Italy’s Walk of Fame
You are now in Italy’s “Walk of Fame.” Like in Hollywood. There are star attractions all around. And your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to choreograph this day, to write your script, to shine the spotlight on your favorite scene. La Spezia is like the entrance to a movie studio’s back lot with storylines being played out all around.
Lights, Camera, Action
Let’s get a little more serious now. You’ve got just one day in La Spezia to squeeze in as much as you possibly can. Of course you can remain in the port city, if you wish. It’s ideal for those, say, intrigued with maritime history as well as contemporary naval operations. The city hosts the Italian navy as well as their navigation school. For most, though, it’s the action just beyond the bend that’s beckoning. And there’s lots of it. Select wisely because the cameras are rolling and the clock is ticking.
Should culture be your greatest temptation, you must journey inland to Florence, an academy award winner all its own. Michelangelo’s statue David announces your arrival. Center stage at The Gallery of the Accademia di Belle Art, this Renaissance masterpiece was sculpted from 1501 to 1504 out of a single piece of white cararra marble. Michelangelo, by the way, was only 26 years old when he tackled this herculean project. The magnificent Duomo with the adjoining Baptistery and Giotto Bell Tower are all absolute musts. So, too, a gelato at one of the many ice cream stores that breaks down the will of the wispiest Hollywood starlet.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is definitely your cup of tea. Truth be told, the 900-year-old Cathedral and Baptistery, are worth the journey alone. You know, though, that absolutely everyone comes to Pisa to see the star attraction, the Leaning Tower. Technically, it’s called the bell tower, or campanile in Italian. And it does lean, as advertised, approximately 15 feet, or 10%, off vertical. Curiously, it took more than 200 years to build with construction commencing in 1173 and being completed in 1399. If anyone asks, there are 297 steps up a well-worn spiral staircase to the very top. People who climb to the top get to reward themselves with a real pizza. Oh, it’s 297 steps down, as well.
For you, there is Cinque Terra. Even the weariest wanderer will buckle from the sight of this gem, these five micro-villages sprinkled along the rugged Italian Riviera. The name Cinque Terra actually means “Five Lands” and aptly marries a string of five terraced, pastel-colored villages with something called Via Dell’Amore. This “Path of Love” is decorated with hundreds if not thousands of padlocks carrying the names of lovers who’ve trekked this path to declare their love for each other, sealing their vows with these padlocks. Romance aside, this little path of wonders is so magical it has received the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition.
Lucca. Lucca is your destination. Wrapped in the embrace of a 17th-century wall, this powerful stone structure is the ideal place to get an overview the city. Wanderers spot such important landmarks as the church of San Michele in Foro, Piazza Napoleon dating back to the days of Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, and the imposing Cathedral of St. Martin.
Time is short, the choices are many. And your waistline should be of no concern today for you are on vacation. Seafood is the centerpiece for most meals including Ligurian anchovies, mussels, octopus in regional olive oil with a splash of lemon, and a hearty frutti di mare with everything from cuttlefish to clams. Freshly-harvested crab is found on most menus. Grilled local fish like dorado (orata) and sea bass (branzino) are often served as a tasty and healthy main course.
Veal and rabbit are favorite meat dishes with the usual complement of olives, garlic, vine-ripened tomatoes, and basil. Basil, in the form of yummy pesto, also finds its way into the traditional focaccia so loved by us all. This unleavened flatbread can be enjoyed fresh from the oven with cheese, meat or vegis inside. Pesto is a proper partnership of basil leaves, the best olive oil money can buy, a toss of pine nuts, a dusting of parmegiano cheese, and a generous helping of garlic all mixed together. It’s a showstopper when served with fidelini, a regional pasta. Mushrooms, chestnuts, grapes, zucchini, and artichokes from nearby farms round out many a menu.
The time for you to choose what your pleasure will be is now. But choose wisely for the clock ticks religiously in this part of the world.