Day 25 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage had us checking out the beach in Avenza, and reaching the walled city of Lucca. Weather: sunny, low 80s.
The rain cleared early in the morning to reveal a beautiful sunny day. It was perfect weather for going to the beach!
Sigeric the Serious
Perhaps I am a skeptic, but something has been bugging me ever since we got our first views of the Ligurian Sea two days ago. I looked at the route, and at its closest point, the Via Francigena gets within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the Italian beach. I find it SUPER HARD to believe that the archbishop would travel from Canterbury to Rome, and not dip his weary feet in the ocean! He definitely earned his name – Sigeric the Serious – if he stopped in Avenza and intentionally avoided it.
I’m definitely no historian, archaeologist, or theologian. Nor do I have any shred of evidence as to why I think he secretly went to the Italian beach. However, I do have something of a hiker’s mindset. During the course of his journey, he ventured across the English Channel; through rich French farmland; over the Swiss Alps and meadows; alongside mosquito-infested rice and corn fields; and through thick Italian woods. He would have seen many a Roman ruin, and many, many churches.
And somehow, no interest at all in this magnificent expanse of water?
If he did stay away and immediately turned inland, I want to know…WHY? Was there an illness? Was he concerned about debauchery near busy sea ports? Did he think God would find a beach day frivolous and sinful?
As a Navy Sailor, I am super confused by this route from a purely pragmatic perspective. If time and efficiency were important, why not hop on a ship/boat transporting Carrara marble into Rome? He’d have gotten to Rome much faster going by sea.
We passed a lot of marble during the short walk there. The port in Avenza was used to port transport Carrara marble around the world.
In the U.S., marble is considered a luxurious building material. It’s delicious being in a town where marble is so prevalent that it is used on sidewalks, curbs, and bridge railing!
Yesterday, I could not see the Apuan Alps properly because of the rain. Today, I did a double take when I looked at the mountains. At first, I thought they had received snowfall. It took several seconds to process that the white gleam off the mountains was not snow, but precious marble being extracted from quarries.
The marble is exquisite to look at, and the city is smart to showcase its product so prominently. However, Carrara marble’s downside is that, because it is porous, it gradually wears down when exposed to the elements. Hence, if you are walking marble steps, the steps are slightly uneven – the marble retains the history of time and foot traffic.
The Avenza Beach is That Way
No shoreline is purely recreational. However, given Avenza’s proximity to the Ligurian Sea, it took surprisingly long to find a beach we were allowed to use. Dad asked a woman for directions. She was super sweet and personally took us in one direction before two elderly men who were watching across the street told her the area had been closed for a year, and re-routed us the opposite way.
The bulk of prime waterfront is taken up by marinas, yacht clubs, restaurants and private beach clubs. A half mile later, we finally found a public beach.
One thing I love about Italian beaches is Italians’ sincere acceptance for the human body in all forms. You don’t need to look like you’ve been carved out of marble by a master sculptor to rock a bikini or Speedo.
Today marks the first official day of fall. Although it was a hot day, staff were already cleaning beach umbrellas and prepping them for storage. Roughly a dozen people lounged out on the beach, and even fewer entered the water. We ourselves were too lazy to take off our shoes, and dipped our hands on the foam of an incoming wave instead. The water was delightfully warm.
I have always loved the ocean. I love hearing the waves crash, staring at the horizon, and dreaming.
We said goodbye to Mom and Dad at the beach. Dan and I spent another hour there and had a gelato before heading to the train station. Due to a delay with the first train, we missed the connection and needed to wait another 40 minutes.
I wasn’t prepared for how magnificent the city would be, or how popular it would be with tourists. It’s a walled city! There are 2.6 miles worth of tall walls, most recently built in the 16th Century to protect the residents. What’s mind-blowing is how WIDE those walls are. They are so wonderfully wide that they’ve been transformed into tree-lined boulevards. It’s a fantastic place to stroll and bike.
It’s also a fun place to people watch. Judging from snippets of conversation, the bulk of foreign tourists are from the U.S. and Germany/Austria/Switzerland. We had a few quiet laughs watching tourists struggle bringing their wheeled luggage up stairs and across uneven surfaces. This is Italy! Wheeled luggage makes no sense.
At Lucca’s grand Cathedral, dedicated to St. Martin, I pulled out €6 for two entry tickets and inquired if it’d be possible to get stamps for our Pilgrim Passports. She immediately returned the money with a smile. Since we were pilgrims, our entry into the 11th century cathedral and its stunning works of art was free. Yay!
We had dinner at 5:30 p.m. As expected, the restaurant was empty except for us. No self-respecting Italian will eat that early.
Tomorrow, we’ll walk to Altopaschio on our own and link back up with Mom and Dad later in the evening. It’s supposed to rain heavily in the afternoon, but since it’s only 12 miles, we should get there before the rain starts.
It’s been a fabulous day!
Costs in Avenza and Lucca
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Lunch: €3 ($3.20)
Dinner: €16.30 ($17.40)
Train ticket: €6.90 ($7.36)