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Old October 1st, 2011, 11:54 AM
Jason Leppert
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Todayís port is Livorno, Italy. We are sharing the port along with Holland-Americaís Nieuw Amsterdam and MSCís Sinfonia. Our entire travel party including my parents as well as my aunt, cousin, and grandmother booked a private van to take us to both Pisa and Lucca. As my grandmother is 82 years old, it worked out well to have a private tour where we could set our own pace. While she has done admirably to get around thus far, it is becoming increasingly clear that wheelchairs and cobblestones do not mix well.

It is also interesting to note that I donít recall ever seeing elderly European locals in wheelchairs nor motor scooters in any of my travels. By virtue of their pedestrian culture and design of the cities, these locals must maintain their mobility to function effectively. I wonder how American health would improve if we were to merely reduce our automotive dependence by even the smallest of percentages. Itís interesting to ponder.

While my aunt kept company with my grandmother, the rest of us had the opportunity to climb to the top of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Having arrived at Pisa first thing this morning, hardly anyone was present at the Field of Miracles, and we were quickly granted access via tickets to the top. Most of the bus tours from the ships make their stop at Pisa in the afternoon. Our private driver was wise to go to Pisa early. I had seen the tower previously on an afternoon stop and was unable to go inside due to the immense amount of tourists scattered about. This time we made it in.

The experience of climbing and later descending a spiral staircase that traverses just inside the towerís outer circumference while sensing offset angles of gravity is quite bizarre. Itís far easier than you would think to lose your sense of orientation, especially with no views of the outside short of a few openings at the stairwell landings. You canít help but be reminded of Alfred Hitchcockís Vertigo. The view from the top is stunning, and while itís not nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower, it does offer great unobstructed vistas of the surrounding landscape.

We then spent a great late morning and early afternoon in Lucca, a fantastic town still walled in from years ago, isolating it to mostly pedestrian access. Itís interesting to see the balance of old-world charm in the exteriors of the buildings combined with the often modern, high-style shopping of interior vendor spaces such as Sephora.

One of the highlights of Lucca is the former amphitheater, a la the Coliseum, which is now just an oval ring of tall masonry buildings, but the center arena still remains as a courtyard where you can walk around and consider the many kinetic events that had once occurred in the very space you now occupy. Also, the pizzerias of Lucca offer great tastings as do the shops offer great wares to fulfill all of your fashion label needs. The atmosphere is generally one of community complete with tent vendors and local events taking place all around.

Back on the ship, my parents and I are preparing to join the captainís table for dinner as we have been invited as the most-cruised passengers currently aboard. We look forward to our time with the shipís environmental officer as well as our fellow cruise mates. The food has been excellent onboard, and while tonightís formal night dining room dish selections look to be rather uninteresting, our expectations will hopefully be exceeded. I will report back to let you all know.
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