The commune of Lucca, located in Tuscany in northwest Italy, is an amazing walled city with a population of 7,000 within the walls and about 80,000 residents living outside. According to Wikipedia, it was founded by the Etruscans (there are traces of a pre-existing Ligurian settlement) and became a Roman colony in 180 BC.

The streets are paved with rectangular dark grey stone slabs . The buildings are constructed of flat hardcover book sized sun-baked bricks topped with aged clay roof tiles. For such a small place, there are dozens of churches, some in better states of restoration than others. Even more interesting is that the lovely painted stucco palazzos are often in a state of decay inside. Despite the lovely warm weather we experienced, walking along the narrow streets we’d often catch strong whiffs of mold and decay from the dirt-floored basements. What secrets did they hold? Inside our apartment building and on the walls of many others, the paint was peeling because of moisture seeping through the walls. They were living, breathing structures that brought to mind the history of people and place. I love old buildings.

There were few cars – those inside the city required a special permit. Most of the people in town rode bicycles. Old, young, men, women. Unlike in Rome, there were few scooters. Just pedal power. It was amazing to watch folks with full baskets of that evening’s grocery shopping wend their way through the strolling crowds on the streets while chatting on their cell phones and usually smoking a cigarette. Product deliveries – tubs of gelato – are made regularly with mini-trucks that can squeeze between the narrow lanes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What also struck me was the snazzy attire of some of the cyclists. Women in business suits and high heels ferrying their children to and from school, elderly gents in dress pants and tweed jackets on bicycles as old as themselves and men in candy-coloured pants chatting in the middle of the road or window-shopping. Scarves and man-purses (murses) are popular. It takes a very confident man to don pink or mustard yellow trousers and venture out in public.