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Day 17 Lucca to Siena 77m (124km)

Lucca is a little known jewel in the north of Italy. A walled city that has streets that are a joy to wander through, with little traffic. Although I may be accused of repeating myself, serendipity muscled in yet again. My stay in Lucca just happened to coincide with their annual celebration of the Santa Croce (Holy Cross) which included a procession through the streets of all their confraternities and dignitaries, including a cardinal. The streets were all illuminated, buildings bedecked with thousands of candles, and in the Duomo (Cathedral) their was a short choral concert, followed by a firework display, which we viewed from the walls of the town. Quite spectacular and totally unexpected.

This morning I decided to cycle the streets of Lucca and take in the medieval environment before offices and shops opened for business. When I decided to begin the day’s route, I found myself literally  ‘lost in Lucca’. The streets were like a maze, and by following the one-way system, I had hoped to find a way out, but it took some time. Once on the open road, I had the pedals spinning for a couple of hours in the direction of Siena.

San Gimignano. This beautiful town lay on the route to Siena, but there was some serious climbing to get to it (up to 350metres). It would seem that most interesting towns in the area were built as fortress communities, so inaccessibility was a key part of their planning. Unlike Lucca, San Gimignano is a famous and much-visited jewel in northern Italy. The streets were packed with day visitors, but the effort to climb up to it was certainly worth it. Using my pilgrim passport, I tried to ‘blag’ my way into a few museums for free, but they were unsympathetic. They wouldn’t let me into the Cathedral because my cycling shoes (which do have metal cleats embedded in the soles) might damage the wooden floors. That I understood, but when I offered to take them off, I was still barred, because it would be disrespectful to enter in my stockinged feet! There are some situations that simply have no solution.

Road to Siena Being well into the Appenines, and following them in a southerly direction, the terrain is going to be ‘lumpy’, and it certainly was on the road to Siena. The huge sting in the tail were the final kms into town, which were (yet again!) all uphill. I had few reserves at 6pm so it was a mighty struggle.

Caritas. The first place I called at was a Caritas charity run by an order of nuns, and they welcomed me in with open arms, showed me to an eight-bedded room and provided an astonishing supper……. all free of charge! In future years my memories of this trip will dwell especially on the unquestioning kindness of so many people.