Sunday, January 24, 2016

Extended Travel Report: Italian Holiday 2015 - Day 6

On Day 6 we finally went to Carrara to visit the quarry of the famous Italian marble.

We boarded the train from Pisa San Rossore to Carrara Avenza and somehow it was quite hard to find information about how to reach the marble quarry from the internet other than by car. The quarry tour organizers also did not seem to be organized. Our emails from months before left unanswered and the only responses we got were some one-liner Facebook messages. When I told about this to Lucca, our translator from the day before, he told me that was a very Italian way of doing things. Made us appreciate how professional Arianna & Friends was. I could not recommend them enough!

Anyway, the train journey was very mellow. We passed by several small train stations along the way and reached the Carrara Avenza station in about half an hour. A few stations before Carrara, we started to see the Apuan Alps with its white peak dramatically disappearing into the clouds.

We originally planned to get a cab outside the Carrara Avenza station but it was during lunchtime and I still had not figured out how the whole cab thing worked in Italy so we decided to just *walk* to the quarry, thinking it was manageable. This is crazy stupid and I'll tell you why in a minute. But first, we walked happily towards the quarry, getting some gelato along the way while admiring the mellow town.

We got the impression that Carrara was a rich industrial town. I don't know if it's true but their streets are wide and proper, unlike in Pisa or Florence.

So anyway, we stumbled upon a tourist office and thought we'd ask for directions. When we told the woman who manned the desk that we didn't have a car, she was taken aback for a second. It was already about 3pm and from her expression we could see she was thinking we must be crazy.

Anyway, she told us to get a bus to the 'Hospital' and from there, take another bus to Miseglia, and then walked to the Quarry. At that point, we had never boarded a bus in Italy, frankly because we were a bit daunted but we had no choice. So off we went and took a bus in Italy for the first time. Since there were no tabbacchi around, we had to purchase the tickets on board.

The bus driver seemed quite miffed when we wanted to purchase tickets on board but once we spoke Italian he turned friendly. We got off at the hospital and waited for the bus to Miseglia that never came.

We decided to approach a bus driver and asked about the bus. I must say I'm quite happy that most people that I came across in Italy all were friendly and wanted to help as much as they could. Anyway, I don't know if I understood him wrongly but he seemed to be telling me that the next bus to Miseglia would only come after 6pm, by then it would have been too late for us to visit the Quarry.

But then he told me that Miseglia was not that far and so we decided to just walk. I mean, it couldn't be that far, could it?

Well. Not only was it far, but it was also steep with many twists and turns. I swear you could have seen me in the pictures getting smaller and smaller as we were getting closer to the Quarry. It was more of a hike and it was very taxing, but we were surrounded by woods so the air was very clean and fresh.

We walked by some villages and the Quarry was still not in sight. At times, we felt like giving up but we thought we'd made it this far and it would be such a shame to not make it to the finish line. We ran into a man walking his dog and asked if we were on the right path and he said we were, it was just 10-15 minutes away and so we soldiered on until finally, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel: the old bridge.

The woman at the tourist office told us once we found the bridge, the Quarry was just nearby. There was a small shop selling refreshments and marble souvenirs near the bridge but since it was already 5pm we decided we would make a run for the Quarry first since it closes at 6pm. However, we were faced with another steep uphill road and after climbing it for a few minutes with no quarry in sight, we made the painful decision to give up. We were tired and so we went back to the shop to sit down, get something to drink, and did some souvenir shopping.

Again, the Italian woman who manned the shop was very nice. She spoke perfect English and she gave us a book about the Quarry to read while we were there. And since we purchased so many souvenir, the cappuccino and the water were on the house.

The short break restored our willpower and we decided we would complete the final stretch and climb the steep uphill road. Turned out we were very close! Imagined if we had given up, what a shame that would have been!

But wait, don't get excited just yet! It was already past 6pm and when we approached the ticket booth, the woman informed us that the last tour group had just left but if there were another couple, they might conduct another tour just for us and so we waited patiently, praying for someone else to turn up and just like in the movies, a young Italian couple turned up at the very last minute.

When we were finally riding in the van going down the tunnel to the Quarry, my friend and I looked at each other and we were like, 'OMG!!!'

The tour itself was quite brief - about 20 minutes long or so - but it was definitely an experience. To be inside a room that is made of 100% marble is just something you don't do everyday!

On our way back, we felt this amazing sense of accomplishment but wait...the day was not over yet. We intended to take the bus on our descent but this Miseglia bus was really the most elusive and so we decided to walk our way back. It was crazy, I'm telling you! We were basically walking up and down the Apuan Alps much like Leonardo Da Vinci and the likes did back then but it really made for a very memorable trip.

On our way back, the sun cast a warm glow on the hills. It was very serene and we could hear the church's bell tolling from afar. In one of the villages, we ran into an old man who invited us to see some souvenirs at his house. I still can't decide whether it was nice or creepy but anyway, I declined the invitation politely and he was in a good spirit about it.

We then board a bus at the terminal near the Hospital back to Carrara station. Whaddya know, the driver was the same driver that took us to the Hospital earlier that day. By the time we reached the train station, it was getting dark so it was probably already 8:30pm. The sun was setting beautifully.

When we finally reached Pisa San Rossore, it was already dark.

When we got home, we were extremely tired but happy. What a day. Here are some of the souvenirs that we got.

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