Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another Day, Another Thousand Photo Ops

On Friday we headed from our home base in Sestri Levante, in Italy's Liguria region, to the neighboring region of Tuscany. Our first stop was Villa Torrigiani, a huge mansion and gardens just outside of Lucca. The house was built as a summer home by silk merchants several centuries ago.

We weren't allowed to take photos inside, but trust me when I tell you it was opulent: period furniture, fine porcelain dinnerware, gigantic paintings on every wall, detailed frescoes on every ceiling, door frames made of Carrara marble, and the most ostentatious bed I've ever seen. The bed had a huge, and I mean huge, canopy -- we think it probably was 18 or 20 feet above the bed. The guide told me that the Italian name for this kind of canopy is a baldocchino. He said that the bed linens, which featured hand-sewn ribbons all over them, would be even more valuable if they weren't so worn-looking. Turns out the owners had actually continued sleeping on the bed into the 1960s -- and allowed their cat and dog to sleep on the bed too. My kind of people! Today the bed, like many of the furnishings, is roped off.

After the interior tour, we strolled the grounds a bit. Here's Deb Preston petting a statue of some dude with his three-headed dog Ceberus, which apparently was the dog that guarded the gates of Hell:

And here are Richard and Lorre Bass in front of the pond and sculpture garden:

Next we got back on the bus and drove into Lucca, which Umberto, our trip director, said is similar to Siena but not visited by tourists as much. We had another incredible lunch (I even ate the eggplant appetizer, a first for me), then took a walking tour of the city, then had some free time to stroll, shop, and eat gelato. I climbed the Guinigi Tower, one of the city's many towers, and took some photos of the panoramic views. This is a view from partway up the tower:

We then drove back to the hotel in Sestri and had another amazing fancy dinner while plotting our plans for our free day on Saturday. Many of the travelers are opting to stay near the hotel and chill out -- an excellent choice after a week of non-stop sightseeing. But a large clump of us are planning to take the train back to the Cinque Terre and see some of the villages we missed on Wednesday; we also want to take the boat ride from one end of the Cinque Terre to the other, as it was too windy for boats when we were there the other day. A few hardy souls are planning to hike the length of the Cinque Terre trails -- a five-hour project, I'm told. I haven't yet decided whether I'll join them for that part!

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