Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Poking around Pisa, home of the world's most famous screw-up!

We were up early and on the train to Pisa by 8AM. The Tuscan countryside outside the train window was classic, rolling hills covered with vineyards and small farmhouses.

At one point the train crossed the beautiful Arno river.

Meredith was resting up for another day of lots of walking.

We arrived in Pisa a little after 9 and stopped at a little cafe near the station for some pastry and coffee (by now our standard morning fare). We started walking towards the Cathedral and tower and were surprised at how far it was from the station and how large a city Pisa was. It was another brutally hot day. The locals had been saying that this was a significant heat wave for Italy with temperatures in the mid to high 80's every day...actually since they use the celsius scale they kept referring to the high 30's which really threw me off! Regardless of how the temperature was measured, it was HOT!

After about a 15 minute walk we reached the Campo dei Miracoli ("Field of Miracles"). It was just like something out of a postcard.

Yup, it's a leaner alright!

We did our prerequisite "holding up the tower" photo shoot...

...and then set off to explore the buildings in the area. The tower often upstages the Cathedral and the Baptistry but they are very beautiful in their own right.

The side of the cathedral

The Baptistry

It really is a pretty surreal site to see that huge tower leaning so precariously. It has recently been shored up to allow people to go up in the tower but is still in danger of toppling over since the angle of leaning increases slightly every year. People were paying to go up to the top...just hope nobody with any vertigo issues was headed up could get a little ugly as they rolled over the edge and plunged to the ground below.

The front of the Cathedral. The crowds were many Japanese tour groups, in particular. They were all lined up to pay six euros to get into the Cathedral. I was more than a little turned off by the blatant commercialism of the whole place. There was a price to do EVERYTHING there, including using the bathroom!!

A closer look at the Baptistry shows how much intricate detail went into its construction. It is the largest Baptistry in Italy.

The Cathedral doors were particularly ornate, depicting scenes from the life of Christ in bronze.

It was impressive looking up the front of the Cathedral and admiring the workmanship that went into creating the impressive facade.

The Dome at the head of the Camposanto (cemetery) adjacent to the Cathedral. It is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade in the 12th century.

The Apse area at the back of the Cathedral

Funny thing...from the back it leans in the other direction!

Cute little gargoyles on the tower... they look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings

The details on the tower were exquisite.

The entrance to the tower. If you pre-arranged a ticket you could go in and climb the narrow,winding, (and sloping!) stairway to the top. The day we were there there were large groups of Japanese tourists waiting to climb. They were absolutely fascinated by the tower!

Another small, exquisite detail. It really is a shame that so much of the beauty and the obvious enormous effort to create the buildings on the "Field of Miracles" is upstaged by the fact that they didn't bother to provide a secure foundation for the tower. In the end, the lasting impression left by the work of so many skilled artisans who spent their lives creating a masterpiece is that of the one guy who botched his job in the first place.

After visiting the many souvenir booths, as well as some beautiful permanent shops along the edge of the area, we decided it was time to head back into town for some lunch and the train ride back to Florence. We decided to take a different route back and see some of the city. We passed some very quaint piazzas and buildings, typical of the type of architecture we had seen throughout that area of Italy.

Now here's where things started to go horribly wrong. We were walking for quite a while and not seeming to be getting any closer to the center of the city. On our way out we had gone over a bridge that spanned a river and as much as we walked, we weren't coming close to any bridge, nor were we seeing a river. It was early afternoon, I had sweated off all of the sunblock I had applied earlier and the sun was frying me like an egg on a hot griddle. The small amount of water left in my water bottle was the temperature of bathwater. I was hot, thirsty, hungry, cranky and in need of a bathroom... in short, not a lot of fun to be with. Poor Meredith was trying to figure out the fastest way to get us relief. She stopped at a little store to ask directions and the owner told her (in Italian) that we were so far away from where we need to go that we should take a bus. She wisely opted not to convey that translation to me. Instead, she simply said, "Let's go this way." and we forged on. Eventually we started to see signs for "Stazione" meaning that the train station was at least in that general direction. We walked on and on and eventually began to see some indications that we were reaching the city center, lifting our spirits somewhat. We decided to look for a place to get a simple salad for our lunch, nothing heavy or complicated. We began stopping into restaurants and delis in our search. It was now after 2:30 and the lunch crowd had been and gone. That meant no salads for us. I was not pleased. Meredith was wishing she was someplace else, far, far away from the crabby old bitch who was inhabiting her mother's body.

The Italian interpretation of customer service is very odd. Since the lunch hour had passed, the waiters and deli clerks basically felt as if they were "off duty" and, as we walked through the door, we were completely ignored. As it happened in place after place, I began to wonder if in fact we had entered some paisano twilight zone and become totally invisible. We trudged on towards the train station, remembering that there was a food court in the station. We finally found the station and the food court and, blessedly, a public rest room. That detail was taken care of so now we were left with our search for a salad and something cold to drink.

The food court held two major restaurants, a pizza place with no option for salads and (shudder) a McDonald's with its generic "chef's salad," extremely overpriced at six euros (about EIGHT dollars!) We reluctantly got in line at the McDonald's counter behind three vacant-headed Italian teenage girls who were being waited on by another teenage girl who seemed to have two speeds: slow and stop. We glanced over her shoulder to see that there were only two salads left in the cooler and, as hungry as we were, they actually looked appealing. The minutes ticked by. The counter zombie floated in a trance filling the girls' items, coming back to double check the orders at least twice between each trip. And then the unthinkable happened. Ten minutes into the wait, another clerk dashed over to the cooler and grabbed those last two salads, leaving a gaping void in their place. That was it... AGAIN, no salads for us. Meredith and I looked at each other and then simultaneously looked over to the pizza place. Without a word we headed over there and each bought a slice and a bottle of water. It would have to do. In a strange way I was actually relieved not to have to do business with Mickey D's. Besides the blatant price-gouging that was taking place, it just seemed wrong to be in Italy, the land of such culinary masterpieces as risotto, prosciutto, gnocchi, and gelato and resorting to eating at a McDonald's, something I won't even do when I am home in the U.S. anymore. Maybe that brain-dead counter girl did me a favor after all!

We ate our pizza, admittedly marginal at best, and then waited for the train back to Florence, our adventure in Pisa finally over with only a wicked bad sunburn and a pounding headache as residual damage. Even my frayed temper had repaired itself, although Meredith was giving me wide berth as we walked back from the train station, just in case I had another melt-down. We got back to Florence around four in the afternoon, and headed back to the guesthouse for a nap before dinner. We both slept like babies for two hours, feeling much better when we woke up.

Next post: Our last evening in Florence and a pre-departure climb to the top of the bell tower in the morning.

1 comment:


So I guess I would have fallen off the tower of Pisa and ruined the trip if I had gone? Vertigo -smertigo Mary Ann! It probably would have felt absolutely normal to a vertiginous soul (HEEHEE) Love Sue