls around all of the above, we travelled by coach. For the Pilgrim-by-Car there is a well-signposted road route.

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We had stayed last night at the excellent Ostello San Frediano situated just inside the walled city, next to the church of the same name. I didn’t hear a peep out of my room mate, Luca,  until morning and as I opened the shutters I was presented with the most beautiful of days.

View from hostel San Frediano in Lucca photographed by Charles Hawes

Such a nice way to start the day

Luca and I went down to the  breakfast room which offered a good spread – as good, as it turned out, as we were to have all week.  Our guide, Antonella, joined us and I was happy for her and Luca  to chat in Italian whilst I munched my pastries; I don’t do a very good chat first thing.

Breakfast room in Ostello San Frediano, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

I think the poles are supposed to represent walking staffs

We had a lot to pack in this day and our first appointment was back on the city walls for a visit to the museum dedicated to the Via Francigena called La Casa Del Boia. It was once a place of execution. Our brisk walk along the tree-lined top of the walls was a brief but welcome breath of fresh air.

Walking on the old wall of Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Antonella and Dorris (in the hat) leading the way, Toon in the red shirt, behind

At the museum we were joined  by Ilaria Crescioli, from the office which promotes tourism in Tuscany. It was only when she introduced herself that I realised that it was she who  had arranged accommodation for me last year when I was in Tuscany photographing gardens. She got a Big Hug and kisses. Then she told me that she had put my name forward for this trip. More hugs and kisses.

Ilaria Crescioli in Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Such a nice smile and very cool glasses

It seems that the museum has undergone a very recent complete refurbishment and we were to preview the place before it opened again to the public.

Casa del Boia, Lucca, Italy, photographed by Charles Hawes

Our group assembled

At the entrance on the ground floor there must have been a dozen staff to greet us (lots of men in suits).Then we were asked to walk into the dark basement. As we did so lights began to illuminate our path and we found ourselves in a dungeon-like room.  It went dark again and then  on the walls began to be projected  the story of pilgrims on the Via Francigena, accompanied by a loud soundtrack.

Basement of Casa del Boia, Lucca, with display about the Via Francigena

At one point a blast of air swept around us and a very effective representation of a storm. It was an impressive piece of work and when it was over I led a round of applause.

Basement of Casa del Boia, Lucca, with display about the Via Francigena

Then it was upstairs for a tour of the room where there were several state-of -the-art interactive and multi-lingual displays about the path which we were encouraged to play with …

Display of the Via Francigena in the Casa del Boia, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

As you can see, it starts in Canterbury

….before we had to sit down and be greeted again (see last night) by the Mayor of Lucca (once he had got off his phone.) I could have done without the sit down bit. After this Antonella rounded us up outside and said that we had a guide to walk us around  the city for an hour-and-a half before we needed to be back at the hostel to collect our bags and head off.

Our guide seemed rather pissed off that more people didn’t come to Lucca and seemed to think that the place just wouldn’t come to mind if you asked your average punter visiting Italy where they wanted to visit. And he was probably right but he did go on a bit. And he was also a bit peeved at how little time he had. Mostly when he went on about anything on the walk he did so in Italian; we got a bit of English translation when Antonella badgered him.  So I can’t tell you much about what we saw, but I can show you some highlights.

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

A lot of people bicycle in Lucca which can be a bit hairy for pedestrians

 

Lucca, Tusacny, photographed by Charles Hawes

But there are very few cars so mostly its not a big problem

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

And they like to take their pets with them when they go out.

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lucca has some fabulous doorways

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Really, just loads. I bet someone has done a book on their doors

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

And there are some very nice statues

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I liked this canalised stream

 

Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Foreign greengrocers are always fascinating

 

 Lucca, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

In fact I found just about everything visually stimulating

 

The Via Amiteatro, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

This is the Via Anfiteatro, showing part of the original walls of the famous Piazza.

 

The elliptical Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca, was based on a roman amphitheatre but architecturally was created around 1830

My group! The elliptical Piazza Anfiteatro was based on a roman amphitheatre but architecturally was created around 1830

We finished up at the cathedral.

The cathedral , Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

Which seemed to me rather dominated by its bell tower

 

The cathedral, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

Here our guide had a lot to say. That’s Laura looking huge

 

The cathedral, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

Whilst I enjoyed the stonework

He then took us inside  to see the Sacred Countenance , which is Lucca’s most important relic and is said to be a carving in wood by Christ’s contemporary Nicodemus. I think if it was we would all have heard about it. And besides it ain’t the original which was chipped to pieces by pilgrim vandals.

Sacred Countenance in the cathedral, Lucca, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

After that Antonella ordered us to depart at a smart pace as we were already late for the coach rendezvous. We were very late when we finally all got on. So that was Lucca.  Super place. Put it on your “must see” list.

Next stop, about an hour and a quarter away was La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo. Now this place is not on the Via Francigena, although I think someone said that the bicycle route goes nearby. Also nearby is being constructed an extremely expensive 20 hole golf course (just saying). So I wasn’t really sure why we were there.

We were greeted by the director and led into a courtyard where tables were laid with cold meats and cheeses and bread and several other nice titbits and some very nice wine. After a quick introduction to the place, translated by his rather Striking Assistant, we had a stand up lunch. I hate eating standing up so sat in the shade and munched whilst my compatriots mingled and asked intelligent questions.

La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Typical Italian Gesture

After lunch we had a tour of the church…

Church in La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

…. before being walked over to the chapels.

La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

In brief, this collection of  18 chapels was originally constructed in the early C16th as a destination of pilgrimage for those who did not wish to make the somewhat perilous journey to Jerusalem. The arrangement of the buildings is said to have mirrored the plan of chapels in Jerusalem, which was a little difficult to swallow as it all seemed a bit tidy, but hey, what do I know. Anyway, each chapel contains a depiction of the story of  The Passion (of Jesus), made from clay and painted. Here is a few of them.

Part of the Passion of Jesus in La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

Part of the Passion of Jesus in La Gerusalemme di San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

Detail of The Passion of Jesus in La Gerusalemme , San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Our Striking Assistant was quite animated as she described the scenes to us.

Guide in La Gerusalemme, San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

If her eyes look a bit weird you should have seen them before I removed the red eye

The final chapel contains Jesus in the tomb. I felt a bit weird taking this picture.

Jesus in the tomb at San Vivaldo, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Back on the bus and the next stop was one of the most visited of the smaller towns in Italy – San Gimignano.  As we approached we stopped for a view of this “Town of Fine Towers”.

View to San Gigignanao, Tuscany, taken from the road by Charles Hawes

I had been before but was still looking forward to another visit. Even late in the season it was still very busy with tourists. We were late and having left the bus were rushed into the municipal headquarters beneath the tallest tower called Torre Rognosa. It is claimed that the town was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; Anontella had a Juliet moment as we went in.

Tour Guide for IWW at San Gimignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

She has a very nice smile

We were greeted by the head of tourism for the town….

…..who told us (amongst other things) that the town used to have 72 towers and then introduced us to The Best Gelato Maker in The World (who had samples of his delicious saffron gelato with caramelised walnuts – I had two small tubs – yum), a maker of nice clothes and a rep of the local wine co-op who make Vernaccia -considered to be one of the best wines of Italy.

Bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

I sampled two of the  three wines she had brought and can declare them to be good. Today was not going to be a unit counting day. After this we were allowed to climb the tower. Which you really must do if you go, but if you don’t here’s what you might see on a nice day.

View over San Gimignano from the Torre Rognosa, photographed by Charles Hawes

That’s smoke from fires, not mist

View over San Gimignano from the Torre Rognosa, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

View over San Gimignano from the Torre Rognosa, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

View over San Gimignano from the Torre Rognosa, photographed by Charles Hawes

When we were getting together back in the square I was told that I had missed a guy proposing on the top on bended knee. Damn. Would have loved to have snapped that.

Now that would have felt enough of an introduction to the town to me and I would have liked a little wandering around time but this was not to be. Apparently we had to visit Spezieria di Santa Fina – a pharmacy museum and its garden. But first we had to find Laura the photographer who was always hanging back. I phoned her and gave her directions.

The garden was rubbish….

Garden of La Speziaria di Santa Fina, San Gimignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

The NGS would be happy with it

….. and the museum a bit of a yawn.

 La Speziaria di Santa Fina, San Gimignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

That’s my sponsor, Ilaria talking to a museum staff

Anyway, we didn’t spend too much time there and I took a nice pic of the town from a walkway above the garden.

San Gimignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was moving towards dusk when we were back on the bus but apparently we had another appointment to make. The organisers wanted us to see a place called Boschetto di Piemma just out of town that was on the Via Frangigena where you can camp – they also have huts.  I would have rather had a snooze on the bus but dutifully had a look and took a pic of the hut.

Hut accommodation in Boschetto di Piemma, outside San Gimignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

It has air conditioning

Karen from Argentina got a bit arsey with the campsite people over how expensive the camping was relative to the price of the huts. She probably wanted a snooze, too.

We were staying that night at a hostel in the grounds of the (ex) Cistercian Abbey at Abbadia a Isola. We got lost trying to find the place. When we did arrive we found that the grounds were being used that weekend for what was called a “Slow Travel Fest”. Stalls for local travel companies focused on walking and cycling were being set up. And there was a stage for someone that was going to sing. It was all jolly festive.

Slow Travel Fest at Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, Italy, photographed by Charles Hawes

Tonight I was sharing a room with Luca and Toon (the Belgium writer) . The room was fine and I had got used to the fact that the Tuscany tourist people wanted us to have an “authentic” pilgrim experience (apart, it seemed, from actually walking). I could have kissed Antonella when she also told us that once we crossed the border from Tuscany to Lazio their tourist office would be giving is individual rooms in nice hotels. Authenticity is trumped by a good nights sleep IMHO.

Staying with the festive theme, there was a barbecue for supper and we were given vouchers for a drink and food. I found an English guy who had a beer stall with a perfectly decent home brew that was happy to take my ticket.  And they were selling bottles of local unmarked wine for 5 euros at the barbecue, so I had one of them, too (which I shared, naturally).

Slow Travel Fest at Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, Italy, photographed by Charles Hawes

The BBQ was great, with a nice lot of different salads, though I left my somewhat “pink” pork burger in favour of the chicken. By the time we had finished the singer was belting it out on the stage.

Slow Travel Fest at Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, Italy, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was too loud and rather horrid and I suspect very political as he seemed very angry. It seems he told good jokes though. But there was no getting away from it and Frankie had given me her ticket for another beer, so I sat myself down on a bale of straw and enjoyed watching a couple jiggle around a bit. Then I had another beer and cadged a roll up from Beer Man which went straight to my head like some of that naughty stuff I used to smoke in my youth. By which point I was slightly reeling and made for my room. But I found that I was disorientated. I  found Laura on the steps and without thinking took a snap of her. day-two-lucca-to-abaddia-91

Now you might think that this was a bit dodgy of me but I claim perfect innocence and artistic licence.  And she didn’t seem put out. In fact she said “Charles, what are you doing” (but not in a put out way). I told her I was lost and she pointed out that I was standing next to the door of our dorm.  I slept well.

 

 

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kev the Yank October 31, 2016 at 11:17 am

I started reading this sometime before 6 am and was enjoying and marveling at your wonderful photography, then contemplating how little walking you got to do on this trip, when the penny dropped and it struck me… Charles is truly a PHOTOGRAPHER! That’s why the pictures are so fantastic! 2 more cups of coffee & I’ll reread this post to truly understand it….

Reply

CHARLES Hawes October 31, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Hi Kevin! You must have been reading this minutes after I posted it. We are enjoying lovely autumn sunshine here. I do hope you enjoyed the doors. Yes, I guess that my photography does rather dominate in the posts, but I do try to entertain with the writing. But the pics are very much taken on the hoof so are much more spontaneous than my garden photography – which has been almost non existent this year.

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John October 31, 2016 at 11:56 am

Sounds like you’re really enjoying this walking holiday 😉 I used Google Translate on the Wikipedia page about Torre Rognosa and discovered it makes more sense if translated into Zulu. And that director chap looks like he’s explaining what an asset his striking assistant is.

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CHARLES Hawes October 31, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Oh, I thought I had offered a translated page for the Tower. I always find translations hilarious. Haha, naughty. But nice.

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Neil October 31, 2016 at 11:59 am

Sounds and looks like a fabulous tour (apart from the sharing rooms with strangers bit)…

It does need a climatic ending though… Something a bit unusual… A nice bloke wearing an utterly fanciful dress, for instance?

X

Reply

CHARLES Hawes October 31, 2016 at 12:05 pm

I thought you would have liked the ending best!

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Paul Steer October 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Towers and beautiful women – what more could a man require ?

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Julia October 31, 2016 at 4:37 pm

sounds a tad dodgy Paul.

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Charles October 31, 2016 at 5:41 pm

I agree. I shall tackle him tomorrow. He will suffer.

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Paul Steer October 31, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Maybe I am a bit dodgy !? Sounds like Charles is about to put me on the straight and narrow.

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Charles November 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Haha. I think tonight’s conversation has already blown that out of the water!

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Charles October 31, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Well, I could write you a list. But food and drink would definitely be on it.

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CHARLES Hawes November 3, 2016 at 9:50 am

Sheep. Chocolate. And for you a horse.

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Paul Steer November 3, 2016 at 12:54 pm

A horse – yes the horse with the foal yesterday was beautiful – she whispered gently in my ear …. “I love you but would love you more if you gave me an apple”.

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James Golden November 1, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Molto divertimento. And funny. Not to mention the great photography.

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Charles November 1, 2016 at 7:10 pm

Thanks James. Very glad I can still do a bit of “funny”. Very best wishes to P.

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Toon Verlinden November 8, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Ha. Fun to read and a good overview of all the officials we have met. 🙂 Beautiful pictures as well.
Really loved reading it and looking forward to the rest!

Top 3 quotes:
• “yes, standing around waiting for things to happen was going to feature quite heavily this week”

• “Apparently we had to visit Spezieria di Santa Fina – a pharmacy museum and its garden. The garden was rubbish…”

• “But I found that I was disorientated (…) I told her I was lost and she pointed out that I was standing next to the door of our dorm. I slept well.”

Greets,
Toon

Reply

Charles November 8, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Thanks, Toon. I like the top three quotes! Say hi to Laura for me.

Reply

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